Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Wednesday. I'm here to get you ahead of the day's big news in science and medicine. We have a newsletter focused on hospitals and patient care launching soon! Sign up here

New database aims to crack open clinical trial data

OpenTrials, a search engine of information on clinical trials, has launched a beta version that's now open to the public. The site collects a wealth of publicly available information about clinical trials past and present, including patient consent forms, published studies, and press releases. The team behind OpenTrials is hopeful that collecting trial information in one place will help identify potential discrepancies in data, increase transparency, and make research more accessible to the public. The project is being funded through the Center for Open Science and is run by Dr. Ben Goldacre, a doctor and author who's pushed for greater transparency in clinical trials. OpenTrials allows users to submit data on trials themselves, too. You can look through the database here

More than half of adults still use supplements

Despite a lack of evidence that most dietary supplements do any good — and ample proof that some are actually harmful — a new study published in JAMA notes that more than half of adults still use them. The report found that 52 percent of adults surveyed reported using supplements such as probiotics, fish oils, and botanicals in 2012, about the same as it was in 1999. During that same time period, the use of multivitamins and multimineral products declined.

Not all dietary supplements stayed in fashion: Ginseng, ginkgo biloba, and garlic, three of the most ubiquitous products in the early 2000s, were less popular in recent years. “Why would consumers continue to use supplements after high-quality trials found many of these products to be no more effective than placebos?” writes Dr. Pieter A. Cohen in an accompanying editorial. One factor may be misinformation, Cohen says, which he says physicians and regulators should step in to address. 

Heart device batteries could fail sooner than expected

Certain heart defibrillators might fail much sooner than patients realize, and the FDA wants consumers, doctors, and caregivers to take note. The agency issued a new warning about two St. Jude Medical defibrillators, known as ICDs and CRT-Ds. The devices are supposed to ping wearers with an alert when the batteries will need replaced within three months. But some of those batteries have fizzled out within 24 hours of patients receiving an alert. St. Jude Medical is recalling those devices. Nearly 400,000 affected devices are still implanted in patients. Shares of St. Jude Medical dropped 3 percent after the news broke, while shares of Abbott Laboratories, which sealed a deal in April to buy St. Jude, fell 4 percent. 

Sponsor content by amgen

6 things you may not know about biotech medicines

Biotechnology medicines, particularly biologics, have grown to be important treatment options for patients with cancer, blood disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and many other illnesses. But this wasn’t always the case. A number of pivotal innovations paved the way for early biotech medicines — and today additional innovations continue to emerge out of R&D labs and from the highly sensitive manufacturing environments where these medicines are made.  Read more here.

Inside STAT: A long-forgotten microbe's tie to Lyme 

slides of the swiss agent. (RON LINDORF/BURGDORFER ARCHIVE)
More than 30 years ago, scientist Willy Burgdorfer was hopeful that he'd pinpointed the cause of a disabling illness recently dubbed Lyme disease that was plaguing communities east of New York City. Blood from Lyme patients had shown a strong reaction to a test for an obscure, tick-borne bacterium called the "Swiss Agent." But 18 months later, Burgdorfer pinned Lyme disease on another microbe, and the Swiss Agent test results fell by the wayside. But newly obtained documents indicate Swiss Agent was, in fact, making people sick in Connecticut and Long Island in the late 1970s and might still be sickening people in the US today. Infectious disease specialists who reviewed those documents say patients and doctors might be mistaking Swiss Agent infections for Lyme disease, or that Swiss Agent might be infecting patients at the same time as Lyme. STAT's Charles Piller has more in a special report here

Complementary health in people with pain disorders

stated reasons for using complementary health. (CDC)

More than half of adults in the US have a musculoskeletal pain disorder like arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, according to new data out from the CDC this morning. Nearly 42 percent of those people turned to complementary health approaches, whether for their pain disorders or for another reason. Current treatments for some of those pain disorders — which include surgery and opioid or NSAID use — can pose risks that might worry some patients. That’s led some patients to seek alternate treatments like chiropractic care, herbal products, massage therapy, and yoga, the authors of the new CDC report suggest. The prevalence of complementary health was much lower among adults without pain disorders — just 24 percent of those individuals report using complementary health.

NIH forms new nutrition task force

The NIH is forming a new task force to push forward research on nutrition and the diseases it can affect, from diabetes to heart disease. The task force’s first goal: Create a strategic plan for NIH-funded nutrition research for the next 10 years. The task force is being chaired by Dr. Griffin Rodgers, who heads up the NIH’s diabetes, digestive, and kidney diseases arm. It also includes the directors of the National Cancer Institute, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. NIH director Dr. Francis Collins wanted this to be an institution-wide effort to address the gaps in research, executive secretary of the task force Christopher Lynch tells me.  They’ll take the next two years to drum up the plan, then begin to implement those new nutrition research goals across the agency.

Lab Chat: Predicting whether antidepressants will work

Patients taking antidepressants can get put through a grueling process, trying multiple drugs to find one that's effective and each time waiting weeks for a drug to kick in. But a new technique is able to successfully predict — with 80 percent accuracy — whether antidepressants will help a particular patient recover from their depression. Here's what study author Andrea Goldstein-Piekarski of Stanford told me about the work, published in PNAS

What were you testing as a predictor of whether antidepressants will work? 

We were testing if knowing information about both brain function and early life stress before they begin treatment can be used to identify those most likely to respond to antidepressants. Our study indicates that patients with specific patterns of brain function and early life stress are more likely to respond to antidepressants. [Participants filled out a survey on early-life stress that collected information on their exposure to abuse, neglect, family conflict, illness, and natural disasters before they were 18.]

What are you able to do with that information? 

[This] allows us to take any particular individual patient and enter their brain function and their early life stress history into a formula, and get back the likelihood that that patient will respond to antidepressant medications. That is the answer that clinicians and patients really want to have.

What to read around the web today

  • After paralysis, a life of "a different 10,000 things." NPR
  • To get this job, a former life struggling with addiction is required. Boston Globe
  • The United Nations wants to vaccinate 41 million children in Africa against polio. Associated Press
  • Why Nobel-winning scientists are talking about immigration policy. Christian-Science Monitor

More reads from STAT

Thanks so much for reading! Back tomorrow morning, 


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