Morning Rounds Megan Thielking

Scientists plan first human study of Nobel-winning stem cell technique


A scanning electron micrograph image shows retinal pigment epithelial cells, in brown, on a biodegradable scaffold, in blue. (National Eye Institute)

National Eye Institute scientists are planning to soon launch the first human study using induced pluripotent stem cells, which were discovered more than a decade ago and won a Nobel Prize in 2012. To make iPSCs, scientists take adult cells, send them back in time until they're like embryonic stem cells, and then turn them into other cell types, like those in the eye. The NEI researchers just reported that they saw promising results using retinal cells made from iPSCs to treat a type of age-related macular degeneration — a major cause of blindness — in rats and pigs. Meanwhile, University of Southern California scientists are expected to launch a Phase 2 trial this year of another therapy for AMD, this one created with stem cells derived from human embryos. 

Patient groups blast Trump administration drug pricing proposal in new ads

A coalition of patient advocacy and medical groups — led by the American Cancer Society’s advocacy arm and joined by the American Medical Association — launched an ad campaign in major newspapers this morning to drum up opposition to a proposed change to Medicare. The ads take aim at changes that would allow private Medicare prescription plans to further restrict the drugs patients can use through methods like prior authorization or step therapy, which are sometimes required before an insurer covers a medicine. The Trump administration has hailed the changes, which haven’t been finalized, as a way to lower drug prices. Patient advocacy groups don’t see it the same way. The ad’s headline: “When you limit drug therapies, you threaten lives.” More here.

Second wrongful death lawsuit filed against Ohio doctor 

A second wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against Dr. William Husel, an Ohio doctor accused of ordering potentially deadly doses of pain drugs to at least 27 hospitalized patients who were near death. The suit alleges that 64-year-old Bonnie Austin was killed — either intentionally or negligently — after she was declared brain-dead and given fentanyl and a strong sedative. Another family has already filed a similar lawsuit. Both lawsuits also name a pharmacist, a nurse, and the Mount Carmel Health System. Earlier this week, Mount Carmel announced it had fired Husel and barred 20 other employees from taking part in patient care while the allegations are investigated. 

Inside STAT: The first digital chemo pill rolls out to cancer patients

A Silicon Valley company announced a first-of-its-kind "digital pill" program this morning. Proteus Digital Health is packaging chemotherapy drugs with a sensor that can alert a cancer patient's doctor, pharmacist, or caregiver once it has been swallowed. The pills are designed to help patients and their support team stick to their therapies and inform treatment plans. The program isn't the company's first foray into digital pills. Proteus previously co-developed Abilify MyCite, which, in 2017, became the first digital pill approved by the FDA. STAT's Rebecca Robbins has more on the news here

NIH joins forces with Fitbit to collect health data

The All of Us Research program is now BYOD: bring your own device. The NIH initiative — which aims to compile detailed health profiles of 1 million Americans — just teamed up with Fitbit to collect data on physical activity, sleep, heart rate, and more from study participants who use the device. People taking part in the study also send in surveys and samples and share their electronic health records with researchers. The initiative's leaders are looking into other ways to incorporate digital health technologies into the program. They're hosting a live chat on the topic Friday at noon — details here.

Bill and Melinda Gates push for investment in key global health programs

Bill and Melinda Gates appear to be worried the rise of nationalism could endanger the financial viability of four key global health programs, including the polio eradication effort and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. Bill Gates will be pressing the case for ongoing investment in the four programs — all of which need to secure major funding over the next 18 months — at next week’s World Economic Forum. He said he worries some of the world’s biggest donor countries may be turning inward and away from helping people in lower-income nations. "If we want peace and stability around the world, we need to make these investments in health," Melinda Gates said. 

Experts call for a 'planetary health diet'

The Lancet just released a new report calling for sweeping changes to diet and food production to improve health and prevent "potentially catastrophic damage to the planet." To keep both ourselves and Earth healthy, the report’s authors propose a new "planetary health diet” that would mean cutting global red meat consumption in half and doubling the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat. The authors estimate that the diet could prevent as many as 11 million premature deaths per year if adopted worldwide. But overhauling how we eat is no easy feat. Among the report's recommendations to make it happen: cut food waste in half and enact policies to make healthy food affordable.

What to read around the web today

  • When a reverse motion detector sounds, this doctor becomes a lifesaver. Boston Globe
  • Apple is in talks with private Medicare plans about bringing its watch to at-risk seniors. CNBC
  • Gawande, still mum on plans for new health venture, pulls out of major health conference. STAT Plus
  • New York confronts its worst measles outbreak in decades. New York Times

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Thursday, January 17, 2019


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