Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, and welcome to Tuesday. STAT reporter Max Blau here, bringing you today's health and medicine news. Let's get started.

Trump appoints new HHS head

President Trump yesterday announced that Alex Azar, a former executive at Eli Lilly, would replace former HHS Secretary Tom Price, who resigned two months ago. “He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!” Trump tweeted. The president's pick of Azar, who served as deputy health secretary for the George W. Bush administration, was praised by fellow Republicans, the American Hospital Association, and even Obama CMS administrator Andy Slavitt. "He's eager to serve — and expressed to me that he's looking to work across the aisle. Let's hope that's true," Slavitt told MSNBC. However, Azar will have to steer clear of many potential conflicts of interest given his pharmaceutical ties. That's already led Democrats like Sen. Patty Murray of Washington to express concerns about whether he'll actually be interested in lowering drug prices. 

First digital pill approved by FDA

A futuristic pill that contains an ingestible sensor to track medication adherence was approved by the FDA late Monday — the first of its kind to win that designation. The drug is an upgraded version of Abilify, an antipsychotic drug first approved 15 years ago to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. The new product will be sold as Abilify MyCite. When it's swallowed, an ingestible sensor inside it sends a message to a patch worn by the patient, which then transmits the information to a mobile app that the patient can monitor. If a patient opts to allow it, the patient’s caregivers and doctor can access the data, too.

Diabetes crisis is set to get worse, report says

The world's diabetes crisis is on track to dramatically worsen, affecting hundreds of millions of people while draining billions from the world economy. That's according to the annual diabetes atlas released today by the International Diabetes Federation. The world spends more than $720 billion on health care expenditures related to diabetes, according to the report, and the number of people suffering from diabetes is projected to rise to 693 million by 2045 — with the greatest rise in southern Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Separately, public health experts are meeting this afternoon to discuss the latest in diabetes treatment, prevention strategies, and the possibilities of future medical advancements. The participants in the forum, hosted by the Harvard School of Public Health, include experts in health care policy, diabetes advocacy, and medical technology. It'll be livestreamed here starting at noon ET. 


Report finds most people at high risk of stroke not being screened for AFib and other risk factors

New research by the Economist Intelligence Unit found global gaps in screenings for stroke risk factors, even in developed countries with established healthcare systems. Sponsored by The Bristol-Myers Squibb-Pfizer Alliance, the “Preventing Stroke: Uneven Progress” report analyzed 20 countries and revealed that on average, more than 75 percent of people aged 65 and older are not being screened for atrial fibrillation and other common stroke risk factors. Read the full report here.

Inside STAT: Can this city defeat hep C once and for all?

San Francisco has embarked on an audacious campaign to eliminate hepatitis C from the city limits. With the help of new and effective drugs, an army of health workers is expanding testing and tracking down homeless patients who might've skipped out on their meds, while clinicians are teaching their colleagues how to treat infections. “People are still getting infected with hepatitis C,” said Katie Burk, viral hepatitis coordinator for the city’s public health department. “But what we need to do is outpace infection rates with treatments. If we start every year curing more people than are getting infected, then you can turn that curve around.” While organizers concede that eliminating the virus for good is unlikely, they see the campaign as one that may not only reduce the city's disease burden, but also offer a blueprint for other cities to follow. STAT's Andrew Joseph has the story.

Anti-abortion fight heads to SCOTUS

Should pro-life pregnancy centers have to inform patients about abortion options? The nation’s highest court will soon answer the question, weighing a challenge to a California law that forces centers to do just that. The legal battle follows a pair of recent decisions in which federal judges overturned laws they deemed restrictive of health professionals' First Amendment rights: one in North Carolina that required women seeking abortion to be shown an ultrasound; the other in Florida where doctors faced fines for discussing gun safety with patients. When SCOTUS hears the case in early 2018, it'll consider the crisis pregnancy center’s free speech arguments, but not arguments regarding potential violations of religious freedom.

A better microscope to image delicate living things


A zebrafish eye Gets an up close look through the OPTICAL microscope. (Robert Fisher/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

An advanced microscope that allows scientists to see images of the tiniest biological structures will now be able to preserve the samples better. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Chicago developed the microscope, which swaps out the traditional glass slip that holds a sample in favor of a “reflective, mirrored coverslip” that uses light sheets to “excite” the sample. Because the technique exposes just a portion of a sample to the light, there’s less damage to cells of things like a zebrafish eye, pictured above. “It’s a lot like looking into a mirror," says one of the inventors, Hari Shroff at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. "If you look at a scene in a mirror, you can view perspectives that are otherwise hidden.” The NIH intends to release the microscope's design plans, along with accompanying software, once their work is complete.

Why does facial pain hurt so much? A possible answer

Migraines, toothaches, and other sorts of facial pain often disrupt our lives more than pain from elsewhere in our body. Now, researchers at Duke University say the reason has to do with sensory neurons. The neurons in the head and face connect directly to the amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for emotional signaling, whereas neurons from other parts of the body only link to that part of the brain indirectly. “Usually doctors focus on treating the sensation of pain,” said neurobiology professor Fan Wang, a co-author of the NIH-funded study, which was published Monday in Nature Neuroscience. “This shows the we really need to treat the emotional aspects of pain as well.” The Duke team hopes the study will lead to the development of new chronic pain treatments. 

What to read around the web today

  • A mental health crisis hovers over Puerto Rico following Maria. New York Times
  • Why aren't Tinder and Grindr playing a major role in STD prevention? Vox
  • In Minnesota, senior home residents are abused and ignored. Star-Tribune

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! My colleague Rebecca Robbins will be back with more tomorrow.


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