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Morning Rounds Megan Thielking

Freeze on fetal tissue procurement may impede work at NIH cancer lab

The NIH freeze on fetal tissue procurement is threatening to hamper work at an agency lab that's conducting cancer immunotherapy research, the latest sign a Trump administration decision could slow the efforts of scientists who depend on the samples. “If they don’t procure new fetal tissue by, say, end of January, [there] will be an impact,” an NIH spokesperson tells STAT. The NIH says it's taking steps to make sure the research didn't have to be paused. Two other NIH labs are also carrying out research that could also be affected by the suspension. STAT's Ike Swetlitz has more here

Meanwhile, House lawmakers are holding a hearing today to explore alternatives to the use of fetal tissue in scientific research. One of the witnesses at today's hearing is Tara Sander Lee, a researcher at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. The institute is the research arm of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List. Another witness is David Prentice, research director of the Lozier Institute and an advisory board member of the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center. 

More than 2.5 million babies died from preventable causes in 2017

Nearly 30 million babies each year are born too small, born too early, or become sick enough to need specialized care —  and many of them aren't getting the care they need, according to a new report produced by UNICEF, the WHO, and other groups across the globe. More than 2.5 million babies died last year from preventable causes, the report found. Some of those deaths were due to low-quality care, and others were due to no care at all.

And while neonatal mortality rates vary wildly between countries, almost all neonatal deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Most of the countries with the worst neonatal mortality rates have experienced a recent humanitarian crisis, like a war or natural disaster. The report's authors lay out a handful of recommendations — starting with investing more resources in the issue.

Inside STAT: These children can't move or speak. Clowns and engineers are trying to listen to their inner worlds

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Therapeutic clowns Helen Donnelly (left) and Suzette Araujo visit Krystal, a client at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. (CHLOË ELLINGSON FOR STAT)

For Helen Donnelly, a therapeutic clown, silliness is serious business. But about a decade ago, Donnelly and a fellow therapeutic clown grew worried that they might be scaring some of the patients who couldn't move or speak. They wandered up to their hospital's research floor to someone who could answer that question. One of the people there was engineering student Stefanie Blain-Moraes. Looking back now, the scientist points to that meeting as the catalyst for a unique invention: an algorithm that gets paired with a biosensor and produces something she calls biomusic. She's hopeful it could give parents and clinicians a way to tap into the emotions that kids can't communicate. STAT's Eric Boodman has more in a captivating new story — read here.

Developmental delays persist as Brazil’s Zika babies grow up

Researchers following a group of more than 100 Zika babies from Brazil report that 14 percent have experienced severe developmental problems. That means they’ve scored unusually low on cognition, motor, or language skill tests, or that they have visual or hearing impairment. "It was either both things or one or the other,” says Dr. Karin Nielsen-Saines, one of the authors of the new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study found that another 15 percent had moderate developmental delays, and a handful had microcephaly and were so profoundly impacted that the developmental tests couldn’t be carried out. Nielsen-Saines says she and her group plan to study the children until at least age 7 to see if the symptoms change over time. 

Does scrubbing stethoscopes get them clean?

A new study adds to the stack of evidence that stethoscopes can be home to all kinds of bacteria. Researchers studied the bugs on 20 reusable stethoscopes; 10 used, disposable stethoscopes; and 10 unused, disposable stethoscopes in one hospital's ICU. There was a thriving bacterial community on every stethoscope, including some bacteria that had the potential to cause infections in people. The researchers also swabbed other stethoscopes before and after they were cleaned using different methods, including providers scrubbing them down whatever way they normally do. When that was the case, only two of the 20 got as clean as new stethoscopes.

Lab Chat: How bacteria fend off competition

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strep bacteria, in red, colonizes the surface of an airway. (NYU School of Medicine)

Scientists have discovered that some bacteria that set up shop in tissues first have a better shot at beating out bacterial competitors that later try to invade the territory. Here's what Dr. Jeffrey Weiser of NYU School of Medicine told me about the finding, published in Nature Microbiology.

What did you see bacteria doing?

It’s been widely observed in studying animals from butterflies to birds to deer that whoever occupies a territory keeps out intruders. We found that bacteria do the same thing. The bacteria that we studied, Streptococcus pneumoniae, do that by sensing the size of their population. When it reaches a certain level, they express genes that prevent competitor bacteria from intruding on their territory, which in this case is tissue in the upper respiratory tract.

What does that tell you?

This provides us some new insight into how bacteria compete with each other. Almost all of our antibiotics come from understanding microbe competition. 

What to read around the web today

  • How many years of life do we lose to the air we breathe? Washington Post
  • Illinois regulators are investigating a psychiatrist whose research with children was marred by misconduct. ProPublica Illinois
  • The recurring dread of a paralyzing illness. The Atlantic
  • Long-term study shows most prostate cancer patients don’t need aggressive treatment. STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

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