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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

New committee to examine potential clinical use of germline editing 

The U.S. National Academies and the U.K.’s Royal Society just formed an international commission to assess the potential clinical use of germline editing. The practice is illegal in the U.S. and many other countries, but after Chinese scientist He Jiankui’s rogue experiment led to the birth of the world’s first genome-edited babies late last year, experts have worried that other researchers may attempt the same. The new commission — whose final report is expected next year — will hold public meetings and an international workshop to come up with a framework for when it may be acceptable to use CRISPR to edit IVF embryos and establish pregnancies with them. Members include Broad Institute President Eric Lander and former FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, and the public now has 20 days to offer feedback on the commission’s membership. The WHO established an advisory committee on editing human DNA back in December.

Kids who are bullied are more likely to use cigarettes, other harmful substances

A new survey of high school students in California finds that some 14% of them were bullied, and those who were bullied are also more likely to report using harmful substances. Here’s more from the survey:

  • The design: U.S. News & World Report analysts looked at data from nearly 400,000 high school students during the 2017-2018 school year.

  • The findings: Students who reported being bullied were twice as likely to have smoked cigarettes. Around 40% of these students consumed alcohol, compared to about 29% who didn’t report being bullied. Other substances including marijuana and cocaine were also used by more students who were bullied.

  • The caveat: Although the study included a large cohort, it only examined students in a single state.

Q&A: What’s driving health issues in rural America?

A newly launched study called RURAL, from researchers behind the long-running Framingham Heart Study, will follow 4,000 participants over the next six years in 10 low-income counties in Kentucky, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi to better understand the factors driving conditions like diabetes and obesity that disproportionately affect people in the South. I spoke with Boston University’s Vasan Ramachandran, principal investigator of RURAL, to learn more. 

What was the motivation for this study? 
It was a good scientific starting point to have a study that goes after the high-risk counties [in the South] but also pair them with low-risk counties. We can examine the differences and begin to understand what drives the high risk of heart, lung, and stroke death rates in the rural parts of the South. 

What do you hope will happen at the end of it? 
We do hope and expect to give back aggregate data of all these communities back to the local authorities and departments of rural health so that they can use those data to design future implementation science. 

Inside STAT: Microbiome drugs could be the next big thing. But how do you make them?


(Adobe)

It may seem like manufacturing microbiome drugs is relatively easy. After all, people provide the raw materials: Gut bacteria from volunteers make up the active ingredients for products used to treat gastrointestinal and other infections. But processing the ingredients into a product is another ordeal. Some companies are setting up small-scale operations in rented spaces, while others have created their own large manufacturing facilities. Adding to the problem, organizations that usually take on manufacturing for large drug companies won’t come anywhere near these bacteria-filled products. STAT’s Kate Sheridan has more for STAT Plus subscribers here

Rare DNA variants linked to type 2 diabetes

A study of more than 45,000 people — roughly half of whom have type 2 diabetes — has identified rare genetic variants that seem linked to the disease. The study, which used data from global registries, identified four genes with rare variants using whole exome sequencing, a technique that looks at parts of the genome that code for proteins. Even though this study looked at a large number of people, the authors write that even bigger studies with double or even triple that total will be needed to find rare variants that make a big impact on the development of disease. And although the current findings only represent an association and not a causal link, the study authors say the data could be used to further investigate potential diabetes drugs.

Americans with employer-provided insurance still spend a lot on health care

A new report from the Commonwealth Fund finds that nearly 24 million Americans with employer-provided health insurance are still spending a large share of their income on health care costs. Here’s more from the report:

  • Premium contributions: Median annual contributions for employer-provided health insurance ranged from around $500 in Hawaii to more than $3,400 in South Dakota.

  • Out-of-pocket spending: The midpoint of yearly out-of-pocket health care spending ranged from around $400 in Hawaii to $1,500 in Nebraska.

  • Spending compared to income: Some 13 million people across the U.S. spent 10% or more of their household income on premiums, a trend that was common in the South. More than 6 million people spent that share or more of their household income on out-of-pocket costs. An additional 4 million people reported high spending in both categories.

What to read around the web today

  • California names former Google scientist as the state’s ‘mental health czar’. STAT
  • Science in Europe: by the numbers. Nature
  • U.S. measles outbreak spreads to Maine, 25th state to report case. Reuters
  • Purdue Pharma accused of 'corrupting' WHO to boost global opioid sales. The Guardian
  • Addiction used to be someone else’s problem. Doctors graduating today are eager to take it on. The Boston Globe

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

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