Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

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Good morning, everyone! Here's your daily dose of the stories that are driving the news in science and medicine today. 

Fiorina wants health care providers to pony up data for patients

Republican presidential candidates got in a few jabs at Obamacare at a debate that hovered largely on the economy last night. Candidate Carly Fiorina dropped her take on how the government should get involved with care. "Every health care provider ought to publish its costs, its prices, its outcomes, because as patients, we don't know what we're buying," she said in response to a question about the law's employer mandate. Fiorina's comments play into the whole idea of giving patients more power as they're spending more money on health care, which is true for a lot of people. Just in the past five years, the percentage of people with a hefty deductible — over $1,000 — on employer-sponsored insurance has jumped from 31 percent to 46 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

Inside STAT: The VA's mission to sequence a million veterans' genomes

Get a look at the tech behind the Million Veteran Program. (Alex Hogan/STAT)

Over the past five years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has spent $30 million on an impressive undertaking — collecting blood from hundreds of thousands of veterans to sequence their DNA. Computer scientists are simultaneously mining electronic medical records to create a massive database combining the genetic data with health histories. The goal: get a clear picture of how DNA plays a part in the development of diseases like PTSD. “You have two people who sit in the same foxhole and see the exact same thing,” Michael Gaziano, one of the project’s principal investigators, told STAT national correspondent Carl Zimmer. “One guy sleeps great every night and the next guy relives that over and over again.” Take a look inside the VA lab — which holds a whopping 4 million vials of blood from participating veterans — that’s trying to fuel all kinds of medical discoveries.

The FDA wants to know what you think of products labeled as "natural"

This call for comments could rope in everything from your Whole Foods cookies to GMOs — the FDA is asking consumers to weigh in on the use of the word "natural" on food labels. The FDA now considers the term to mean a product contains nothing artificial or synthetic. But the agency hasn’t weighed in on whether "natural" can describe a health benefit, as in “this cereal lowers your cholesterol in a natural way."

The FDA is also curious to know how people feel about the use of “natural” to describe products that do have all natural ingredients, but have gone through less-than-natural production processes, from pasteurization and irradiation to genetic modification. You can comment starting tomorrow.  

Copper squashes this virus' chance of spreading

A virus that can cause respiratory problems can live up to five days on materials like glass and ceramic  but on copper, it’s destroyed in a flash. Researchers report in the new mBio that copper can help slash the spread of respiratory viruses tied to conditions such as SARS and MERS. When the virus was exposed to copper, it was inactivated within a few minutes. This finding could affect the materials people choose to make communal surfaces like sinks. 

New today: Could getting the flu shot every year make it less effective? 

This morning brings some worrying news from STAT infectious disease reporter Helen Branswell: Medical researchers believe getting your flu shots year in and year out may make the vaccine less effective over time. It's a confusing and counterintuitive idea, given that booster shots for some vaccines make them more effective. The uncertainty over the science could create a conundrum for public health officials, who've long said that getting a flu shot every year is ideal  and who don't want people to assume (wrongly) that flu shots are actually harmful. Get the full story here. 

Patients with bad hearts are getting more help from federal funds

The American Heart Association’s out with a slew of research news being presented at their annual conference. This finding in particular caught my eye: The number of chronic heart failure patients who get federal assistance for cardiac care has tripled since Medicare and Medicaid expanded cardiac rehabilitation coverage last year. But not everyone who might need rehab is getting it, researcher Dr. Jacob Kelly tells me.  “A large cohort of patients with heart failure remain ineligible for cardiac rehabilitation,” Kelly said, because patients whose hearts still pump blood somewhat well don’t qualify.

The Olympics get a gold medal for heart health 

Here’s another interesting tidbit from that AHA scientific session. Hearts would be a whole lot better off in China if the air quality could rebound to the lower pollution levels recorded during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, when the government temporarily closed factories and restricted traffic. Researchers say that level of improvement would reduce stroke deaths by 2.7 percent and coronary heart disease deaths by 7.2 percent by 2030 in urban China.

What to read around the web today

  • What happens to your body when you run an ultramarathon. Washington Post
  • Sperms are good at slithering, not just swimming. LA Times
  • Why babies should sleep in cardboard boxes. BBC

More reads from STAT

  • Polio eradication milestone: One strain left in the crosshairs
  • Brain tumor breached with ultrasound

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,


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