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Morning Rounds Megan Thielking

Good morning, and happy Monday! Andrew Joseph here filling in for Megan for the week. You can reach me at andrew.joseph@statnews.com.

First CRISPR'd babies reportedly born as genome editing forum opens in Hong Kong

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(Dom Smith/STAT)

Some potentially huge news: A Chinese researcher is claiming that the first babies whose DNA was modified while they were embryos have been born. The scientist, He Jiankui, said he used the genome-editing tool CRISPR in a set of twin girls to disable the gene CCR5, which allows HIV to enter a cell. If true, the birth of CRISPR'd babies would be a landmark step for science and society, but it has already set off a fiery debate among researchers over the work's ethics and safety. The babies — Lulu and Nana — were born several weeks ago after a normal pregnancy, He said. They are now at home with their mother and father, a man who has HIV and who did not want to pass along the virus, He said. Outside scientists have yet to verify He's claim, which was reported Sunday night by MIT Technology Review and the Associated Press.

He's announcement comes as scientists and ethicists are gathering in Hong Kong this week for the second major international conference on human genome editing, a follow-up to a 2015 summit in Washington. The claim is sure to dominate the discussion and adds pertinence to a key question: Why did the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which co-sponsored the 2015 event with its British and American counterparts, quietly bow out this time? Organizers say it was a planning issue, but some scientists believe the Chinese government was hesitant to host such a forum. STAT’s Sharon Begley has more on that in her preview of the summit here, and she’ll be reporting from Hong Kong this week. You can read her stories at statnews.com and follow her on Twitter: @sxbegle.

The link between obesity and pediatric asthma

For the first time, researchers have established an estimate for how many cases of pediatric asthma are attributable to obesity. In a study published this morning in Pediatrics, experts reviewed asthma incidence rates from more than half a million children, half of whom had healthy weight and half whom were overweight or obese. They found that about a quarter of new asthma cases in children with obesity are tied to obesity, and that 10 percent of all cases would be precluded if not for children being overweight or obese. Experts have already known that obesity is estimated to lead to 250,000 new cases of adult asthma each year.

Should the U.S. have a universal DNA database?

Recent examples of authorities arresting suspects by using genomic databases, including in the infamous Golden State Killer case, have raised questions about what kind of access law enforcement has and should have to these databases. In a new essay in the journal Science, a group of genetic privacy experts from Vanderbilt proposes creating a universal forensic DNA database, which would contain some genetic information from everyone in a society. It sounds controversial, the authors acknowledge. But they point to the fact that state and federal databases already have the genetic profiles of 16.5 million people who have been arrested and that other databases, from research projects or consumer genetics companies, are linked to a large portion of the country through family connections, which is how the recent arrests were made. A well-managed universal database would be less discriminatory and haphazard than the current system, the experts argue. 

Inside STAT: SCOTUS and 'Cobra Sexual Energy'

Weird headline, right? Well, this week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case between California men and a company that sells a dietary supplement called “Cobra Sexual Energy,” which purports to help with “animal magnetism.” The justices will be weighing the class-action status of the case, but as STAT’s Nicholas Florko reports from Washington, the legal fight also points to the restricted role federal regulators have in policing the supplement industry. Because the FDA can only take action against the industry in limited situations, customers who feel like a product’s hype didn’t pan out are increasingly filing suit against supplement companies. Read more here.

Is the world ready for another flu pandemic?

That’s the main question being discussed today at an event in Washington organized by the National Academy of Medicine and the Forum on Microbial Threats, which marks 100 years since the 1918 flu pandemic. Speakers include Anthony Fauci, head of the NIAID, and Jacqueline Katz, deputy director of the CDC’s influenza division, as well as other public health officials and pandemic experts. Webcast information for the 2 p.m. ET event is listed here

Clinical trial for Ebola treatments begins

A clinical trial testing experimental Ebola treatments has started in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the country’s health minister announced. The trial begins as the number of suspected and confirmed cases in the country’s outbreak continues to climb, and as responders are buffeted by violence in the region where the virus is spreading. The clinical trial will test three Ebola therapies (a fourth molecule that has been given to patients in compassionate use programs is not part of the trial as of now) at one treatment center in Beni, with the ultimate goal of collecting enough data to show whether the medications improve the likelihood of survival. Patients who do not enroll in the clinical trial will receive standard supportive care.

What to read around the web today

  • Medical devices for pain, other conditions have caused more than 80,000 deaths since 2008. AP
  • For Mayo scientist, spinal-injury research is personal. Star Tribune
  • New research highlights an unexpected future for RNAi-based drugs: pregnant women. STAT Plus
  • Woman who inherited fatal illness to sue doctors in groundbreaking case. The Guardian
  • How a Phoenix neurologist persuaded Muhammad Ali to become the face of Parkinson's disease. Arizona Republic 

Thanks for reading, and until tomorrow, 

Megan

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Monday, November 26, 2018

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