Friday, November 18, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Welcome to Friday, folks! Here's what you need to know about the world of health and medicine today. 

World's first malaria vaccine will begin pilot studies

The world’s first malaria vaccine is being rolled out in pilot studies in sub-Saharan Africa, with funding from the WHO. The vaccine, known as RTS,S, is manufactured by GSK and must be delivered in a series of four doses. It wasn't incredibly effective in a Phase 3 clinical trial; studies show it's about 39 percent effective at reducing malaria infections. And a paper published in NEJM in June suggests that if you get just three doses, the vaccine doesn't prevent infection, but simply delays it. That said, for a widespread disease like malaria, even a moderately effective vaccine could make a significant difference.

The WHO is now looking for more evidence to determine if the vaccine series can practically be incorporated into childhood vaccine schedules in countries with moderate to high rates of malaria. Those studies, which will take between three and five years, will inform the decision of whether to deploy the vaccine globally. Slow fundraising delayed the start of the trial but it's now set to begin in 2018.

Decision nears on genetically modified mosquitoes

Tomorrow, a Florida Keys mosquito control board could approve a measure to release genetically modified mosquitoes in what would be the first such field trial in the United States. The goal is to demonstrate that the method can significantly reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are responsible for spreading diseases like Zika and dengue. When the engineered mosquitoes, made by the company Oxitec, breed with wild mosquitoes, their offspring aren’t able to mature and reproduce. The board action comes after 58 percent of Monroe County voters supported the trial in a nonbinding referendum on Election Day. The board, however, may move the trial to a different location than originally planned, since residents of Key Haven — where the trial was selected to occur — voted no on the referendum by a two-thirds majority. 

Scientists journey to the center of a cell

Delving through slices of a neuronal nucleus. Heterochromatin in blue, eurochromatin in green, mitochondria in gold. (Berkeley lab, ucsf)

In a study straight out of an episode of "Magic School Bus," scientists have journeyed to the center of a stem cell that’s maturing into a nerve cell. The researchers used a powerful X-ray microscope to snap pictures of stem cells at different stages of differentiation. They repeated those snapshots from dozens of different angles at every stage, compiling those images to come up with a 3-D reconstruction of the cell as it changes. They looked specifically at how the formation of chromatin — the material that makes up our chromosomes — changed as the cell matured.

It’s been tricky to image changes in the nucleus because the dyes used in standard imaging techniques don't always distribute evenly, but the new method offers cell biologists a way to capture chromatin shifts much more reliably. The team is now harnessing the new technique to see how chromatin's restructuring affects how genes are expressed. Read about the work in Cell Reports.

Sponsor content by EMD Serono

Advancing STEM education

For Massachusetts to remain an epicenter of innovation, we have to foster the next generation of researchers and scientists, and ensure they have the education, skills, and experience necessary to succeed. EMD Serono is proud to support MassBioEd’s BioTeach programs that engage teachers, inspire students, and guide the biopharma and life sciences workforce of today and tomorrow. Read more and get involved here.

Inside STAT: The science behind a stress-relief device

The first wearable device from health startup Thync, priced at $199, promised to energize you or calm you down with electrical pulses to the neck — or what the company calls "Thync vibes." A new second-generation model, aimed at cutting down on stress, is as powerfully relaxing as taking two Xanaxes the company says. Now Thync is trying out that prototype on a surprising population: the residents of a trailer park in Warren, Mich. (Representatives from the company considered it to be a particularly stressed-out place).  Those devices will be collected in a week’s time, once Thync has received feedback. It's received some positive reviews from residents so far. But the science behind the buzzy new technology? Thync twice, experts say. I've got the story here

Fewer Americans dying of preventable causes

Good news out from the CDC: Fewer Americans are dying from preventable causes of death now than in 2010. In 2014, the top five causes of death for people under age 80 were heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease like asthma and emphysema, and accidents. Some of those deaths are deemed potentially preventable, such as stroke or cancer deaths tied to tobacco use or accidents tied to drug poisoning. When it comes to preventable cancer, stroke, and heart disease deaths, the numbers are improving. Potentially preventable deaths from cancer fell 25 percent between 2010 and 2014 —  driven in large part by a decrease in lung cancer deaths — while preventable deaths from stroke and heart disease fell 11 percent and 4 percent, respectively. At the same time, though, preventable deaths from unintentional injuries spiked 23 percent, an increase largely blamed on the growing opioid epidemic.

Is Zika still a public health emergency? 

Today, experts who advise the WHO on Zika will tackle the question of whether the viral outbreak still constitutes a public health emergency. When this same expert panel met for the first time on February 1, they recommended that WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan declare Zika an international public health emergency. But it’s quite possible the expert advisors may today say that Zika, while still a troubling epidemic, no longer meets the criteria for an international public health emergency. If that’s the outcome, some in the global health sphere worry that efforts to track, prevent, and promote research on Zika will wane. More background on today’s meeting from STAT’s Helen Branswell here.

The most common sports injuries in the US

Half of all sports-related injuries in the US are treated at the doctor’s office or clinic rather than the ER or hospital, according to new numbers from the CDC. Sports were responsible for about 8.6 million injuries per year in the US from 2011 to 2014. More findings from the new report
  • After general exercise, the sports blamed for the most injuries in men were football, basketball, and bicycling. For women, the sports most often implicated in injuries were gymnastics/cheerleading, bicycling, and soccer. 
  • The most commonly injured parts of the body across all sports were feet and legs, which accounted for 42 percent of injuries
  • Only 4.5 percent of the injuries were traumatic brain injuries — though that still totals about 460,000 cases of TBI per year. 

What to read around the web today

  • The tribe that's suing the US government to keep its health care promises. Buzzfeed
  • I read seven Republican Obamacare replacement plans. Here's what I learned. Vox
  • Scenes from inside a childbirth and abortion clinic. Cosmopolitan
  • A pediatric endocrinologist on how worried we should be about sugar. NPR/TED

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend! Back first thing Monday morning, 


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