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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

NIH, Gates Foundation launch effort to bring genetic cures to world’s poor

The NIH and the Gates Foundation are investing at least $200 million over the next four years toward developing gene therapies for sickle cell disease and HIV. Unlike many other attempts at such therapies, the focus will be to ensure that the treatments are affordable and available to resource-poor countries, especially in Africa. The move comes amid growing concern that new treatments that alter the underlying genetics of a disease will be prohibitively expensive — a gene therapy for a rare form of blindness, for instance, costs around $425,000 per eye. The initiative will aim to test any potential cures in the U.S. and countries in sub-Saharan Africa in the next seven to 10 years, and to then make such therapies available in the hardest-hit areas. “We aim to go big or go home,” NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement. 

FDA wants stronger warning on breast implants about risks

The FDA wants women getting breast implants to receive stronger warnings and more details about the risks and complications associated with the procedure. The agency issued a draft guidance document calling on breast implant makers to include a boxed warning as well as a checklist that patients can use to better understand the risks, including pain and scarring. The FDA is also recommending that labels include information about what’s in the implants. The new guidance comes after reports in recent months linking certain kinds of implants with illnesses in women with the products. In July, the FDA asked Allergan to recall a type of its textured breast implants after several hundred women who received the implants developed a rare type of lymphoma. The guidance is now subject to a 60-day public comment period before being finalized. 

Inside STAT: A toxic weed fuels a cancer-drug gold rush — and a quandary


The drug was still experimental, but already it was something of a celebrity. For patients with Gorlin syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, the idea that a gel might reduce the skin cancer surgeries they needed was so seductive it hardly seemed real. In fact, it nearly hadn’t been. The medicine had come from an unlikely place — the wild cow cabbage patches around Manti-La Sal National Forest — on an even unlikelier assumption: that this botanical Gold Rush would yield a treatment for a whole litany of cancers.

In the second half of “The Medicine Hunters,” STAT’s Eric Boodman brings you inside both that drug-finding quest — involving machetes, mowers, and some of the biggest pharma companies in the world — as well as the quest of Gorlin patients to reduce these medications' financial toxicity. Read the story here

Google searches for CBD have skyrocketed in recent years

CBD products are widely advertised as a treatment for a plethora of ailments, and a new study finds that Google searches for such items have also skyrocketed recently. Looking at data between January 2004 and April 2019, scientists found that although searches for CBD products were relatively stable during the first decade of the study period, they increased by 126% in 2017 compared to 2016, and 160% in 2018 compared to the previous year. There were more than 6 million searches last April, which outnumbered searches for other health terms including acupuncture and meditation. 

At the same time, a new report outlines the global use of different drugs — including cannabis — and finds that in Canada and some U.S. states, CBD products are used to treat medical conditions “in the absence of evidence of their effectiveness and safety.” 

A new test could identify tuberculosis in less than an hour

Tuberculosis is the deadliest infectious disease globally, but quickly detecting it — and distinguishing it from other respiratory infections with similar symptoms — has remained a challenge. A new paper describes a test capable of diagnosing TB in less than an hour. Using machine learning techniques to sift through data from 317 patients, the scientists identified four blood proteins that are unique to tuberculosis to develop their test. The accuracy of the test improved when they added a fifth marker that picked up on specific proteins produced in response to toxins expressed by TB. Overall, the new test was correctly able to identify those with TB 86% of the time, and was correctly able to rule out disease in non-TB infected people 69% of the time, which aligns with the WHO’s requirements for a new TB test. 

Nature journals gets a new look


The scientific journal Nature and many of its affiliate journals — where your Morning Rounds writer previously worked — are getting a makeover. Specifically, many of the Nature journals now have a new “digital friendly” font and logo. This isn’t the first time for such an update: In an article, Kelly Krause, one of Nature’s creative directors, explains that ornate Victorian embellishments graced the journal when it was founded in 1869, while it opted for a more minimalistic look in the 1960s. For the newest change, the team took into account how science often uses standalone letters to represent concepts — such as α — and how the new typeface needed to account for people accessing materials on smaller, mobile devices. The team ultimately settled on a typeface they’re calling Harding — named for the late neurologist Anita Harding. 

What to read around the web today

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Thursday, October 24, 2019


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