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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

FDA, DEA issue first joint warning letters to illegal opioid sellers 

In a first, the FDA and DEA yesterday jointly issued warning letters to four online networks that illegally market and sell unapproved or misbranded opioid medications, including the potentially dangerous drug tramadol (which is sold as ConZip and Ultram). The drug carries a warning for life-threatening side-effects and poses a risk for abuse and addiction. In their letters, the agencies are asking the networks — which operate a total of 10 websites — to stop selling the drugs immediately. The agencies expressed concern that by buying the drugs from these websites, patients can’t be assured of the quality or safety of the medications. The FDA and DEA expressed further concern that these products could in turn fuel the already heightened opioid crisis. 

New consortium launched to study female reproductive health

The Bia-Echo Foundation and the California-based Buck Institute for Research on Aging announced the launch of a new global consortium to study female reproductive aging. Called the Global Consortium for Female Reproductive Longevity and Equality, the consortium will be based at a Buck center that was established last year to better understand the female reproductive system and how it ages. “While menopause and ovarian aging set off a cascade of negative health effects in women’s bodies that impact bone, cognitive, cardiovascular and immune function, the field has been significantly understudied,” Dr. Eric Verdin, president of the Buck Institute, said in a statement. The new consortium will also fund research strategies to delay ovarian aging. The consortium will award $7.4 million in grants to researchers of all levels over the next two years.  

Older adults largely unaware of telemedicine as an option

The folks behind the National Poll on Healthy Aging are out with a new survey, this time on telemedicine: More than half of the older adults surveyed didn’t know if their physicians offered telehealth services. Here’s more: 

  • Interest in telemedicine: Nearly two-thirds expressed interest in telehealth if they unexpectedly fell ill while traveling. More than half expressed interest for a follow-up visit or a return visit with a provider. 

  • Telehealth vs. in-person: Nearly half of those with telehealth experience said it was more convenient than in-person visits. But more than half said in-person visits provided better communication and more time with providers. 

  • Concerns: Nearly three-quarters were concerned about such visits not offering an opportunity for a physical exam, while nearly 40% were concerned about not seeing or hearing their provider properly. 

Inside STAT: An AI startup tries to take better pictures of the heart


An ultrasound taken by STAT's Matthew Herper. (COURTESY BAY LABS)

As in many areas of medicine nowadays, artificial intelligence is making its way into ultrasound imaging, including of the heart. Taking pictures of the heart can be notoriously difficult — because of the chest wall and because some shots must be made while the heart is in motion. But AI developed by San Francisco-based Caption Health could ensure that a picture is not taken until the ultrasound has the right shot. Using the technology, STAT’s Matthew Herper — who was invited to try his hand at the device — was able to work a sonogram “in a matter of minutes,” he writes. If the AI holds up, it could allow more health professionals to take heart sonograms of more patients. Read more here.

Cancer patients may benefit from off-label drugs

A new study finds that cancer patients may benefit from drugs that are not approved for the disease. Researchers used genetic data of patients who had exhausted existing treatment options to find “off-label” drugs that may work instead. When these drugs were tested in a clinical trial, a third of the 215 patients treated saw their tumors grow smaller or remain stable in response to the treatments, for a median duration of around nine months. More than 60% of these patients received targeted genetic therapies, while the others received some form of immunotherapy. Still, two-thirds of the patients did not benefit from the treatments because they either discontinued participating in the study or, more commonly, their disease worsened. “[E]xisting anticancer drugs may have value beyond their approved indications,” the study authors write, which could expand which patients benefit from them.  

Strokes among U.S. adults have decreased over the past 30 years

Previous research has suggested that strokes among older adults are on the decline, and new data indicates that that trend is continuing to hold. Scientists looked at adults aged 65 and older who were enrolled in a study assessing the risk of arterial disease, and found that rates of stroke declined between 2011 and 2017. Taken together with data from 1987, the new numbers indicate that strokes in that age group have declined by 32% every 10 years for the past 30 years. The trend was seen in both men and women, as well as black and white individuals. Some caveats: Researchers weren’t able to account for the type of stroke experienced by individuals, nor did they have recent data for those under the age of 65. 

What to read around the web today

  • These sheriffs release sick inmates to avoid paying their hospital bills. ProPublica
  • How employers make it impossible for working women to breastfeed. HuffPost
  • A new death shakes a campus rattled by student suicides. The Wall Street Journal 
  • Opinion: Governments should fight air pollution from fossil fuels like they fight tobacco use. STAT
  • If a medicine is too expensive, should a hospital make its own? Mosaic

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

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