Thursday, April 26, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Morning Rounds. 

Vatican’s star-studded health care conference kicks off

The Vatican’s science and medicine meeting gets underway today with some big names in attendance. NIH Director Francis Collins and genome-editing pioneer George Church are on a panel with Dr. Sanjay Gupta talking about “extreme life extension.” Katrine Bosley, CEO of the CRISPR-centric company Editas, is talking about gene-editing, while Robert Califf, FDA commissioner turned adviser to Google’s life science spinout Verily, is speaking about digital health technology. And perhaps most notably, after climbing up on Solsbury Hill, musician Peter Gabriel is sitting down with Dr. Mehmet Oz to talk about “the potential impact of a digitally streamlined health platform.”

Mini lab can diagnose infectious disease with a drop of blood

Scientists at the University of Toronto have created a tool to test a drop of blood for antibodies or disease agents in remote places in just half an hour. To create the lab-on-a-chip, they printed plastic, added circuit boards, and then tacked on inexpensive electrodes produced by hacking office printers. The group tested the MR Box — which is housed in a battery-powered, shoebox-sized device — at a remote refugee camp in Kenya. It was accurate in finding measles and rubella antibodies in 86 and 84 percent of the time, respectively. The researchers say outbreak response and research efforts could get a huge boost from a simple, cheap system that works in places where power outages are common and conventional labs are hours away. 

“That is the dream, that this type of system with its flexibility could be sent out into the world,” lead researcher Aaron Wheeler says. 

Lab Chat: How the fetal immune system might trigger preterm labor

A new study suggests that certain cases of preterm labor might sometimes be due to the fetal immune system attacking a pregnant woman's cells and, in turn, causing contractions. Here’s what Dr. Tippi MacKenzie of the University of California, San Francisco, told me about the work, published in Science Translational Medicine.

What did you set out to study?

Infections and inflammation seem to play a role in preterm labor, but nobody really knows how you go from having an infection to uterine contractions. Because the fetus is constantly exposed to the mother’s cells, it develops regulatory T cells that suppress the fetal immune system’s reaction to the mother’s cells. We wanted to know whether that tolerance can be broken. So we collected the mother’s blood at birth and cord blood samples.

What did you see?

In the fetal immune system, T cells that recognize foreign proteins and dendritic cells that present those proteins to T cells are normally quiet. But in samples from preterm births, we saw that the dendritic and T cells were both activated. We then put preterm fetal T cells with uterine muscle cells in culture, and they made the muscles contract. Healthy fetal T cells didn’t. Work like this can hopefully get us to a place where we can predict early who’s going to develop preterm labor and develop more effective treatments.

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Inside STAT: Lemonaid Health learns telemedicine is hard

run, lemon, run! (Dominic smith / stat)

The buzzy telemedicine startup Lemonaid Health has scored high-profile investors, a growing customer base, and a fancy new office in San Francisco — but the company's efforts to rethink health care and expand its reach nationwide haven't been without hurdles. Among them: vague state regulations and patients desperate to get medication who mislead doctors about their symptoms. The company offers a case study of how smart ideas to disrupt health care can simultaneously make progress and run into unexpected trouble. STAT’s Rebecca Robbins has more here.

Health officials and policy wonks convene to talk data

Health policy experts and top health officials from the Trump administration are convening on Capitol Hill today for Health Datapalooza, a two-day conference on how hospitals, insurers, federal agencies, and patients can harness the power of health data. Both HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma are speaking at the meeting in D.C. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is delivering the keynote speech and is slated to speak about "digitization efforts across the agency," an FDA spokesperson says. 

Scientists study brain folds as a psychosis biomarker

It might one day be possible to use brain imaging to detect the development of psychosis in the brains of high-risk patients before symptoms show up. In a new study, researchers looked the organization of the brain’s folds, which is suspected to play a role in the development of psychosis. They ran MRI tests on 44 healthy controls, 38 patients who had experienced a first psychotic episode, and 79 people at an increased risk of psychosis, 16 of whom went on to experience psychosis. Compared to the healthy patients, the brain folds in patients who had a psychotic episode were more disorganized. That suggests the folds could be used as a biomarker to detect psychosis risk, but more studies are needed to back up the idea.

What to read around the web today

  • Why drug companies see rare-disease patients as human jackpots. Washington Post
  • Koch-backed group launches new national ad push to advance ‘right to try’ legislation. STAT
  • What's wrong with growing blobs of brain tissue? The Atlantic
  • Amgen still has no magic pill to solve its zero-growth problem. STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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