Friday, March 25, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Friday, folks! Here's what you need to know to get ahead of the day's science and medicine news. I'll be out for the first part of next week, so look out for some great guest writers bringing you the morning's news. 

Yellow fever outbreak causes concern in Angola

An outbreak of yellow fever — which can cause nausea, vomiting, and fatigue — has claimed 178 lives in Angola since it began in December 2015. The WHO announced yesterday it’s working to contain the disease by dispatching vaccinators to the region. But so many doses are needed that officials are scrambling to come up with enough medication. A WHO spokesperson told me they’ll prioritize vaccinating people in urban settings and in places where local transmission has been confirmed.

Two major Parkinson's groups to merge

Two big hitters in Parkinson’s research have announced they’re joining forces. The Parkinson’s Action Network is closing its doors as a standalone nonprofit, folding into the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The Michael J. Fox Foundation has historically been interested in drug development, whereas PAN’s efforts have been geared more toward public policy.

Inside STAT: What we've learned about Zika virus

A few months ago, everything the world knew about Zika could be summed up in the slim stack of scientific papers that CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden called “50 years of neglect." In the weeks since, scientists worldwide have thrown their weight behind finding out everything they can about Zika virus. In that time, they've learned quite a bit. STAT infectious disease reporter Helen Branswell brings you what we've learned about Zika here

Lab Chat: The flexible envelope that keeps DNA safe

Our DNA is wrapped up in a protective bubble known as the nuclear envelope, and it's long been thought that this barrier was pretty ironclad. But new research published in Science finds it actually breaks apart pretty often — but that also might not be a problem. Here’s what researcher Matthieu Piel of Institut Curie told me about the findings.

How is DNA stored in the cells in human bodies?

[Humans] have their DNA separated from the rest of the cell in a compartment called the nucleus. Until now it was thought that, except in cases of very dangerous disease, the nuclear envelope would always be maintained, and that its uncontrolled opening would be a disaster for the cell.

But you found that wasn’t the case?

We showed that in fact opening of the nuclear envelope happens very frequently in our cells, as soon as the nucleus deforms, which happens when cells move in the body. This movement of cells is instrumental during development of organisms but also during all their life.

Do you see that as a problem?

Luckily, our cells are very well equipped to repair their nuclear envelope very efficiently. So in fact, this envelope should not be seen as a permanent barrier, but as a fragile frontier that is constantly broken and repaired. This discovery potentially illuminates the origin of several diseases caused by an increased fragility of the envelope or a defect in the repair mechanisms.

Why tuberculosis risk is higher in smokers

Normal macrophages (left) versus clogged macrophages (right) (STEVEN LEVITTE, LALITA RAMAKRISHNAN)
Smoking puts people at higher risk of developing tuberculosis because smoke particles can clog up immune cells, finds new research published in Cell. TB, caused by an infectious bacteria, leads to lung problems and, in some cases, death. It first attacks immune cells called macrophages in the body. Often, the macrophages win that battle and are able to ward off infection. But in people who smoke, macrophages are often chock-full of toxins from cigarettes and aren’t able to move as quickly. That makes the bacteria more likely to evade the body’s defenses.  

TB is cause for concern among the general population, too — the CDC released data yesterday that found the number of cases in the US rose last year for the first time in nearly 25 years. 

Mental health disparities among gay and lesbian adults

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the UK are twice as likely as heterosexual adults to experience anxiety or depression. But that risk changes depending on the age of those adults, finds new research in BMC Psychiatry. Mental health issues were most prevalent among people who identified with one of those categories and were over the age of 55. People under age 35 had the next highest rates of anxiety and depression.  The study also found high rates of anxiety and depression among LGBT adults who belong to racial or ethnic minorities.  

A logical place to start addressing those disparities: the doctor's office. People can be marginalized from the health care system in more than one way, the authors say, which makes the doctor-patient relationship crucial for keeping them healthy. 

STAT-Harvard poll finds widespread support for cancer research funding

More than 80 percent of Americans support a 20 percent increase in federal funding for cancer research, finds a new STAT-Harvard poll. That's how much President Obama has requested to fund the National Cancer Moonshot, an initiative spurred on by Vice President Joe Biden. Read the full results of the poll here, and for more on the moonshot, see our collection of stories. 

What to read around the web today

  • Tiny opioid patients need help easing into life. NPR
  • The evolution of the human nose. New Scientist
  • How Allergan rose and Valeant fell. Bloomberg

More reads from STAT

  • Gilead has taken a lot of hits lately. Here's what it really has to fear.
  • A lab-made cell shows why "disease genes" are so elusive

Thanks, as always, for reading! Back next week, 


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