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Morning Rounds Megan Thielking

FDA proposes new restrictions on vapes and menthol cigarettes

The FDA has launched a sweeping new effort to crack down on the rising rate of tobacco use among young people. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The details: The agency says it’ll limit sales of most flavored e-cigarettes in retail stores by requiring shops that sell vapes to have either age-restricted entry or separate areas that minors can’t enter. That’ll effectively ban sales in convenience stores and gas stations, but not specialty stores.

  • The context: “The issues are both access and appeal. The e-cig products are too appealing to kids, and too accessible. And so we are taking steps to address both these variables,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a tweet.

  • On a related note: The FDA is also moving to ban menthol in cigarettes and cigars. The proposal will have to go through the rulemaking process — which can take years — and could face opposition from the cigarette industry.

NFL awards millions for brain injury research

The NFL is awarding more than $35 million to five groups studying the diagnosis and treatment of brain injury in thousands of former professional football players. The five-year project will include brain scans, blood tests, and annual surveys. It'll also look at potential ways to reduce the risk of damage after a hit to the head. The scientists are hoping to pinpoint the most promising treatments that could move into clinical trials — and, one day, could be used to prevent and treat conditions like chronic traumatic encephalopathy that have been diagnosed in former athletes and military veterans.

Memory supplements aren't always what they claim

Federal investigators had three memory supplements tested to see whether they contained what their labels claimed — and two of the three didn’t, according to a new report. One product, branded as Gingko biloba, didn't actually contain any Gingko biloba. Another listed Gingko biloba as one of its ingredients — and again, didn't contain any. Both contained substitutes that the lab couldn't identify, so it's not clear whether the ingredient is safe. The third was marketed as a fish oil supplement and actually contained all of the ingredients listed on the label. The officials said they're sending the results to the FDA to review. 

Inside STATAn outsider rises to pharma's defense 

Most of the donors of the Alliance to Protect Medical Innovation have remained in the dark. But Patrick O’Connor, a former journalist and APMI’s executive director, has attached his name to the organization. He wants to emphasize that APMI — which aims to “help educate policymakers and the public” about drug industry breakthroughs — isn’t a shadowy pharma front group. In an interview with STAT, O'Connor said APMI is planning to focus on bolstering the drug industry's reputation and highlighting its work. But the group also sees itself in part as a counterweight to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the nonprofit that has taken an outsized interest in high drug prices. STAT’s Ike Swetlitz has more on O’Connor here.

Lab Chat: The hidden cells lurking in a lab-grown kidney


a close-up look at a kidney organoid. (humphreys lab)

Scientists digging into the makeup of lab-grown kidney models turned up a surprising finding: The organoids also contained heart and muscle cells. Here's what study author Dr. Ben Humphreys of Washington University in St. Louis told me about the finding, published in Cell Stem Cell.

What did you set out to study?

We have been differentiating pluripotent stem cells into kidney organoids for several years. We wanted to see what kinds of cells are actually there. We turned to a powerful technique that allowed us to take inventory of all the cells in the kidney organoid. We found that while there are 12 or more kidney cell types, they’re more immature and similar to a developing fetal kidney. We also saw there were non-kidney cells lurking, hidden in the organoids.

What’s the takeaway from that finding?

It’s not a big setback for the field, it just shows we have work to do. We need to really carefully characterize all the cells that are present in organoids.

A new red flag about Agent Orange

A new report from the National Academies has turned up a connection between high blood pressure and exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides during the Vietnam War. The report is the latest in a series of congressionally mandated reviews on the research into the potential health harms of Agent Orange exposure. Experts who examined the evidence say the research suggests there's an association between high blood pressure and the pesticide. The committee also recommended that the VA study the health of the children of male Vietnam veterans, since there isn't any research on how chemical exposures might have affected their descendants.  

What to read around the web today

  • The best way to save people from suicide. Huffington Post
  • Ferocious fires spark concern about major health consequences. Associated Press
  • Period-tracking apps are not for women. Vox
  • U.S. hospitals ignore improving elder care. That's a mistake. STAT
  • The human brain is a time traveler. New York Times Magazine

Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful weekend,


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Friday, November 16, 2018


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