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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Thursday, everyone! I'm here to get you ahead of the day's news in science and medicine. 

CDC director resigns amid criticism of her financial conflicts

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald resigned as director of the CDC yesterday, less than a day after Politico reported she’d purchased stock in a tobacco company while leading the office. Congress had grown frustrated with Fitzgerald because some of her financial holdings had kept her from testifying before lawmakers about critical public health issues. And after this week's report on her investments, many in the public health community expressed shock at the idea that the head of the CDC held shares of a company in an industry so contradictory to the agency’s mission. 

Fitzgerald told the Wall Street Journal she wasn't aware of the tobacco stock purchase, but ordered it sold as soon as she found out about it. Dr. Anne Schuchat, who served as acting CDC director from January through July 2017, is filling the position until Trump appoints a new CDC director. 

Heart association warns about breast cancer drug risks

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doctors are warning about cardiovascular risks after breast cancer treatment. (LARRY OSTBY / NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE)

Cardiologists aren't, by any means, telling women with breast cancer to decline treatment. But in its first-ever statement on the most common female cancer, the American Heart Association is warning this morning that breast cancer survivors, especially those treated with common chemotherapies, have an increased risk of heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases. “The intent of the paper is certainly not to say don’t treat breast cancer,” said Dr. Laxmi Mehta, the lead author of the AHA's statement. “We want patients to undergo the best treatments available. But we also want patients and their doctors to be aware” that breast cancer drugs can damage the heart. STAT's Sharon Begley has the details here

Mental health care for veterans has substantial limits, report finds

There’s a substantial unmet need for mental health care among veterans from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a sweeping new report from the National Academies. Here’s what they found:

  • A lot of veterans who might need mental health care don’t get it at the VA. Of veterans with a mental health need, roughly 40 percent said they didn’t know how to apply for benefits or didn’t think they were eligible. 

  • Transportation was a common barrier to care. Nearly 20 percent of veterans who have a mental health need live more than 50 miles from a VA facility that provides mental health care. Other common obstacles: trouble taking time off work and fear of being discriminated against for needing mental health care.

  • Among the nearly half a million veterans who do get mental health care through the VA, reviews of the services are mixed. More than half said the process of getting mental health care is difficult. But 62 percent said they’re satisfied with the general mental health services provided.

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FEMA says it's not ending food and water aid for Puerto Rico

FEMA didn't actually end its work providing food and water to communities in Puerto Rico like a spokesperson said it would. An agency spokesperson had previously told NPR that the agency would wrap up its mission to provide food and water yesterday and let the Puerto Rican government distribute the rest of the supplies. Politicians quickly criticized the decision/ Now, another FEMA spokesperson tells NPR the Jan. 31 cutoff date was provided by accident and that the agency is still working to transition the distribution of supplies. 

Inside STAT: Clinics allow patients to pay in bitcoin

As the value of bitcoin has climbed, it's grown more prominent and the public eye. Some clinics across the U.S. have started taking the currency in recent years, allowing patients to pay their medical bills or their copays with bitcoin. “It was our patients’ idea,” said Dr. Paul Abramson, founder of My Doctor Medical Group, a seven-person practice in San Francisco that accepts bitcoin. “We serve a lot of tech entrepreneurs who were early investors in it.” But other clinics say they think patients haven't embraced the idea just yet. STAT’s Leah Samuel has more here.

Pharma gives Parkinson's research a boost

The NIH is launching a new partnership with pharma giants and scientific groups to speed up research on treatments for Parkinson's disease. Millions of people worldwide have the neurodegenerative disorder — which affects movement — and the NIH says prevalence is expected to rise sharply by 2030. But there aren’t any drugs available to reverse the effects of the disease or cure it. So Celgene, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Sanofi, along with the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Verily, are providing $12 million in funding and resources over five years for research. The focus: pinpointing promising biomarkers that might help doctors track the progression of Parkinson’s and point to potential targets for new drugs.

Correction: Yesterday's newsletter misstated the number of states with right-to-try laws. There are 38. 

What to read around the web today

  • Unnecessary medical care is more common than you might think. ProPublica
  • The judge singlehandedly trying to solve the opioid crisis. Bloomberg
  • California makes marijuana a wellness industry. New Yorker

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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