Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine this morning. 

What to watch for at the State of the Union

President Trump is giving his first State of the Union tonight. (He gave a similar speech before Congress last February but it wasn't an official SOTU.) Two big health topics to keep an eye out for: drug prices and the opioid crisis. President Trump is bringing New Mexico police officer Ryan Holets as one of his guests. Holets and his wife adopted a baby from parents who were addicted to opioids, the White House says. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is bringing the mother of a woman who died from an opioid overdose as her guest, while Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) is bringing a Saratoga Springs man who’s in recovery from opioid addiction.

The president’s speech starts at 9 p.m. ET. And stay tuned after for the Democratic response to Trump’s address, delivered by Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Senate rejects 20-week abortion ban

The Senate rejected a bill last night that would've banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill, which was first passed by the House and had the White House's support, would've offered exemptions in the case of rape, incest, and for women who need an abortion to save their lives. But it didn't include an exemption for severe fetal anomalies, which often can't be identified until an ultrasound at 20 weeks. Such bans are common on the state level — 17 states already have laws in place banning abortions at roughly 20 weeks gestation or 22 weeks after a woman's last period.

Another cluster of amnesia cases tied to opioid misuse has cropped up

Doctors have documented more amnesia cases thought to be tied to fentanyl use. The mysterious cases of the syndrome — marked by lesions on the brain where memories are made — first cropped up in 14 patients treated in Massachusetts between 2012 and 2016. Those patients all had a history of substance abuse. Now, researchers at West Virginia University say they've identified two more cases, including a 30-year-old man who was treated for persistent memory problems in May 2017 and had a history of opioid abuse. Their recommendation: Doctors who encounter patients with substance use disorders and new symptoms of amnesia should run toxicology screens and consider a brain MRI to document the problem. 

Inside STAT: How investors can get an early warning about shady scientific findings

Scientists regularly take to the internet to scrutinize research after it’s been published, analyzing the data on their own and in some cases, spotting mistakes or fraud. The most prominent forum for post-publication peer review is PubPeer, where anyone can create an anonymous account and comment on published studies. Commenters often flag plagiarism, manipulated images, and flawed methodology that might’ve escaped scrutiny from peer reviewers before the article was published. And as interest in this kind of peer review has swelled, one lawyer argues biotech and pharma companies and their investors should pay attention. STAT Watchdogs columnists Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus explain why — read here.

Lab Chat: Using light to study cancer metastasis


a high-tech game of cellular ping-pong. (uCsf)

Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, are using a new optogenetic technique to play a game of cellular ping-pong — and have gleaned new insights into cancer metastasis as a result. Here's what researcher Torsten Wittman told me about the work, published in Nature Cell Biology.

How does the technique work?

We have devised a new light switch to turn off and back on specific proteins within seconds inside living cells using light. We insert a light-sensitive module in between different parts of a protein that need to work together to function in a cell. This protein then falls apart, or is inactive, when the blue light is on and comes back together when the light is turned off. 

You tested the technique on a protein that controls the activity of microtubules, stretchy fibers that play a part in how cells move. What did you see?

We replaced this protein in a cancer cell with our light-sensitive version and stopped microtubules from elongating within seconds by turning on blue light. This [shows that] microtubule elongation in the front of cancer cells is required for them to move directionally. Even though microtubules are a target of several chemotherapy drugs, it is still quite mysterious how these drugs kill cancer cells. Our results support the idea that they target not only cell division, but also movement of cancer cells that underlies metastasis. 

Cancer immunotherapy research gets an $11 million boost

The nonprofit initiative Stand Up to Cancer is handing out $11 million to seven research teams investigating how the immune system responds to cancer. Among the research topics: the immune system’s role in cancer risk, what drives the body’s sometimes dangerous reactions to cancer immunotherapy, and how tumor cells can fend off attacks from natural killer cells, immune cells which have strong tumor-killing properties. Those researchers will get a boost from machine learning experts at Microsoft, who will help to pinpoint patterns in patient data to dig up more insights into immunotherapy.

What to read around the web today

  • New mothers overcoming addiction face a world of obstacles. Boston Globe
  • Preventive care saves money? Sorry, it's too good to be true. New York Times
  • Sessions assigns dozens more federal agents to combat illicit opioid sales online. Washington Post

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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