Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, and happy Wednesday. STAT reporter Andrew Joseph here with the latest health and medicine news. 

PhRMA backing bill to strengthen DEA oversight 

PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry's lobbying arm, has thrown its support behind a bill from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) to repeal a 2016 law that weakened the DEA's ability to crack down on wayward drug distributors. "We need to ensure the Drug Enforcement Administration has sufficient controls and authorities in place to prevent illicit diversion of controlled substances," PhRMA CEO Stephen J. Ubl said in a statement Tuesday night. PhRMA listed the legislation among hundreds of bills in its lobbying disclosure forms, but says it never advocated for the bill's passage. 

PhRMA's announcement came two days after a Washington Post and "60 Minutes" report about the legislation and its role in the opioid epidemic. Also Tuesday, Rep. Tom Marino, the main backer of the legislation, withdrew his nomination to become the country's drug czar. While drug distributors and some lawmakers continue to defend the bill, the effort to repeal it appears to be gaining steam.  

WHO: Funding gap limits health response in Syria

Hours before American-backed forces announced yesterday they had reclaimed the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State, the World Health Organization said it was facing a $10 million shortfall for its work in the country. The WHO has seen progress and setbacks in its efforts in Syria, from being able to deliver medical supplies to parts of the country that were shut off for three years, to having thousands of doses of measles and polio vaccines destroyed in an attack on medical facilities. Meanwhile, the gap in funding from member countries is “impeding WHO’s ability to fully meet the immediate health needs of affected people,” the agency said Tuesday. 

Inside STAT: How patients' biases harm clinicians


(Mike reddy for STAT)

African-American doctors have been asked to stop treating white patients. Asian-American physicians are questioned about eastern medicine. And female doctors are sexually harassed during physical exams. Those are the findings of a new survey conducted by WebMD and Medscape in collaboration with STAT that looked at discrimination and harassment doctors experienced at the hands of patients. Researchers have regularly studied clinicians’ biases, but the new survey highlights how patients' biases affect relationships with physicians. In this special report, STAT’s Bob Tedeschi has more, including the stories of eight doctors who have felt the sting of discrimination.

Sponsor content by EMD Serono

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Senators reach bipartisan deal on health subsidies

Key senators on Tuesday reached a deal to restore federal payments to insurers to help cover the cost of low-income patients — days after President Trump yanked the funding. It’s unclear how the rest of Congress will view the bipartisan deal, but Trump indicated that he supported the agreement as an interim step. The compromise includes a two-year extension of the subsidies and greater flexibility to states in terms of dictating policy.

Using optogenetics to restore breathing

A spinal cord injury in the neck can disrupt the nerve pathway between the brain and the diaphragm, causing a person to lose her ability to breathe. New research, however, has uncovered a separate nerve pathway directly from the spinal cord to the diaphragm that can trigger some respiration, albeit irregular, slow breaths. But with the help of a technique called optogenetics that uses light pulses to get nerves to fire, scientists were able to generate normal breathing from that pathway. "By superimposing our own signal on top of it, we controlled it to make it much faster, so the breaths were much shorter and regular," said Jared Cregg, a graduate student at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The study was done in mouse spinal cords in the lab, and the team hopes to eventually test the method in live animals. 

Half of people with hypertension don't have it controlled

New data from the National Center for Health Statistics this morning reveal that more than half of people with high blood pressure do not have it under control. From 2015 to 2016, only 48.3 percent of people had their hypertension controlled. Unregulated high blood pressure, in turn, can increase a person's risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. The data also show that the overall rate of hypertension was 30.2 percent among U.S. men and 27.7 among U.S. women, with the rates increasing as people got older. Hypertension was most common among black adults (40.3 percent), while roughly one in four whites, Asians, and Hispanics had high blood pressure. One positive finding: the overall rate of hypertension did not change from 1999 to 2016.

Infants with genetic defects may live longer with surgery

Children born with trisomy 13 or trisomy 18 — chromosomal abnormalities that cause developmental problems — also frequently have congenital heart disease, but experts haven’t known whether surgery is helpful for these newborns. For a new study published in Pediatrics, researchers reviewed the cases of more than 1,600 babies born with trisomy 13 or 18, the overwhelming majority of whom also had congenital heart disease. Surgery was performed in only 7 percent of the infants, but the researchers found that it was beneficial: Undergoing heart surgery was associated with lower mortality rates over the subsequent two years. Children with trisomy 13 or 18 have a range of severe disabilities and often do not live more than a year; the study’s authors say that, in select cases, surgery may be able to give parents more time with their children.

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