Thursday, January 5, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Thursday, folks, and welcome to Morning Rounds! Here's what you need to know about science and medicine today. I'll be reporting from the Consumer Electronics Show today and tomorrow. If you're interested in health tech, follow me on Twitter @meggophone

Biden plans to continue moonshot as nonprofit

Vice President Joe Biden is planning to create a nonprofit organization once he leaves office to carry on his work on cancer research, and he wants drug costs to be one of its first targets. “I’m going to begin a national conversation and get Congress and advocacy groups in to make sure these treatments are accessible for everyone, including these vulnerable underserved populations, and that we have a more rational way of paying for them while promoting innovation,” Biden told the Washington Post in an interview yesterday. Biden said the new nonprofit will tackle many of the issues brought up as part of the cancer "moonshot" initiative, including boosting data sharing and increasing participation in clinical trials. 

New info rolled out on nutrition label changes

Food manufacturers are getting a clearer picture of the new federal rules they’ll have to adhere to when it comes to nutrition information labels. The FDA is laying out more specific descriptions of the food categories used to determine serving sizes (we’re looking at you, Nutella). The new guidelines will get rid of the category “calories from fat” and boost the prominence of the calorie info. Nutrition labels will also be required to include both total sugar and added sugar. Most manufacturers have until July 2018 to comply with the new requirements; businesses with less than $10 million in annual sales get an extra year.

Ignition interlock laws tied to fewer fatal DUI accidents

State laws that require ignition interlocks be put into the cars of anyone convicted of drunk driving seem to be working. Ignition interlocks work by testing the alcohol in a driver’s breath. If the alcohol level of a driver is over a predetermined limit, the car won’t start. A new analysis by public health researchers finds that interlock laws were tied to a seven percent drop in the rate of fatal car accidents involving a driver with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit. The first such laws were passed in 1993 and the researchers estimate the policies have prevented an estimated 1,250 fatal crashes in the years since. Currently, 26 states have laws mandating DUI offenders use an ignition interlock to drive. The analysis should be out later today in the American Journal of Public Health

Sponsor content by Boston Scientific

The Boston Scientific Big Data Challenge: Call for submissions!

Boston Scientific invites you to submit your ideas on how to improve patient outcomes, increase efficiency in delivering care, and drive down the cost of care using big data or data analytics. Submissions are open until January 7, and finalists will be honored on March 9 at Google’s Cambridge Headquarters where they will pitch off to win up to $50,000 of in-kind services to further develop or pilot their ideas. Learn more here.

Inside STAT: Mapping the teen brain over a decade

The teen years are a time of great physical, intellectual, and emotional change. The brain changes significantly during that time, too — but it’s still a mystery how that happens and how genes, hormones, and the environment might be involved. Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and her colleague George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, realized they’d need to do a large, long-term study to change that. Now, they’re setting out to track 10,000 youths for a decade. Read more about the project in their First Opinion.

Lab Chat: A magnet-controlled, biocompatible device

a gear made of biocompatible materials is spun by a magnet below. (SauYin Chin / Columbia Engineering)

Scientists working to improve medical devices have created a new way to manufacture micro-sized machines. The machines, which are made from biocompatible materials known as hydrogels, could be implanted into the body. Here’s what biomedical engineer Sam Sia told me about the work, published in Science Robotics.

What’s the idea behind your device-making method?

We have developed a method to make very small devices not from silicon or metal, but from biological materials. These are the same classes of materials found in your body, so they are intrinsically biocompatible. We had to develop new manufacturing techniques because biological materials are soft, and so they cannot be processed in the same way as silicon or metal.  We can also trigger their functions wirelessly after implantation.  In this study, we use magnetism to trigger movements in the microdevice.

What are the potential uses for that type of microdevice?

In the future, such implanted microdevices could potentially deliver drugs [or] repair organs inside the body, all controlled wirelessly. We are developing different versions of the device to tackle different medical problems.

Scientists push to rethink esophageal cancer research

A new analysis of 559 samples from gastric and esophageal cancer patients has come to an interesting conclusion — the two main types of esophageal cancer are so different on a molecular level that they can be considered different diseases. The analysis comes from the Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network, a collaboration between the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute. The samples showed that upper esophageal cancers are quite similar under the microscope to head and neck cancers. Lower esophageal tumors, on the other hand, are almost exactly the same on a molecular level as a type of stomach cancer. Scientists' takeaway: Cancer clinical trials should group patients and test treatments according to their specific subtype of esophageal cancer. Read about the finding in Nature.

Alabama Supreme Court rules in fetal viability case

The Alabama Supreme Court is letting a woman move forward with a wrongful death claim against her doctor after suffering a miscarriage at six weeks. A lower court ruled against her, saying the doctor couldn’t be held liable in a civil suit because the fetus wasn’t yet viable. The reasoning behind the unanimous ruling from the state's high court? Unborn children are protected from the moment of conception under the state’s wrongful-death statute. Back in 2011, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the viability standard established by the federal Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade doesn’t apply to wrongful death lawsuits. The new decision backs up that ruling. 

Justice Tom Parker, a member of the court who wrote a concurring ruling on the case, has been criticized for the role his rulings have played in the "personhood" movement. 

What to read around the web today

  • Inside the million-dollar get-rich doula clique. Buzzfeed
  • CDC keeps details secret of laboratory mishaps with deadly viruses, bacteria. USA Today
  • When there's no licensed therapist, where do patients find help? NPR

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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