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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Wednesday, folks! Welcome to Morning Rounds, where I bring you the day's news in health and medicine. If you're interested in more in-depth biotech, policy, and pharma coverage, check out our subscription site STAT Plus

Senators, CDC committee tackle vaccine skepticism 

As the CDC’s advisory committee on vaccine protocols gears up to meet this morning, a bipartisan group of House and Senate health committee leaders are sending their colleagues in Congress a clear message — vaccines save lives. “As Members of Congress, we have a critical role to play in supporting the availability and use of vaccines to protect Americans from deadly diseases,” they write in a new letter signed by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, Democratic Senator Patty Murray, and other legislators. And while it doesn’t mention President Trump by name, the letter is a not-so-subtle nod to vaccine skepticism in government. “It is critical to recognize the importance of protecting public health against vaccine-preventable diseases,” the letter reads. 

The committee meeting will tackle vaccine safety during the two-day session. They’ll be covering everything from mumps immunization and the flu shot to the development of a Zika virus vaccine.

Life expectancy to rise unevenly in wealthy nations 

A new report in the Lancet predicts that life expectancy will continue to rise in developed countries in the coming years — but how much varies widely. Here’s a rundown of what researchers project life expectancy will look like in 2030.

  • South Korea is set to see the largest increase of the 35 developed nations included in the analysis. Life expectancy there could top 90 years for women and 84 years for men.

  • Australia and Switzerland were nearly tied with South Korea in projected lifetimes for men; France and Japan fell a few years behind South Korea in projected life expectancy for women. 

  • US life expectancy — which is already lower than many other wealthy countries — will likely fall further behind. Researchers say that high homicide rates, a lack of universal health care, and the obesity epidemic could all play a part.

  • In the US, life expectancy for men is estimated to jump three years to 79.5 years. That’s actually one of the smallest increases predicted in a developed nation. Life expectancy for women is projected to rise by two years, up to 83.3 years.

Lab Chat: Regenerating the cells lost after loud noises

Do you hear what i hear? (Will McLean,Jeff Karp)

Humans are born with around 15,000 hair cells — think tiny, sound-sensing fibers — in each ear. But the cells can’t regenerate, and over time, loud noises, certain medications, and chemotherapy can kill them off and cause hearing loss. But scientists working with a mouse model and a donated cochlea have found a possible way to regenerate hair cells. Here’s what biomedical engineer Jeff Karp of Brigham and Women’s Hospital told me about the work, published in Cell Reports.

Where did you turn to study hair cell regeneration?

We started in the intestine because it’s the most regenerative tissue in the human body. The entire lining of the intestine regenerates every four or five days. In the lining of the intestine, there’s a stem cell that’s really the workhorse making all the cell types in the epithelium. We spent some time trying to understand that biology and developing drug combinations that could target that cell to expand the numbers of the cells and control the differentiation.

How did that translate to cells in the ear?

We started looking to see there were similar regenerative cells in the body, and found these progenitor cells that are the precursor of hair cells. We took the molecules we used in the intestine and used them in inner ear and it worked. We were able to proliferate progenitor cells. Those progenitors could form hair cells, which were bona fide, functional hair cells. We did this in very young mice and adult mice. We also had a patient who had a tumor near the cochlea and we tested it on those cochlear cells, which expanded too. 

Inside STAT: Retailers test autism-friendly events

Individuals with autism sometimes experience an increased sensitivity to light, color, noises, and smells. But as autism awareness continues to grow, an increasing number of businesses are trying to accommodate individuals with autism at certain times. Retailers including JCPeneny, Target, and Toys R Us have tried holding "sensory-friendly" shopping events that tone down the stimuli during busy seasons such as holidays and back-to-school time. STAT's Ike Swetlitz has more here

Naloxone access tied to decline in overdose deaths

States grappling with the opioid epidemic are trying to encourage use of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone through legislative measures, such as a naloxone access law that gives non-medical professionals permission and training to administer the drug. A new paper finds those laws have translated to up to an 11 percent decline in opioid-related deaths. The analysis also looked at Good Samaritan laws that allow anyone who calls for help during a drug overdose to avoid prosecution for drug possession, which were also tied to a decline in opioid-related deaths, though on a smaller scale. But neither type of law was associated with a rise in non-medical use of prescription painkillers — a concern that’s been raised in other states considering similar laws.

Massive polio vaccination campaign launches in Yemen

Ongoing fighting in Yemen has made it difficult to keep on top of polio immunizations in the country, which officially eradicated the disease in 2006. But the WHO and UNICEF have just kicked off a three-day campaign to immunize 5 million children across Yemen. They’ve roped in more than 40,000 health workers to try to reach the refugees and individuals displaced internally within the country. 

How well do doctor-rating websites work? 

Looking for a new physician? You might not get much help from doctor-rating websites, researchers report in the new JAMA. They tested out 28 different sites by looking for reviews of 600 randomly selected physicians. One-third of the doctors didn’t show up on any of the sites. And only a handful of sites allowed users to search by potentially important criteria to patients, including languages spoken, insurance accepted, and sex of physician. That's a fair simplistic way of analyzing how the sites are used — but the study’s authors say it points to a need for more comprehensive resources for patients. For more on how one hospital system is collecting patient reviews and posting them publicly, read this

What to read around the web today

  • Swedish health exec resigns in wake of investigation. Seattle Times
  • Delay in hiring science advisers intensifies Brexit worries. Nature
  • A new diagnosis: Post-election stress disorder. Kaiser Health News

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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