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Friday, April 21, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Cheers for making it to Friday! Before you check out for the weekend, here's what you need to know about health care and medicine this morning. 

Texas votes on contested human evolution curriculum

The Texas State Board of Education is gearing up to vote today on whether to slash phrases that question human evolution from its high school biology curriculum. The phrases — which require students to “evaluate” scientific explanations of human evolution — were introduced in 2009. The move was widely criticized by scientists who argued that the evidence on evolution isn’t up for debate and that the language allows teachers to promote creationism. The vote today might hinge on one word in the state standard that asks students to "evaluate scientific explanations for the origin of DNA." A potential compromise that’s been proposed: Swapping “evaluate” for “identify.”

Research gets a show of support at March for Science

Researchers, doctors, and science supporters across the country are taking to the streets tomorrow for the March for Science. The speakers slated for today’s event include Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who sounded an alarm on the water crisis in Flint, and biologist Lydia Villa-Komaroff, whose work led to the use of bacteria to produce human insulin. And of course, science guy Bill Nye. Congress’s only PhD-trained scientist, Democratic Representative Bill Foster of Illinois, will be in the crowd, too. STAT reporters will be at the marches in D.C., Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. We’ll have a live blog on our site starting at 9 a.m. ET. Want to keep up on Twitter? Here’s a handy list of our reporters who are there. And to get a feel for the messages of marchers, check out this roundup of some of the best signs. 

The stark toll of chronic hepatitis worldwide

An estimated 325 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection, according to new numbers released this morning, and deaths from the diseases are on the rise. Many of those patients lack access to testing and treatment, putting them at risk of slowly developing chronic liver disease or cancer from their condition. The new report from the WHO finds a bright note in that new cases of hepatitis B infection are on the decline. But disparities in where new cases are occurring still remain — in Africa and the western Pacific, more than 6 percent of the population is infected with hepatitis B virus.

Inside STAT: Fear over a deadly superbug's spread

The acting director of the CDC is warning that a superbug known as C. auris poses a "catastrophic threat" to the public. The deadly fungus was first identified in Japan eight years ago, and has since spread globally. It has killed at least 61 in the US in recent years. Health officials have warned hospital staffers to keep a close eye out for C. auris, which can creep into wounds, infiltrate the bloodstream, and take root in the urinary tract. It is resistant to many commonly used antifungal medications. STAT's Max Blau has more in a conversation with CDC director Dr. Anne Schuchat. 

How the axons that carry nerve signals get their start

axons normally growing on the left, axons in chaos without an organizational protein on the right. (UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center/Neuron)

Regenerative medicine researchers say they’ve made a surprising, helpful discovery about how axons — the arms that grow out of nerve cells and carry electrical impulses — grow as an embryo develops. During embryonic development, neurons reach axons into the spinal cord. From there, axons are guided toward the rest of the body to create the nervous system. It’s long been thought that a particular protein dubbed netrin1 worked to organize axon growth. But because multiple types of cells produce the protein, it wasn’t clear which cells were producing the netrin1 that mattered in axon growth. Scientists stripped the protein from the spinal cords of embryonic mice and observed that axons in that area grew in a scattered, abnormal way. That suggests these cells' netrin1 is what's ordering axons to grow in mice, and possibly in people. The researchers say they’re hopeful the finding could inform research on nerve disorders and in patients who’ve suffered nerve damage.

A special edition of STAT, coming Sunday

Morning Rounds readers in the Boston area — we’re launching a special print edition of STAT this Sunday in the Boston Globe. We’d love for you to pick up a copy and give it a read!

A concerning case of a rare, tick-borne disease

Health officials are out with a concerning case report about a 5-month-old baby who fell ill after being bitten by a tick in Connecticut last year. The infant later tested positive for Powassan virus disease, a tick-borne flavivirus. The family of flaviviruses includes others you might be more familiar with: Zika, West Nile, and yellow fever. Powassan virus has been rare in the US — an average of 7 cases each year since 2006 — but experts are eyeing whether it might be on the rise. Powassan virus infects the central nervous system and can lead to brain inflammation and meningitis.  It can cause seizures and, in some cases, death.

HBO's film on Henrietta Lacks premieres this weekend

If you're a read-the-book-before-the-movie person who never got around to "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," better hurry up. The film version of the 2010 bestseller is airing Saturday on HBO at 8 p.m. ET. It explores the life and legacy of Henrietta Lacks, who died in Baltimore of cervical cancer in 1951. Doctors collected a sample of her cancer cells without her knowledge, and those cells became the first to survive and continue to divide outside the body for a long stretch of time. So-called HeLa cells have played a part in several major medical breakthroughs, including the HPV vaccine. But one key issue underpinning Lacks’s story actually remains unresolved. HHS, which oversees some research regulations, recently scrapped a proposal which would have required doctors to ask a patient for their consent to use de-identified samples collected during medical procedures in experiments.

What to read around the web today

  • White House officials, craving progress, push revised health bill. New York Times
  • 35 years of American death. FiveThirtyEight
  • Video medicine is a promising industry, but it's being exposed to the oldest problem on the internet. CNBC

More reads from STAT

Thanks so much for reading! Have a wonderful weekend, 

Megan

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