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Friday, January 15, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

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Cheers to Friday, everyone! Here's what you need to know about the news in science and medicine this morning. We'll be out for MLK Day on Monday, but back Tuesday with your Morning Rounds. 

Ebola re-emerges in Sierra Leone after West Africa declared Ebola-free

There's been a death from Ebola in Sierra Leone, the WHO and officials in Sierra Leone announced this morning. The news comes right on the heels of the organization's declaration that the outbreak in West Africa spanning the past two years was officially over. Sierra Leone had been considered Ebola-free since November. 

E-cigs might actually make it harder to quit smoking

E-cigs are touted as an option to help regular cigarette smokers kick the habit, but a new analysis says they might actually make people nearly 30 percent less likely to quit. That’s ironic, the authors say, because many people use e-cigs for that very reason. But it shouldn't be a big surprise: No e-cig products have been approved as smoking cessation aids, and last year, the US Preventive Services Task Force said there wasn't enough evidence to recommend e-cigs for that purpose. Read the meta-analysis in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

A new database gives you cancer stats to grab onto

A new database from the American Cancer Society puts statistics about cancer in the right at your fingertips. One visual that caught my eye as I played with the database: the massive spike in lung cancer deaths as smoking became hugely popular, and the subsequent steep fall as public health officials issued stark warnings about the dangers of cigarettes. 

Lab Chat: Your brain's chatter could tell docs how much anesthesia you need

The chitter-chatter of the brain communicating could hold the key to precisely dosing a patient’s anesthesia, according to new research from University of Cambridge. Monitoring brain patterns while a patient is awake can clue doctors in as to when that patient is unconscious enough to proceed with surgery. Here’s what lead researcher Srivas Chennu told me about the findings, published in PLOS Computational Biology

What’s the problem you see with the current way anesthesia is dosed?

Current approaches to monitor depth of anaesthesia vary, but they usually assess indirect measures like blood pressure, heart rate, physical movement, etc. While there are some brain-based monitoring systems available commercially, these are not widely accepted or used.  [Being conscious during surgery] continues to be a problem, affecting one or two of every 1,000 patients undergoing general anesthesia. 

What do you think could fix this?

More accurate, principled techniques for brain monitoring and identifying drug dosage for each patient could help reduce this incidence of intraoperative awareness. Our findings suggest that an assessment of brain network 'chatter' at baseline before anesthesia could help predict the amount of drug needed more accurately. A continuous assessment of this brain connectivity as the drug is administered would help [the medical team] both track and also adjust the level of drug in the blood, and consequently, the true level of consciousness.

Brace yourself — kidney stones are becoming much more common


A scanning electron microscope shows kidney stones in their true, horrifying state. (Murry gans / Eastfield college)

Some unpleasant news this morning: Kidney stones are on the rise, and in particular, they’re plaguing more women, children, and African-Americans. One of the biggest increases is among kids, where cases have jumped an average of 4.7 percent per year, according to an analysis of 150,000 kidney stone patients in South Carolina between 1997 and 2012. That's concerning, because doctors aren’t used to treating such young patients for the condition, the authors said. They couldn't pinpoint reasons for the rise.  "This study highlights the need for more research to understand why stones are forming earlier in life and in groups of patients in whom stones were once rare," lead researcher Dr. Gregory Tasian of University of Pennsylvania told me. 

This peptide helps calcium keep your muscles contracting like they need to

Next time you pump some iron at the gym, thank a long noncoding RNA for doing the real heavy lifting. Muscle contraction relies on the release and uptake of calcium in a regular cycle. And new research published in Science shows that a peptide produced by a long noncoding RNA — long thought to be relatively unimportant in peptide production — keeps your muscles healthy. The finding may be a new path for research into treatment for muscle disorders, which are often marked by abnormal calcium cycles, or even a therapy for patients with heart failure.

Inside STAT: Can we really cure cancer? 

There's been a lot of hype over Vice President Joe Biden's "moonshot" initiative to cure cancer. Senior writer Sharon Begley shares seven key questions to ask as the effort unfolds to figure out whether it's the real deal or just political rhetoric. D.C. reporter Dylan Scott, meanwhile, explains why Biden is headed to Philadelphia today to talk to cancer researchers.  And if you're sick of hearing the word "moonshot," this is the video for you. 

DNA does a backbend to help CRISPR Cas9 proteins work

(Janet Iwasa)
CRISPR Cas9 snips genes in just the right place to edit faulty DNA, and new research from UC Berkeley gives a better picture of how those enzymes accomplish that. When researchers took these 3D images of Cas9 editing a DNA sequence, they saw that the Cas9 makes the DNA involved do a backbend at a 30 degree angle, opening the door for strands to get into the right position for editing. Read about the new research in Science

What does this mean for the three blind mice? 

Scientists have restored vision in mice with optic nerve damage that mimics the damage caused by glaucoma and other eye diseases affecting nearly 4 million Americans. The scientists used gene therapy to get damaged nerves to regenerate and form working channels to communicate between the eye and the brain. At the same time, they gave the mice a drug that helped those optic nerves carry the impulses between the eye and the brain. Read the research in the journal Cell

What to read around the web today

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend! Back bright and early on Tuesday, 

Megan

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