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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine this morning. 

Lawmakers put drug distributors on the hot seat today

Lawmakers have been reluctant to bring in pharma execs to testify about the opioid crisis — but today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is hauling in five drug distribution execs for questioning. For the past year, the committee has been investigating the role of drug distributors — who link drug manufacturers to providers such as hospitals — in the opioid crisis. Lawmakers have been looking for instances of distributors shipping drugs to communities likely too small to justify the number of pills they receive. A prime example: Kermit, W.Va., a town of roughly 2,000 people. The committee says the town received more than 20 million opioid pills over a recent 10-year stretch.

A new trial to test HIV-infected kidney transplants gets underway

A new, multisite clinical trial to study kidney transplants between people with HIV launches this week. Congress legalized organ transplants between patients with HIV in 2013, though it still remains illegal to transplant an organ from an HIV-positive donor into someone who doesn’t have HIV. The study involves 160 patients with HIV who have end-stage kidney disease. Half will receive kidneys from deceased donors with HIV, half will receive kidneys from uninfected deceased donors, and researchers will compare outcomes between the two groups. The NIH, which is sponsoring the study, is also eyeing a proposal for a similar study on HIV-positive liver transplants.

Inside STAT: The Amish pool resources for health care. A gene therapy puts them in a bind

Dr. Kevin Strauss talks with a patient at his pennsylvania clinic. (ANDRÉ CHUNG FOR STAT)

Spark Therapeutics has proposed a few different ways of helping insurers pay for its $850,000-a-person gene therapy to treat a rare form of blindness — but the patients Dr. Kevin Strauss sees often don’t have insurance. At his Pennsylvania clinic, Strauss mainly treats Old Order Amish and Mennonite families who see it as the community’s responsibility to pay for medical care. One such family has two young daughters with genetic mutation that causes the kind of blindness Spark’s therapy treats — but asking for $1.7 million is unimaginable, so Strauss is trying to work out a deal with Spark. STAT’s Eric Boodman has the story here.

Walmart pharmacists getting tool to analyze opioid use

Starting in August, pharmacists at Walmart stores across the country will have access to a new tool that analyzes a patient’s risk of opioid misuse or abuse. NarxCare takes information from prescription drug monitoring databases and patient health records to identify drug use patterns and risk factors for misuse. Appriss Health — the company behind NarxCare — has scored several state contracts in addition to the Walmart deal. Walmart also says it'll start restricting initial, acute opioid prescriptions to no more than a seven-day supply in the next two months and will require e-prescriptions for controlled substances starting in 2020. 

Scientists aim to keep genomic data more secure

MIT and Stanford scientists have created a new system to protect the privacy of people who contribute their genomic data to scientific studies. The researchers say current cryptography techniques are difficult to use for more than a few thousand genomes. The new system is complicated — as it should be, it seems — but involves dividing secure data up across several servers, making it much harder to hack any one server and get patient information. The researchers showed the system worked on 23,000 genomes, which they say suggests the technique could be scaled up to efficiently protect as many as a million genomes.

A new microscope packs a one-two punch

i can see clearly now the microscope is in focus. (nih)

Scientists have combined two microscopic technologies to capture a clearer picture of all the action happening inside a cell. One kind of microscopy, dubbed TIRF, gets rid of background noise and creates a high-contrast picture, but isn’t great at catching tiny, quick movements. The other type, known as iSIM, doesn’t have great contrast, but can capture video at 100 frames per second. So researchers took an iSIM microscope and tweaked it to work like a TIRF microscope. The result: videos of the comings-and-goings happening every second inside human cells.  

What to read around the web today

  • Surgical device firm demands the retraction of a study paid for by its rival. STAT
  • States turn to an unproven method of execution: nitrogen gas. New York Times
  • CMS chief criticizes Medicare drug payments for ‘perverse’ incentives. STAT Plus
  • STDs in L.A. County are skyrocketing. Officials think racism and stigma may be to blame. Los Angeles Times
  • Ascletis becomes the first biotech seeking to go public in Hong Kong under new rules. STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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