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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

FDA ‘should have acted sooner’ on e-cigarettes, agency head tells Congress

Speaking in front of a House subcommittee hearing yesterday, FDA acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless told lawmakers that the agency “should have acted sooner” to regulate the e-cigarette industry. He said the agency would “catch up,” including by releasing a guidance document in the coming weeks to “dramatically impact” the flavored e-cigarettes market. Among the actions under agency consideration: sending warning letters to companies marketing flavored vaping products and fining companies for failure to remove products from shelves. 

Juul also made headlines ahead of the hearing: The e-cigarette giant said it plans to suspend advertising in the U.S., and that it won’t lobby against a proposed ban on flavored vaping products. CEO Kevin Burns also announced his resignation.

Number of EEE cases this year is the most in 50 years

This year’s Eastern equine encephalitis — or EEE — outbreak is the worst in more than half a century, the CDC just confirmed. Seven states have reported a total of 28 cases so far, and activity could continue for several more weeks until mosquito populations — which transmit the disease — start to recede with the arrival of hard frosts, warns Scott Weaver, an arbovirus expert at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. The disease, which can be fatal among the most severe cases, has already killed nine people this year. EEE only became a notifiable disease in the U.S. in the early 1960s. The previous peak over that time frame came in 2005, when there were 21 cases.

New study finds shopping for contraception online is safe and efficient

Today is World Contraception Day, and a new study finds that obtaining birth control online is largely safe. Researchers recruited seven patients to act as shoppers interested in getting birth control from nine different online vendors. Here’s more: 

  • Visits: The online clinic “visits” lasted approximately seven minutes per patient, and included filling out a questionnaire. Vendors sometimes followed up via text, or with a phone or video call. 

  • Medications: A prescription was sent to a local pharmacy on the same day or the medicines were mailed to the patients’ homes within a week, on average. The total annual cost for a prescription and visit fees for an uninsured patient was around $300. 

  • Adherence to guidelines: The vendors adhered to proper prescription guidelines 93% of the time, although none of the companies checked with the patients to see if they could ingest a daily pill.

Inside STAT: An outbreak hit Uganda, then disappeared. Disabled kids — and a mystery — remain 


Margaret Arach, who has two children with nodding syndrome. (ESTHER RUTH MBABAZI)

Just as mysteriously as it had appeared in a small pocket in Northern Uganda two decades ago, the disease that came to be known as nodding syndrome also disappeared. No new cases of the disease — which causes seizures several times a day and the neck muscles in children to temporarily go limp — have been reported since 2015. But the thousands of children who were affected continue to live with disabilities. Their parents and caregivers are also dealing with the after effects because the children — who are at constant risk of a seizure — require constant supervision. The disease has no cure thus far, but theories about its origins abound, from a parasitic worm to the toxicity from weapons used in previous conflict in the area. STAT’s Jacquelyn Corley has more here

Q&A: On creative neuroscience with MacArthur ‘Genius’ Vanessa Ruta

Rockefeller University neuroscientist Vanessa Ruta was just named a member of the latest class of MacArthur “Genius” grant winners. Her work involves better understanding how the nervous system takes in external cues such as smell and processes these stimuli to inspire various behaviors. I spoke with her to learn more. 

Both your parents were artists. Did they influence how you work? 
I was strongly influenced by their creative process, which is parallel to how scientists work. There’s a kind of honing in your craft. It’s obvious in the artistic endeavors, whether it’s practicing dancing or something else. But it’s also there in the sciences — you have to be disciplined about pushing through with your experiments. 

What’s a big research idea you’re pursuing? 
One big question is: How do you detect the enormous variety of chemicals in the environment? Insects have evolved a completely novel family of olfactory receptors. Using structural biology, we determined the structure of one of these last year. Insects use their sense of smell to find human hosts [and so] these are great target molecules for designing insect repellants. 

Number of doctors in Canada outpacing population growth 

The number of physicians in Canada continues to grow at a faster rate than the population, according to new research. Between 2014 and 2018, the Canadian population grew by around 4.6%, while the number of doctors increased by more than 12%. The single greatest increase in the number of physicians since 2011 occurred between 2017 and 2018, when there were some 241 doctors per 100,000 people in Canada. And although countries including the U.S. and U.K. have similar physician-to-population ratios as Canada, still others — including Spain and France — have ratios that are almost twice as high. Researchers also found that in the five years between 2014 and 2018, there’s been a more than 20% increase in the number of female providers in Canada. At the same time, there was only a 7% increase in the number of male doctors. 

What to read around the web today

  • Mattel, maker of Barbie, debuts gender-neutral dolls. The New York Times
  • What makes dogs so special and successful? Love. The Washington Post
  • We’ve been fighting the vaping crisis since 1937. FiveThirtyEight
  • Why the myth of period syncing won’t go away. The Atlantic
  • 23andMe, moving beyond consumer DNA tests, is building a clinical trial recruitment business. STAT

Thanks for reading! See you tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

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