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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Fourth GP-Write meeting kicks off this week

Almost four years after GP-Write made its tumultuous debut, critics saw its “secret” organizing meeting as evidence of nefarious intent. The project to create genomes from scratch holds its fourth annual meeting starting tomorrow in New York City. Scientists from a dozen countries will describe their latest progress toward the goal of creating designer genomes, in which an organism’s natural DNA sequences are replaced by lab-made ones, often with a twist intended to make them superior to the ones found in nature. The nearly 50 presentations include the bottom-up design and synthesis of bacterial and other genomes, and the creation of the largest-ever lab-made chromosome (of a yeast). Ethical issues will also be on the table since, as one multinational team said in a description of its work, “The potential creation of new life forms raises questions.”

University of California researchers vote to ratify first union contract

University of California’s academic scientists voted late last week to ratify a contract for such researchers. This first-in-the-country union — called Academic Researchers United — has almost 5,000 members across the University of California system, people who are not faculty, post-docs or graduate students. The union reached a tentative agreement with UC earlier this month after five months of bargaining, and researchers overwhelmingly voted to ratify the agreement in a 2,450-53 vote. The three-year contract includes several components in favor of the scientists, including increased compensation — the average raise will be 18% over the contract period, but researchers can expect up to 24% in wage increases. Also in the new contract: improved job security to ensure longer guaranteed appointments and protection from unfair termination, as well as a new procedure to deal with claims of discrimination and harassment.

Officials identify possible culprit behind vaping illnesses 

In a breakthrough, health officials late last week announced they had identified vitamin E acetate as a possible cause for the recent spate of vaping-related lung injuries. The chemical, an additive or thickening agent in some vaping products, showed up in every sample of lung fluid that was taken from 29 patients with such illnesses — now officially called EVALI. Officials also said the new finding needs to be confirmed, including in animal studies, and that other causes could still be at play. It’s also unclear how widespread the use of vitamin E acetate is in manufacturing e-cigarettes and other vaping products. As of last week, there have been 2,051 cases of EVALI across 49 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with 40 deaths. 

Inside STAT: Neglected gene plays bigger role in Alzheimer's than suspected, study finds 


Last week, a study found that a woman of Colombian descent had a rare variant of a gene called APOE that seemed to protect her against early-onset Alzheimer’s — despite having another gene that predisposed her to the condition. Now, new details seem to provide even stronger evidence that APOE has a big role to play in determining whether or not a person develops the neurodegenerative disease. In a paper that has been posted to a preprint server and submitted for publication, scientists report two more variants of the gene with seemingly different effects: One variant seems to increase the risk of a person developing Alzheimer’s more than previously estimated, while another, rarer variant — only 5% of people may have it — seems to reduce disease risk by 99.6% compared to DNA with the highest risk. STAT Plus subscribers can read more from Sharon Begley here.  

Only a quarter of NIH preventive research looked at major causes of death

A new study finds that only one-quarter of NIH grants for preventive research projects looked at one of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S as a study outcome. Evaluating data from more than 11,000 research projects for preventive health between 2012-2017, scientists found that only about 26% of them looked at prevention measures for leading causes of death — including cancer, heart disease, and stroke — even though these causes are associated with nearly three-quarters of all deaths in the country. Moreover, only one-third of the grants looked at any leading risk factor for death, even though such factors were associated with nearly 60% of deaths. The NIH could prioritize projects that investigate major causes and risk factors of death as a way to increase research in these areas, the authors write. 

Drug discount cards end up costing insurers more compared to generics 

Pharmaceutical companies often offer drug discount cards to help defray out-of-pocket costs for patients' prescription drugs, but a new study out of Canada finds that such discounts end up costing private insurers. Looking at nearly 3 million prescriptions for 89 different medications, researchers found that discount cards cost private insurance companies 46% more in health care costs compared to similar generic prescriptions. At the same time, spending by public insurance — which Canada offers to all its citizens — was only 1.3% higher than for generic drugs, and patients saved about 7% per brand name, or CAD $3.49, per prescription by using the discount cards. In order to save costs, private insurance plans should perhaps be more forceful about substituting for generics when available, the authors suggest.

What to read around the web today

  • Kaiser Permanente chairman and CEO Bernard Tyson has died at age 60. The Sacramento Bee
  • You can get a Master's in medical cannabis in Maryland. NPR
  • More than ever before, Democratic presidential hopefuls want to take on pharma. Here’s how they’d do so. STAT
  • The hidden cost of gold: birth defects and brain damage. The New York Times
  • The new front line of the anti-abortion movement. The New Yorker

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Monday, November 11, 2019


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