Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Tuesday, folks! Here's what you need to know about the world of health and medicine today. For more STAT stories, like us on Facebook

Long-awaited report on gene editing coming today

The National Academies of Science and Medicine are set to release a long-awaited new report on human genome editing today. The report — which was put together by a team of international experts — takes a step back from the CRISPR hype to examine the applications and ethics of editing the human genome. In particular, the report raises concern about the implications of germline editing, or engineering genetic material to pass changes down from one generation to the next. It’ll also include a look at the regulation of genome editing research in the US and will offer up principles to govern the field globally. You can watch a public hearing on the report here starting at 11 a.m. ET.

Bill and Melinda Gates make the case for vaccines

Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter on their charitable work this morning. And while the letter is styled as a report to Warren Buffett on his investment in their work, reading between the lines leaves the impression the philanthropists are making a subtle push to show President Trump the value of global development. They stress the importance of vaccines — which they call one of the best deals in global health spending — as well as emphasize the need for women worldwide to have access to effective contraception to lower child mortality rates and help countries out of poverty. STAT's Helen Branswell has a great look at the letter — read here

The ACA's impact on states — and divorce rates

(national center for health statistics)

Nationally, 12 percent of adults in the US didn’t have health insurance during the first nine months of 2016, the CDC reports. But six states — Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas — had uninsured rates higher than the national average. There were 20.4 million fewer uninsured persons during that time last year than in 2010, when the Affordable Care Act was passed. 

Another potential impact of the ACA? Lower divorce rates in some places. Prior to the ACA, when one partner in a married couple was diagnosed with a disease that required costly care, their combined assets would have to take quite a hit before the sick individual could qualify for Medicaid. In turn, some split to avoid bankrupting them both — so-called “medical divorces.” A new comparison finds that states that expanded Medicaid saw divorce rates drop nearly six percent among people age 50 to 64 compared to those that didn't. That, the paper’s authors suggest, is a sign that medical divorce rates might’ve fallen.

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Inside STAT: Dentist tries to break the field's opioid habit

Nelson Wood spent years hooked on opioids, taking Percocet and Vicodin he prescribed as a dentist. But nearly a decade ago, he was arrested in a drug deal in a parking lot. Since then, he’s entered treatment, worked to get his dental license back, and asked the government to not grant him authority to prescribe powerful opioids. But in trying to do the right thing for both himself and his patients, Wood has been faced with a surprising reality: Prescription painkillers are ingrained in the culture of dentistry, and his decision has been bad for business. STAT’s David Armstrong has more in a special report — read here.

Safe syringe exchange case heads to state court

A lawsuit over a safe syringe access program is headed to the Massachusetts Supreme Court today. The case pits the AIDS Services of Cape Cod — which provided clients with access to sterile needles — against the town of Barnstable, where the clinic had an office. The town’s public health office sent the group a cease-and-desist order in 2015 to end the needle program. Needle exchanges aren’t illegal in Massachusetts as they are in some states. The Massachusetts Department of Health is actually authorized by law to approve and set up needle exchanges. The town of Barnstable says that means the health department alone is allowed to distribute sterile needles; the AIDS Services group says the law doesn’t stop other entities from doing so. The decision could have implications for needle exchanges in other states. Watch the arguments here.

Medical groups push Congress for Zika funding

Doctors and other health experts are expressing renewed concern over federal funding for Zika treatment and prevention going into next year. A slew of medical associations — including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — have sent a letter to Congressional leaders who oversee budget appropriations to ask for ample Zika-related funding in fiscal year 2018. "Zika virus continues to pose a major threat to the health and well-being of our nation’s pregnant women and infants," they say. After much budgetary back-and-forth last year, Congress granted $1.1 billion in funding for Zika research and prevention efforts. 

Scientists stumble upon a trait that makes ticks special 

Ticks are special — particularly when it comes to how they fight pathogens like the one that causes Lyme disease, researchers report in Nature Communications. The researchers found that instead of sensing sugars on the surface of the pathogen, like insects do, the immune system of ticks detects lipid molecules. That finding could help scientists artificially supercharge ticks' defenses so the bug can fight off pathogens before they spread to humans or livestock. Study author Joao Pedra of the University of Maryland said that would be music to the ears of outdoor enthusiasts and cattle ranchers across the northern hemisphere. 

A nerdy competition for steady-handed scientists

So you think you can pipette? Prove it. Boston’s MassBio is challenging scientists in the biotech hub to bring their best pipetting skills to a competition today. Scientists can even challenge the king of the hill — a “senior expert pipette calibration technician.” Anyone who bests the grand pipetting masters takes home a prize. Everyone else gets a pat on the back and a participation certificate for their dedicated pipetting practice. 

What to read around the web today

  • A former FDA chief's 5 things to watch on drug approvals and safety. Kaiser Health News
  • Italy's vaccination rates raise government's concern. Wall Street Journal
  • Sharp rise reported in use of multiple psychotropic drugs among older Americans. New York Times

More reads from STAT

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