Thursday, July 27, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Thursday, folks! Here's your daily dose of health and science news. 

Scientists use CRISPR to edit genome of viable human embryos

Biologists in Oregon have used CRISPR for the first time to edit viable human embryos efficiently and with very few errors. It's a significant advance in the realm of gene-editing research — and one that some of the nation's leading scientists have long warned against. The new experiments, first reported by MIT Technology Review, advanced beyond previous tests done in China on human embryos by altering the genome of many embryos and also targeting a specific gene implicated in human disease.  Scientists in China first used CRISPR to edit the genomes of human embryos in 2015, but those embryos, obtained from fertility clinics, had such serious genetic defects that they couldn't have developed. More here.

The next step in the Senate's health care saga

The Senate's health care saga this week continues. Lawmakers voted 45-55 yesterday against a measure that would've repealed much of the ACA without offering a replacement plan, with seven Republicans voting against the measure. The failure for GOP leaders comes after lawmakers also rejected the Senate's replacement plan, the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Next up: a vote on a skinny repeal" that would only get rid of the ACA's individual mandate and a few other provisions. If that fails, Senate leaders will start tossing out other amendments to the bill in a vote-a-rama and seeing what, if anything, might stick. 

Experts urge against hard and fast antibiotic rule

Infectious disease experts are pushing back on the long-held practice of asking patients to “complete their course” of antibiotics to make sure they’ve beat the bug they’re battling. In a new editorial in the BMJ, doctors argue that message isn’t evidence-based and, in fact, can put patients at risk for antibiotic resistance. A growing number of experts have said the practice is misguided. The authors' recommendations: Raise awareness about the issues with the “complete the course” message and run clinical trials to determine the best ways to optimize the length of antibiotic treatment.

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Inside STAT: A chat with the physician touted as 'Goop's doctor'

Last week, Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness site Goop posted a defense of the alternative health practices it frequently touts. The headline seemed straightforward — “Uncensored: A word from our doctors” — and was followed by open letters from two doctors who have written for Goop. But one of those physicians, Dr. Aviva Romm, told me that she doesn’t see herself as Goop’s doctor, and can’t endorse products or treatments simply because they’re branded as “natural.” She said she’s warned Goop that if it wants to be more than a “caricature of everything alternative health for women,” the editors need to do an audit of all their content, in consultation with physicians. Those hesitations doesn’t mean she’s ready to disavow the site, though. I spoke with Romm about her relationship with Goop, alternative medicine, and women’s wellness — read our conversation here.

Lab Chat: Cells that sense their way to cancer tissue


engineered stem cells go on the hunt for cancer tissue. (linan liu / science translational medicine 2017)

Scientists have engineered stem cells that can sense how stiff tissues are to detect metastatic tumors in mice — and then hit them with cancer drugs. Here’s what Weian Zhao of University of California, Irvine, told me about the research, published in Science Translational Medicine.

How does this approach target cancer cells?

Cancer treatment has been focused on biochemical factors, like genes or proteins, in the cancer cells. But they’re difficult to identify and those factors are expressed on healthy tissues as well, which is why cancer treatments can also kill healthy cells. But it has become clear now that the environment where the cancer lives, and the biophysical factors in their “house,” are a very important factor in regulating cancer and metastasis. Our approach targets that environment by using one of those cues, the stiffness of cancer cells. Rigid tissue is a sign that tissue has become abnormal. And that property seems to be universal to solid tumors.

How did you engineer stem cells to target rigid tissue?

We used a type of stem cell that actually responds to mechanical factors. So we harnessed that property, and engineered them to have even more of that sensing property. So they can go to the tumor site and sense if the tissue is hard or soft. We also engineered the cells to produce an enzyme downstream if they sense stiffer tissue. So for tumor tissues that tend to be stiffer, they can turn on the gene that expresses that enzyme, which can help to treat the tumor.

Steve Scalise discharged from hospital, heads to rehab

Rep. Steve Scalise — who suffered a life-threatening gunshot wound six weeks ago at a Congressional baseball game practice — has been discharged from the hospital. Scalise underwent several surgeries after a bullet punctured his hip. He was re-admitted to the ICU earlier this month after contracting an infection. But now, he’s now headed to intensive inpatient rehabilitation to work on recovering from those injuries. 

China touts major progress on organ transplants 

Organ transplant officials in China are touting significant progress in the country’s transplant program. Huang Jiefu, who runs the program, tells the AP that China could lead the world in transplant surgeries by 2020. The news comes just two years after China agreed to ban the use of organs from executed prisoners, after years of fierce criticism from the international community about the practice. But recent reports have cast doubt on whether China has actually stopped harvesting organs from executed prisoners. Human rights advocates allege that while China seems to be relying less on the practice, it hasn’t completely stopped.

What to read around the web today

  • In Detroit suburbs, Arab American enrollment in Obamacare breeds resentment. Vox
  • The family suing a hospital for operating on their intersex baby just settled in court. Buzzfeed

More reads from STAT

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