Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone! Here's what you need to know to get ahead of the day's health news. 

Can you tell when prescription drug ads contain false claims?

Federal officials are hoping to figure out how good we, as consumers, are at sniffing out false or misleading claims in prescription drug ads. The FDA already allows health care providers to flag false claims — such as exaggerating efficacy or downplaying risk — through its Bad Ad program. But FDA officials still worry that deceptive marketing will unduly influence patients or providers. So now, the agency is proposing two new studies that involve showing people mock drug ads and seeing whether they can spot the fibs. The move comes at a time when the number of enforcement letters sent to drug makers over ads is at a record low — but it's not clear whether that's due to a policy shift or limited resources to spot bad ads. More here

FDA goes after maker of snortable chocolate and 'Legal Lean'

I can’t believe I have to say this, but please don’t snort chocolate. The FDA fired off a warning letter this week to the makers of Legal Lean Syrup and Coco Loko, a “snortable” chocolate powder. As you might guess, neither has been approved by the agency. What's more, an FDA analysis showed the Legal Lean Syrup actually includes the active drug doxylamine, which isn’t on the ingredient list. That poses a risk both to people who drink alcohol and take the Legal Lean Syrup — doxylamine isn’t supposed to be used with alcohol — and to people who’ve had an adverse reaction to the drug and don’t realize it’s an ingredient. And Coco Loko contains guarana and taurine, two substances that haven’t been studied for inhalation through the nose.

Lab Chat: What mice whiskers tell us about our brains


the secret life of infrabarrels. (crandall et. al) 

Mice sweep their whiskers along the ground to sense their surroundings in the dark, a process that’s pretty similar to how human senses work. Scientists have a new clue about the brain cells involved — dubbed mouse whisker barrels — in a mouse’s senses. Here’s what neuroscientist Barry Connors of Brown told me about the work, published in Cell Reports.

What are mouse whisker barrels?

If you watch a mouse, they’re sweeping everything around them with their whiskers. They throw a lot of brain power at processing that info. It’s a great model for how sensation in general is processed by the brain. In the brain stem, the first stage of processing sensation, there’s a map of the surface. You can see clusters of neurons that correspond to whiskers. There are also maps in the next stops, the thalamus and the cortex. The people who discovered this decided the clusters look a lot like barrels. 

What did you discover?

The barrels are sitting in the fourth of six layers in the cortex. But we discovered there’s a system of “infrabarrels” directly underneath in the sixth layer, and they’re basically a second map. And the cells clustered on those barrels seem to regulate the flow of information that [gets sent] from the cortex back to the thalamus. 

Sponsor content by CooperSurgical

CooperSurgical believes it’s critical for women to know about hormone free birth control options

Contraception can give women the ability to decide if and when they want to start a family, and is an important healthcare choice they make. Dr. Robert Auerbach, Executive VP and Chief Medical Officer of CooperSurgical — who recently acquired PARAGARD® (intrauterine copper contraceptive) — said, “It’s critical for women to know that alternatives to hormonal birth control are available. CooperSurgical is dedicated to increasing awareness and access to products that address women and family health needs.”

Inside STAT: Could mosquito mutants lead the way in eradicating Zika?

Omar Akbari keeps a zoo of mosquito mutants in his lab at the University of California, Riverside. His research is at the leading edge of a revolutionary technology known as gene drive, which could one day deploy mosquito mutants to rid the world of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue, and Zika. The technology is progressing rapidly — just three years ago, the idea of disabling or destroying entire populations of disease-causing mosquitoes with gene drives seemed like a far-off possibility. Since then, advances in gene editing have accelerated the research, and that vision is now within reach. STAT’s Usha Lee McFarling has more on Akbari’s work, accompanied by a fascinating video from Dom Smith — read here.

Taking a closer look at chronic fatigue syndrome

There are still big gaps in our understanding of chronic fatigue syndrome, and today, a federal task force is convening to talk about research and awareness on the disease. There’s no known cause of the illness, also called myalgic encephalomyelitis, which can cause serious exhaustion, muscle and joint pain, and other debilitating symptoms. Earlier this year, the NIH launched a study to find more answers about what drives the disease and identify potential treatments. The task force will come up with a list of recommendations for the next HHS secretary about how to improve research, boost awareness of the disease, and get patients and caregivers involved in ME/CFS research and policy.

Restaurant menus are getting just a little healthier

Chain restaurants that’ve touted new, healthier menus do, in fact, have slightly healthier menus, according to a new study. Researchers analyzed more than 27,000 menu items and found that items dropped from menus had 71 more calories, on average, than items that didn’t get the boot. The biggest calorie cuts were to sandwiches, which fell from 645 calories to 525 calories, on average. However desserts stayed just as unhealthy. The shift could be due in part to the public pressuring restaurants to offer healthier options. The authors point to signs of the shift to healthier choices, like Starbucks’ switch to 2 percent milk and Cheesecake Factory's launch of the unfortunately named “SkinnyLicious” menu. 

What to read around the web today

  • Color line persists, in sickness as in health. Boston Globe
  • Can texting save lives? New York Times
  • 'Village movement' allows elderly to age in their homes. NPR

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

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