Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning! STAT reporter Andrew Joseph here in Megan's stead. To the health and medicine news we go. 

Happening today: Senate takes a look at drug prices

Here we go again. President Trump on Monday repeated his infamous "getting away with murder" line when talking about drug makers and the prices they charge. And today, the Senate Health Committee is hosting another hearing on drug prices, this time focusing on how the drug delivery system affects prices. Tackling outlandish drug costs was one of the few areas of common ground during last year’s election, but despite all the talk, neither Congress nor the White House has taken serious action to address the issue. Senators today will hear from representatives from PhRMA, the Association for Accessible Medicines, the American Pharmacists Association, and other groups. The hearing, which starts at 10 a.m. ET, can be livestreamed here.

Oral HPV rate in men raises cancer concerns

One in nine U.S. men has an oral HPV infection, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It’s an important statistic to track: HPV can cause certain cancers, including a type of head and neck cancer called oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma, which is more common in men and is being seen in increasing rates. There is an HPV vaccine, but many men have not received it or are now too old to be vaccinated. The researchers said the data show prevention and screening efforts need to be improved. The rates of oral HPV were particularly high in men who had many oral sexual partners, men who had sex with men, and men who also had genital HPV infections. 

Lab Chat: We built these cages with protein coils

Scientists have been experimenting with making molecular structures out of DNA. Now a team of researchers has taken that idea and applied it to proteins, building what they call protein origami. The protein cages can self-assemble into a number of shapes, which are being explored as drug delivery tools. Researcher Roman Jerala of Slovenia's National Institute of Chemistry answered a few questions via email about the study, published in Nature Biotechnology:
What are coiled coils, and how are they used to build the cages? 
Coiled coils are a type of protein building block composed of two or more polypeptide helices that wind around each other. They are similar to the DNA duplex. [The coils] are used in our design as the rigid building blocks that form the edges of designed polyhedral scaffolds, similar to trusses for the construction of buildings and bridges.
What could the cages be used for? 
Our discovery that coiled-coil protein origami cages can be designed to self-assemble in cells opens the possibility for therapeutic applications. We are in the process of expanding the toolbox to make even more complex cages, to regulate opening and closing of cages, and to encapsulate cargo molecules into cages.

Sponsor content by Amgen and Novartis

Living with migraine: One woman copes with daily struggles of her invisible disease by writing down her story

After 20 years with the disease, Wendy Bohmfalk's life with migraine has meant countless sacrifices as well as missed opportunities and experiences. Writing down her story has given Wendy a new way to cope and a newfound perspective on her power to advocate for others. Read her story.

Inside STAT: Reforming dentistry's drug approach


Dr. Omar Abubaker talks with a patient. (Julia Rendleman for STAT)

Dr. Omar Abubaker barely paid attention to his prescribing patterns as he built a career as a dentist. But in 2014, his 21-year-old son, Adam, fatally overdosed. Abubaker, the chair of Virginia Commonwealth University’s dental school, believes his son’s addiction stemmed from prescription opioids he got after surgery. Since his son’s death, Abubaker has transformed not only his prescribing, but also VCU’s curriculum, building in lessons about addiction and dentistry’s role in it. His goal: get dental schools around the country to incorporate similar initiatives into their teaching. “I’m optimistic we will graduate a generation of dentists way ahead of where we are today,” he said. STAT’s Max Blau has the story from Richmond, Va.

No evidence touted technique helps with leaky bladders

A breathing and posture technique that has been widely taught as a way to manage leaky bladders and prolapsed wombs has no scientific evidence supporting its use, according to a new editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Coaches and physical therapists worldwide have spread the apparent virtues of the "abdominal hypopressive technique," which was said to strengthen muscles in the abdominal wall and pelvic floor. However, no studies have shown that its series of deep breaths and abdominal muscle contractions provide benefits for patients. “This particular treatment currently illustrates the phenomenon that not all recommended treatments are evidence based,” the authors wrote. Meanwhile, another technique — pelvic floor muscle training, which was developed by Arnold Kegel — is shown to have benefits for urinary incontinence and prolapsed wombs, the editorial says.

How insurance factors into breast cancer mortality rates

The mortality rate for black women with breast cancer was 41 percent higher than it was for white women as of 2014, and a new study finds that insurance coverage plays a key role in the discrepancy. Researchers pored through the cases of more than half a million women under 65 years old who were diagnosed with breast cancer from 2004 to 2013, weighing how factors like tumor characteristics and other medical conditions factored into mortality rates. They found that black patients were more likely to have larger and more serious tumors than white women at the time of diagnosis, but that the single biggest factor accounting for the difference in mortality rates was insurance coverage. Black women were much more likely to be uninsured or be insured through Medicaid than white women.

What to read around the web today

  • Undocumented pregnant girl tests Trump policy to stop abortions. Politico
  • This company is trying to disrupt the braces industry. Dentists are fighting back. BuzzFeed
  • The problem is the prices: Opaque and sky-high bills are breaking the health care system. Vox

More reads from STAT

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Thanks for reading! See you tomorrow,


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