Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, folks, and welcome to Morning Rounds! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine this morning. 

Two countries in Southeast Asia eliminate measles

Both Bhutan and the Maldives have wiped out measles, the first countries in Southeast Asia to eliminate the infectious disease. The World Health Organization reports that the Maldives hasn’t had any indigenous cases of measles since 2009, and Bhutan hasn’t had any since 2012. The two nations launched massive vaccination campaigns decades ago to immunize high-risk groups against the viral disease, which can lead to brain inflammation and, in some cases, death. The WHO has a goal of eliminating measles in 11 countries in Southeast Asia by 2020.

FDA delays another new nutrition rule

Another day, another delay in the new nutrition label requirements. The FDA has announced it’ll indefinitely postpone the implementation of the rule, which would require food manufacturers to list added sugars along with more visible calorie counts and clearer serving sizes. That rule was supposed to go into effect in July 2018 for major food manufacturers, giving smaller manufacturers an extra year to revamp their labels. Now, the agency says it’ll extend the compliance date, though it hasn’t said by how long. In April, the FDA also delayed Obama-era rules that would’ve mandated calorie counts on restaurant menus.

What tarantulas can teach us about heart disease

A team of biologists studying heart function have turned to some unlikely, eight-legged collaborators — tarantulas. Scientists analyzed more than 7,000 patients with cardiomyopathy, a disease that affects the heart muscle. Those patients had mutations in a key muscle protein called myosin. Humans and tarantulas have similar myosin sequences, and that protein structure is already well-defined in tarantulas. Using the tarantula structure as a guide, the researchers showed that mutations from patients whose hearts contract strongly but don’t relax mapped to relaxation regions in myosin. And on the flip side, mutations in people with weak heart contractions were clustered in myosin’s power-driving sites. These regions could point researchers toward useful targets for small molecule therapies to correct heart muscle defects.

Sponsor content by Blueprint Medicines

First-person perspectives on the power of science

At a recent Story Collider event, hosted by Cambridge-based Blueprint Medicines, five men and women took to the stage to share personal stories about how science has impacted their lives, and how it has helped them change the world. Part of Blueprint Medicine’s Stand Up for Science initiative, the event highlighted the important role scientific innovation has had and will continue to have on society. Read more.

Inside STAT: An awareness campaign strikes a nerve

(Sage therapeutics)

Sage Therapeutics, a biotech developing an experimental treatment for postpartum depression, this week trumpeted strong results from a clinical trial, which pushed up its stock price. But the company’s aggressive efforts to raise awareness of postpartum depression have proved divisive.The campaign’s message: “When it comes to postpartum depression, silence sucks.” It features close-up photos of distressed, tearful women who can’t speak — because they have pacifiers stuck in their mouths. Some women who’ve had postpartum depression applaud the effort to raise awareness about a condition that largely flies under the radar, but others say it "infantilizes" women and their illness. More here

Lab Chat: Cells that can tan themselves

Scientists hoping to harness melanin's protective power against skin cancer have created a class of small molecules that could help the skin produce more UV-absorbing pigments. They tested those treatments on human skin samples in the lab, and found they were able to seep in and boost pigment production. Here’s what Dr. David Fisher of Massachusetts General Hospital told me about the work, published in Cell Reports.  

What did you set out to study?

We know a lot about how pigmentation is made, so we looked for a way to find a small molecule chemical to stimulate pigmentation. We wanted to know whether it would be possible to activate real skin pigmentation using the actual pathway, without using radiation or the sun’s rays, which are damaging and dangerous. We discovered a class of compounds that have the ability to penetrate into the skin and trigger pigmentation.

What do you see as the potential applications for those compounds?

 We think it could offer protection. Even individuals with just modestly darker skin have a significantly lower skin cancer risk groups than fair-skinned people who don’t tan, but burn. We don’t anticipate that a huge degree of darkening would be required for the protection. I’m seeing this from a cancer prevention perspective as something that would be used together with sunscreen. I would not see it as a replacement for sunscreen, because sunscreens really do prevent skin cancer.

How U.S. aid has furthered the fight against malaria

As President Trump pledges to cut foreign aid, researchers are studying the effects of U.S.-funded initiatives. A new study finds that a decade of funding from the U.S. President's Malaria Initiative may have contributed to a 16 percent decline in mortality rates for children under age 5 in 19 sub-Saharan African countries. The PMI — which was established in 2005 — has paid for insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying, testing, and workers' training. The new analysis doesn't show a cause and effect, but still, global health experts say that finding highlights the need to continue funding the fight against malaria. 

Could breakfast shape the day’s decision-making?

A new study suggests there might be a connection between what you ate for breakfast today and the social decisions you make later this morning. Researchers gave 22 participants a high-protein, low-carb breakfast one day, and a low-protein, high-carb breakfast a week later. They ran blood tests and had those individuals participate in a game. After the low-protein breakfast, participants had lower levels of tyrosine — an amino acid that’s a precursor to dopamine — and were more likely to reject unfair deals in the game. A higher-protein breakfast, by contrast, made them more generous. It’s a small study that needs further research, but an interesting support for the idea that maybe we are, in fact, somewhat shaped by what we eat.

What to read around the web today

  • At airports, making travel easier for autistic passengers. New York Times
  • People in Texas with fluctuating incomes risk being cut off from Medicaid. NPR
  • Conservative group airs attack ads over Warren-backed hearing aid bill. Politico

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

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