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Monday, June 4, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, folks! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine this morning. 

Health officials continue efforts to curb Ebola outbreak

Local and global health officials are scaling up the response to an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There have been 53 cases — 37 confirmed, 13 probable, and three suspected — in the outbreak, including 25 deaths. The WHO predicts that there could be as many as 300 cases in the coming months. More than 1,100 people have received an experimental Ebola vaccine so far. Other aspects of the response: knocking on doors to raise awareness about the outbreak, setting up handwashing stations at schools and hospitals, and establishing isolation facilities and treatment centers in areas where cases have been documented.

Biotech's big annual get-together is this week 

Biotech leaders and biomedical researchers are gathering in Boston this week for BIO, an annual convention hosted by the biotech industry’s trade group. STAT’s Rebecca Robbins reports the number of speakers at BIO who are women has climbed 30 percent since last year, accounting for one-third of the 860 speakers at the weeklong meeting. The increase comes amid a broader reckoning about representation of women at drug industry events. But BIO and many other industry meetings still remain male-dominated — the conference will have 25 panels made up entirely of men, according to GenderAvenger

Your rundown of the latest cancer research at ASCO

Meanwhile, cancer researchers and drug companies have been presenting piles of new data at ASCO, the oncology conference in Chicago that runs through tomorrow. Here’s a look at some of the highlights:

  • Grail released long-awaited data about its experimental liquid biopsy to detect cancer in its earliest stages. The verdict: It’s getting there, but there’s a long way to go before the test could be used in the clinic. More here.

  • Multiple myeloma patients who received an experimental CAR-T therapy went nearly a year before their cancer progressed further. As STAT's Adam Feuerstein explains, Celgene, which licensed the drug from Bluebird Bio, needs it to be a commercial success — but it's not clear whether delaying cancer progression by just under a year will make it one.

  • A sweeping study found that many women with the most common kind of early-stage breast cancer don't need chemotherapy. Get the details here.

Sponsor content by Genentech

It's time to rethink how we're identifying immunotherapy-based combinations in cancer

Immunotherapies have changed the face of cancer treatment, but right now, only 20-40 percent of people respond to this class of medicine. Expanding the benefit of immunotherapy to more people is one of the biggest challenges facing cancer researchers today. Genentech scientists are tackling this problem by rethinking the design of clinical trials in order to more efficiently identify safe and effective immunotherapy-based combinations for people who need them. Watch this video to learn more.

Inside STAT: Immunotherapy poses a dilemma for doctors

New immunotherapy treatments have sparked significant hope about cancer care. But they’ve also created a dilemma for doctors: Their patients, citing television ads and stories in the news about miraculous recoveries, are pushing to try them, even when there isn’t much evidence the drugs will work for their cancer. And many of the treatments bring risky side effects and high price tags. Physicians want to give patients every chance at survival, but can they justify prescribing a treatment that hasn’t been tested for a patient’s particular type of cancer? STAT’s Casey Ross has the story here. ​

Scientists spy on a zebrafish's budding heart

A healthy, S-shaped zebrafish heart on the left, and a tube-shaped zebrafish heart that hasn't developed properly on the right. (Anne Merks / MDC)

Scientists have discovered new insights into how the heart first forms its shape, according to new research in Nature Communications. The zebrafish’s heart muscle starts out as a straight tube. Then, as cells start to shuffle around, the tube gets twisted into an S-shape, forming chambers like those in the human heart. The researchers found a signaling pathway controls that process of cell relocation. When they deactivated genes that play a role in the pathway, the heart didn’t develop the right way. The researchers are hopeful their findings will inform other studies on how congenital heart diseases develop. ​

Case count in E. coli outbreak linked to lettuce climbs

The CDC says five people have died and 197 people have been sickened in an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce, including 89 of whom were hospitalized. Since the last update in mid-May, people have fallen ill in three more states, bringing the total number of states involved in the outbreak to 35. The outbreak has been traced to romaine harvested in Yuma, Ariz., but health officials haven't been able to pinpoint a specific source. The FDA says the last shipments of romaine from that area were harvested in April, so there shouldn’t be any more romaine from Yuma being sold in stores or served in restaurants. ​

What to read around the web today

  • When a giant health care company wanted to save money, a baby in foster care paid the price. Dallas Morning News
  • Atul Gawande's commencement address to the UCLA Medical School. The New Yorker
  • Opinion: Biohackers are about open-access to science, not DIY pandemics. STAT
  • Nipah virus, dangerous and little known, spreads in India. New York Times
  • The FDA scuttles Incyte’s billion-dollar hopes in rheumatoid arthritis. STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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