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Friday, July 8, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Friday, folks! I'm here to bring you the day's big stories in science and medicine. 

Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes banned from running lab for two years

CMS has banned Elizabeth Holmes — CEO of troubled blood testing company Theranos — from owning or operating a medical laboratory for at least two years. Government regulators have also pulled the operating license of the company's Newark, Calif. laboratory, Theranos announced in a statement. Theranos promised it could deliver accurate blood test results with just a prick of the finger, but a review of the company's Newark lab last year called that into question. The ban doesn't take effect for 60 days, though Theranos said it will not conduct patient testing there until further notice.  The company will still operate out of its Arizona lab. Theranos will also have to pony up a fine. It hasn't been announced yet how much they'll owe. In 2015, Forbes estimated Holmes' net worth at $4.5 billion. 

Cancer clinical trial halted after three patient deaths

Juno Therapeutics has halted the development of its lead cancer drug after three patients died in the company's clinical trial. The patients died after excess fluid built up in their brains, which researchers suspect is due to the decision to give patients a certain chemo drug before giving them the treatment, dubbed JCAR015. The FDA's put the trial on clinical hold, meaning no new patients can enroll. The news led Juno's share price to tumble about 30 percent last night, while competitor Kite Pharma saw its shares drop about 14 percent.  More from Damian Garde here

Fewer young scientists could spell trouble for biomedical research 

There's going to be a steep decline in the number of stem cell scientists in the coming years, as a large chunk of the biomedical workforce nears retirement. Experts have worried that’s due to the NIH preferentially giving research grants to older scientists, pushing young scientists to take jobs in other industries. But new research published in Cell Stem Cell finds that’s not necessarily the case. It’s true that more grants do go to older researchers, but it’s not because there’s a preference for their applications — there are just more older researchers applying for grants. So what's driving the lack of young stem cell scientists seeking federal funding? The paper's authors suspect that changes in how academic researchers are trained and paid might play a role. 

Weapon-wielding fungi can kill off mosquitoes

Blastospores get up close and personal with mosquito larvae. (Tariq Butt)

Parasitic fungi can kill developing mosquitoes with their spores, and that fungal fight could be harnessed as a way to control the spread of diseases like dengue and Zika. The fungi produce little buds called blastospores in fresh water, where the larvae of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes grow. New research shows that those blastospores secrete a thick mucus which helps the spores stick to the outside of larvae, which allows them to kill the larvae within 12 to 24 hours. That means releasing blastospores into ponds could actually be an "environmentally friendly way of controlling mosquitoes," study author Tariq Butt of Swansea University told me. 

Inside STAT: How monkeys with three genetic parents could change medicine

The next big advance in fertility research might come from a handful of monkeys growing up in a lab outside of Portland, Ore. That's where researcher Shoukhrat Mitalipov is working to test how three-parent embryos might work. The controversial concept — already approved for use in the UK — aims to help women with mitochondrial disease have children without passing on their condition. But it's not yet clear whether children born with three genetic parents will develop normally and be able to have healthy children of their own. That's what Mitalipov is trying to find out — with the help of monkeys with three genetic parents themselves. More from STAT contributor Karen Weintraub here

Clock ticks on Congress's chance to pass Zika bill

Congress has just one week left to pass a Zika funding bill before leaving town until September. The speculation on the Hill is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might wait until the last minute. That would put Democrats who oppose the plan in a bind — either pass the bill or risk providing no funding for nearly two months. Democrats oppose the $1.1 billion plan negotiated by House and Senate Republicans because of what they call "poison pills" on Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act.

The White House transferred $500 million in leftover Ebola emergency funds in April to the Zika response, but without new funding, officials say public health is at risk. "We think that we’ve identified all of the resources that we could move over," deputy homeland security advisor Amy Pope told reporters Thursday. "Those were not easy decisions in the first place."

Two years since the CDC's first Ebola epidemic response

It’s been two years since the CDC launched an emergency response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and now, the agency is releasing an in-depth look at the process of ending the epidemic. The Ebola outbreak was the largest, longest epidemic the CDC has ever handled. Nearly 1,600 agency responders deployed to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia between July 2014 and March 2016. 

HPV-associated cancers are on the rise

The number of cancer cases tied to HPV is on the rise, with an average of nearly 39,000 cases per year between 2008 and 2012. That’s up from an average of about 33,000 cases per year between 2004 and 2008. Two-thirds of those cases were among women. What’s most striking: Nearly 75 percent of the cancers are tied to types of HPV that the vaccine series protects against. Those numbers might tumble if HPV vaccine and cervical cancer screenings become more prevalent, but the authors note more research is needed to see how those factors would influence cancer incidence on a population level.

What to read around the web today

  • The loudest sound in the world would kill you on the spot. FiveThirtyEight
  • Pac-Man gets recreated with microbes. Discover
  • Calvin Johnson details how easy it is for NFL players to rely on painkillers. Deadspin

More reads from STAT

Thanks so much for reading! Enjoy your weekend and see you bright and early Monday, 

Megan

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