Thursday, March 2, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning folks, and welcome to Morning Rounds. Here's what you need to know to get ahead of the day's health and medicine news. 

International meeting rallies funding for abortion access

Representatives from more than 50 countries are headed to Brussels today to talk about how to help women access safe abortions. The "She Decides" meeting comes on the heels of President Trump’s decision to reinstate the global gag rule, which bans US aid funding for international nonprofits that offer abortions, abortion counseling services, or referrals to abortion providers. “She Decides aims to increase financial as well as political support for sexual health and family planning worldwide and mitigate the impact of decreased US funding for family planning," the initiative's mission statement reads. Specifically, they'll be talking about how foreign governments and the private sector can work together on abortion access.

Positive signs that China will start sharing virus info

China is experiencing a worrying surge in human H7N9 bird flu infections this winter. Scientists outside China would like to study the viruses, but China hasn’t allowed the export of H7N9 samples since the summer of 2013. Now, there are signs that's starting to change. The counterpart to the CDC in China — which doesn’t have the authority to export viruses — has been sharing information on cases and the genetic sequences of viruses.

And on Wednesday, there was word some hurdles that have stood in the way of exports may have been cleared. Jacqueline Katz, the deputy director of the influenza division at the CDC, said experts meeting at the WHO were told the department that has the authority to export viruses might've already approved some requests. “So we think there’s a path forward for more rapid sharing of viruses, including H7N9 viruses,” Katz said. 

Facebook rolls out new suicide prevention features

a look at one of the new features. (facebook)

Facebook is introducing new suicide-prevention features, including one that employs artificial intelligence to comb through user posts and comments and flag those that might signal suicidal thoughts. The move comes after several suicides were broadcast on the company's live video platform. The company says it’ll use AI to review post and get in touch with users who might be at risk of harming themselves or others. They'll also make it easier for people to get in touch with a crisis counselor. “People can [now] contact a crisis counselor over Facebook Messenger by visiting our Facebook page directly,” Liz Eddy of Crisis Text Line tells me. Last summer, Facebook rolled out a feature that would point a user toward the service’s text message crisis line if a friend reported their post; now it has made the help a little easier to obtain.

Inside STAT: Is the 'man flu' real? 

There's long been a claim tossed about that men's flu symptoms are worse than women's — some say that's why men complain about how much they're suffering, others say "man flu" is just a diagnosis for men whining more than women. Man flu has become a meme, and there's even a sarcastic site dedicated to the idea that, for men, a simple cold can be solidly debilitating. In a new Gut Check, STAT's Sharon Begley takes a look at the scientific evidence behind man flu — read here

A new registry for food allergy sufferers

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America is launching a new food allergy registry to keep tabs on allergic reactions and experiences among patients. They’re looking to collect real-world evidence from people with food allergies in order to promote research on the condition, which affects about 5 percent of people in the US. Patients who sign into the web portal will be able to share their experiences on living with a food allergy, hopefully sparking ideas among researchers on new interventions that will address the daily hurdles of the condition.

Lab Chat: The tie between IBS and anxiety

The cause of irritable bowel syndrome — a common intestinal disorder that can cause diarrhea and constipation — remains a mystery, but researchers suspect bacteria in the gut are at least partially to blame. Now, they've found early evidence that those bacteria might be driving not just intestinal symptoms but also anxiety in IBS patients. Here’s what Premysl Bercik of McMaster University told me about the work, published in Science Translational Medicine.

How did you study the connection between IBS and anxiety?

We colonized germ-free mice, so they were raised without any bacteria or viruses, with fecal microbiota from healthy individuals, individuals with IBS, or individuals with IBS and anxiety. After three weeks, we studied their gut function and also their behavior. We saw that mice colonized with IBS microbiota had diarrhea-like patterns, similar to what we saw in patients, and we also saw low-grade inflammation in their intestines. But what was even more interesting [was] that mice with microbes from IBS and anxiety patients also had anxiety-related behavior, suggesting gut microbes can induce abnormal behaviors that we see in patients with IBS.

What’s the next step in the research?

We want to identify the mechanisms through which this [is] happening. The other idea is to introduce other factors. Some patients report their anxiety gets worse after eating certain foods. When we eat, we are absorbing most of the food but we are also feeding bacteria. So we want to look at how long-term dietary patterns determine the type of microbiota they have in their intestines, and how these interactions between the diet and the gut microbiota play a role in the genesis of these gut symptoms.

House meets to talk pharma fees for FDA

A House committee that focuses on health is holding the first hearing today to get rolling on reauthorizing the FDA’s user fee programs. The FDA collects fees from generic drug and biosimilar manufacturers to help pay for the drug approval process. It might sound a bit dry, but those dollars make a big impact — user fees account for a large chunk of the FDA’s budget. The fees were put in place to give the FDA resources to speed up the drug review process and, in doing so, make a dent in the stack of applications piling up at the FDA. Today’s meeting will center around how both the FDA and the drug industry feel the programs are working, and what they’d like to see changed. 

What to read around the web today

  • Lost in translation: When parents and pediatricians don't speak the same language. Kaiser Health News
  • Would Trump's FDA deregulation create an age of miracles? Don't bet on it. Forbes
  • Embryo experiments reveal earliest human development, but stir ethical debate. NPR

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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