Friday, November 13, 2015

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

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Happy Friday, folks! Here's your quick guide to the world of science and medicine today. 

New today: What you need to know about a hike in autism rates

The CDC’s out with a new report this morning that shows the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders seems to have increased nearly 80 percent from 2011-2013 to 2014 — but before you balk at that statistic, there’s something important to note. The report’s authors point out that they changed the wording of their questions about developmental disabilities, and they say that likely affected the results. The 2014 data finds that 2.24 percent of children aged 3 to 17 have autism spectrum disorders, up from 1.25 percent in recent years.

Elder abuse is all too common in the US

An eye-opening statistic this morning: One in every 10 older patients is a victim of elder abuse. The New England Journal of Medicine has a robust review of the problem, and suggestions for tackling it. 

Watch these CRISPR-Cas9 enzymes go to work

These look like birthday party ribbons, but they're doing some serious genetic heavy-lifting. (Sam Sternberg/UC Berkeley)
These Cas9 enzymes — the gene-snipping part pictured in yellow — are doing a little cell-level yoga to find the DNA that CRISPR wants to target, pictured in red. The Cas9 binds itself to the guide RNA (pictured in orange). Once it’s lined up with its target, the enzyme makes the cut. Read more about new research on CRISPR, published this week in Nature. And if you’re curious to learn more about the technology, check out our explainer.

Lab Chat: What we can learn from the changes in cancer cell genes 

Researchers looked at genetic mutations in benign "precursor" moles and in nearby melanoma to figure out how the cancer developed. Here’s what lead researcher Dr. Boris Bastian told me about the findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. 

What was noticeable about the mutations in the moles and the melanomas? 

We had mutations that were shared between moles and melanomas, which were considered ancestral, so they were the mutations that caused the mole. Then we could identify new mutations that were exclusive to the melanoma, which were then likely to have caused the transition from mole to melanoma.

And what did you find when you looked at signs of ultraviolet light exposure in both moles and melanomas?

We could really link UV radiation to initiation of the mole, but also these new mutations that were restricted to the melanoma had a really strong UV signature, indicating that what made the mole transition into a melanoma was a source of UV, like from sunlight or a tanning bed.

What’s the clinical significance of your findings?

What our data shows is that there is really a category of lesions that's in between benign and malignant doctors can look into.

Inside STAT: A night at the (microbiome) museum

Walk into the American Museum of Natural History’s newest exhibit and find yourself surrounded by kaleidoscope images of the bugs in your microbiome  as well as the smells of sweaty feet and stinky cheese. “The Secret World Inside You,” which opened this week at the New York museum, sounds amazing. You can even build an interactive version of your own microbiome — complete with your personal dietary choices, be they popcorn, sweets, or vegetables if that’s your thing. More on the cool new exhibit from Dr. Matt McCarthy, who was like a kid in a candy shop when he visited the exhibit for STAT.

Food allergy bloggers gather to talk brands, baking & EpiPens

Denver’s getting swarmed this weekend with food allergy bloggers, who are bringing their concerns about dairy, gluten and celiac disease to a conference this weekend. Panels run the gamut from “Filling the Voids: Nutritional Needs & Baking Substitutions” to “Epinephrine and Auto Injectors.” One panelist, Erica Dermer of the blog Celiac & the Beast, tells me she’s attending for two reasons: “I go to find the newest research out there from doctors and to get a feel for what we [the food-allergic] as a community are dealing with.”

A quick snippet from scientists and policy experts at the STAT D.C. launch

This newsletter made its way to you by way of D.C. today, where I'm visiting for a STAT launch event last night. I made the rounds to ask folks who work in the health and science spheres what they think'll be big in their industries in the next five years. Here are a few of the predictions I found interesting: 

  • "Superbugs. The dam of antibiotic effectiveness is leaking, and we're going to see it start to break off in chunks." Lance Price, microbiologist, George Washington University
  • "More bad drugs, more bad devices, more people harmed ... The healthcare system will be bankrupt." Dr. Michael Carome, Public Citizen's Health Research Group
  • "More access to hepatitis C drugs and HIV drugs." Anne-Beatrix Keller, Knowledge Ecology International

What to read around the web today

  • Uterus transplants could help some infertile women become pregnant. New York Times
  • Paper retracted after German scientist bans countries that welcome refugees from using his software. Science
  • The UK's new health minister is a big fan of homeopathy. New Scientist

More good reads from STAT

Have a great weekend! I'll be back with more on Monday.


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