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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Wednesday, Morning Rounds readers! I'm here to get you ahead of the day's news in health and medicine. 

A long to-do list awaits Gottlieb at the FDA

It's Scott Gottlieb's first day at the helm of the FDA. The Senate voted yesterday to confirm Gottlieb, who has worked as a physician, investor, and consultant to biopharma companies. One of the first items on his to-do list: getting a handle on the reauthorization of industry user fees, the dues that drug and device makers pay when applying for FDA approval. Those fees account for a significant chunk of the FDA’s budget. The Senate HELP committee is meeting today to go over legislation that needs to be passed soon to re-up those fees for the next five years. The agency already worked out an agreement with industry players last year to craft the new bill. But President Trump’s budget proposal called for increasing the amount of money that industry must cough up to the FDA and cutting back taxpayer funding for the agency. Watch that hearing live here starting at 10 a.m. ET.

New effort launches to protect nursing home residents 

New Jersey officials are trying to make it easier for families to protect their loved ones living in nursing homes. The state already has a “safe care” camera program that lends out hidden cameras to individuals who want to keep a close eye on home health aides and in-home caregivers. Now, they’re expanding that program to provide cameras for monitoring caregivers in nursing homes and institutional care centers. State officials say the program gives consumers a better way to catch and report abuse and neglect. Only a handful of states, including New Jersey, have laws that allow for recording in nursing home rooms. Critics of the idea say there’s a fine line to walk when it comes to the privacy and consent of residents, visitors, and staff.

Retirees often short on cash to cover health care costs

Half of retirees over age 65 say they don’t know how much they need to have stashed in the bank to cover their health care expenses in older age, according to a new report out this morning from the United Health Foundation and the Alliance for Aging Research. Even more troubling – the report found 62 percent of retirees over age 65 have less in total retirement savings than what it would take to pay for their health care alone. 

The knowledge gap turned up in younger people, too. An estimated 36 percent of adults between 50 and 64 also said they didn’t know how much they’d need to save to cover their health costs upon retiring. That’s of particular concern considering the health hurdles that population is facing — middle-aged adults have higher rates of diabetes and obesity compared to current retirees.

Inside STAT: An insider defends the role of 'drug czar'

The White House has expressed interest in seriously streamlining the Office of National Drug Control Policy, with President Trump's initial budget blueprint suggesting a 95 percent funding cut. But Regina Labelle — who was the office's chief of staff from 2009 to 2017 under Obama — says that proposal is "penny wise and pound foolish." Labelle says that by serving as a single entity to oversee everything happening in drug policy, the office makes the work of agencies such as HHS and the DEA more efficient. Read more in a Q&A with Labelle here

Lab Chat: Growing bone marrow to improve transplants

A lab-grown bit of bone, with functional marrow in the middle. (varghese lab / uc san diego)

Scientists have created lab-grown tissue that looks like a bone and acts like a bone — and they’re hopeful it one day can serve as a source of bone marrow for patients who need a transplant. Here’s what study author Shyni Varghese of University of California, San Diego told me about the work, published in PNAS

How does the bone you developed work?

If you take a piece of [human bone] you can see that it has two compartments — outside bone tissue and inside bone marrow. We have engineered a bone tissue mimicking this architecture and used the system to support bone marrow transplantation. The implant was transplanted into a rodent which matured into a bone tissue with bone marrow functions. This new bone organ functions like an accessory and supplies bone marrow cells to the host.

What’s the potential application of a system like this?

We can use this system to support bone marrow transplantation, [which] would be mostly applicable for patients suffering from non-malignant bone marrow diseases. Currently, bone marrow transplantation requires the patients to undergo certain procedures like radiation to destroy the host bone marrow prior to transplantation. Preconditioning often comes with side effects like severe nausea, fatigue, loss of fertility, and such. We [want to] eliminate this pre-treatment.

Should healthy adults be screened for thyroid cancer?

The task force responsible for making recommendations on health care practice for the US is putting the brakes on screening for thyroid cancer in symptom-free adults. The detection of thyroid cancer has ticked up nearly 5 percent in the past decade, the fastest growth in detection seen for any cancer. But in spite of increased diagnoses, the mortality rate hasn’t increased. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says that because thyroid cancer is rare and it’s not clear the additional screenings make a dent in mortality, screening isn’t likely to serve a significant benefit and might result in overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

Latest food recalls blamed on bits of plastic and glass

Give your grocery list a once-over — there's been a string of strange food recalls this week. Publix pulled its store-brand spinach and artichoke dip from shelves because it's possible there are shards of glass in the dip. Perdue, meanwhile, is recalling more than 2,000 pounds of organic chicken sausage with an ingredient that doesn't sound at all natural: blue bits of plastic. And in a tough blow to breakfast, Aunt Jemima's frozen pancakes, waffles, and French toast are being plucked from stores over concern they might be contaminated with listeria. There haven't been any injuries or illnesses reported with any of those recalls. 

What to read around the web today

  • A public overdose. An antidote at hand. Would passers-by use it? New York Times
  • The insulting childbirth experiences mothers with disabilities endure. Cosmopolitan
  • Trump wants faster FDA action, but 1 in 3 drugs have safety issues after approval. Kaiser Health News

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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