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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, folks! Here's what you need to know about science and medicine this morning. 

Your rundown of the ties between Trump's lawyer and Novartis

There's been a flurry of news about the link between Novartis and President Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen. Here's the backstory:

  • The relationship between the drug maker and Cohen began last year when the lawyer reached out to Joe Jimenez, then the CEO of Novartis. Cohen promised to help the company gain access to Trump and other influential officials in the new administration, a Novartis employee familiar with the situation told STAT. 
  • Novartis signed a $1.2 million contract with Cohen in February 2017. That's far more than the drug maker paid any actual outside lobbyist during that time. Novartis was hopeful Cohen could help it navigate health care policy under Trump, but quickly determined Cohen might not be able to do so. 
  • Rather than cancel the contract, Novartis continued to make payments and let it lapse in early 2018. As the contract neared its end, Cohen approached the new CEO, Vasant Narasimhan, who declined to renew the arrangement. A Novartis spokesperson said Narasimhan was never involved and that "this episode was clearly a mistake." 

WHO expresses serious concern about Ebola outbreak

Officials at the WHO are seriously concerned about the new Ebola outbreak on the western edge of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are only two confirmed cases so far. But health officials say that there are at least 21 people known to have symptoms consistent with Ebola, 17 of whom have died. And while the outbreak is in a remote area that's difficult to travel to by road, a nearby town where there might also be cases is connected to the Congo River, sparking concerns about infected individuals traveling by boat to more densely populated areas. More here from STAT's Helen Branswell. 

Lab Chat: A lab-made valve that mimics the heart

i open at the close. (m.y. emmert et al. / science translational medicine)

Scientists have engineered a new heart valve that mimics the properties of the heart’s own valves. Current prosthetic valves aren’t long-lasting and often don’t grow the right way in young patients, so the researchers set out to create a more adaptable valve. Here’s what Simon Hoerstrup of the University of Zurich told me about the work, published in Science Translational Medicine.

What problem with prosthetic valves did you want to address?

There are basically two types of prosthetic valves, mechanical valves and biological valves made of animal tissue. Mechanical valves are made of artificial materials, so you have to give patients a blood thinner. And animal valves don’t require a blood thinner, but they degenerate over time.

How did you create the new valve?

We engineered a valve made of human cells grown on a scaffold. We put it into a catheter and implanted the valve into a sheep. And in the body, they started to regenerate and repair the body’s cells. If it can repair and live like a normal valve, we anticipate the valve won’t degenerate over time. That would be specifically helpful for children who need a replacement valve, because a valve that can regenerate can also grow.

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Inside STAT: FDA goes after rogue stem cell clinics

Federal officials are seeking to stop two clinics from offering unproven stem cell treatments to patients — the most aggressive action regulators have taken in years against a growing field of direct-to-consumer stem cell treatments that critics say pose a risk to patients. The Justice Department and the FDA are seeking permanent injunctions against the two clinics, accusing them of endangering patient safety and failing to meet manufacturing standards. The government's action marks a new stage of the conflict between authorities and the hundreds of clinics that've cropped up across the country and have widely steered clear of regulation. STAT's Andrew Joseph has the story here

Reproductive rights experts call for better access to care

A commission led by the Guttmacher Institute and the Lancet is calling on governments and international agencies to commit to a new plan to improve sexual and reproductive health across the globe. It says there’s an urgent need to do so: More than 45 million women don’t get adequate pregnancy care and more than 200 million women who want to avoid pregnancy aren’t using modern contraception. The commission says "weak political commitment, inadequate resources, persistent discrimination against women and girls, and an unwillingness to address issues related to sexuality openly and comprehensively" are to blame. 

Training can prepare the public to use tourniquets

A new study finds that in-person training can help teach non-medical professionals to use a tourniquet to tamp down uncontrolled bleeding, a common cause of preventable death after traumatic injury. Researchers ran a trial on 465 people who got either in-person tourniquet training, flashcards, audio and flashcards, or no training. In a simulated situation, 88 percent of in-person trainees correctly applied a tourniquet, making it by far the most effective method. But months after training, only 54 percent of participants could use a tourniquet the right way — suggesting there’s a need for a refresh or a tactic that sticks with people longer.

What to read around the web today

  • Testing for Zika virus in blood donors finds few infections — at a cost of about $5.3 million each. STAT 
  • Demand for veteran counseling puts stress on the counselors. New Hampshire Public Radio
  • In ancient skeletons, scientists discover a modern foe: hepatitis B. New York Times
  • He’s a former PBM insider now shaping Trump’s drug policy. Will he reveal industry secrets? STAT Plus
  • Trump’s 'America First' agenda on drug pricing could backfire around the world. Politico

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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