Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

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The sun is almost up, the sky will hopefully be blue, and I've got this morning's biggest science and medicine news here for you. 

Early morning omnibus bill sets NIH up to get big funding bump 

The NIH will get a $2 billion funding increase in the government spending bill released early this morning. Assuming the bill gets enough votes to pass Congress, it'll be the largest raise in the NIH budget in more than a decade. The legislation specifically calls out an added $303 million to go to fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which the WHO has called a global health emergency. 

And in other D.C. news, there was such a massive influx of people trying to sign up for Obamacare in the last two days that the administration announced it'd be extending that deadline to midnight Thursday. 

New today: Growing up in poverty could translate to attention disorders, learning difficulties

Children raised in low-income environments seem to have a higher risk of developing learning difficulties, attention deficit disorders, and other neurological conditions than their peers from financially stable backgrounds, new NIH research to be published today in the International Journal of Epidemiology suggests. A long-term look at more than 50,000 pregnancies and the outcomes of those children found that by age 7, the likelihood of the most disadvantaged children developing a neurological problem was 20.2 percent, compared to 13.5 percent in the least disadvantaged children.

NIH-funded trials fall, but industry-funded trials are on the rise

There’s a widening gap in funding of clinical trials. Since 2006, the number of new registrations for industry-funded trials has jumped 43 percent, from 4,585 to 6,550, while new registrations for NIH-sponsored trials fell 24 percent, from 1,376 to 1,048.

Study author and epidemiologist Dr. Stephan Ehrhardt of Johns Hopkins told me he finds that data worrisome, because industry-funded trials often test single drugs, missing out on comparative effectiveness studies that figure out, for example, which type of blood pressure drug would be most effective on a patient. “As a physician, I want to know which drugs are best for my patients,” he said. “I fear that with this imbalance, we might not be able to get the answers to the questions that really inform the health of the public.” Read the new research in JAMA

Lab Chat: How to intervene in the spread of cancer 

Spherical cancer cells on the left latch onto a blood vessel, pulling it apart to create a gap to nest in. (Nature Communications)
When cancer metastasizes, malignant cells travel from point A to point B in the body by way of the bloodstream. A new look at what happens along that trip gives scientists a clue as to when and where drugs and doctors can intervene in a cancer’s spread. I chatted with nanomedicine researcher Shiladitya Sengupta of Brigham and Women’s Hospital about his work, to be published this morning in Nature Communications.

Why look specifically at the time during metastasis?

The cells need to squeeze out of the primary tumor and into the blood vessels or the lymphatic stream. Then it comes out of the bloodstream into a specific organ. Rather than looking at just what makes cells metastasize or what makes some organs more prone, why not target the points [where] they interact with blood vessels on the way? 

And what did you see when you looked at cancer cells at that point in their journey?

These cancer cells were lining up on the blood vessels and sending out these fine, needle-like structures to attach to the cells that line the blood vessels. They were forming gaps in the blood vessels, almost like creating a hollow space for them to migrate into. We call it metastatic hijacking.

What does that do to the endothelial cells that line blood vessels? 

Through these needle-like structures, the cancer cells are transmitting information. The endothelial cells that receive that information completely change behavior. They become sticky. They attract more cancer cells, and start aiding the cancer cells in metastasizing. So the thought is if you break the communication between the cancer cells and the endothelial cells, you can reduce metastasis.

Inside STAT: The big business of treating concussions 

Alex Hogan/STAT

Concussion clinics — some staffed by dermatologists or physical therapists with no evident expertise in brain trauma — have popped up all over the US. At the same time, products like pressurized neck collars, helmet covers, and even a $300 genetic test that claims to identify a kid's risk of concussion are flooding the market without much scientific backing. STAT contributing writer Usha Lee McFarling explores the big, sometimes questionable business of treating concussions. It's the first story in an occasional series on concussions, "High Impact." 

A troubling new finding about the lack of diversity in research and grants

Three decades of data on grant funding paints a grim picture for diversity in medical research, per a new analysis out in PLoS Medicine. Fewer than 2 percent of cancer studies and 5 percent of studies on the respiratory system have included enough minority participants to make them relevant to the general public, which is a requirement laid out by a 1993 law on diversity in federally funded clinical research. And there's an imbalance on the researcher side, too — in 2013, 23.3 percent of grant proposals from white researchers got funded, versus 19.3 percent of grant proposals from non-white researchers.  

Conflicts of interest in Congress come under scrutiny again

A big STAT analysis earlier this month — which found that 30 percent of senators and 20 percent of representatives have potential conflicts of interest from investments in biomedical and health-care companies — is making waves. Critics of the industry ties yesterday aired their concerns to the House Ethics Committee in a sharply worded letter. Read the STAT investigation here.

One man's genetic trash is another man's treasure

Scientists used to think of most of the human genome as junk. But now scientists are finding that some parts previously thought worthless have value. In a test on rats, for instance, silencing a specific type of noncoding RNA slowed cell death and minimized brain damage after a stroke. Read about the new research in the Journal of Neuroscience.

What to read around the web today

  • An HIV-positive dating app leaked thousands of people's data. Buzzfeed
  • Curing hepatitis C in an experiment the size of Egypt. New York Times
  • There's so much lead in children's blood in this town that a state of emergency was declared. Washington Post
  • Could there be a treatment for Down syndrome? MIT Technology Review

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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