Thursday, March 30, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Thursday, folks! Welcome to Morning Rounds, where I get you ahead of the day's health and science news. 

Kentucky lawmakers move to enact mental health bill

State lawmakers in Kentucky have overriden the governor's veto on a bill that allows courts to mandate outpatient treatment for some individuals with mental illnesses. Most states already have similar laws in place that allow family members, medical professionals, or law enforcement officers to petition a court to order outpatient treatment for a mentally ill individual. Advocates of such laws say they help certain individuals with mental illness get the help they need. 

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin vetoed the law, citing concerns that it would infringe on individual liberty. "Not only would this permit the restriction of liberty for individuals who have not committed crimes and do not pose a threat to anyone, but it would do so based on speculation about what might happen or might not happen in the future," the governor wrote in his veto decision. Both the House and Senate voted yesterday to reverse that decision and enact the bill into law.

Tracking polio in sewers catches outbreaks early

Researchers have devised a new way to catch polio outbreaks early by keeping tabs on sewage — and a polio vaccination campaign underway in Pakistan this week suggests that’s a good place to start. A new paper out in Science Translational Medicine finds that monitoring sewage for low levels of the virus could provide an earlier warning sign of the virus's circulation than traditional epidemiology can. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, health officials have just launched a polio vaccination campaign after traces of the virus turned up in the Islamabad sewage system. The new technology could offer places like Pakistan a new way to track potential reappearances of the virus. It can also predict how many people have been infected, and could be used to verify that poliovirus has, in fact, been eradicated from an area.

Making science understandable, one visual at a time

(Greg Dunn, Brian Edwards, and Will Drinker)

Here’s a bit of beautiful science to brighten your morning up: The National Science Foundation and Popular Science have announced the winners of their annual visual media contest. It awards photographs, illustrations, and apps that help to make science more understandable and engaging. My personal favorite? This lovely illustration of the human brain created as part of a collaboration between neuroscientists and artists, which highlights half a million individual neurons in the brain. Check out the finalists here.

Sponsor content by Partners Healthcare

World Medical Innovation Forum: Cardiovascular

Top entrepreneurs, CEOs, Harvard clinicians, and scientists will gather May 1-3 in Boston for a provocative discussion on the development and accessibility of new cardiovascular treatment innovations in a rapidly-evolving health care environment. The World Medical Innovation Forum is a global gathering of more than 1,000 international innovation decision-makers. Featured speakers include CEOs of global companies, innovators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, as well as senior investors, and high-profile journalists. Register today.

Health officials look to cut medication mistakes by half

Health officials are making a new global push to slash the rate of medication errors in half over the next five years. Medication errors harm an estimated 1.3 million patients each year in the US alone. Those errors — such as giving a patient an incorrect dose or a medication intended for another patient — are blamed on overcrowding, staff shortages, and a lack of training, among other issues. The initiative, spearheaded by the World Health Organization, will work to create guidance and tools for both health providers and patients. In particular, the effort will focus on patients who take multiple medications and drugs that pose a high risk if used incorrectly.

Inside STAT: A health agency hits the chopping block

(molly ferguson for stat)

An under-the-radar federal agency tasked with making health care safer and more efficient has had a target on its back for 20 years. But now, time for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality may be running out. Funding for the $330 million agency is on the chopping block under the budget blueprint outlined by the White House. The Trump administration is looking to fold the agency into the NIH, which is also expected to undergo sweeping budget cuts. But the proposal has sparked sharp opposition from supporters who say the agency is vital to a key Republican promise: reducing health care costs. STAT’s Casey Ross has more.  

Preventive surgery in breast cancer patients on the rise

More women with early-stage cancer in one breast are opting to have preventive surgery to remove the other, cancer-free breast, according to new research published in JAMA Surgery. Researchers examined data from more than 1.2 million women age 20 and older who’d been diagnosed with invasive cancer in one breast. One-third of those patients between ages 20 and 44 opted for a preventive mastectomy in 2012, compared to 10 percent in 2004. A similar increase was seen among women age 45 and over, though that group is less likely than younger women to undergo the procedure.

The concern: Researchers don't know if those preventive mastectomies offer any health benefits. The study’s authors note that previous research has shown an increase in the use of genetic testing on patients at high risk of developing breast cancer, which might be a factor in preventive mastectomy rates. But, they say, more research needs to be done to determine the reasons behind the rise.

Federal HIV/AIDS research program eyes future projects

The NIH's research program focused on HIV/AIDS is gearing up to make a game plan for new work in 2019. The office is asking academic and industry researchers, health care providers, and patient advocates to weigh in about the kinds of projects they'd like to see prioritized in upcoming years. They're looking specifically to foster research on the next generation of HIV therapies and reducing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. The caveat? It's not yet clear how proposed NIH budget cuts would affect such research. While the White House has said it wants to cut $7 billion from the NIH's broader budget in the next year and a half, President Trump's budget proposal specifically called out HIV/AIDS prevention and health care as a top priority. 

Cancer screening rates lower among disabled people

Researchers have turned up a troubling disparity in colon cancer screenings among disabled individuals. It’s recommended that individuals between 50 and 75 receive a colonoscopy every 10 years or receive an alternate colon cancer screening more often. But researchers scrutinizing the data on screenings have found that just 34 percent of adults in that age group with an intellectual disability are getting screened, compared to 48 percent of the general population. That might be due to transportation barriers, a lack of awareness, or other hurdles, the University of Missouri researchers say. The findings suggests there’s a need for targeted interventions to make sure individuals with disabilities are being properly screened for the disease.

What to read around the web today

  • Italy’s paid menstrual-leave bill would come with a big cost to Italian women. Quartz
  • Missouri rejects federal money in order to set up its own abortion restrictions. NPR
  • House votes to restrict EPA's use of science. The Hill

More reads from STAT

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