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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

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Happy Tuesday, everyone, and welcome to the Morning Rounds, where I get you ahead of the day's science and medicine news. 

Bernie Sanders defends his health at CNN town hall

At a CNN town hall in Des Moines last night, host Chris Cuomo asked Bernie Sanders about his health, given that Sanders was "going on 75." But STAT's Dylan Scott reports from the event that the senator wasn't going to let that one slide, immediately interjecting: "74!" 

"I’m going on 75," he said. "So are you! You’re going on 75." Sanders also noted during the town hall he was having a little trouble getting his jacket to fit. Could it be because of all the pints of Bernie's Yearning ice cream he's had? 

What's behind child death rates worldwide

There were 7.7 million deaths among children worldwide in 2013, and the most common causes varied widely by age, according to new research in JAMA Pediatrics. Here’s what the analysis found:

  • Nearly 6.3 million of those deaths were in children under 5. The leading causes of death in that group include lower respiratory tract infections, preterm birth complications, malaria, and diarrhea.

  • The leading cause of death among adolescents between ages 10 and 19 was road injuries. After that, the top causes were HIV/AIDS, self-harm, drowning, and intestinal infectious diseases.

  • Diarrheal deaths are exceedingly prevalent in just a handful of countries — half of them occurred in India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, and Ethiopia.

Breast cancer survivors at risk for common infections

Breast cancer survivors who’ve received chemo — which is administered to about 30 percent of patients — might have trouble battling common illnesses due to immune system damage, according to new findings in Breast Cancer Research. Researchers analyzed levels of lymphocytes — a group of white blood cells that mark the body’s immune response — in 88 women with breast cancer, and found that lower lymphocyte levels left those women vulnerable to infections for at least nine months after wrapping up chemotherapy. The vulnerability extends to bacteria that the patients had previously been vaccinated against, such as those that cause pneumonia, but it’s not clear that re-vaccination would offer any more protection, the authors said.  

Pressure-sensing gloves could help docs catch tumors

 The gloves, modeled here just on fingertips, can sense varying pressures. (Someya Laboratory)
Pressure-sensitive rubber gloves could one day help doctors detect tumors, with the help of a flexible sensor described in the new Nature Nanotechnology. Current pressure sensors can flex when stuck on human skin like a patch, but don’t work well once they’re crinkled, like they might be in a pair of exam gloves. The new sensor can measure pressure in 144 different locations and is made up of a tangled web of nanofibers that send information through transistors run by electronic switches. The study authors say they’ve also tested the sensor on an artificial blood vessel and were able to detect small changes in pressure in that, too.

Inside STAT: Getting the government to pay for genome sequencing

The Obama administration is facing heavy pressure to expand Medicare and Medicaid coverage for advanced genetic sequencing of tumors. The White House is enthusiastic about sequencing as a way to customize treatment for each patient. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services don’t pay for comprehensive genome sequencing. Instead, CMS and the private contractors that administer Medicare plans generally cover only limited sequencing of tumors, related to certain conditions.

“We have this weird juxtaposition with the White House and the vice president loving personalized medicine,” said Amy Miller, executive vice president of the Personalized Medicine Coalition. “And CMS often does not pay for it.” More from Dylan Scott here.

Lab Chat: How understanding the cell clean-up system could help cancer patients 

Regulatory T cells keep your immune system in check, but what’s keeping them running smoothly? The answer has largely been a mystery. But new work from St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital suggests that once regulatory T cells have gone to work to protect the body from pathogens, a cleanup process called autophagy keeps them functioning. Here’s what lead researcher and immunologist Hongbo Chi told me about the findings, published in Nature Immunology.

What do these protective cells do for the body, and what keeps them in check?

They are the brake of the immune system, so they protect the immune system from becoming overly activated. The cells go through autophagy, the cell cleaning process. When there is damaged material in the cell, like damaged organelles, self-cleaning processes are activated to protect the cell itself from becoming overly activated.

What happens without autophagy? 

If cells cannot clean up the damage, the majority of cells will die. For the remaining cells that survive, they lose their identity. [Normally] they promote inflammation, but they lose that function without autophagy.

What’s the importance of knowing that?

If we block this process of autophagy in the T cells, this will impair the brake of the immune system. That will be beneficial for certain patients with some types of cancer. Part of the reason cancer develops is loss of immune system function, due to too much braking. If we impair that brake, this could release the immune system to help fight cancer.

What to read around the web today

  • Big Pharma's worst nightmare. The Guardian
  • The mystery of the listeria that lurked in bags of Dole salad. NPR
  • The health benefits of knitting. New York Times

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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