Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, folks! I'm here to get you ahead of the day's big news in science and medicine. 

Leading cancer researchers present recommendations for Biden's moonshot 

A high-profile panel of scientists and physicians today will deliver recommendations for Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer moonshot initiative, on issues such as cancer vaccines, data sharing, and early detection, as well as how to best spend the $755 million President Obama proposed for the moonshot in his most recent. Today, the panel will highlight the most promising areas of scientific research. The 28-member Blue Ribbon Panel is chaired by Tyler Jacks, the head of the Koch Institute, and also includes Dana-Farber’s Dr. Laurie Glimcher and biotech billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.

NFL players get concussion training before football season kicks off

NFL players head into the new season this week with new training on how to identify the signs of a concussion. The NFL player's organization teamed up with the American Academy of Neurology to create a video detailing what players should do if they think they have a concussion — and when they should be allowed to return to play if they do. The video features former NFL players who touch on their own lack of understanding around concussions and the pressure to play through injuries. "There was a tremendous amount of pressure when we played, we had to play hurt," Super Bowl champ and former player Andre Collins says. Watch it here

Lab Chat: Stopping sepsis with peptides from cord blood

Infection-fighting cord blood cells. (Mark cody / Diana lim)

Scientists have stumbled upon a compound in umbilical cord blood that could point the way to treatments for sepsis. The compound inhibits tiny spiderwebs known as neutrophil extracellular traps, which are released by white blood cells as part of the body’s response to infection. They’re helpful in fighting off illness, but when NETs go rogue, as during sepsis, they can damage organs and blood vessels. Here’s what lead researcher Dr. Christian Con Yost of the University of Utah told me about the work, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

How do these NETs work?

They’re an anti-infection mechanism. In the setting of an infection, a certain number of cells undergo a cell death process, and when they die, they take as many bacteria as they can with them. They turn their DNA into this sticky mess that shoots out these traps, or NETs, to catch bacteria.

Is that helpful or harmful?

It’s a double-edged sword. NET formation, if appropriately regulated and occurring in the right spot with the right amount of intensity at the right time, is one of the really important things to limit the spread of infection. If you or I get a cut that’s infected, part of the pus that forms are these NETs that are walling off the infection and keeping it local. But there’s this darker side, if it’s happening in places where it shouldn’t. If you get NET formation happening in the blood, or lungs, or heart, that can be a trigger for tissue damage.

What did you discover to stop them from going unregulated?

We found that there’s an inhibitor in the umbilical cord blood we think made by placenta that inhibits these traps for the first two weeks of life. So we’re now looking at these as molecules that could theoretically be used as a treatment for the inflammatory response in things like sepsis.

Sponsor content by shire

As Many as 9 out of 10 People With This Common Bleeding Disorder May Go Undiagnosed

Von Willebrand disease is the world’s most common inherited bleeding disorder, yet can go undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed. No one simple blood test exists to identify people with the disease, and many physicians have little or no familiarity with the condition. It is characterized by frequent, hard-to-stop nosebleeds, heavy menstrual periods, easy bruising among other bleeding symptoms. Find out more about the condition at

Inside STAT: Outdated ICUs get a 21st century upgrade

Intensive care units are one of the most critical parts of any hospital in the US — but many of them, doctors say, are often dangerously out of date. A recent review found that while there’ve been incremental improvements in ICUs in the US, there haven’t been any major advances since the field began in the 1960s. Machines like ventilators and pulse monitors don’t talk to each other, and all try to signal a problem by beeping at hospital staffers. One critical care doctor told STAT correspondent Usha Lee McFarling that he estimates nurses answer a false alarm from those machines every 90 seconds. Now, doctors and nurses are trying to drag ICUs into the modern age — read more here.

Senate's Zika vote flops

As expected, the Senate failed Tuesday evening to advance a $1.1 billion bill to fund the US response to Zika. Democrats blocked the bill for the third time because they oppose the GOP-inserted provisions targeting Planned Parenthood and Obamacare. What's next: Sources in DC tell STAT's Dylan Scott that a likely outcome is Zika money will be included in a bigger government spending bill later this month. So why has it taken so long? The reality is many Americans, and therefore their representatives, don't view Zika as that big of a threat. 

Don't treat head lice with mayonnaise 

If ever you needed a reason not to slather your head in mayonnaise, here it is. A new review of DIY head lice treatments finds that putting the sandwich condiment on your scalp isn’t a safe or effective way to do away with the bugs. The same was true for petroleum jelly and essential oils. Those home remedies might even cause adverse reactions like skin irritation, the review notes. Head lice also seem to have grown increasingly resistant to one of the standard types of treatment, pyrethoids. The study’s authors caution that the treatments which do still work — including benzyl alcohol and topical ivermectin — should be used sparingly when needed to avoid the same fate.

WHO hosts live chat to talk suicide prevention

In the lead-up to World Suicide Prevention Day this Saturday, the WHO is starting a new conversation about what it takes to prevent suicides worldwide. The organization will host a live Facebook chat today to specifically discuss the role that community leaders, lawmakers, and journalists play in the prevention effort. Dr. Shekhar Saxena, the WHO’s director of mental health, will be taking the public’s questions. You can watch live on their Facebook page starting at 9:00 a.m. ET today.  

Lengtening primary care hours to prevent unnecessary ER trips

Could leaving primary care practices open later in the evenings and on weekends keep patients out of the ER? The UK’s health service tested the idea by expanding late-night and weekend hours for 56 primary care facilities. In a new study published in PLOS Medicine, researchers examined how the frequency of ER visits among that patient population compared to patients who didn’t have access to expanded primary care. The patients who had access to those extra primary care hours made 26 percent fewer visits to the ER for minor problems. But when it came to making the health care system more cost-effective, the extra primary care hours weren’t much of a help — the ER savings didn’t offset the costs of keeping primary care centers open longer.

What to read around the web today

  • Obamacare was supposed to make all birth control free. As a doctor, I can see that's not happening. Vox
  • Hillary Clinton treats theories about coughing with a dose of humor. New York Times
  • When people ate people, a strange disease emerged. NPR
  • Two Nobel judges fired over stem cell doctor scandal. The Guardian

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


Have a news tip or comment you want to send me?

Send me an email