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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning! STAT reporter Rebecca Robbins here to fill in for Megan today. Let's get started with the latest news in health and medicine.

Attorney General heads to Kentucky to talk opioids

Attorney General Loretta Lynch will be in Lexington, Ky., today to discuss the scourge of opioids, which has hit the region particularly hard. She'll meet with bereaved parents and hold a town hall meeting at a local high school to warn teenagers about the dangers of heroin. She'll also give a speech at the University of Kentucky about the Justice Department's strategy to tackle the epidemic. The department plans later this week to announce new funding to bolster state-run prescription drug monitoring programs, Lynch said in a conference call with reporters yesterday.

It's all part of the Obama administration's big push to put the focus on the opioid epidemic this week, which they've dubbed Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week. As part of the initiative yesterday the FDA also launched a competition to design an app to connect people who are overdosing with the life-saving antidote naloxone.

We just learned tons about microbes that live in pig guts

Pig poop, it turns out, is a bonanza for undiscovered microbes. There are more than 700 different microbial species, including more than 200 that apparently have never been described before, in pig feces, researchers reported in Nature Microbiology yesterday. Investigators in China, France, and Denmark sequenced DNA from fecal samples of nearly 300 pigs from their countries and uncovered nearly 8 million microbial genes. The good news for medical research: While the pig microbiome doesn't have a lot in common genetically with the human microbiome, they do appear to function similarly, setting the stage for the use of pigs as a model for microbiome studies.

Salaried doctors don't necessarily deliver better care

Over time, more and more doctors have become salaried employees of the hospitals where they practice, shedding a tradition of independence. But does this shift actually mean better care for patients? Probably not, concludes a new study published in Annals of Internal Medicine. The researchers looked at outcomes like mortality, readmission, and satisfaction in hospitals that began employing their doctors between 2003 and 2012 and compared them to outcomes in hospitals that didn't. Switching over to an employment model didn't bring an improvement in care. In general, hospitals that did switch tended to be bigger and not-for-profit.

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Inside STAT: US negotiates to halt deadly fentanyl trade

MOLLY FERGUSON FOR STAT

The Drug Enforcement Agency has begun working with Chinese drug cops to stem the flow of fentanyl, a powerful opioid, into US drug markets. China is the largest source of the drug to the US, and up till now Chinese officials have been slow to act on US pleas to stamp out the trade. But in August a DEA delegation visited the country and officials from both nations agreed to share information and training — as well as means to stay ahead of other emerging drug threats, as Chinese chemical factories evolve to evade enforcement efforts. More from STAT contributor Kathleen McLaughlin here

Did Jill Stein just challenge Hillary Clinton to a footrace?

Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein wants in on the frenzy over candidates' health. In an amusing opening to a podcast interview with Politico's Glenn Thrush, Stein said she assumed she has "the lowest blood pressure of any candidate." Challenged on that claim, Stein recalled her latest blood pressure reading was 110/70. That is indeed considered healthy, but it's not low enough to beat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who boasts a blood pressure of 100/70, Thrush clarified. Stein's response: "Man. Well, I would be happy to run a race with her any time." For the record, Stein said she used to run marathons.

HeLa cell line patient's biopic filming in Baltimore today

The story of Henrietta Lacks, the unwitting donor of the famous HeLa cell line, is getting turned into a movie. Today, several days of filming begin in Baltimore. The set location is true to history: In 1951, Lacks underwent treatment for cervical cancer at the city's Johns Hopkins Hospital, during which tissue samples were secretly taken from her that later became one of the most ubiquitous tools in biomedical research. Producers are still recruiting background actors to play "1950s men and women" for the shoot, but it's not clear whether that would include meeting the film's co-star Oprah Winfrey, who's been cast to play Lacks's adult daughter. 

How sticky nanoparticles could deliver cancer drugs

ThE STICKY NANOPARTICLES ARE RED (Eric Song/YALE)

The green splotches you're looking at are cancer cells. And the red dots sticking to them are nanoparticles that are being designed to deliver drugs. That's the focus of new research in mice published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A team of Yale researchers loaded the sticky particles with a cancer drug that has been deemed too toxic for typical use, and designed them to gradually release the drug at a manageable dose. 

What to read around the web today

  • 17 and going blind. The high stakes of getting into a gene therapy trial. MIT Technology Review
  • GlaxoSmithKline cuts vaccine price for refugees, bowing to pressure. Reuters
  • How Gilead pressures states to pay for its pricey pills. Bloomberg
  • Illumina's quest to bring its technology to the masses. FastCompany

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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