Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Welcome back from the long weekend, everyone! I'm here with what you need to know about science and medicine today. 

ACA repeal in the spotlight during Congressional break

It’s a break week for Congress, and lawmakers are headed back to their home states to field questions from constituents on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, funding for Planned Parenthood, and their support for contested Cabinet nominees. Republican representatives have already faced fierce criticism at town halls from voters concerned about repealing the health law without a replacement. Those questions will continue to crop up this week. And with its federal funding threatened by Republican lawmakers, Planned Parenthood is doubling down on its efforts to rally local support during the recess by holding town halls and other events centered around reproductive health care. 

Those same lawmakers may also get grilled about proposed changes to Medicaid. For more on Medicaid reform, read this piece on how the adoptive parents of a young boy with serious medical issues fear cuts will change their son's coverage. 

Homeopathic remedies harmed infants for years while FDA investigated

Blaine Talbott, now 3, began twitching in his limbs after taking homeopathic teething products. (Kirsten leah bitzer for stat)

The FDA issued a warning in September about the potential health risks of Hyland's homeopathic teething products, which still remain for sale online and are likely still being used in homes across the US. STAT's review of FDA records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act paints a grim picture of the adverse events reported after parents used the products to soothe their infants. Babies grew delirious, had repeated seizures, or were airlifted to the hospital. Some turned blue and died. The FDA collected more than 370 reports of such adverse events between 2006 and 2016. But an examination into those cases also raises questions about the response of regulators. It took four years for the FDA to ask Hyland's to reformulate the products. That was in 2010 — and in the seven years since, the adverse event reports continued to come in. STAT's Sheila Kaplan has more in a special report

Hitting the pause button on new health policies

On Inauguration Day, newly minted chief of staff Reince Priebus issued an order to freeze federal regulations that hadn’t yet been implemented. Now, a handful of federal health policies that were set to go into effect this month have been pushed back in accordance with that order. Among the rules that’ve been delayed:

  • An update to federal food subsidies under the SNAP program. The new rule would bump up the minimum benefit for small households and would exclude military combat pay from the income tallies for low-income families on SNAP.
  • An order that would allow the VA to partner with tribal organizations to deliver veterans' health benefits the same way they partner with state organizations to do the same.
  • Another rule affecting tribal health care, which would allow medical professionals at tribal facilities to sign up for health insurance offered to federal employees.

Magnesium pills don't do much for muscle cramps

Magnesium supplements are often touted as a way to prevent painful, annoying leg cramps in the middle of the night. But the evidence that they work? Non-existent, researchers report in new trial results. Older adults with nocturnal leg cramps were given either a magnesium pill or a matching placebo to take every night for a month. Individuals in the magnesium group reported fewer leg cramps at the end of the trial— but so did those in the placebo group. The study's authors conclude it's likely just a placebo effect that props up the use of magnesium for midnight muscle problems. 

CRISPR meeting kicks off as sparks still fly over patents

An annual meeting about gene-editing technologies comes at a particularly interesting time for the field, as the storied patent battle has just been settled. The CRISPR Congress, now in its third year, will take place in Boston over the coming three days. On the agenda this morning: a panel with Bill Lundberg, the chief scientific officer at CRISPR Therapeutics, which saw its stocks tumble after the patent ruling, with a session from Harvard biologist George Church happening tomorrow. Absent from the list of presenters: Jennifer Doudna, Feng Zhang, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, the key players in the patent fight. 

The pain-relieving secrets of poisonous sea snails

Researchers searching for new pain relief treatments are turning to an unlikely source — snails. Specifically, they're interested in a tiny sea snail found in the Caribbean whose venom contains a compound called Rg1A. In rodents, that compound reduces pain via a different pathway than the ones that opioid painkillers target. To find the version of Rg1A that holds the most promise for people, researchers created 20 analog versions and screened them in a rodent model. They found one that bound tightest to the human receptor and tamped down on the pain response — a promising lead for further study. The work will be published soon in PNAS

How online alcohol ads uniquely impact adolescents

Kids are much more likely to remember seeing alcohol advertisements while surfing the web than adults are, public health researchers report. The Johns Hopkins team surveyed nearly 1,200 young people between ages 13 and 20 and about as many adults age 21 and over. Nearly one in three underage individuals reported seeing ads for alcohol online in the past month, compared to about one in five adults. That doesn’t necessarily mean youth are being targeted more frequently than adults — it could be that they’re just more inclined to remember seeing those ads. But that, experts warn, could be a problem too. Previous research has shown that exposure to alcohol advertising during adolescence is tied to higher rates of underage drinking.

What to read around the web today

  • Drugs vanish at some VA hospitals. AP
  • When retirement comes with a daily dose of medicinal marijuana. New York Times
  • This lingerie brand is specifically designed for breast cancer patients and survivors. Buzzfeed

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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