Friday, December 23, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning! STAT reporter Rebecca Robbins here to round out this week's health and medicine news. A quick heads up: Morning Rounds will be on holiday next week but will be back in your inboxes on Tuesday, January 3.

Good news on an Ebola vaccine

A study released yesterday provides encouraging news about the ongoing quest to develop a vaccine for Ebola. The findings, published in the Lancet, are from a WHO-sponsored phase 3 trial that was carried out in Guinea last year, as the Ebola outbreak was waning. Researchers found that none of the nearly 6,000 people who received the vaccine went on to develop Ebola, compared to 23 Ebola cases in the group that did not get vaccinated. That confirms preliminary results released in July 2015, and is encouraging news, though it's worth noting that the vaccine only protects against one strain of Ebola, known as Zaire. Merck, who holds the license to the drug, is now expected to seek regulatory approval next year. More here

OB-GYN group pushes back on anesthesia warnings

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists isn't on board with a new FDA warning about the potential of anesthesia to harm young brains. Last week, the FDA announced that it will require new labeling on certain sedative drugs saying that they could be dangerous when used repeatedly or in long procedures in babies, toddlers, or pregnant women in their third trimester. But this week ACOG said it has "significant concerns" about the FDA's decision as it pertains to pregnant women, pointing to what it described as uncertain medical evidence justifying such warnings and the risk that doctors might be dissuaded from providing necessary care. The FDA's announcement, ACOG said, "is in direct contradiction to longstanding experience, clinical guidance, and the current standard of care."

Tom Price's stock trades raise questions 

Representative Tom Price, Trump's nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services, has the makings of an image problem on his hands — thanks to a long list of health care stock trades detailed in a Wall Street Journal report last night. In the past four years, Price has bought and sold more than $300,000 worth of stock in about 40 healthcare companies, meanwhile sponsoring and advocating legislation that could affect those companies' stocks. It's all legal, but it could certainly come up in his confirmation hearings. For more context, read these deep dives from STAT on some of the ethically thorny issues around federal lawmakers' pharmaceutical investments, as well as those of Price specifically.

Sponsor content by Oliver Wyman Health

An urgent message to the new administration regarding our health system

With DC focused on repeal and replace, there is risk we will lose sight of the real challenge facing our health system: a disjointed care delivery system that results in inefficiency, overspending, and a sub-par experience. In this article, first published in Harvard Business Review, Oliver Wyman’s Terry Stone calls on lawmakers to take a broader view and push harder on initiatives that focus on value and outcomes. Read the article, plus “Trumpcare” analysis here.

DoD wants new bioprinting techniques for the wounded

The Department of Defense announced this week it is spending $80 million over the next seven years on a new push to develop innovative techniques to print and produce new cells, tissues, and organs for wounded service members. Dozens of companies, universities, and nonprofits are committing another $214 million to the endeavor. And the project has some star-power in the form of entrepreneur Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, who'll be heading the initiative. Among the technologies they hope to advance are cell processing, bioprinting, and ways to automate biological testing. 

From the STAT archives: A flurry of holiday reads


It's a time of year for memories and we've got fond ones for these charming holiday reads. There's the handy illustrated medical billing code guide to holiday injuries — filled with lots of things we hope don't befall you this season ("struck by turkey") and one we hope does ("holiday relief"). If you're looking to impress your loved ones during a screening of "A Christmas Carol," look no further than this explanation of the scientific reason some people lack Christmas cheer. And finally, though it's a slower-paced time of year, science stops for no one — and sometimes those quiet lab benches are the perfect place for breakthroughs.

Untangling the causes of holiday heart attacks

It's sadly true that cardiac deaths spike during the holiday season, but researchers have had a hard time discerning how much of that is driven by the holidays and how much by cold weather. But a cleverly designed new study attempts to get around that by looking at cardiac deaths in New Zealand — where the holiday season coincides with some of the warmest temperatures of the year. A team of researchers from Australia and New Zealand looked at nearly 200,000 cardiac deaths in New Zealand between 1988 and 2003. They found that even in toasty New Zealand, sudden cardiac deaths spike at Christmastime — and that those individuals are younger than victims at other times of the year. Read the paper in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Inside STAT: The stories we wish we'd written in 2016

At the end of each year, Bloomberg Businessweek puts out an annual "Jealousy List" of the stories staffers wish they'd written. We over here at STAT were jealous of that idea — so we came up with our own list of some of the best journalism in the world of health and medicine in 2016. We found a lot to admire: investigations of a psychiatric chain and sober homes, accessible explanations of drug prices and vestigial structures, and unforgettable profiles of everyone from a biotech billionaire to a recovering opioid addict. You can read the full list of our picks — and find links to the original stories — here.

What to read around the web today

  • How hospitals, nursing homes keep lethal 'superbug' outbreaks secret. Reuters
  • The revolving door between the DEA and the pharmaceutical industry, and its implications for the opioid epidemic. Washington Post
  • California hopes $3 billion experiment will improve health of neediest. Kaiser Health News

More reads from STAT

Megan will be back bright and early in 2017! If you haven't yet, don't forget to send your predictions for 2017's biggest stories in health and medicine to Happy holidays,


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