Monday, October 17, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Welcome to the start of the week, everyone! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine today. Our new newsletter On Call launches today — for more on the people and ideas shaping health care delivery in hospitals, sign up here

Pepsi shoots to slash sugar in its products

Pepsi has a new goal of slashing the amount of sugar in many of its soft drinks by 2025, Reuters reports this morning. The goal: Get at least two-thirds of its drinks down to 100 calories or fewer from added sugar in a 12 oz serving. Currently, 40 percent of Pepsi's drinks fall into that category. They'll do that by bringing more no-calorie and low-calorie drinks onto the market and shaking up some of Pepsi's existing products. The move comes as Pepsi and its rival Coca-Cola face continued, fierce criticism over their role in contributing to the obesity epidemic, including their work funding nutrition research that can skew how the public thinks about healthy eating. 

Experts debate obesity and diabetes prevention

The National Academy of Medicine is holding its annual meeting today in D.C. At the top of the agenda? Obesity and type 2 diabetes. The WHO’s director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan, is launching the conversation by addressing how the intertwining diseases are heavily impacting global health. More than 1.9 billion adults worldwide are overweight, according to the WHO's most recent statistics. Of those individuals, more than 600 million are classified as obese.

Diabetes prevalence has also spiked dramatically in recent decades — from 108 million worldwide in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. The majority of those cases are type 2 diabetes, which has been linked to obesity. Dr. C Ronald Kahn of the Joslin Diabetes Center, who's participating in a panel on risk reduction, tells me they'll talk how genetics, the environment, and the human microbiome affect the two diseases. You can tune in all day here.

How holograms could help build a better ultrasound

Not the kind of hologram that can bring tupac back. (Steve cummer, duke university)

Scientists have created 3-D holograms simply from sound — and the work could improve the efficiency of medical technologies like ultrasounds. Acoustic holograms are made by manipulating sound waves in much the same way visual holograms manipulate light waves. Engineers at Duke and North Carolina State University 3-D printed a coil made of a special plastic that houses a spiral inside. The tightness of that spiral helps to determine how sound waves travel through the material, making an acoustic hologram. They were able to harness that technique to spin sound waves off toward selected hot spots. That’s the same thinking behind medical ultrasounds, which can control sound waves to image specific parts of the human body. But those ultrasounds use a small stick attached to a much larger machine, consuming space and a large amount of energy. The new technology could be used one day to create smaller, more energy-efficient ultrasounds.

Sponsor content by PhRMA

Modernizing FDA regulations can benefit patients, providers, and payers

Patients, health care professionals, and insurers all seek more information about the safety, effectiveness, and value of medicines. But federal regulations governing information-sharing about medicines have not kept up with this new reality. Today, FDA regulations must keep up with the pace of drug development and our understanding of available treatments for patients. Read more in PhRMA’s new principles intended to establish responsible, science-based parameters for accurate and trusted information sharing.

Inside STAT: Hospitals aim for a health care revolution

Dr. Vivian Lee, chief executive of the University of Utah Health Care system, has her eye on a revolution in health care. The first step: listening to patients. Back in 2012, the University of Utah hospital system became the first in the country to post unedited patient reviews online. Now, doctors at the facilities — a network of four hospitals, a cancer institute, and 10 neighborhood clinics — are moving to ask patients what they actually want out of their care. It’s a bold step in the US health care system, which has long defined success by technical benchmarks and government quality metrics, not patient goals. “That’s the holy grail for me,” Lee says. “Now we’re really going to start to define value in terms that matter to the patients.” STAT's Casey Ross has more on how Lee is challenging the conventions of medicine here.

Viruses could turbo-charge the CRISPR revolution

The nonprofit organization AddGene — which has served as the Johnny Appleseed of CRISPR — has quietly expanded its offerings, an advance that promises to make genome editing experiments easier for labs across the world. The Cambridge-based company has spent the last decade shipping made-to-order DNA packaged in plasmids, circular bits of genetic material. Among the most popular they’ve shipped are plasmids from the Broad Institute lab of CRISPR pioneer Feng Zhang, which scientists can use to delete or insert genes at will. 

But now, AddGene has started packing DNA into viruses. And while that might sound like a wonky difference, it could be a huge help to scientists. Viruses are champion invaders that can target the genes they’re carrying into specific cell types, like those in the heart and nowhere else. Viruses are also able to infiltrate cells that are tricky for plasmids to get into, like neurons in the brain. The new move to make viruses carrying key genes could turbo-charge the genome-editing revolution.

WikiLeaks release shows push for experimental drug

Major players in the Democratic Party tried to push Biogen for access to an investigational cancer drug for Dallas trial lawyer and high-profile fundraiser Fred Baron, according to emails from the Clinton camp made public in the latest WikiLeaks release. Back in 2008, Baron's wife reached out to friends in the party to help Baron get access to Tysabri, a Biogen drug used to treat MS. At the time, Tysabri was also being tested as a potential treatment for multiple myeloma, the type of cancer that Baron had been diagnosed with.

Influential figures including Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Andrew von Eschenbach — the FDA commissioner at the time — lobbied former Biogen exec Jim Mullen to grant Baron access to Tysabri. They wanted to get the drug to Baron under the claim of compassionate use, a policy that aims to help terminally ill patients get access to experimental treatments. Compassionate use has sparked "right to try" laws, which have been signed in 31 states. Biogen refused to give access. Fred Baron eventually got the drug through other means, but died in October 2008.

Foster kids face physical and mental health hurdles

Kids who’ve been in foster care are seven times as likely to experience depression as their peers who haven’t, according to new research out this morning in Pediatrics. The study examined health data from more than 900,000 kids, just over 1 percent of whom had been in foster care. The data highlighted significant disparities: Kids in foster care are twice as likely to develop asthma and five times as likely to feel anxiety. Those findings ought to make pediatricians consider the specific health vulnerabilities for their patients in foster care, the paper’s authors say.

What to read around the web today

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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