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Monday, October 19, 2015

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Welcome to the week and welcome to Morning Rounds, where I get you ahead of the biggest stories in health and science. 

New this morning: Debate over drinking while pregnant intensifies

The American Academy of Pediatrics is out this morning with a Pediatrics article arguing that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is the leading preventable cause of birth defects and disabilities in children, the Academy explains. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists echoes that advice  but its British counterpart begs to differ, on the grounds that small, occasional drinks during pregnancy haven’t been shown to harm babies. Studies show about 8 percent of expectant mothers drink alcohol at some point during their pregnancies. 

Inside Stat: "Dementia-friendly" communities are changing the way we tackle Alzheimer's 

In small towns and big cities across Minnesota, waitresses, bank tellers, county sheriffs and other community members are getting trained in how to interact with people with dementia. And the rest of the country is taking notice. More such efforts are popping up from Colorado to West Virginia, thanks to a White House initiative to create more "dementia-friendly communities." The goal: To support the 5.3 million Americans who now have Alzheimer’s — and to help communities prepare for the 16 million expected to have the disease by 2050. 

"We have a ways to go to get the general public to understand the disease," Sumner Richman told me. Richman takes care of his wife, Joyce, who has severe Alzheimer's. "She has the same needs as everyone else. She needs to feel valued, to be engaged, to be hugged." I've got more on the challenges patients and caregivers face and how communities are building structures to support them here

Drug companies funding pro-testosterone courses for docs

Companies that manufacture testosterone drugs are funding continuing education courses for doctors that tout testosterone therapies and suggest —though it hasn't been proven — that the products could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to an investigation published this weekend by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today.

The investigation put 75 online courses under the microscope. Each was funded by the drug industry and each included curriculum on testosterone treatments. It turned out 65 of them were taught at least in part by a faculty member who’d worked for companies that produce or promote testosterone-based drugs. The courses often downplayed risks associated with testosterone treatment, the investigation found.

The courses are part of a major push by the drug industry to boost testosterone sales. It's been working: Prescriptions for the products jumped from fewer than 1 million in 2000 to 6.5 million last year. 

Hospital comes clean about medical errors

Stat senior reporter Bob Tedeschi, who writes about patients and clinicians, shares news of an interesting program at Boston's Brigham and Women’s Hospital: It has begun publicly posting case studies on patients who were injured when members of the hospital staff made medical errors. That means anyone can read about mistakes such as a five-month delay in diagnosing a cancer patient or an infusion in the wrong IV line. The hospital also explains the steps it's taking to prevent such errors in the future. It even quotes frustrated patients.

The Brigham has been circulating the case studies internally for nearly five years and decided there was "really no reason not to share them more broadly and allow other institutions to learn from that,” said Erin McDonough, a senior vice president. The initiative is “a huge step that we hope others will follow,” said Dr. Tejal Gandhi, president and CEO of the National Patient Safety Foundation.

Do you think the Tooth Fairy would be fooled?

(Advanced Functional Materials)

Scientists in the Netherlands are taking a bite out of bacteria with 3D printed teeth. They're made of an antimicrobial plastic that kills bugs, a potential solution to the pricey problem of fake teeth that are susceptible to damage from bacteria. Sink your teeth into the findings in Advanced Functional Materials

Docs spar over the value of an annual physical

There’s a hot debate in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine over whether you actually need to check in with your doctor each year. "In an era of evidence-based medicine, the annual physical isn't that effective in terms of picking up asymptomatic illness," Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, who penned the editorial against the yearly checkup, told me. On the flip side of the argument is Dr. Allan Goroll, who explained his take to me: "Good primary care requires taking a comprehensive, whole person approach to care." And that, he said, means an annual checkup.

FDA sends dry-eye drug back to the trial phase

A potential blockbuster dry-eye drug has hit a speed bump. The FDA rejected Irish pharmaceutical company Shire’s application for lifitegrast late Friday, asking for another clinical trial to show the drug actually works. So far, it hasn't been shown to reduce eye abrasions, one of its two primary goals. Shire says it already has wrapped another Phase III trial and will send that info to the FDA. Analysts had touted the drug as potentially ringing up more than $1 billion in annual sales. The FDA's action is the latest hurdle in a hard year for Shire, which has lost more than a fifth of its value since August, according to Reuters

Another thing new moms don't need to worry about

If you’re itching for another at-home test to feed your anxieties, fear not! The first direct-to-consumer home testing kit for breast milk is now available for pre-order. Mail in your milk and a few hundred bucks, and the company promises to send you an analysis of the vitamins, fats, toxins — and even the stress hormones — your nursing baby may be ingesting. The test, from a startup called Happy Vitals, can be sold directly to consumers without FDA approval thanks to a regulatory loophole.

What to read around the web today

  • Law enforcement wants DNA info from Ancestry.com and 23&Me. Fusion
  • My troubling experience using Theranos. Monday Note
  • A brash biotech aims to treat metastatic pancreatic cancer. Boston Globe
  • Listen: Can the government trick you into losing weight? Vox
  • Will California's end-of-life law push lethal drugs over costly care? LA Times

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Megan

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