Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone! Let's get you ahead of the day's science and medicine news. For more on what we're doing here at STAT, read this story in the Columbia Journalism Review. 

Cancer deaths fall, while heart disease deaths rise

Death rates in the US jumped last year, with heart disease topping the list of causes, according to new data published this morning by the CDC. Death rates from stroke, Alzheimer’s, liver disease, and Parkinson’s also increased. But mortality rates for cancer, diabetes, and HIV either stayed flat or fell.

A simple fix to reduce ER visits for asthma

Kids with asthma who leave the hospital with new medications in hand return to the ER less often than children discharged with a prescription they'll need to fill later, according to research published today in Pediatrics. In fact, up to 37 percent of young asthma patients discharged with prescriptions don't have them filled in a timely manner. Asthma affects 235 million children worldwide, and in the US, it’s the second most costly chronic disease among kids. The study’s authors say the simple switch to giving patients their meds right at the hospital could significantly reduce costs related to ER visits.

Statins don't work for this off-label use

High-dose treatment with statins before and after heart surgery doesn’t reduce the risk of kidney injury as doctors had thought it might, according to new findings published in JAMA. Acute kidney injury affects up to 30 percent of patients after cardiac surgery. Previous research has suggested that statins might help curb the risk. But when Vanderbilt researchers gave 615 patients statins or a placebo, they found the medicated group was actually slightly more likely to experience kidney problems after surgery.

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The matrix that helps support your cells


Turns out, when your cells build a matrix, it's not just for structural support: Scientists writing in the journal eLife have discovered that extracellular matrices, like the one pictured here in the trachea, also help regulate the cells that built them.

Inside STAT: The way WHO's director is handling Zika

As public concern grows over the Zika virus, eyes are on the WHO and its director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan. The organization has to walk a fine line between overreacting and underreacting, especially after it came in for heavy criticism for its response to the Ebola outbreak. In the past month, the organization has sent out travel recommendations and shared info on ways to reduce the risk of sexual transmission. The bigger picture? The WHO is in the process of rebuilding itself and responding to recommendations spurred by the Ebola response, Chan said in an interview with STAT infectious diseases reporter Helen Branswell. Read more here.

Solving the sugary mystery of how a compound kills cells

Scientists have been puzzled by trehalose — a sugar thought to protect some animals from brain disease. Now, new research explains how the chemical works: It keeps cells from grabbing onto the sugars they need for energy. That, in turn, causes the cells to break down in a process called autophagy. That information could be useful for treating diseases marked by an excess of cells — think cancer, fatty liver disease, and even Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s diseases. In a new mouse study of fatty liver disease, trehalose added to the animals' drinking water led to less fat buildup in their livers. Read the research in Science Signaling.

Lab Chat: The insidious effects of poverty on childhood cancer

The cure rate for children with the most common pediatric cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), is 90 percent. What endangers the remaining 10 percent? Poverty may be one culprit. In a decade-long study of 757 ALL patients published in Pediatric Blood & Cancer, children from high-poverty areas faced early relapse more frequently than wealthier peers. STAT reporter Bob Tedeschi talked to lead researcher Dr. Kira Bona of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute:

How does this add to existing research?

Two other studies have shown that poor children with ALL have lower overall survival rates, but no one has been able to look at potential causes for that. We found that children who came from high poverty areas were significantly more likely to experience early relapse than those from low poverty areas, and if a child relapses earlier, it’s harder for us to salvage them.

Can you hypothesize about why these children might be relapsing earlier?

We don’t know. It’s possible it has something to do with chemotherapy delivery. It’s given in-patient initially, and then for two years it’s given orally at home. It’s certainly possible there could be differences in adherence rates between children in high and low poverty areas, and that could affect your timing to relapse.

Less affluent children tend to be less healthy to begin with, right?

They have worse underlying health, so they may be more at risk for toxicities from chemo, which could lead us to delaying or dose reducing their chemotherapy. There are a number of possibilities, some of which we’ll look at in our next trials.

What to read around the web today

  • Shortage of addiction counselors further strained by the opioid epidemic. NPR
  • Is inpatient rehab helpful? Slate
  • The breastfeeding story is more complicated than you might think. Washington Post

More reads from STAT

  • Why health care needs a Steve Jobs-style disruptor
  • Most drug makers report incomplete side effects to the FDA.
  • Sexual transmission of Zika possible in 14 more US cases, CDC says.

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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