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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Trump administration ending fetal tissue research by government scientists

HHS announced yesterday that government scientists will no longer be able to conduct research using fetal tissue. The move is considered a win for anti-abortion activists, since fetal tissue is procured through elective abortions. At the same time, scientists over the years have defended its use, which has formed the basis for many medical discoveries, including vaccines against rabies, chickenpox, and measles, and treatments for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and cystic fibrosis. External scientists who receive government funding can continue their research, but new grants or those grants that are up for renewal will be subject to an ethics board review. At the same time, the administration also announced that it will fund research into fetal tissue alternatives. For more on these alternatives and the fetal tissue debate, read here.

Oral arguments to be heard in birth control coverage case

A federal judge in California will hear oral arguments today in a case that could decide whether employers can refuse to provide certain health services that go against their religious beliefs. Following a 2011 HHS mandate that required employers to provide certain health care — including birth control and emergency contraception — the Catholic nonprofit Little Sisters of the Poor sued in 2013 to be exempt from the rule, but five years and lengthy court battles later, the case is still ongoing. New HHS rules created in 2017 allowed for religious exemptions for employers, including the group run by nuns, but 13 states and the District of Columbia sued to block the rules. Two judges in January temporarily blocked the rules from going into effect, and today’s hearing will decide whether those injunctions will stay in place.

New preprint server for the health sciences

MedRxiv, a new preprint server exclusively for medical and health science publications, was just launched and is expected to begin accepting papers today. The BMJ, Yale University, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory — which also created the preprint server known as bioRxiv for all biological research papers — will run the new server. Researchers user such servers to solicit feedback on articles ahead of publication in peer-reviewed journals. The server will only accept research articles, not opinion pieces or case reports. Because medical preprints could be misinterpreted or used too hastily by the public, preprints on medRxiv will be clearly labeled as being pre-peer-reviewed publications. If there’s any doubt that an article could potentially harm the public, medRxiv will not post the article, asking authors to instead to go through the peer-review process. 

Inside STAT: How a celebrated drug hunter went after Alzheimer’s and lost

Al Sandrock, Biogen's chief medical officer. (KAYANA SZYMCZAK FOR STAT)

In March, Biogen announced that it would be discontinuing trials of its blockbuster Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab, joining 86 other drug projects over the past 10 years to unsuccessfully provide a solution to the debilitating neurodegenerative disease. But the story behind the drug — and its failure — starts with Al Sandrock, Biogen’s chief medical officer. In an exclusive new story, STAT’s Matthew Herper describes how Sandrock has a knack for spotting successful new drugs, from two drugs for MS to a revolutionary drug for spinal muscular atrophy. Aducanumab would have been the next feather in Sandrock’s cap. Despite others’ failures at anti-amyloid drugs, Sandrock and Biogen were confident — until a text message earlier this year also sealed the fate of this drug. STAT Plus subscribers can read more here

Q&A: More faculty now trained to be science educators

A new study looked at the California State University system and found that since 2008, there’s been a 51% increase in the number of science education faculty — trained scientists who conduct research on teaching science. I spoke with Kathy Williams, an evolutionary biologist-turned science education specialist at San Diego State University — and a co-author of the paper — to learn more. 

What does it mean that there are more science education specialists now? 
The need for educating more of our young people about science and how to apply that to everyday situations has continued to grow. There may be more training pathways to becoming science education faculty now than there were 10 years ago. 

How can these faculty have an impact on science education? 
I hope that we can help all learners in our classes to better appreciate the process of science and how science works. When you build a workforce and public [that] can really think about solving problems that we can't imagine today, it's not going to be based on facts [that you memorize], but based on reasoning. 

Most neighbors favor Philadelphia’s proposed supervised injection site

Some 90% of the residents in the neighborhood for Philadelphia’s proposed supervised injection site are in favor of opening the facility, a new study finds. Researchers surveyed nearly 440 residents and business owners in Philly’s Kensington neighborhood — where a facility known as Safehouse wants to allow injection drug use under medical supervision. Those who don’t have stable housing or who currently use opioids were more in favor of the site, as were non-white respondents. More than 60% of the business owners and people who work in Kensington also supported the site. Philly’s status as home to the country’s first supervised injection site hangs in the balance as federal prosecutors in February sued to prevent Safehouse from opening.

What to read around the web today

  • Everyone knows money influences politics … except scientists. FiveThirtyEight
  • Husel charged with murder in 25 Mount Carmel deaths. The Columbus Dispatch
  • Reproducibility trial publishes two conclusions for one paper. Nature
  • Insys, the opioid drug maker, to pay $225 million to settle fraud charges. The New York Times
  • What Hollywood boycotts would really do to Georgia. The Atlantic

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Thursday, June 6, 2019


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