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Friday, January 5, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Welcome to Friday, folks! If you've been hit by the same winter storm as we have, I hope you're staying safe and warm. Here's what you need to know about health and medicine today. 

Jeff Sessions rolls back marijuana policy, spurring a public health debate

Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to roll back an Obama-era policy that made it much easier for states to legalize marijuana, even though it remains federally prohibited — a move that has sparked heated debate. The policy largely discouraged federal prosecutors from bringing marijuana charges when the drug is legal under state law. Six states have legalized recreational marijuana use, and 29 states along with the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana use.

Former Sen. Patrick Kennedy, who served on the president’s opioid commission, applauded the decision, arguing it would prevent the marijuana industry from being able to “profit on the public health crisis of addiction sweeping our nation.” But Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called the decision “a direct attack on patients” who use marijuana. And in Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, Democratic state legislators pointed out that revenue from the legal pot industry has brought in money that has helped to pay for addiction treatment programs.

The CDC is planning a session on preparing for a nuclear detonation

Amid a back and forth about which world leader has the bigger nuclear button on his desk, the CDC has announced it'll host a teaching session later this month on what the public health response to a nuclear detonation might look like. The titles of the talks alone will give you pause: "Preparing for the Unthinkable" and "Roadmap to Radiation Preparedness," among others. It's one of the agency's monthly grand rounds talks that target doctors, epidemiologists, and other health professionals. The CDC says while a nuclear detonation is unlikely, "planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness.” More here

This squishy robot mimics how our muscles move

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this robot is ten times more graceful than i am. (keplinger research group / science)

Scientists working on soft robotics have created a new kind of artificial muscle that mimics how our own muscles expand and contract. They're made a flexible materials and liquids that shift their shape in response to electricity. Depending on how scientists designed the devices, they were able to make the robots flex a mechanical arm, lift a gallon of water, and even pick up delicate objects without squishing them, like the raspberry shown here. University of Colorado mechanical engineer Shane Mitchell, who works on the devices, tells me they could one day be used to assist people with limited mobility or to develop prostheses that more closely mirror the properties and functions of human tissue. 

New rules for some health plans could be coming

The Trump administration has proposed new regulations to make it easier for individuals and small businesses to buy health insurance outside of the rules established by the ACA. The proposal would affect association health plans, which gives groups of self-employed people and small businesses a way to join together to buy insurance. The plans wouldn't be able to explicitly charge different premiums based on a person’s health status, but it would be easier for them to be exempted from some ACA requirements, including covering essential health benefits like maternity care and prescription drugs. If the regulations are finalized, they would likely have an impact on the ACA marketplaces — policy experts say that healthier people opting for plans that don't stick to ACA requirements would leave the marketplaces with higher costs and a sicker pool of enrollees.

Inside STAT: A frenzied CEO’s push to get depression drugs to market

Dr. Jeff Jonas — a frenzied, longboard-surfing 64-year-old trained as a psychiatrist — is in charge of Sage Therapeutics. The biotech company has wrapped up an encouraging mid-stage trial for a drug to treat major depressive disorder and positive late-stage trials for an infusion to treat postpartum depression. Jonas is known for being refreshingly candid and unguarded. While some CEOs try to project a polished, buttoned-up image, Jonas is always just himself, friends and coworkers said. In his lengthy career in the industry, it’s worked for him. STAT’s Andrew Joseph has more on Jonas and his push to get depression drugs to market — read here.

A growing number of women are overweight before pregnancy

A new CDC analysis finds a growing number of women are overweight before pregnancy — which can have can have an impact on both their baby’s health and their own health. In 2015, 45 percent of women were at a healthy pre-pregnancy weight, while roughly 4 percent were underweight, 25 percent were overweight, and 25 percent were obese. Being underweight before pregnancy increases the risk of low birth weight. Being overweight or obese is tied to a higher risk of needing a C-section and of obesity for the child. The authors of the new analysis say better screening and treatment before pregnancy could help improve health outcomes for both women and their children.

Ohio abortion clinic launches new anti-stigma campaign

Ohio’s largest abortion clinic has launched a big advertising campaign to challenge stigma surrounding the procedure. The clinic, Preterm, put up 16 billboards around Cleveland that start with “Abortion is....” and end with phrases such as “your right,” “a second chance,” or “a parenting decision.” The campaign comes just weeks after Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a law that bans doctors from performing abortions based on a Down syndrome diagnosis. Nancy Starner of Preterm tells me the clinic hopes the billboards will get people “thinking about abortion in ways that center [around] a woman who is making a decision about a pregnancy.” 

What to read around the web today

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Have a great weekend! Back on Monday,

Megan

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