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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

NIH must better protect research from foreign influence, federal watchdog says

More than half of NIH-funded research institutions failed to provide financial conflict-of-interest information last year, according to a series of new reports from HHS’ inspector general. Foreign governments could profit from the lack of transparency when it comes to financial conflicts and could leave U.S. taxpayer-funded biomedical research vulnerable to outside influence or intellectual property theft, the reports conclude. They also say that the NIH conducted only three audits last year to check on institutions’ efforts to safeguard their own research, down from 28 such audits in 2012. The reports comes amid increased scrutiny on foreign influence on publicly funded research in the U.S. The NIH referred 16 allegations of “grant fraud” to the HHS inspector general this June, and the agency has said it has suspicions regarding as many as 250 researchers.

Carter Center launches new campaign to eradicate Guinea worm disease

The Carter Center just announced a new $40 million fundraising campaign toward eradicating Guinea worm disease. The Emory University-based center, which was founded by former President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter to address human rights challenges, has been campaigning to end the disease caused by the parasitic worm since 1986. In that time, it has also helped spur progress: Some 3.5 million people had the disease three decades ago, but so far this year, some 36 cases were reported worldwide. People get sick when they drink water infected with Guinea worm, and better sanitation is one of the key challenges to eliminating the disease. Still, experts believe eradication is possible, and it would be the second human disease, besides smallpox, to achieve that status. 

People often rely on the internet and apps for health information

A new survey from UnitedHealthCare finds that 1 in 5 people consult the internet or a mobile app as the first source for information on specific diseases or symptoms. Here’s more from the consumer health survey: 

  • Technology use: 30% of millennials surveyed said they relied on the internet or a mobile app for health information. Some 45% of all respondents said they’d be interested in having their physician use AI to help with diagnoses. 

  • Transparency: Nearly two-thirds of people said they “never” knew the cost of medications before leaving a doctor’s office. More than a third said they used the internet to compare health costs. 

  • Insurance: More than half of people knew what a “premium” and “deductible” were in terms of health plans. Some 75% of people said they felt prepared to select a plan during the upcoming insurance enrollment season.

Inside STAT: Flu season threatens to complicate diagnoses of vaping-related illness


As if the spate of vaping-related illnesses — 805 according to the CDC’s last count, with 12 deaths linked to the illnesses — wasn’t enough of a concern by itself, health officials are now concerned that diagnoses could be made more difficult during the upcoming flu season. Flu and other virus-borne respiratory diseases look similar to the lung diseases that have been linked to vaping — patients in both scenarios experience shortness of breath and their X-rays show similarly hazy spots. Current CDC guidelines say that physicians should rule out flu or other infectious disease before diagnosing a vaping-related illness, but the approaching winter may mean heavy vapers could increasingly become diagnosed with the flu as well. STAT’s Megan Thielking has more here.

Large study finds autism screening system may not be as effective

A large new study finds that a commonly used autism screening checklist is not as effective at detecting the condition in children as previous research has suggested. Other work has tested the checklist in research settings, but the new study used electronic health record data of nearly 26,000 children at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Only around 40% of the children who were ultimately diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder were diagnosed using the checklist. Still, those who were diagnosed using the system were diagnosed about seven months earlier than those who were screened negative, suggesting an avenue to also begin early intervention. Overall, some 2% of children were diagnosed with autism, a figure that is consistent with the CDC’s national estimates of the prevalence of the condition. 

Science in Society journalism award winners announced

This year’s Science in Society journalism awards were just announced, and there’s at least one familiar name among winners. Former STAT contributor Carl Zimmer won the prize in the book category for “She Has Her Mother’s Laugh,” a book that delves into heredity and our understanding of the concept. Other winners include a reported feature for Vice News on a raw sewage problem in Alabama that’s caused a tropical parasite, and a story series in The Desert Sun on a border city with toxic air pollution. 

Also announced recently was this year’s Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting: Apoorva Mandavilli was awarded the prize for her body of work for the autism news website Spectrum — where she serves as editor-in-chief — as well as for global health stories that have appeared elsewhere.

What to read around the web today

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Friday, September 27, 2019


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