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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Welcome to Morning Rounds! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine this morning.

Quick note: Yesterday's newsletter included an item about a new genetic atlas that was developed in an effort to predict prognoses for cancer patients — if you're interested in that research, you can find the paper here

Trump administration halts study on coal mining and public health

Scientists running a public health study near mountaintop coal mining sites in Appalachia are meeting today to discuss their work — but for now, the Trump administration has put the research on hold, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports. There’s been significant concern about the environmental and public health impact of mountaintop removal by mining companies. 

The study — launched last year at the request of West Virginia environmental and public health officials — aimed to review research linking mountaintop coal mining to a higher risk of birth defects, cancer, and premature death among residents living near the mines. The federal government had committed more than $1 million to the study, but the research is being paused while the Department of the Interior reviews its grant budget. The National Academy of Sciences, which is carrying out the study, says its scientific committee is ready to dig back into the research once the review is complete. 

Backyard flocks blamed in salmonella outbreaks

The number of people sickened with salmonella after contact with live poultry this year is continuing to climb, and health officials don’t expect the disease to stop spreading any time soon. The CDC says 961 people — nearly 30 percent of them kids under age 5 — have fallen ill amid 10 separate outbreaks of salmonella linked to backyard flocks. Most people with salmonella recover within a week without treatment, but the infection is more likely to be severe among young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. The CDC’s recommendations to stay safe: Wash your hands after handling live poultry, don’t let the animals into your house, and don’t let kids under age 5 touch live poultry or eggs without supervision.

Pinpointing diabetes patients at risk of hospitalization

Researchers have created a new tool to identify patients with type 2 diabetes who are at high risk of being admitted to the hospital with very low blood sugar. Patients with diabetes can’t always tell that their blood sugar is plummeting into hypoglycemia, which has been linked to heart attacks, coma, and other health problems. Emergency rooms see an estimated 100,000 cases tied to severe hypoglycemia in the U.S. each year. Researchers collected data from more than 200,000 patients with type 2 diabetes, pinpointed the risk factors for hypoglycemia, and then used those findings to create the new model. 

Inside STAT: At high risk of Alzheimer's, citizens become scientists

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Shelley Alvarado helps her dad, Joseph Gleason, take his jacket off at his retirement home. (SANDY HUFFAKER FOR STAT)

Sisters Shelley Alvarado and Betty Gleason Lacy have an extensive family history of Alzheimer's disease. Their mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all developed the condition. Each sister carries a single copy of APOE4, an allele that substantially increases their risk of developing Alzheimer's. Their brother carries two copies. The pharmaceutical industry doesn't have any answers — one Alzheimer's drug after another has failed in clinical trials. So Lacy has started her own research as a citizen scientist, connecting with other individuals across the country who also carry the APOE4 variant and share lifestyle tips and research insights with one another. STAT's Meghana Keshavan has more here

The results of a sweeping study on sprout safety

The FDA has wrapped a sweeping study on the safety of sprouts, which have been blamed in a handful of food poisoning outbreaks in recent years. Sprouts are particularly vulnerable to contamination because they're grown in warm, moist environments where it's easy for bacteria to thrive. Health officials tested 825 samples from across the country. The upshot: 14 samples from eight growers tested positive for salmonella, listeria, or E. coli bacteria either in the seeds or the fully grown sprouts. Health officials had those growers get rid of the contaminated sprouts and in some cases, helped them recall other products.

Experts tackle the gap in research on pregnant women

Experts are gathering today to talk about how to tackle the huge gap in research on pregnant and lactating women. The 21st Century Cures Act set up a task force to identify holes in the research on safe, effective treatments for pregnant and lactating women — who often are left out of clinical trials — and advise health officials on how to close them. At today's meeting, the task force is discussing how to foster new research on pregnant and lactating women and how to help scientists working in academia, industry, and federal agencies collaborate on those studies. You can watch today’s meeting live here starting at 8:30 a.m.

Correction: Yesterday's newsletter stated that activist Robert Kennedy Jr. had met with the "heads of the FDA and the NIH" to discuss vaccine issues. Kennedy told STAT he met with officials including NIH Director Francis Collins as well as the head of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Peter Marks. He didn't meet with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

What to read around the web today

  • Healthcare workers say doctor deprived Georgia inmates of treatment. Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Chile relaxes one of the world's strictest abortion bans. NPR
  • USC's dean drug scandal could take a costly toll on the school's legal battle with the UC system. Los Angeles Times

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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