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Morning Rounds Elizabeth Cooney

Hi, this is health tech reporter Katie Palmer, filling in today before Shraddha's return.

International team creates first chimeric human-monkey embryos

One of the chimeric human-monkey embryos. (SALK INSTITUTE FOR BIOLOGICAL STUDIES)

In an effort to create experimental models that more closely mirror human biology, scientists are building chimeras, organisms that contain cells from multiple species. And in research published yesterday, a group of international researchers have now created the first embryos that are part human, part monkey. It’s controversial, though early-stage, work: The embryos were grown outside the womb, and so could only survive up to 20 days. But their success means now is the time for urgent conversations about ethical guidelines for continuing work in the field. “Whenever you cross a major technological or biological hurdle like this one, it’s a good moment to stop and reflect,” Nita Farahany, a professor of law and philosophy at the Duke University School of Law, tells STAT’s Usha Lee McFarling.

WHO raises the alarm on the dwindling drug pipeline to combat antibiotic resistance

Novel antibiotics are essential to fight back against the emergence and spread of drug-resistant bugs, which could kill up to 10 million people a year by 2050. But a new WHO report shows that not nearly enough progress is being made. Of the 43 antibiotics in the pipeline, none target the most dangerous pathogens, bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics and readily share genetic material to promote resistance in other bacteria. “What’s really alarming is the majority of drugs in development are redundant,” Hatim Sati, a technical officer at WHO’s International Research Coordination Initiative, tells STAT’s Ed Silverman. Drug makers have struggled to monetize antibiotic development, leaving early-stage drugs largely in the hands of small companies with limited resources. But legislation could establish better incentives for drug makers to invest in innovative antibiotics.

A CDC survey illuminates barriers to care for transgender women 

The CDC has released a comprehensive survey of the health of transgender women in the U.S., and the results highlight the population’s high risk of HIV, homelessness, and limited access to pre-exposure prophylaxis. Among the 1,608 transgender women in seven major U.S. cities interviewed, 42% of those with a valid HIV test had tested positive, with extreme disparities between Black, Hispanic/Latina, and white respondents. The same figure — 42% — describes the proportion of respondents who had experienced homelessness in the last year. The report calls on public health bodies to provide more HIV prevention, care, and treatment for transgender women, starting with robust testing.

Inside STAT: Human biology could hobble the next generation of Covid-19 vaccines, experts worry


The first Covid-19 vaccines to be approved in the U.S. are remarkably effective at preventing severe disease and death. But a phenomenon called imprinting — a kind of snapshot your immune system takes of a pathogen the first time it appears —  could prevent future vaccines from working as well, experts tell STAT’s Helen Branswell. That memory, which shapes the immune response the body mounts if it encounters the bug again, could be modeled on the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself, or on a vaccine’s non-infectious facsimile. As the virus continues to mutate, that initial impression could interfere with your body’s ability to defend against new strains. Not everyone is concerned, though, and some suggest that the design of mRNA vaccines and their strong immune response could sidestep the impacts of imprinting. Read more.

Covid-19 reinfections in young Marines point to the importance of vaccination

For young people, having had Covid-19 doesn’t necessarily protect against future SARS-CoV-2 infections, suggests a new study. Funded by the Defense Health Agency and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the work followed more than 3,000 recruits for the Marine Corps, mostly male and 18 to 20 years old. On military bases, living in close quarters led to a relatively high infection rate; between May and November 2020, half of previously uninfected recruits got Covid-19. Of the 189 who were infected before May, though, 10% were reinfected during that period. Those cases were mostly asymptomatic, reinforcing the importance of vaccination for people who have been previously infected with Covid-19 and may still transmit the virus if they are reinfected.

Despite a drop in patient visits, physicians earned just as much in 2020

The pandemic took a toll on medical practices, with nearly half of physicians reporting drops in patient volume, according to a new report compiled by Medscape. That didn’t change their earnings in 2020, though: The survey of 18,000 physicians in the U.S. showed their average salary stayed almost completely unchanged from the previous year at $242,000. That stability was subsidized, of course, by pandemic relief, as well as staff cuts elsewhere in practices; increased billing for telehealth also played a role. Notably, some specialites saw salaries spike during 2020, including plastic surgeons, whose chart-topping salaries rose another 10% to $526,000. Specialists in the p’s — public health, preventive medicine, and pediatrics — continued to pull in the lowest salaries.

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 74,289
Deaths yesterday: 887

Correction: An item in yesterday's Morning Rounds inaccurately referred to a study on treatment for multiple sclerosis and neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder as a clinical trial when it was a retrospective analysis of data on patients who had previously received care. Additionally, the study did not draw any conclusions about whether B cell depletion therapy is equally effective for Black and white patients, but merely raised the question of whether a one-dose-fits-all approach provides the best care for patients.

What to read around the web today

  • Long Covid sufferers are seeking disability benefits. Will they change the system? U.S. News and World Report
  • Coding to hide health prices from web searches is barred by regulators. Wall Street Journal
  • In a sharp rebuke, health officials toss Trump-era proposal to exempt medical AI tools from review. STAT+
  • Covid-19 vaccines are entering uncharted immune territory. The Atlantic
  • Hints emerge about a key Senate committee’s plans for health care. STAT+

Thanks for reading! Have a nice weekend,

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