Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Wednesday, everyone — we've made it to the middle of the week! Let's get you ahead of the day's big stories in health and science. 

Sean Parker's big new bet on cancer immunotherapy

Billionaire Sean Parker is funding a $250 million effort that brings together more than 300 scientists across the US to work on the emerging research field of cancer immunotherapy. Parker wants to spur collaboration between scientists and institutions, along the lines of Vice President Biden's cancer "moonshot". Six institutions — Memorial Sloan Kettering, MD Anderson, UCLA, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, and UCSF — have signed on. Parker's best known for his work starting up Napster and Facebook. The Washington Post has a good story on it here

Changing the way docs get paid for treating pain

This morning, a handful of health care organizations and consumer advocacy groups sent a petition to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services asking the agency to change how doctors assess patient pain. Current requirements, they say, are fostering overprescribing of opioid pain medications. CMS’s patient satisfaction survey — which is used to determine hospital reimbursement rates — asks patients questions about their pain and how it was handled by hospital staffers. That puts pressure on doctors to dole out opioids to cover their bases, the authors say. 

Budding researchers head to the White House Science Fair 

Young scientists are descending upon the nation’s capital this morning for the 2016 White House Science Fair. Dozens of teams are presenting to the president, including Seattle sisters Kimberly and Rebecca Yeung, ages 9 and 11, who launched a homemade spacecraft made of wood scraps into the stratosphere. Another contestant, 17-year-old Olivia Hallisley from Connecticut, won the 2015 Google Science Fair with her cheap, effective Ebola test made out of silk. And STAT's own Carl Zimmer's science fair project when he was a kid? A solar-powered hot dog cooker. (But Zimmer said now he thinks science fairs are useless.)

sponsor content by heart rhythm society

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) quality improvement (QI) innovation grants

The Heart Rhythm Society, in partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (BIPI), is seeking grant applications to support innovation and advancement in atrial fibrillation and stroke prevention research via demonstration projects/research by providing up to $500,000. Finalists will present their proposals to an expert panel at Heart Rhythm 2016 in San Francisco, California, on May 5, 2016. The winner will go on to present their outcomes at Heart Rhythm 2017 in Chicago. Learn more and apply by April 18.

Lab Chat: Pinning down how unseen vessels actually work

Lymphatic endothelial cell sprouting in response to galectin-8. (Wei-Sheng Chen, Tufts University School of Medicine)
The body's lymphatic system is key to keeping its immune responses in check, but it's not quite clear how the vessels that make up the lymphatic system do their jobs. Now, scientists have a better picture of how lymph vessels grow, a fascinating process known as lymphangiogenesis. Here's what senior author Noorjahan Panjwani of Tufts told me about the findings, published in Nature Communications

What is lymphangiogenesis?

If you have an injury, you can see the blood vessels. But there are other vessels, known as lymphatic vessels, that are clear, and for a long time, people couldn’t see them, so the importance of them remained obscure. The main function of lymphatic vessels is to control how much fluid accumulates. There is an enormous interest in finding out what regulates lymphangiogenesis so that you can use it to control some diseases marked by inflammation.

What did you find out about how it works?

What we found was that galectin-8, a carbohydrate-binding protein, is a potent lymphangiogenesis factor — it promotes lymphangiogenesis. We tested the mechanism of galectin-8 by inducing inflammation in the eye by putting in some sutures [in an animal model]. When we added an inhibitor of that galectin-8 after sutures, inflammation was much less, because lymphangiogenesis was less. 

Inside STAT: Long-lost study turns diet-heart hypothesis on its head

The NIH's Christopher Ramsden has a unique hobby: digging up studies with the potential to challenge mainstream, government-sanctioned views on science. His latest target is the idea that lowering cholesterol by replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats is good for the heart, the so-called "diet-heart hypothesis." The biggest study on the hypothesis — which Ramsden dug up with the help of a deceased scientist's sons — found quite the opposite, as Ramsden and colleagues report in the new BMJ. More on his mission and the latest finding from STAT's Sharon Begley here

Should you be worried about chemicals in fast food? 

Hitting up the drive-thru for breakfast this morning could increase your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals called phthalates, according to a new analysis published this morning in Environmental Health Perspectives. Phthalates are industrial chemicals commonly found in food packaging that've been tied to harmful effects during early development. In 2008, Congress banned their use in children's toys, but they still show up in items used in fast food production.

The new study collected info on what nearly 9,000 people had eaten in the previous 24 hours — including whether they'd consumed fast food — and also measured the level of two types of phthalates in their urine. The more fast food people ate, the higher their exposure. But that’s not necessarily cause for immediate alarm; I've got more on the study here

Dr. Watson will see you now

IBM’s supercomputer Watson is making a transition from Jeopardy champ to cancer-fighting ally. Yesterday, IBM and the American Cancer Society announced they’re teaming up to create a personalized “advisor” to cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers, powered by Watson. It hasn’t been developed yet, but the vision is for the device to get smarter as it gets to know the patient it’s working with. 

Watch how science is trying to tackle Alzheimer's

Tonight you can get a look behind the scenes of science's efforts to untangle Alzheimer’s disease in a new PBS/NOVA documentary called “Can Alzheimer’s Be Stopped?”  One scientist featured in the program, Dr. Kenneth S. Kosik, explains here how a family in Colombia could hold the key to some of the mysteries of the disease. The show premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET on PBS. 

What to read around the web today

  • For Native Americans, health care is a long, hard road away. NPR
  • Docs are getting better at telling patients they're obese, but not at helping them address the problem. US News
  • The psychological cost of boring buildings. Science of Us

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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