Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Tuesday, newsletter friends! I'm here to get you ahead of the day's health news. 

On World Malaria Day, new plans for a vaccine program

Today marks World Malaria Day, and it comes with news about the trial of the world’s first malaria vaccine. More than 200 million people are infected each year with malaria, and the mosquito-borne disease claims 500,000 lives annually. Bed nets and insecticide have been the primary means of preventing infection. But health officials are now ready to test a newly developed vaccine to immunize young kids — who are among the most vulnerable — against the deadliest form of malaria.

The WHO announced yesterday they’ll begin piloting the vaccine next year in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. The vaccine offers only modest protection, and four doses are needed to get the full effects. Global health experts say they’re concerned that might not be feasible to do in real-world settings — a question the new pilot program will try to answer.

CDC's disease detectives meet to talk solved mysteries

The CDC’s disease detectives are convening this week in Atlanta to talk about the big health investigations they’ve dug their heels into this year. The detectives are more formally known as Epidemic Intelligence Service officers, and they’re tasked with responding to public health threats ranging from the Zika virus and antibiotic resistance to the opioid epidemic. This year’s investigations include a look at how infectious diseases complicated the monitoring of opioid overdose deaths. Epidemiologists found that individuals listed with infectious diseases on their death certificate who also died of overdoses weren’t being counted in the state’s opioid surveillance system.

Scientists create a new model to study chlamydia

Scientists have created a new model to study how the immune system deals with chlamydia infections — and their work has turned up potential new drug targets for researchers to look into. Chlamydia has proven quite tricky to study, because the bacteria can stow away inside macrophages to dodge the attack of antibiotics. A few chlamydia cells can quickly replicate into hundreds and then knock down the doors of their hideaway to spread an infection.

The new model allows researchers to study how chlamydia lives and multiplies inside those immune cells. They created it by using CRISPR-Cas9 to genetically modify human stem cells to turn them into macrophages. Those lab-created macrophages mimicked the response that the body’s own macrophages have when they encounter chlamydia, giving scientists a better way to watch how macrophages grapple with a chlamydia infection. They also pinpointed two genes in particular that seemed to be crucial to curbing its spread. The research will be published in Nature Communications

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Getting buy-in for a novel drug-device combo

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Inside STAT: An oral history of a trial that shaped medicine

Doralee Mortensen, 79, and Judy Orem, 73, both participants in the study. (meg roussos for stat)

In the summer of 1998, Dr. Brian J. Druker was a few months into Phase 1, first-in-human trials of a drug designed to battle cancer. The drug, now named Gleevec, was able to turn off a gene that controls some leukemia cells while leaving other healthy cells intact. Patients in earlier tests had received a low dose that didn’t stop the spread of their cancer. But in 1999, a new group of leukemia patients with chronic myeloid leukemia started treatment at Druker’s clinic. Unlike the patients before them, their cancer disappeared; for many, it never returned. It was the start of an approach that we now know as precision medicine. STAT’s Bob Tedeschi brings you the story of survivors in that study who were expected to die more than two decades ago — but didn’t. Read here.

What comes next for science? 

Yesterday I asked what you thought of the March for Science and whether it would make a lasting difference. Here’s a highlight of what you shared:

  • “I think the answer to this, of course, lies in what happens next. It signaled to the Administration that there is a broad, important constituency that cares deeply about the role of rational, science-based discourse should play in the formation of public policy.” - Steve Holtzman, CEO, Decibel Therapeutics

  • “As for what’s next, scientists need to be allowed to go back to their labs and do science. I’m hopeful that the event, massively successful in my opinion, will energize us non-scientists to speak up and vote and keep the issue from being buried under all the other threats this administration is flinging at us. … One sign said, I’m a scientist and I vote. Really, that’s what we have.” - Marny Ashburne, citizen

  • “One thing that I hope will be next for many scientists (and people who just like science) is to take steps to increase their skills and motivation to communicate science better. Scientists of all kinds are not always very good at knowing how to share what they do, and more importantly why they do it, with a broad audience.” - Brian Zikmund-Fisher, researcher, University of Michigan

EMTs lobby Congress for better mass casualty training

Emergency medical technicians are headed to Congress today to lobby lawmakers about the hurdles to providing emergency care on the move. One issue they’re focusing on in particular: The need for new resources to train EMTs to respond to mass casualties and public health emergencies. The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians — an industry group for first responders — wants resources allocated to help law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMTs to plan and train together as a team. They’re hopeful that having a collaborative plan in place between the groups will improve outcomes in emergencies.

A common nutrient may impact blood clots

A new study suggests that gut bacteria might produce a compound that contributes to excessive blood clotting in people eating a diet heavy in choline. Choline is a nutrient found in meat, eggs, milk, and other Western diet staples. We eat, on average, 302 milligrams of choline a day, but researchers had participants take 500 milligram supplements twice a day for two months. Blood levels of a compound dubbed TMAO — which is produced by gut bacteria and has been tied to a higher risk of heart disease — were significantly higher with among those on the supplements.

Their platelets were also more likely to form clots — a possible mechanism for how meat-heavy diets might increase risk of heart attack and stroke. It was a small study of just 18 volunteers, so much more research needs to be done. But previous studies have shown that animals eating a diet high in choline also had a higher risk of clotting. Read the full report here.

What to read around the web today

  • The new era of suicide prevention. The Ringer
  • Bill aims to ban involuntary organ donations. Houston Chronicle
  • Conservatives may be warming up to the latest ACA repeal, but moderates are keeping quiet about it. Politico

More reads from STAT

The latest stories from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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