Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Morning Rounds!

STAT goes to court to unseal OxyContin records tied to opioid crisis

STAT has asked a Kentucky judge to make public documents tied to litigation by the state against Purdue Pharma, the Connecticut company that produced the potent painkiller OxyContin. Purdue Pharma — whose execs have pled guilty to fraudulently marketing OxyContin — has been blamed, in part, for the opioid abuse crisis in the US. The documents could shed light on whether top execs in the company knew how addictive the drug was. They'd also offer information on whether top Purdue officials were involved in the drug's aggressive marketing campaign.

Hundreds of lawsuits tied to OxyContin have been filed against Purdue, but they've all been dismissed or settled out of court. That means that company records have been kept from the public eye, either through judicial secrecy orders or orders that mandate company records be destroyed. More on the effort to get those documents released from investigative reporter David Armstrong here.

Environmental issues tied to one in four deaths worldwide

One in four deaths worldwide is due to people living or working in an unhealthy environment, according to new estimates from the WHO. Problems like air, water, and soil pollution and chemical exposure resulted in 12.6 million deaths in 2012. Good news from the report: deaths from conditions like diarrhea and malaria have declined in the past decade, thanks in large part to better water and sanitation. 

Bio-bots fueled by light and muscle cells

A bio-bot gets moving with the help of light. (University of Illinois)
The newest invention to harness the power of optogenetics sounds like it’s right out of a sci-fi movie — miniature biological robots that can be controlled by light. The creatures, dubbed bio-bots by their University of Illinois creators, are powered by rings of mouse muscle cells on a flexible skeleton. "We chose to grow the muscle as rings because this design is modular - this means we can pick up the muscle rings and attach them, like rubber bands, to any 3D printed bio-bot skeleton, regardless of skeleton design," researcher Ritu Raman of the University of Illinois explained to me. Scientists added a gene to those cells that allows them to be stimulated by light, causing the muscle to contract.  The hope is that those bio-bots can eventually be created with neurons or vasculature tissue, Raman said, and be used in health research. 

sponsor content by st. jude medical

Laura’s heart failed shortly after she gave birth. An LVAD saved her life

Laura was the proud mother of a baby girl when her heart failed due to a condition called postpartum cardiomyopathy. Laura received a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) and, eight years later, is active and well — enjoying life with her daughter and family. Now, Laura is sharing her story to raise awareness about LVAD therapy among the up to 100,000 Americans who may be eligible. Join her and learn more here.

How best to nourish kids in intensive care 

Children admitted to the ICU are often fed via IV, but a new study shows that practice might not be the best thing to boost their recovery. The randomized, controlled trial of 1,440 critically ill children found that no food or small amounts of food by mouth was better for them than artificial nutrition. They recovered more quickly, and were less likely to have infections or organ failure. The same group of researchers reported similar findings in adults in a 2014 study. The new research is published in the New England Journal of Medicine — read it here.

CDC's big data approach pays off for food safety  

PulseNet — a reporting system that keeps track of foodborne illness outbreaks — seems to be making a dent in food poisoning cases, finds a new study out this morning in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The CDC-run program collects data on individual incidents of food poisoning and, if patterns emerge, flags emerging outbreaks to public health officials. Then, officials can hunt for the source of the outbreak and issue food recalls as needed. From 1996 to 2009, PulseNet prevented an estimated 2,819 E. coli cases and 16,994 salmonella cases, the study estimates. That translates to an estimated $37 million in savings for public health agencies.

A promising backup drug to treat herpes viruses

A drug that’s commonly used to treat heart failure could hold potential for treating herpes viruses, too. Tests in vitro showed that the drug, spironolactone, was able to wipe out the Epstein-Barr virus, which in humans can cause mono and is tied to the development of some types of cancer. That’s good news because some researchers are worried that herpes viruses will become resistant to the one class of antiviral drugs currently used to treat them. Spironolactone's ability to block herpes infections doesn’t seem to be tied to its ability to treat heart failure, so the researchers still need to study the drug’s mechanisms and test its efficacy in humans. They're currently testing whether it works to treat other types of herpes virus, both in mice and in vitro, researcher Sankar Swaminathan told me. The research is published in the new PNAS.

Scientists discover a potential new route for anti-depressant research

Drugs that aim to treat depression are notoriously difficult for patients — they might take weeks to kick in, don’t always work, and can have serious side effects. But a newly discovered chemical compound could offer a new target for treating depression, which affects about 350 million people across the globe. In a mouse model, the compound, called TPPU, decreased inflammation in the brain, which has been tied to depression. Specifically, it worked to inhibit activity of a gene called sEH; that gene has been shown in previous studies to be over-expressed in the post-mortem brains of patients with schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder.

What to read around the web today

  • Mexico governor floats the idea of medical opium to reduce drug violence. Reuters
  • How Bristol-Myers is bucking the trend toward precision medicine. Wall Street Journal
  • What psychology's replication crisis means for the future of science. Vox

More reads from STAT

  • Do difficult patients sabotage their medical care
  • Doctors make house calls for children with serious illnesses. 
  • Sanders proposes cash prize to reward companies making AIDS drugs affordable. 

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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