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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Here's what you need to know about science and medicine this morning. 

HHS nominee Alex Azar is finally getting his hearing

Alex Azar is in the hot seat today for his official confirmation hearing before the Senate finance committee. Azar — who President Trump first nominated to helm the health department back in November — waded through a slog of questions about high drug prices at his so-called "courtesy hearing" before another panel last year and came out mostly unscathed. That likely won't stop the panel from hammering the former Eli Lilly executive along the same line of questioning — especially after a Politico report Monday on a Lilly decision to test its Cialis drug in children in hopes of extending its patent. 

By now, though, Azar's something of an old pro at dodging those tough drug pricing questions — so we'll also be watching for Senate Democrats to press Azar to explain how he might want to change Medicaid and how he'll deal with controversial issues like access to birth control. The fun starts at 10 a.m. ET and will be streaming here. Catch up on what you missed last time with the archive of our D.C. team's discussion on how Azar might change HH  here.

New documentary digs into chronic fatigue syndrome

A new documentary being released to stream online today takes a deep, personal look at chronic fatigue syndrome. There’s no known cause of the illness, also called myalgic encephalomyelitis, which can cause serious exhaustion, muscle and joint pain, and other debilitating symptoms. The filmmaker, Jennifer Brea, was working on a PhD at Harvard when she developed a fever which left her bedridden. Brea was ultimately diagnosed with ME/CFS. She started a video diary about her experience with the disease and began exploring the growing online communities where millions of ME/CFS patients support one another. The film, called "Unrest," premiered at Sundance last year and is now available to watch online

These lab-grown muscles contract like real ones

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science is electrifying! (duke university)

The race to cultivate tissues that function just like our own continues. This time, Duke researchers have grown functioning skeletal muscle from human stem cells. They started with stem cells plucked from humans and reprogrammed them to create pluripotent stem cells, which can be turned into all different kinds of cells. They nestled the stem cells in a dish with a special molecule that cued them to turn into muscle cells on a 3-D matrix. The cells formed muscle fibers that were able to contract and respond to electrical pulses in the same way our own muscles do. The lab-grown muscle can’t yet flex as strong as a human muscle can. Still, the researchers say the approach makes it easier to grow large amounts of cells than the alternative method of harvesting cells from muscle biopsies. 

Inside STAT: Researchers work to devise a roadside test for driving while high

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researchers test a potential way to measure marijuana impairment in drivers. (johnathan wiggs / the boston globe)

As a growing number of states legalize marijuana, entrepreneurs and scientists are rushing to devise a way to measure a person's marijuana levels that's more objective than officers' observations of their driving skills or a walking test on the side of the road. Some have tried to come up with a Breathalyzer for dope, while at Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers have cooked up a sensor-studded cap that aims to detect brain impairment. They know it's a long shot, but even approaches that are closer to market aren't ready for the roadside just yet. STAT's Eric Boodman has the story — read here

Senators weigh what to do next to address the opioid crisis

The Senate health committee is convening today to talk about the opioid crisis, focusing specifically on how to move forward. The hearing comes after President Trump reaffirmed his commitment to addressing the opioid crisis over the weekend. The president said the government will “make a big dent in the drug problem,” but didn’t offer any specific details on plans to address the opioid epidemic. You can watch the hearing live at 10 a.m. ET.

Scientists create a swallowable sensor to study the gut

Biomedical engineers have created a tiny, swallowable capsule that can track digestion — and in testing the new device, they’ve also made some cool new discoveries about the gut. The device, which is about the size of a pill, measures gases in the gut and transmits that data to a phone in real time. Seven healthy volunteers on different diets popped the edible sensor, which was able to accurately track changes in food fermentation. It also showed that the stomach releases oxidizing chemicals to break down foreign bodies like the capsule, suggesting the stomach might have a protective system that hasn’t been previously documented. The researchers are spinning the work off into a company to run larger trials. Their goal: Create a sensor that could one day be used to diagnose digestive disorders and diseases such as colon cancer.

What to read around the web today

  • America's home nurse shortage is stranding kids in hospitals. Bloomberg
  • The sexual assault epidemic no one talks about. NPR
  • Brain surgery in 3-D: Coming soon to the operating theater. New York Times

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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