Monday, January 11, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking
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Welcome to the week, everyone! Here's what will be driving the news in health and science today. 

The big J.P Morgan Healthcare Conference is in full swing

Thousands of biotech investors, execs, and analysts descend upon San Francisco this week for the industry’s biggest gathering of the year: the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, which kicks off today. This year’s festivities come at a critical time for biotech — stocks have been down since summer and politicians are firing shots at rising drug prices. Several STAT reporters are at the conference watching how that plays out. Follow the deal-making, the networking, and the partying with our comprehensive blog, updated live all week here.

New this morning: Why are young stroke patients waiting to get help? 

The first few hours after stroke symptoms surface are crucial to getting life-saving treatment, which makes this new finding all the more concerning. Only a third of people under 45 say they’d be very likely to go to the hospital if they were experiencing the symptoms of a stroke, according to a new national survey from UCLA researchers coming out today.

"The natural tendency is to be positive and have wishful thinking that any concerning symptoms of stroke would diminish or abate without treatment," lead researcher Dr. David Liebeskind told me. Almost three quarters of people said they’d wait it out to see if symptoms — like numbness, weakness, and trouble speaking or seeing — improved. That’s particularly troubling, the researchers say, given that the number of young adults hospitalized for strokes has risen in the US over the past two decades. There are about 800,000 strokes, among patients of all ages, in the country each year.

This polymer could bend over backwards to accommodate medical devices

You know you twist so fine. (Science Advances)

This shape-shifting polymer can twist and turn itself into all kind of forms, and for tricky-to-fit medical devices, that could be particularly useful. It’s a step up from typical polymers that stay true to their original molds, since this shape memory polymer can be shifted multiple times. Read about the new technology in Science Advances.

sponsored Content by PHRMA

Trouble accessing your medicines? PPA may be able to help

In the last decade, the Partnership for Prescription Assistance has helped nearly 9.5 million people by connecting them with public and private patient assistance programs. Learn more here about how biopharmaceutical companies are helping patients access the medicines they need for free or nearly free.

Lab Chat: What happens when the brain senses danger that isn't there? 

Scientists have identified a cellular circuit that determines how different regions of the brain communicate, according to new research in Science. It also plays a role in how the mind distinguishes between safe and dangerous environments, so that makes it a promising avenue for treatment of conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders. Here’s what lead researcher and neuroscientist Steven Siegelbaum of Columbia told me about the findings.

Explain to me how the areas of the brain you were looking at work.

There are two major classes of neurons in the brain. Excitatory neurons are involved in producing the everyday flow of information from one area to the next. But that flow of information has to be regulated, because if there’s too much excitation the brain can start developing seizures or be damaged from things like a stroke. That’s what inhibitory neurons do.

And how could inhibitory neurons hold promise for treating people with conditions that cause the brain to perceive fear unnecessarily?

These inhibitory neurons are very familiar to people who’ve ever drunk alcohol, or who’ve taken an Ambien to fall asleep. They regulate or turn down inhibition in the brain. Now that we can see the circuit where we can turn up or down inhibition, we can regulate the excitatory pathways that are leading to those responses. Maybe the ability to store appropriate memories and fear responses could be enhanced.

Inside STAT: Can chocolate milk heal concussions?

Will knocking back a particular brand of chocolate milk help student athletes recover more quickly from concussions? Unpublished research from a kinesiologist at the University of Maryland says maybe so, and some schools are taking that as a cue to stock up on the product, dubbed Fifth Quarter Fresh. But critics  worry that the research hasn't been properly vetted  and say the milk has been overhyped. More from STAT reporter Ike Swetlitz here.

Eye cancer survivors may face medical challenges later in life

Retinoblastoma — the most common form of eye tumors in young kids — is tied to a whole host of medical problems later in life, says new research to be published this morning in CANCER. A comparison of nearly 500 adult retinoblastoma survivors and peers without the cancer found that survivors had a higher risk of developing a second cancer later in life. Interestingly, though, that disparity was mainly seen in people who’d had retinoblastoma in both eyes, not just one. People who only had the cancer in one eye had no increased risk of chronic medical problems. That’s because people who develop the tumors in both eyes have a higher genetic risk of getting a second kind of cancer, researchers explain.

What to read around the web today

  • Man orders a Kindle, gets a tumor sample instead. BBC
  • Google Cardboard virtual reality goggles help save a baby's life. CNN
  • Mark Zuckerberg gets his baby vaccinated, anti-vaxxers sound off. Washington Post

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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