Thursday, February 8, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Morning Rounds. 

Here's what's going on with the budget bill

Senate leaders have come up with a bipartisan budget agreement and are poised to pass it today, though it's unclear whether the bill will make it through the House. Here's what the agreement would mean for health care: 
  • A research funding raise: The agreement would boost NIH funding by $2 billion.
  • Money for the opioid crisis: The bill would increase spending to address the opioid crisis and mental health by $6 billion over the next two years. Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Alex Azar met with President Trump yesterday to talk about the epidemic, among other health issues. 
  • Community health center and CHIP extensions: The deal would fund community health centers for two years and tack another four years of CHIP money on to the six years of funding that was recently approved. 
  • A sizable hit to the drug industry: It contains a provision that would put drug makers on the hook to cover a larger portion of drug costs for some Medicare Part D beneficiaries starting in 2019, not 2020 as  planned. 

Mom who lost two sons to overdoses shares her story with senators

Becky Savage, who lost her teenage sons Nick and Jack on the same night in 2015 to accidental opioid overdoses, is testifying before the Senate health committee this morning about how the opioid crisis is impacting families. I met Savage last fall in Indiana, where she talks to students, parents, and anyone in the community who will listen about the dangers of opioid abuse. Today, she's doing the same on Capitol Hill. “I am hoping to leave [lawmakers] with the impression that this is a real problem affecting real people,” Savage tells me. “No one is immune. There is a real need for prevention in our communities.”

Read more about her sons and her work here, and tune in to her Savage’s testimony at 10 a.m. ET here.

PTSD drug is no better than a placebo, study finds

Thousands of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder have taken the drug prazosin to ease nightmares and other sleep disturbances — but new research calls the drug's efficacy into question. Multiple prior studies have shown that it's effective. But a team of researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs, looking for more evidence, set out on a long-term, rigorous study of the treatment. Their conclusion? The drug is no better than a placebo. But some experts, including a lead researcher on the trial, said doctors should still prescribe the drug for some patients. More here from STAT's Andrew Joseph. 

Sponsor content by One Person Closer

Recently, the scientific community lost a hero

Tom Marsilje, a senior oncology researcher, passed away last November at the age of 45 from metastatic colorectal cancer. He left an indelible mark on the world of cancer research and clinical trials. Tom was a friend, a colleague, a father, a husband, a music lover, and in the end, he became the researcher who brought humanity to our fight and reminded us why we work so hard to find answers for those facing cancer. Learn more about his legacy and help increase awareness of clinical trials.

Inside STAT: The activist looking out for research animals 


anthony bellotti has spent years working to roll back animal research. (Pete Marovich/American Reportage for STAT)

When Anthony Bellotti was 17 and interning in an animal research lab, he was struck not by how the work might help patients with heart disease, but by the plight of the pigs involved in the research. Now the 39-year-old founder of an animal rights group, Bellotti achieved an important victory last month. He played a key part in pressuring the FDA to shut down a nicotine addiction study after four monkeys died — and prompted the agency to appoint an independent investigator to look into the FDA's animal research program more broadly. STAT's Bob Tedeschi has more on Bellotti and his work — read here

Lab Chat: What two-faced bacteria tell us about disease

There are tons of helpful bugs living in our body, but there are also dangerous pathogens —and some bacteria, known as pathobionts, can be both. A new study digs into a bacteria called H. hepaticus that can go either way. Here’s what researcher Maria Pokrovskii of New York University told me about the work, published in Nature.

What is a pathobiont?

It’s a bacteria that shifts in the eyes of the immune system, going from looking friendly to looking dangerous. It’s kind of like a two-faced bacteria. We wanted to see what happens to make that shift. There’s a great mouse model for this with the bacteria H. hepaticus, which normally doesn’t cause colitis in mice. But when mice have a genetic susceptibility to the bacteria, they develop an inflamed colon.

What did you see when you tracked the mice's T cells?

When you give normal mice the bacteria, regulatory T cells that dampen all the inflammatory T cells are induced. But when mice have a mutation that makes them susceptible, these T cells become highly inflammatory. We found a gene that was really important for the function of those T cells, and when you remove it from them, they create inflammation. Now we want to see if there’s a human pathobiont that’s similar and that causes inflammatory bowel disease in people.

New compound treats asthma, at least in mice

Rutgers researchers say they’ve turned up a potential new treatment to relax airways that are tightened by asthma and other respiratory disorders. Along with scientists at Shanghai University in China, the researchers found a specific protein in lung tissue that relaxes the smooth muscle cells in the airways. Mice with asthmatic lung tissue had far lower rates of the protein. Then, scientists developed a treatment from that protein that expanded the airways and made it easier for mice with asthma to breathe. The compound also didn’t show any signs of toxicity in human cells. The critical next step: test the treatment in patients.

What to read around the web today

  • Why a simple, lifesaving rabies shot can cost $10,000 in America. Vox
  • Overseers say the government needs to act to protect infants born affected by drugs. Reuters

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


Have a news tip or comment you want to send me?

Send me an email