Monday, November 16, 2015

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

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Welcome to the week! Here's your quick rundown of news from the world of science and medicine today. 

Antibiotic use in animals raises concerns about infections in children

The huge quantities of antibiotics routinely fed to livestock could make it harder to treat kids with life-threatening infections, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports this morning. Young children can be exposed to drug-resistant bacteria when they eat meat from animals who've been dosed up with antibiotics  and if those bacteria cause an infection, it's incredibly tricky to treat. More than 2 million people in the US get infections that resist antibiotics every year, and children under 5 are especially susceptible. The report raises a red flag about the “indiscriminate use” of antibiotics in livestock, often given to boost growth rather than to treat illness. For more on antibiotic resistance and the health crisis it's causing, read this from STAT infectious disease reporter Helen Branswell. 

Inside STAT: The industry that's attracting reality stars and biotech bigwigs

Pharmaceutical giants, scrappy startups, and celebs are all gravitating toward the same hot industry — nutraceuticals. They’re food-based products, from detox teas to diet supplements, that can move onto store shelves without much federal oversight. It’s a tempting market for investors for several reasons: The products aren’t subject to the same long, pricey regulatory process as pharmaceutical drugs, and the stars who endorse them aren’t required to tick off a list of side effects.

“The bar for entering the industry is very low,” nutritionist David Schardt of the Center for Science in the Public Interest told me. “You and I could set up a business and in a few days, we could be selling our own brand of supplements.” But the products can come with some dangerous consequences, and the science behind them can be shaky. I’ve got more on how celebrity selfies and loose rules are boosting an already booming industry.

Genome sequencing isn't just about the future of science

Always remember to floss, folks. Your molars could one day end up in an email newsletter. (Eppie Jones)

The latest ancient genome to be sequenced is nearly 10,000 years old. It comes from DNA in the molars of a human skeleton from the Late Upper Paleolithic period. The research, conducted by a crew of scientists from Dublin, was published in Nature Communications

Here's how the Valeant scandal could shake the drug distribution industry

Valeant Pharmaceuticals has seen its stock plunge since the media began raising questions about its ties to the specialty pharmacy Philidor. But the fallout is likely to affect more than those two companies. “Pharmacies should expect greater oversight as both manufacturers and payers work to validate the business operations in drug channels,” Adam Fein, president of Pembroke Consulting, told me.

Indeed, Reuters reports that prescription drug benefits managers already have cut ties with at least eight specialty pharmacies in the wake of the scandal at Philidor, which allegedly hounded insurers to pay for pricey Valeant drugs instead of cheaper generics. But Fein said Philidor isn't really a "specialty pharmacy" since it dispensed mostly traditional drugs. True specialty pharmacies may be taking a hit now because they were unfairly lumped into the same category as Philidor in the early coverage of the scandal.

Lab Chat: Ultra-fast X-rays that catch proteins in action

The two-mile long Linac Coherent Light Source in California, a stretch of which is used for ultra-fast X-rays. (USGS)

Blink and you might miss this cool new research out this morning: Oxford University scientists have snapped X-ray images in a ultra-short pulse that lasts just a millionth of a billionth of a second. That’s a hair faster than the current record, which is a measly thousandth of a billionth. The super-speedy screening is like a fast shutter speed on a camera, and it could be useful for a range of scientific areas, including biomedical research. I chatted with physicist James Sadler, the author of the paper in Scientific Reports.

How does the imaging technique work?

The technique uses the light to generate an electron wave in a very thin foil target, a bit like a loudspeaker creates sound waves in air. This wave scatters the light backwards, into a much shorter pulse.

And how can the faster pulse speeds be used in research on the cellular level in humans?

It’s especially useful for study of delicate proteins that cannot be grown into large crystals. The X-rays bend around the proteins in a way that allows us to reconstruct their shape and chemical behavior… Like having a camera with a very short shutter speed, it captures the moving object crystal clear.

How could you see it being used in other research?

Pulses of this sort would be invaluable in biochemistry research to study exactly what sequence of chemical bonding the proteins undergo. 

A potential new therapy for diabetics with eye disease

Diabetics with eye disease may soon have a new therapy option, following positive results from a clinical trial. High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels in the eyes, which can lead to poor vision and even blindness. Until now, laser therapy has been the way to treat the condition, called proliferative diabetic retinopathy.  But the results of a small clinical trial funded by the NIH found that an injectable drug — brand name Lucentis — was highly effective in improving eyesight long-term.

What to read around the web today

  • How the Western diet has derailed evolution. Nautilus
  • Our 4,000-year-old-pollutant. JSTOR Daily

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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