Friday, June 2, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning! This is Casey Ross, filling in for Megan. Here's your head start on the day's top stories in health and medicine.

A warning on wild mushrooms: Don’t eat the 'death cap'

A new CDC report reminds foragers to consult a mycologist before eating mushrooms plucked from the wild. The report describes a rash of poisonings in Northern California last fall in which fourteen people fell ill after eating foraged mushrooms. The culprit was the Amanita phalloides, also known as the “death cap” mushroom, which sprung up amidst unusually warm and wet weather. Ingesting the mushroom causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea within 12 hours and can result in liver failure and death. Three of the California victims required liver transplants and one, an 18-month-old child, suffered permanent neurologic damage. The toxic agent in death cap mushrooms, amanitin, is not inactivated by heat, so cooking won’t protect you. The most effective treatment is rapid IV fluid replacement. But an even better defense, says the CDC report, is to get an experienced mycologist to examine and identify any wild mushrooms before you eat them.

Momentum for the omentum

Most of us don’t take pride in abdominal fat. But a new paper in Trends in Immunology discusses the virtues of the omentum — the sheet of fat that covers the intestines, stomach, and liver. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham write that though the omentum secretes hormones related to obesity, it also performs some pretty noble functions amidst the body's first line of defense against toxins and infection. Clusters of cells within the fat layer collect cells, antigens, and bacteria floating in the abdominal fluid; if they detect a threat, they mount an immune response. Sometimes, though, that "policing" function can go awry: The researchers note that the omentum fails to recognize tumor cells and so can become a breeding ground for cancers, especially ovarian and gastrointestinal. They hope that additional research on the organ will help advance our understanding of tumor growth and help to target new therapies.

National cancer conference kicks off today

Controversies and new discoveries in cancer care will take the stage in Chicago today, where the American Society of Clinical Oncology is kicking off its annual meeting. Look for plenty of news on immunotherapy, readouts of trials on cancer drugs, and updates to guidelines for treating an array of cancers. The five-day event is expected to draw about 30,000 participants from around the world. I’ll be attending the conference and tweeting from the exhibit floor — you can follow my updates here.

Inside STAT: Ghost Ship firefighters push for mental health reform


The firefighters could see every detail of the victims. Their faces and eyelashes. Their tattoos. The outline of the cell phones in their pockets — the calls that went unanswered. The search for bodies after the Ghost Ship warehouse fire — six months ago today — left a dark imprint on the minds of the Oakland firefighters who pulled 36 souls from the ashes. Many told STAT they are still struggling with the scars of that night. Leah Rosenbaum has the story of the fire’s haunting aftermath, and how it became a catalyst for change in mental health care.

Study shows how Zika causes microcephaly

new paper sheds further light on why the Zika virus takes its most dramatic toll on the developing brain: Because a protein found in those cells helps the virus reproduce. The protein, called Musashi-1, is found in high levels in precursors to neurons — but if Zika virus is present it acts like a sponge, depriving the neurons of the protein. In fact, one family with a congenital mutation in the Musashi-1 gene has two children with microcephaly, the researchers point out, adding further evidence that this protein is key to normal brain development. That discovery may hopefully help scientists devise a way to stop the damage from occurring. 

Just don't do it: Compression tights don't help runners

There's been a long-standing theory that compression tights tamp down on muscle vibrations during exercise and therefore reduce muscle fatigue. Sports medicine researchers tested that idea by having 20 participants run on a treadmill for 30 minutes on two different days, sporting compression tights during one session and roomier running clothes in the other. The treadmill was equipped with sensors that could measure the forces of each step hitting the ground; researchers also tested participants’ leg strength and jump height before and after each run. Ultimately, they found that the tights didn't reduce muscle fatigue at all. And perhaps the most surprising part of the whole thing? The study was paid for by Nike, which sells a range of compression tights and which, to their credit, didn't bury the results. For more on the likelihood of seeing an industry-sponsored study published with negative results, read this.

Searching for the best ideas to help astronauts

NASA is scouting out bright new ideas to help keep astronauts healthy and performing at their peak during lengthy space travel. Long flights in space could lead to muscle deterioration, bone loss, and a host of other physical and mental health problems. The Translational Research Institute, a consortium of academic research centers that works with NASA, is opening up a new competition for postdoctoral fellows across the US to address those issues. They'll grant two-year fellowships that will allow young scientists to work on independent projects on human health in space flight, with some guidance from a mentor. They're taking ideas through July 31 — find more info here.

What to read around the web today

  • Measles outbreak in Minnesota surpasses last year's total for the entire country. Washington Post
  • New electrical brain stimulation technique shows promise in mice. New York Times
  • Trump won’t pay a penny for U.N. cholera relief fund in Haiti. Foreign Policy

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Have a nice weekend!


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