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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

The weather's getting chilly but the science and medicine news in today's Morning Rounds is sizzling. Take two minutes to get ahead of the day. 

New this morning: Major schizophrenia study recommends an emphasis on talk therapy over heavy antipsychotics

A landmark new study says we may be treating schizophrenia all wrong, the New York Times reported early this morning. More than two million people in the US suffer from schizophrenia, and until now, the status quo for treatment has been antipsychotics, which can cause unbearable side effects. But the government-funded study, to come out today in The American Journal of Psychiatry, says personalized talk therapy and family support, in combination with lower doses of medication, relieves schizophrenia symptoms more than heavy treatment with antipsychotics.

Senator threatens to block FDA nomination

Senator Ben Sasse is angry about the Obamacare insurance co-ops that keep closing — so angry that the Nebraska Republican said yesterday he'd "act to block consideration and confirmation of every HHS nominee" until the agency answered his questions about why the co-ops have failed, forcing thousands of people to change insurance plans. Stat D.C. reporter Dylan Scott asked Sasse's office just how broad the Senator intends his action to be. The answer: The block will affect all of HHS's sub-agencies. That could mean trouble for Dr. Robert Califf, the cardiologist and researcher at Duke University tapped by Obama to head the FDA.

Inside Stat: Patients pay when hospitals absorb private practices

When hospitals buy up individual doctors' practices, patients end up paying more for the same services about $75 a year more, according to a new study from Harvard researchers. That's a growing problem: The number of docs who own their own practices has been declining about 2 percent a year for at least two decades. Stat reporter Eric Boodman has the details.

Sanders v. Shkreli, Round 2

Bernie Sanders is seeking to capitalize on his rebuff of a donation from price-hiking pharma exec Martin Shkreli with a fundraising pitch that asks middle-class voters to help his campaign to "show Martin Shkreli and the billionaire class that they can't have it all." The first letter Sanders sent on that theme asked supporters for $3. He then sent a second letter, nearly identical, that asked for $25.66. That did not go unnoticed by Shkreli. Senator Sanders "raised the donation requested from his supporters by 755% in one day," he tweeted. "Price gouging."

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, wants in on the fun: She wrote the Federal Trade Commission yesterday to demand an investigation of Shkreli's price hike. 

Lab Chat: Making waves with optogenetics

Looks like an alien abduction, but could be the start of a new heart therapy. (Eana Park)

The already-hot field of optogenetics — the process of genetically modifying cells so they can be controlled by light — is getting even more interesting. Now, scientists have figured out a way to use light to control the signals that cells use to communicate, which often go haywire in patients with heart problems. It’s still a long way from becoming a usable therapy, but the work holds promise for heart patients. I chatted with lead author Gil Bub of University of Oxford about the research, out now in Nature Photonics.   

What’s the potential for a light-based therapy?

Since we can control [cellular signals] much more precisely with light than we could with electrodes [like what’s used in pacemakers], this kind of therapy could potentially be safer for the patient.

What could using this technique look like down the line?

Looking ahead several years, these techniques could be used in the context of gene therapies for treating cardiac arrhythmias. If the technical barriers — and there are several  are overcome, future therapies could consist of making hearts sensitive to light, and then using specialized optical devices  that deliver light instead of electrical shocks to reset the tissue during an abnormal rhythm.

A strange case of seizures

Here’s a puzzling — quite literally — case study from the new JAMA Neurology: A 25-year-old patient who has a seizure every time he does a sudoku puzzle. The patient’s seizures started after he was buried in an avalanche. He’s stopped doing the puzzles and has been seizure-free for five years.

The fight over Planned Parenthood rages on

Texas announced yesterday it would cut Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood because of concerns raised by undercover videos of the group's officials talking about providing tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research. Over in Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal has tried a similar move but a federal judge yesterday told the state to keep funding Planned Parenthood at least for the next two weeks, until he can decide on the legality of the cuts. Planned Parenthood argues that it's not appropriate for the state to cut off funding for non-abortion services like pelvic exams and cancer screenings. 

You get a diet plan! And you get a diet plan! You're all getting diet plans!

Weight Watchers has a new No. 1 fan — Oprah. The media mogul, who has been very public about her struggles with weight over the years, announced yesterday that she’d bought 10 percent of the company. The deal made quite the wave, with stocks spiking 84 percent after Winfrey's announcement.

Correction: I (again) incorrectly stylized the name of genetics company 23andMe in yesterday's newsletter. Rest easy knowing the correct title is now permanently etched in my brain. 

What to read on the web today

  • Don’t follow Gwyneth Paltrow’s flu advice. Slate
  • Shuttered: The end of abortion access in Red America. MSNBC
  • Alan Alda teaches scientists to communicate. Boston Globe
  • CRISPR ventures into canine territory. MIT Technology Review
  • Stanford researchers treat autism with Google Glass. TechCrunch

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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