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Friday, March 4, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Friday, everyone! Round out the week by getting a jump start on the day's science and health news. For more STAT newsletters, see our signup page here

What it's like to raise a child with microcephaly

Christine Grounds and her son, Nicholas, at home. (Emily B. Hager for STAT)

Hours after she'd given birth, a neurologist told Christine Grounds that her newborn son, Nicholas, had microcephaly, the condition that's now making headlines for its possible connection to Zika virus outbreaks. Nicholas' head was too small and his brain hadn't developed properly. What that meant for his future wasn't clear.  “Didn’t you know?” the doctor asked Grounds. She was stunned. Despite multiple ultrasounds, she had not known. Nicholas is nine now, and his mom still thinks about his birth, her pregnancy, and what she would have done had she known of his microcephaly. Grounds and her husband, Jonathan Mir, share their story in a powerful new video from STAT contributor Emily B. Hager — watch here

HHS expands Medicaid in Flint

The Department of Health & Human Services has approved a measure to expand Medicaid coverage for residents of Flint, Mich., who've been impacted by lead exposure. That expansion means another 15,000 children and pregnant women in the area will be eligible for coverage, in addition to expanded services for the 30,000 people in the Flint area who already receive Medicaid. 

White House rounding up experts for a Zika summit

The White House is aiming to tackle Zika virus head on, bringing together state and local officials for an April 1 summit at the CDC to come up with a plan of attack, Reuters reports this morning. They'll be figuring out the best ways to limit local transmission of the virus and how to proceed when cases do crop up. 

Incredibly stretchy silicone skin

Would this qualify as doing the robot or doing the worm? (Larson et. al / Science)

Check out this new type of artificial skin that can stretch, sense pressure, and let off light, as described in Science. The light comes from a bendy, light-emitting capacitor that’s implanted into silicone skin. That silicone skin can stretch up to 500 percent before it stops working, the authors say. Here, the skin shows its moves on a robot, which inches forward courtesy of pockets that are inflated and deflated. 

Lab Chat: Create-your-own cardiac cells

Scientists have created a new type of cell — a cross, of sorts, between an embryonic stem cell and an adult heart cell — that could help repair the damage of heart disease. They’ve dubbed the cells induced expandable cardiovascular progenitor cells (rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?), or ieCPCs. Here’s what lead researcher Sheng Ding of the Gladstone Institutes told me about the findings, published in the new issue of Cell Stem Cell.

What’s the problem with current methods of creating heart stem cells?

We can’t really generate enough heart stem cells. You have to start a lot of cells from the beginning, and over several steps, you may get five to 10 percent that survive to transplant into patients. That type of process isn’t practical for treating patients.

How did you find a way around that?

We started to reprogram skin fibroblasts directly into heart stem cells without going through the stem cell stage. Let’s say a patient suffers a heart attack. After the patient is stabilized, I can take the same patient’s skin fibroblasts and then reprogram the patient’s own cells quickly into heart stem cells. And then, we can identify a small molecule cocktail drug to expand those stem cells to make even more of them. That’s when we could transplant the patient’s own heart stem cells back into their heart to treat the heart attack damage.

Can Twitter drum up clinical trial volunteers?

Researchers recruiting patients for their clinical trials might want to turn to Twitter to scrounge up participants. A study of more than 1,500 tweets containing the phrase “lung cancer” found that nearly 18 percent were about clinical trials (though fewer than half of those were from individuals; about 60 percent were from organizations). Authors writing in JAMA Oncology suggest that’s an open door for researchers to start sparking interest in clinical trials over the social media platform. There’s a potential conflict in making sure participants’ information stays private, though, so the idea would have to be honed by institutional review boards that keep tabs on clinical trials.

The ancient viruses still kicking in your body

There are bits of ancient viruses kicking around in your body, preserved as part of your DNA. New research published in Science finds that about 8 percent of human DNA was originally from viruses that our bodies battled. And that part of our genome is crucial for our immune systems. When scientists used CRISPR gene-editing technology to snip out that viral DNA in human cells, they found that cells had much lower ability to fight off pathogens — indicating that that inheritance is now quite important to our health.

The shocking prevalence of drinking among UK children

A startling statistic in the new BMC Public Health: Nearly 14 percent of 11-year-olds in the UK have drunk alcohol. The data, from a cohort of about 10,500 kids, showed that those whose mothers or friends drink were likelier to have had more than a few sips of alcohol. That wasn’t shown to be a clear cause-and-effect relationship. Still, the researchers say it’s evidence that public health officials should consider interventions and education aimed at kids. Read the new research here.

What to read around the web today

  • Free vaccine program tied to reduced disparities for kids. Reuters
  • My family, my science. Nautilus

More reads from STAT

As always, thanks for reading! Back on Monday, 

Megan

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