Thursday, October 5, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone. Here's what you need to know to get ahead of the day's health news. 

Federal response to opioid crisis comes under scrutiny

The Senate’s health committee is convening today to talk about the progress — and the shortcomings — of the federal response to the opioid crisis. Administration officials including FDA head Scott Gottlieb, NIH director Francis Collins, and Elinore McCance-Katz of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are testifying at today’s hearing, which gets underway at 10 a.m. ET. Two laws passed last year are on the agenda: the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act, both of which included funding to combat opioid addiction. President Trump has said he’ll declare the crisis a national emergency — which would free up more funding for prevention and treatment efforts — but hasn’t actually done so.  

IBM lobbies to shield Watson from federal regulation


(eros dervishi for stat)

IBM has trumpeted its Watson supercomputer as a new kind of machine that melds human medical expertise with digital speed to drum up personalized treatment advice. But on Capitol Hill, company executives are pushing to exempt the supercomputer from federal regulation. Watson, like any new technology, poses unknown risks, like the possibility that bad advice could harm a patient. But IBM says the supercomputer isn’t like other medical devices, so the company shouldn’t have to prove it’s safe and effective. Federal regulators are preparing to decide which types of health software are exempted from review under the 21st Century Cures Act — and a STAT examination shows IBM has gone to great lengths in order to shield the machine from scrutiny. More from STAT’s Casey Ross and Ike Swetlitz here.

Genetically engineered mosquitoes are EPA's responsibility

The FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency have decided that genetically modified mosquitoes aren't the FDA's responsibility to regulate. The edited male mosquitoes — which mate with wild female mosquitoes and have been engineered to pass down a gene that causes offspring to die before functional adulthood — are designed to curb populations of mosquitoes that can spread diseases such as Zika and dengue. The EPA will instead oversee insects from Oxitec, which genetically engineers mosquitoes, as a pest control product. 

Lab Chat: A surgical superglue to stop leaky lungs


i'm rubber, you're surgical glue stuck to a pig's lung. (Nasim annabi)

Scientists have designed a new superglue of sorts that could one day be used instead of sutures to seal wounds inside the body. Here’s what chemical engineer Nasim Annabi of Northeastern and Brigham and Women’s Hospital told me about the work, published in Science Translational Medicine.

What are the problems with sealants currently used?

Surgical glue is used to support the suture line after surgical procedures like lung surgery, to reconnect tissue after, say, a tumor is removed. There are always leakages so they support it with a sealant so the patient won’t have air leakage. But most of the glue loses its stickiness to the tissue when the tissue moves. There are also always bodily fluids and when the surgical sealant is exposed to them, it loses more of its adhesion.

How does the sealant you created work?

We didn’t want to use any synthetic material that could be rejected or cause toxicity. So we used a human protein that makes elastic fibers in organs in the body, and modified it to make it sensitive to the light. We dissolve the modified version of this protein in an aqueous solution, expose it to light, and it can convert to a sticky elastic material. And we have the ability to tune the properties for different scenarios, so in this case, we optimized it to mimic the mechanical properties of lungs and to degrade at a specific rate based on how long surgeons want it to last in the body.

New law cracks down on rogue stem cell clinics

California has adopted a first-of-its-kind law that forces stem cell clinics offering unapproved procedures to be clear with consumers about that fact. The bill was sponsored by state senator Ed Hernandez, who is also a physician. Hernandez says there are more than 100 offices in California offering unproven, experimental stem cell treatments that can cost thousands and pose potential risks to patients. The new law requires providers performing stem cell procedures that aren't FDA-approved to display a prominent notice and give a written statement to patients outlining those critical caveats.

WHO rolls out its new leadership team

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, has named his new senior management team, a larger group than seen in recent years. Representatives from G-20 countries hold the lion’s share of the posts, and 60 percent are women — including the two deputy director-generals, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan of India and Jane Ellison of Britain. Lawrence Gostin, a national and global health expert at Georgetown, says it’s surprising that only one post is held by an African, given that Tedros hails from Ethiopia. But Gostin called Dr. Princess Nothemba (Nono) Simelela of South Africa, who heads the family, women, children, and adolescents dossier, “an outstanding pick.” 

What to read around the web today

  • They thought they were going to rehab. They ended up in chicken plants. Reveal
  • How the elderly lose their rights. The New Yorker
  • Hurricane damage in Puerto Rico leads to fears of drug shortages nationwide. New York Times

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

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