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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Thursday, everyone! Here's what you need to know to get ahead of the day's stories in science and medicine. Apologies for the late start today — and for hitting your in box twice; this updated version includes all the links you'll need. I'll be out tomorrow, so look out for a great newsletter from my stand-in, Andrew Joseph. 

House takes action on opioid epidemic

Yesterday the House passed a dozen bills on opioids, rolled together as a big package that aims to address the growing drug abuse epidemic in the US. One of the bills calls for an inter-agency task force to be formed to figure out the best way for docs to handle pain management. Another bill focuses on improving pain management options for pregnant and postpartum women; a third measure would allow pharmacists to partially fill prescriptions to reduce the amount of unused opioids that could potentially be abused.

Squeaky clean lab mice could pose a problem to studies 

Lab mice are kept in way too clean environments, scientists say, and that might be skewing the effectiveness of drugs and treatments tested in mouse models. Treatments that work in mice often fail in humans and, in part, scientists suspect that might be because the immune systems of mice and people are quite different. A research team analyzed cervical tissue samples from humans and mice and found that the latter have less diverse immune cells and those cells are less widely distributed than in humans. Researchers suggest that might be because mice are kept in such sterile environments, their immune systems haven’t had to adapt to the outside environment like human immune systems do. A proposed solution: rooming pet store mice with lab mice to get their germs intermingling and boost the immune systems of lab mice. Another issue with lab mice: They're often housed in chilly rooms, which can raise their stress levels and affect test results.

Weighing the food industry's influence on health research

Should the food industry be allowed to dole out dollars for research into health and nutrition, or does that pose a potential conflict of interest? A new BMJ editorial takes on that question. One argument: Food manufacturers are already investing significant chunks of money into making their products more nutritious, so they ought to be able to direct those funds to relevant health research. “It would be absurd for health policy researchers to shun collaborating with the food industry,” two of the authors say. The counterpoint, made by two public health experts: industry funding is "enabling corporations with vested interests to determine what research is done, and crucially, what is not done." Read the full discussion here.

sponsor content by michigan health lab

How printing a 3-D skull helped save a real one

What started as a stuffy nose and mild cold symptoms for 15-year-old Parker Turchan led to a far more serious diagnosis: a rare type of tumor in his nose and sinuses that extended through his skull near his brain. To help prepare for a challenging surgery to remove the tumor, physicians at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital created a 3-D printed model of Parker's skull. Read on to learn how this groundbreaking technology helped Parker’s case — and how it is enhancing patient care in other ways.

Inside STAT: Why does it hurt to get water up your nose? 

(Hyacinth Empinado / STAT)

It’s time for terrible, awful allergy season for myself and millions of other people. Doctors might suggest something like a NetiPot, which forces water through your sinuses. But that made me wonder — if a NetiPot can provide such sweet, sweet relief, why does water shooting up your nose when you jump into a pool cause such piercing pain? I investigate that question in the new episode of Boddities, produced by Matthew Orr and Alex Hogan. Watch here.

Lab Chat: How ancient nematode and bird DNA hurts humans now

In certain conditions DNA can jump from one species to another, and scientists have now discovered that’s the case with a bit of DNA that moved from birds to nematodes. But the scientists were surprised to find that ancient DNA swap is actually having an impact on human health today. Here’s what lead researcher Alexander Suh of Uppsala University told me about that discovery, as described in the new Nature Communications.

What were you looking at?

We studied the genomes of birds and nematodes for transposons, parasitic genes also known as "jumping genes." They may sometimes (through means which are not yet understood) move from one organism to another and then make copies of themselves in that new genome. 

What did you find?

We found that seven unrelated groups of birds (such as hummingbirds and parrots) were infiltrated by a specific transposon about 17 to 25 million years ago. In a similar timeframe, two groups of parasitic nematodes were infiltrated by this transposon. This hints at parasitic interactions between these nematodes and birds. 

How does that pose a threat to humans?

These nematodes are nowadays causing two widespread tropical diseases in humans — lymphatic filariasis and loiasis. When we started this project, we had set out to understand the evolution of transposons in birds. Thanks to public databases where scientists make available genome data from all kinds of organisms, we saw the striking link of this transposon in our study birds and in these human-pathogenic nematodes. Such a lucky find might help us understand the evolutionary past of these parasitic nematodes.

No evidence to support screening young athletes for heart problems

Screening young athletes for predisposition to sudden cardiac arrest doesn’t help save lives, according to a new analysis published in the BMJ. It’s estimated that less than 0.01 percent of young athletes die from sudden cardiac issues every year, often from conditions like enlarged hearts that went undiagnosed. Some athletic programs have encouraged pre-participation cardiac screening as a way to prevent those deaths. But the review of research suggests that practice might cause more harm than good, because the screenings can result in false positives that might lead to unnecessary testing.

Makeup of a high school might affect eating disorder risk among students

Girls who attend high schools with higher proportions of female students or higher proportions of college-educated parents are more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder during adolescence, finds new research in the International Journal of Epidemiology. But it’s not clear what’s causing the varying rates of eating disorders from one school to the next, the authors say.

What to read around the web today

  • Drones could speed up HIV tests in remote areas. Reuters
  • For the insured but cash-strapped, free health clinics still have a place. NPR

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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