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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Tuesday, folks! I'm here to bring you the day's news in health and medicine. 

Sparks fly over Vatican organ trafficking meeting

An organ trafficking conference getting underway at the Vatican this morning has generated some controversy. Pope Francis has called the trade in illicitly acquired organs, often from poor or vulnerable populations, a modern “form of human slavery.” The meeting brings together government officials, prosecutors, and researchers to discuss ways to stop the trade. Also attending: a former deputy health minister in China, which has been widely criticized for using organs of executed prisoners to prop up its transplant program.

Human rights groups and ethics experts say they’re concerned opening the meeting to Dr. Huang Jiefu runs the risk of legitimizing an unethical transplant system. Jiefu, who is slated to speak today at the conference, told the AP that the country has made slow but significant progress in reforming the organ transplant system.

FDA increases transparency for committee members

The FDA is looking for new advisory committee members — but this year, applicants have to be prepared to be a bit more transparent. The agency has long redacted information on the CVs of panelists who advise the FDA about everything from drug labeling to approvals. It’s not clear why, exactly, it hid that information, but critics said it made it more difficult to see potential conflicts of interest. The lobbying group Public Citizen sued over the issue and the FDA has agreed that going forward, anyone applying to be on a committee will have to agree to having a full rundown of their experience posted on the FDA website.

Stomach acid, battery of the future? 

Your churning stomach acid could turn your belly into a battery for medical devices, thanks to some creative thinking by biomedical engineers at Brigham and Women's Hospital. They've created an ingestible thermometer as a proof of concept for the idea, which could someday power long-acting drug-delivery capsules or sensors that can detect blood or toxins. It's the same principle as those potato-powered circuits: acid allows electrons to move between two metals, resulting in small amount of current. In an animal study, the device was able to power itself for about six days while transmitting measurements every 12 seconds. 

Inside STAT: Iraqi doctor wins trust in Trump Country

Dr. Chalak Berzingi and Physician's Assistant Suzanne Brown review patient charts before an examination at the Heart Clinic in Elkins. (Jeff swensen for stat)

Dr. Chalak Berzingi starts his 90-minute drive to the remote West Virginia town of Elkins before dawn. Elkins is an overwhelmingly white, conservative town, where many residents support President Trump's travel ban on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations. But they welcome Berzingi, an Iraqi Muslim immigrant and the primary cardiologist taking care of the hearts of Elkins. STAT's Max Blau has more from West Virginia — read here

Rural health care grapples with access crisis

Hundreds of health care advocates are gathering in D.C. today for a three-day meeting on the issues plaguing rural hospitals and communities. In the past six years, 80 rural hospitals have closed and another one-third are in a vulnerable financial position, according to the National Rural Health Association, the group running the meeting. Financial hits such as Medicare cuts are making it difficult for many rural providers just to stay afloat, they say.

“Rural America is facing an access to care crisis,” Dr. David Schmitz, the president of the group, tells STAT. “Due to the closure crisis, medical deserts are forming across rural America, where populations are per capita, older, poorer and sicker.”  They’ll be tackling those issues at today’s meeting, with legislators from Wyoming, West Virginia, and Kansas heading up panels. Find the agenda here.

ACA showdown pits Bernie Sanders against Ted Cruz

Two prominent senators are squaring off over the Affordable Care Act tonight. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Texas Senator Ted Cruz will debate the future of the health law tonight on CNN at 9 p.m. ET. The two also may turn to the hotly contested issue of drug prices in the US. Sanders — who has fiercely criticized the pharma industry — has pushed to give Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices.

Vaccine protocols get a fresh look 

Vaccine protocol is getting some renewed attention today. In a pair of articles published in Pediatrics, researchers argue that doctors need to do better to encourage parents to make sure their kids stick to a vaccine schedule. They say practical approaches — including using electronic health records to remind providers when a patient is due for a vaccine — can help increase immunization rates among kids. And instead of presenting vaccines as an option, they say, doctors should be clear from the get-go about the diseases each immunization can prevent. 

What to read around the web today

  • Obamacare helped the homeless, who now worry about coverage repeal. NPR
  • How psychologists determine if someone is faking insanity. Science of US
  • Youth organizations may not ease access to HIV tests. Reuters

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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