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Friday, November 3, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Congrats on hitting the end of the work week, everyone. Here's what you need to know to get ahead of the day's health news. 

Congress is voting on a CHIP bill — but will the vote matter?

The House is set to vote today on funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, but this isn't likely to be the breakthrough the program's supporters are hoping for. Both sides agree broadly on the importance of reauthorizing the funding, but Democrats have balked at some of the policies Republicans have included to offset the costs of funding CHIP, including premium increases for wealthy Medicare beneficiaries and cuts to the ACA's public health and prevention fund. The House vote comes as Senate talks to reauthorize CHIP funding have largely stalled; several lobbyists say they expect CHIP funding to be reauthorized in a year-end spending package. The clock's ticking: Some states expect to exhaust their CHIP funding by the end of the year. 

The other big health news on the Hill: GOP Rep. Lamar Smith — who chairs the Science, Space, and Technology Committee — announced he's retiring. 

Here's what the tax bill could mean for health care

Republicans yesterday unveiled their long-awaited plan to overhaul the tax code, and it's full of proposals that could impact both the biopharma industry and medical students. (Keep in mind, of course, that the proposal will likely go through some significant revisions before it's final.) The bill would cut the top corporate tax rate to 20 percent, down from 35 percent. But it would also take away a tax credit for testing rare disease drugs, which could be a problem for smaller drug companies who rely on the credits more than pharma giants. The proposal also calls for cutting certain tax deductions, including those for student loan interest. Right now, loan recipients including those in medical school can deduct up to $2,500 in interest paid toward school loans from their taxes. 

Why is so much chocolate being recalled?

If you, like me, read FDA recall reports religiously, you might’ve noticed that there’s been a lot of chocolate being recalled over the past week. Those recalls all trace back to Michigan’s GKI foods, which didn’t list milk as an allergen on its nutrition labels. That means dark chocolate-covered cherries and chocolate-dipped almonds and peanuts are being plucked from store shelves to prevent people from experiencing allergic reactions. No illnesses have been reported at this point. The recalls have hit several stores, including Wegmans, the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium at Universal Orlando, and the gourmet candy store that is Bass Pro Shops.

Lab Chat: The cells that keep our sleepy brains alert

How does your brain stay alert when you have to burn the midnight oil at work or wake up at 5 a.m. to send a morning newsletter? New research shows that there’s a diverse group of cells that come together to keep the brain alert. Here’s what Matthew Lovett-Barron of Stanford told me about the research, published in Cell.

Tell me about the technology you created to monitor neuron activity. 

We genetically engineered neurons to glow brighter when they are active, then used a sensitive high-speed microscope to record movies of these neurons while the animal was behaving. [We tracked their brain activity and reaction time in response to a stimulus, since that's been shown to be faster when a subject is more alert.]

What did you discover about the neurons involved in alertness?

We discovered that many different types of cells were involved in alertness — more than had been previously known. We also found that the very same cells were involved in fish and mice, suggesting this function is conserved across the evolution of vertebrates. 

Inside STAT: Designing homes to improve patient health

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Professor Dak Kopec puts on eyewear that simulates a visual disorder. (BRIDGET BENNETT FOR STAT)

In a recent class at the University of Nevada, students strapped on eye patches and scratched-up swimming goggles and tried to play a game of badminton. It was meant to simulate the challenges of conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, that affect vision. Then, the group talked about how to place windows, furniture, and guardrails in buildings to make moving around easier for those with vision problems. The class is part of a new master’s program that aims to teach interior designers how to use lighting, acoustics, and fabric to make everyday living easier for people with a wide range of medical conditions. STAT’s Rebecca Robbins has more — read here.

A peek at a consumer fertility conference this weekend

There’s a big consumer infertility conference happening this weekend, and it’ll cover everything from egg donation and surrogacy to insurance coverage for IVF. One panel that caught my eye: A talk on ovarian reserve testing, which the agenda describes as “the cornerstone for evaluating a woman’s fertility potential.” But a study of women ages 30 to 44 published last month found that low levels of the hormones commonly measured in ovarian reserve tests aren’t actually tied to lower chances of getting pregnant and could give women an inaccurate impression of their fertility. 

New stamp aims to raise money for Alzheimer's research

The Postal Service is rolling out a special new stamp to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research. The stamp is selling for 60 cents and the extra 11 cents above normal postage rates will go to the NIH. An estimated 5.5 million people in the U.S. are living with the disease right now, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Researchers at the NIH and other health agencies are working to tackle the big challenges laid out in the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, including the lack of drugs or other interventions to prevent, treat, or cure the neurodegenerative disease.

What to read around the web today

  • Bogus health news is all over Pinterest. Buzzfeed
  • EpiPen failures cited in seven deaths this year, FDA files show. Bloomberg
  • VA delays key agent orange decisions. ProPublica

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading — now, take our quiz to test your knowledge of the week's health news. Have a wonderful weekend!

Megan

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