Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Here's what you need to know about the day's (slightly spooky) news in health and medicine. 

A first look at what Trump's opioid panel will recommend

STAT's Lev Facher got a look at a draft of the final report from President Trump's opioid commission, which is slated for release tomorrow. Here's a quick look at some of the recommendations:

  • Put drug courts in all federal judicial districts. The courts offer an alternative to the traditional court system and have been shown to boost engagement in addiction treatment, but the commission says fewer than one-third of federal judicial districts operated the courts in 2015.
  • Promote the use of prescription drug monitoring programs. The report will push the White House to back the Prescription Drug Monitoring Act, a bill currently in Congress that would require states receiving federal grant money to follow PDMP regulations.
  • Increase funding for treatment and prevention research. The report concluded that the NIH's institutes on drug abuse, mental health, and alcohol abuse need more funding to bolster research, but didn't specify specific dollar amounts.
Find the full details of the report here

FDA moves to revoke claim that soy protects the heart

Can soy protein cut your risk of heart disease? The FDA isn’t so sure anymore. The agency is moving to revoke the 1999 approval of a health claim that soy protein protects against heart problems. The agency has authorized only 12 such health claims (for instance, that calcium and vitamin D can reduce the risk of osteoporosis) and has never rescinded one. But in recent years, studies have cast doubt on the connection between soy protein and heart disease. The FDA is opening the issue for public comment this week and then will decide whether to officially knock the claim’s status down to a “qualified health claim,” which requires less evidence.

Doctors push for action on hospital attacks in Syria

Doctors worldwide are protesting the continuing attacks on hospitals and health care providers in Syria. There were more than 1,000 attacks on Syrian medical facilities in 2016 — with many facilities hit multiple times — and at least 732 aid workers have been killed. More than 150,000 people have signed a petition calling on President Trump to help clear a path for aid groups to safely provide medical care and support in the country, and doctors worldwide are urging other global leaders to do the same. Those speaking out against the attacks are also calling on world leaders to enforce the U.N. security council resolution that bans attacks on medical facilities during war.

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Inside STAT: Medical history hidden in a basement full of brains


Cushing brain specimens in glass jars before restoration. (TERRY DAGRADI / CUSHING CENTER / YALE UNIVERSITY)

Only a few medical students knew about the basement that was home to hundreds of brains, all floating in clear jars with yellowed labels. Those who emerged from the basement below Yale’s medical school dorm were thoroughly scared. “It was like a shop of horrors,” said Christopher Wahl, who visited multiple times while at the medical school in the late 90s. The jars belonged to neurosurgery legend Dr. Harvey Cushing, who is credited with being the first surgeon to successfully remove a brain tumor, and who studied many of his patients’ brains after surgery. STAT’s Bob Tedeschi has a look inside Cushing’s collection and the medical history it was hiding — check it out here.  

Tuberculosis deaths are becoming less common — but there's still work to do

Global efforts to prevent and treat tuberculosis have cut the TB mortality rate by 37 percent since 2000, according to a new WHO report. That’s thanks, in part, to more funding for treatment and expanded access to TB prevention for kids under five and people with HIV, who are both considered high-risk groups. There were 10.4 million new cases and 1.7 million deaths from TB last year, but global health officials have made it a goal to end the TB epidemic by 2030. And while there’s been significant progress, WHO officials say it’s not happening fast enough — more people died of tuberculosis than any other infectious disease in 2016.

Spider silk could offer secrets for better hearing aids


that's why her hair is so big, it's full of secret sound sensors. (Jian Zhou)

Hearing aids could one day get an upgrade with help from a spooky source: spiders spinning super-fine silk. Scientists have turned to our eight-legged friends for ideas about how to make microphones, like those found in hearing aids, with higher sound quality. Humans hear through their eardrums, which sense pressure changes and tell the brain where a sound is coming from. But spiders actually use their hairs to detect he velocity of air to decipher sounds. “The microphone consists of super-thin fibers that move with the air in a sound field," engineer Ron Miles of Binghamton University, who created the microphone, tells me. Miles and his colleagues dipped those spider silk fibers in gold so they could conduct electricity. The device was able to mimic the same kind of hearing spiders have, which could point to an alternative type of microphone for hearing aids in the future. 

What to read around the web today

  • Flurry of federal and state probes target insulin drug makers and pharma middlemen. Kaiser Health News
  • Doctors prepare for deep dive into Las Vegas shooter’s brain. AP

More reads from STAT

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