Friday, June 1, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Welcome to June, everyone! To kick off the sunny season, STAT is rounding up the best health and science books to read this summer. Share your recommendations here

Progress on noncommunicable disease deaths has been slow

A new WHO report says global progress on curbing premature deaths due to noncommunicable diseases has been “disappointing.” NCDs — which cause an estimated 70 percent of deaths worldwide — run the gamut from obesity and type 2 diabetes to depression and dementia. In 2011, WHO member states agreed to try to cut premature NCD deaths by 25 percent by 2025. But the independent experts who penned the report say the work to do so has been uneven, in part due to a lack of political interest, accountability, and funding.

One interesting note from the report: The authors agreed to recommend that countries should raise taxes on tobacco and alcohol to curb NCDs, but couldn't come to a consensus on whether to also recommend that countries tax sugary drinks. The WHO itself already recommends sugary drink taxes. 

Deaths due to injuries are rising among young people

After declining for years, deaths due to injuries among adolescents ages 10 to 19 are on the rise. Here’s a look at the findings from a new CDC report out this morning:  

  • Homicide: Homicide rates climbed 27 percent between 2014 and 2016, after falling 35 percent between 2007 and 2014. Firearms accounted for 87 percent of those homicides.

  • Motor vehicle deaths: Traffic fatalities are the most common cause of death due to unintentional injury among this group, accounting for 62 percent of deaths. Poisonings account for 16 percent, and drowning 7 percent.

  • Suicide: Suicide rates jumped 56 percent between 2007 and 2016 after declining 15 percent between 1997 and 2007.  ​

Cancer researchers talk science, patient care at ASCO

Thousands of cancer researchers are convening in Chicago this weekend for the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s big annual meeting, dubbed ASCO. One area to keep an eye on: combination immunotherapies currently in the works. Existing checkpoint inhibitor drugs like Keytruda and Opdivo are used to treat a wide range of cancers, but they don’t work for many patients. Drug makers are hoping that pairing checkpoint inhibitors with experimental immunotherapy drugs will make them work for patients. We're sending a quick daily update from the conference in our ASCO in 30 Seconds newsletter — sign up here. ​

Sponsor content by Genentech

The changing route to FDA approval

The Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), passed in 1992, revolutionized the way medicines are reviewed and approved in the United States. But as science and patient needs continue to evolve, so must regulatory policies. The latest update, PDUFA VI, proposes a smarter, faster route to FDA approval that values patient input and could have a big impact for people affected by cancer. Eric Olson, Genentech’s Vice President of U.S. Product Development Regulatory, explains how.

Inside STAT: A new way to keep tabs on CRISPR

There’s a lot to keep up with when it comes to CRISPR — scientists are CRISPR’ing seemingly every disease in mice, human cells, and other experimental systems. So STAT’s Sharon Begley has created a searchable CRISPR Trackr to help you keep up with the research. It lists studies from research journals, company announcements, and preprints that were chosen because they reported a key advance in either the genome-editing technology or the diseases it might be used to treat. We'll update it with future advances. STAT Plus subscribers can check it out here.

Lab Chat: Scientists give cells a construction lesson

come together, right now, over me. (lim lab / ucsf)

Scientists looking to better understand the earliest stages of embryonic development have figured out a way to take individual cells and program them to build themselves into structures. Here’s what Wendell Lim of the University of California, San Francisco, told me about the work, published in Science.

What did you set out to study?

One of the most interesting things about biology is that complex organisms like humans can start from one cell, and all of the program to build that structure is encoded in DNA. We wanted to ask whether it’s possible to make cells self-organize like they do during development with a DNA program.

What were you able to do?

We know developmental pathways involve cells talking to each other, and that conversation guides how cells respond. We used something we developed called the synNotch receptor, which lets us program new cellular communications, and saw that those communications could drive cells to grow into two- and three-layer structures. This could be very interesting for growing self-organizing tissues or organs.

Here are the industries where people are least likely to have health insurance

The uninsured rate tumbled dramatically after the ACA was implemented — but there are still wide disparities in insurance rates among fields of work. A new analysis of health insurance rates in 2014 finds there were four job areas where more than 25 percent of employees didn’t have health insurance: construction; farming, fishing, and forestry; food prep and service; and cleaning and maintenance. An estimated 37 percent of people working in cleaning and maintenance didn’t have health insurance that year.

What to read around the web today

  • ​​‘Right-to-try’ law intended to weaken the FDA, measure’s sponsor says in blunt remarks. STAT
  • Prisoners make pennies an hour. Why are their co-pays so high? The Marshall Project​​
  • Watch: Surgeons create personalized brain maps to guide safer surgeries. STAT
  • Utah sues opioid maker Purdue Pharma after settlement talks stall. Reuters
  • When scientists develop products from personal medical data, who gets to profit? NPR

Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful weekend,


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