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Morning Rounds Megan Thielking

Trump administration tells NIH scientists to stop procuring fetal tissue for research

The Trump administration has told NIH scientists to stop procuring new human fetal tissue for experiments while the government reviews all federally funded research that uses fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions. An NIH spokesperson told Science Insider, which first reported the news, that agency scientists were asked to "pause procurements of fetal tissue" until the HHS review wraps up. The suspension impacts two NIH labs. But Science Insider reports the order also impacted the Gladstone Center for HIV Cure Research in San Francisco, which was working with one of the NIH labs. “The decision completely knocked our collaboration off the rails. We were devastated," HIV researcher Warner Greene says.

Exclusive: Ethical issues plagued newly surfaced paper by ‘CRISPR babies’ scientist

The "CRISPR babies" scientist He Jiankui tried to publish a paper describing additional experiments much like those that led to the birth of the world's first genome-edited babies — but the paper was rejected by an international journal after outside scientists raised ethical and scientific concerns, STAT's Sharon Begley has learned. Here's what you need to know:

  • The paper: In the unpublished paper, He and his colleagues say they used CRISPR-Cas9 to target the PCSK9 gene in the very early embryos of mice, monkeys, and people. When both of a person's PCSK9 genes have a certain mutation, they develop sky-high cholesterol.

  • The context: The rejected paper didn't report starting a pregnancy with the edited embryos. But it's one of just a handful of experiments worldwide in which scientists edited normal human embryos.

  • The authors: He, a colleague at his lab at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzen, China, and several scientists and doctors at Third Affiliated Hospital in Shenzen are listed as authors. So is Rice University's Michael Deem, who was He's Ph.D. adviser. Deem is under investigation by Rice for his involvement in the experiment that led to the birth of the CRISPR babies.

STAT Plus subscribers can read more here.

The latest data on the 2018-2019 flu season

The CDC is out with new numbers on this year's flu season. Here's a look at the latest data, which stretches through Dec. 1.

  • There were no new flu-associated deaths among kids from Nov. 25 to Dec. 1. Five children have died this flu season.

  • Flu activity has picked up a little, but still remains relatively low right now. That's in keeping with activity around this time of the year in past flu seasons.

  • Massachusetts is reporting widespread flu activity, and nine other states are reporting regional activity. Looking at the spread of flu activity can tell you about the geography of flu cases, but not about the severity.

  • The influenza A virus H1N1, which is associated with milder flu seasons, has been the dominant virus to date.

Inside STAT: A massive collection of medicines is mined for new treatments

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a medicine mining robot. (alex hogan / stat)

Scientists at the California Institute for Biomedical Research have created a massive library — but instead of books, it's stocked with almost all the small-molecule drugs ever approved by the FDA. The researchers are using the collection to hunt for new uses for existing drugs. They start by pinpointing a disease in need of new treatments. Then, a robot rapidly hits samples of a disease-causing pathogen with the entire library of drugs to see if one might work. STAT's Alex Hogan visited the lab in La Jolla and has an interesting new video about the work — watch here.

Obamacare sign-ups down as enrollment deadline approaches

This week marks the last week of open enrollment for Obamacare health plans — and so far, sign-ups have been lower than last year's enrollment. Federal data released late last week show that enrollment through Healthcare.gov is down 11 percent compared to 2017. It's not clear yet what factors might be at play — such as the repeal of the individual mandate or new access to cheaper, “short-term” plans — or what the final numbers might look like. The number of sign-ups could spike right before the Dec. 15 deadline, which has happened in previous years.

How often is listeria lurking in avocados? 

The FDA makes it a practice to test certain foods to see whether they’re contaminated with salmonella, E. coli, or listeria. The focus of a new investigation: avocados. Federal officials collected a whopping 1,615 avocados — both domestic and imported — and either scooped out the centers or swabbed the outside. Of the 1,254 “pulp” samples, just three tested positive for listeria. Of the 361 skin samples, 64 tested positive for listeria — which officials say should be a reminder to always wash your produce. They did the same thing with hot peppers, and found that just under 3 percent tested positive for salmonella.

What to read around the web today

  • ‘Like a horror film’: The efforts to contain Ebola in a war zone. Washington Post
  • Roma mothers held in Slovak hospitals against their will. Associated Press
  • After outcry, NIH apologizes for turning away portrait of person with rare disease. STAT
  • What these medical journals don't reveal: top doctors' ties to industry.  New York Times / ProPublica
  • Millions of people in the U.S. could face surprise ER bills in January. Bloomberg

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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Monday, December 10, 2018

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