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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, folks! Megan here, back with what you need to know about health and medicine today. 

Hospitals grapple with Hurricane Harvey's aftermath

Hospitals in the path of Hurricane Harvey are scrambling to grapple with the severe flooding — and the wave of new patients showing up in ERs — brought on by the storm. The Houston Chronicle reports that at least a dozen hospitals in the area have been forced to evacuate patients by ambulance. Some hospitals in the storm’s path had flooded, while others found themselves dangerously low on food for patients. The storm made landfall in Louisiana early this morning, and rainfall is expected to continue in the region today, continuing to complicate rescue and treatment efforts. One thing health experts say people wading through floodwaters don't need to worry about: getting a tetanus shot

Dads, like the rest of us, aren't getting any younger

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A new study out this morning finds that the average age of fathers in the U.S. is rising as men take a few extra years to practice their dad jokes before having kids. Here’s what dads look like today:

  • They’re creeping up in years. In 2015, the average age of a dad at the time of his baby’s birth in the U.S. was 30.9 years old, up from 27.4 years old in 1972. That might seem like a small shift, but it’s likely to make a dent in U.S. demographics over time. 

  • The average age varies depending on a dad's demographics. Men who had college degrees were older when their babies were born than men with only a high school education.

  • Dads in the Northeast are oldest. And Japanese and Vietnamese-American fathers — who were 36 on average at the time of their baby's birth — were older than any other racial or ethnic group. Black fathers were the youngest, at an average age of 30.4.

Where will the NFL's next round of research grants go?

The NFL is set to start soliciting research proposals for $40 million in funding that the league will award for biomedical research, the first big chunk of funding from the $100 million it pledged last year for independent medical research. The league has rounded up researchers and doctors to create a scientific advisory board that’ll determine where the grant money goes.

The announcement comes as the NFL’s research partnership with the NIH comes to an early end. The NFL donated $30 million to the NIH to study the connection between football and brain disease. But last month, ESPN reported that NIH officials are leaving $16 million on the table after the NFL tried to pull its funding for a major concussion study being run by a researcher who had criticized the league. The NIH tells me the agreement ends tomorrow and there aren't any plans to use the rest of the money, but the agency is funding concussion research directly. 

Inside STAT: Nevada's fight to save insurance coverage

Every county in the U.S. now has at least one insurance carrier in the Obamacare exchanges next year. But coverage remains thin in counties across the country, and is particularly tenuous in rural areas. Heather Korbulic, who runs Nevada’s insurance exchange, battled for months to restore coverage after insurers including Aetna and Anthem left the state's individual market. And though every Nevada resident now has an insurance option next year, Korbulic says she still has major concerns, including skyrocketing premiums and a shrinking enrollment period. STAT's Casey Ross has more here

Lab Chat: Nanoparticles aim to boost CAR-T creation

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nanoparticles deliver gene therapy to cells. (Kimberly Carney / Fred Hutch News Service)

Scientists have created nanoparticles that can ferry messenger RNA to specific cells and direct them to make proteins that could prevent or combat disease. Their goal: Make it easier to produce cell therapies such as CAR-T cancer treatments, which currently require specialized technology that make the process complicated and costly. Here’s what Dr. Matthias Stephan of Fred Hutchinson told me about the in vitro work, published in Nature Communications.

How do the nanoparticles work?

The nanoparticles we designed can be targeted to a specific cell type you want to genetically engineer. They are loaded with mRNA encoding a therapeutically desirable transgene, [a gene that's being introduced]. Once these nanoparticles are added to a culture of cells in the lab, they are taken up by these cells and release their cargo into the cytoplasm. Only four hours [later], cells start making the therapeutic protein.

How could you see those nanoparticles being used?

We wanted to make genetic engineering or therapeutic cells as easy as exchanging media. There is no special equipment or knowledge required to use this technology and cultured cells never leave their incubators. The only step is opening the culture bag and adding the nanoparticles.

High levels of pesticide tied to problems at birth

Pesticide exposure during pregnancy might drive adverse birth outcomes, but only if a pregnant woman is exposed to exceedingly high levels of pesticides, according to a new study. Researchers pored over half a million birth records in California’s San Joaquin Valley — home to a large agricultural economy — along with local levels of pesticide use. Pregnant women who were exposed to very high levels of pesticide had up to a 9 percent higher risk of adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight or abnormalities. The study’s authors say their finding pinpoints a specific group of women that policymakers can target to reduce the risk of excessive pesticide exposure during pregnancy.

What to read around the web today

  • Deaf music fans are finally starting to be heard. Buzzfeed
  • How moldy hay and sick cows led to a lifesaving drug. NPR
  • Bloomberg charity scrutinized by India for anti-tobacco funding. Reuters

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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