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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

New York and Maryland are latest states to offer million-dollar vaccination incentives

New York and Maryland yesterday became the latest states to announce big cash prizes to incentivize residents to get their Covid-19 vaccine. In New York, adults who get their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine or a Johnson & Johnson shot at one of 10 state vaccination sites between May 24 and May 28 would be given a scratch-off lottery ticket for a $5 million prize. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said that every day between May 25 and June 3, vaccinated residents will be eligible for a $40,000 prize, culminating in a $400,000 jackpot prize drawing on July 4. Ohio was the first state last week to advertise a million-dollar incentive, and has already seen a surge in vaccinations, even though experts raised concerns about the legality of a non-lottery commission offering a cash prize. 

California lawmakers advance bill to mandate biosecurity for mail-order DNA

California lawmakers voted yesterday to advance a bill that would require the state’s growing gene synthesis industry to adopt screening protocols to keep dangerous DNA out of the hands of the wrong people. The proposed legislation now goes before the full Assembly and then the state Senate. If passed, it would be the first law in the nation to tackle the biosecurity risks that accompany cheap and easy DNA writing technologies. AB 70 would require any gene synthesis companies operating in California to become members of the International Gene Synthesis Consortium — a trade group that requires its members to screen customer orders against DNA databases housing the sequences of pathogens and toxins, and checking customer credentials to verify their identities.

More than 200 outbreaks tied to recreational water facilities in recent years

Even though swimming pools and other recreational facilities are treated for germs, a new CDC report finds there were more than 200 outbreaks in such facilities in recent years. Between 2015 and 2019, there were 208 outbreaks in common water facilities, leading to more than 3,600 cases of infections and 13 deaths. Public pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds were the most common sources. Only 75% of the outbreaks were traced to specific microbes: Cryptosporidium was tied to nearly half of the outbreaks while Legionella was the culprit in an additional 40%. About half the outbreaks began between June and August. With the upcoming summer in the Northern Hemisphere, experts urge public facilities to be thorough with messaging about infection risks.  

Inside STAT: When health records are held ransom, patients are the hardest hit — and last to know


Ransomware attacks on health records are becoming increasingly common — the health records of 23 million people in the U.S. were breached last year, and already this year, nearly 17 million people's records have been hit by such attacks. As inconvenient as these attacks are for medical providers, it's patients who are acutely affected. Experts say that current regulations allow health providers to hide in a black box of sorts, which effectively leaves patients in the dark about what's going on with their medical records and even upcoming appointments. “There’s a lot of secrecy when it comes to cybercrime,” one data privacy expert tells STAT contributor Marion Renault. “You’re not proud of the fact you’ve become a ransomware victim, so a lot of this is swept under the carpet.” Read more here

Lab Chat: In new study, stem cells self-organize into a mini model of a beating heart

A beating cardioid. (The Mendjan Lab)

In a new study, researchers describe a new mini model of the heart — one they call a cardioid — in which they coaxed stem cells that usually precede the creation of heart muscle into self-organizing. Not only did this approach yield heart cells, also known as cardiomyocytes, but the cells assembled themselves into a 3D structure, complete with a single chamber reminiscent of a human heart (although a real one has four chambers) and a heartbeat that showed liquid being pumped around the chamber. I spoke with Sasha Mendjan, a stem cell biologist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna and the study's senior author, to learn more. 

Previous attempts used tissue engineering. Why not continue with that? 
Like with building a house or a piece of machinery, you need to have an exact plan for what needs to be built. If the concrete [or other material] doesn’t have the right specifications, or if one part is faulty, it won’t work as expected. And with an engineering approach, we won’t know how the biology of the heart works. You need to be able to recapitulate what actually happens in development and there are a lot of unknowns, so we can’t build it. 

What was an advantage of self-organization? 
What we saw for the first time as a result was that when we injured them using cryoinjury — using a cold steel rod to injure the heart like in a heart attack. In heart attack, millions of cells die and the organ tries to somehow repair this damage. It starts secreting proteins to have cells migrate to the injured area. 

Read the rest of our conversation here

Research on early childhood development often ignores the impact on mothers, scientists argue

The authors behind a new policy paper suggest that there's a paucity of studies that evaluate how early childhood development interventions — which help young children meet a range of growth milestones — affect caregivers, specifically mothers. The experts looked at nearly 480 papers published between 2005 and 2019, and found that fewer than a quarter mentioned outcomes for mothers specifically. Of these, studies that looked at the impact on maternal health — mostly mental health — were most common, while those evaluating the impact on the maternal labor market were less common. "Research that ignores impacts on caregivers can only provide a partial characterization of program effects," the authors write, urging that research on caregiving interventions ought to more regularly assess the impact on caregivers as well. 

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 30,141
Deaths yesterday: 665

What to read around the web today

  • Stark racial disparities persist in vaccinations, state-level CDC data shows. Kaiser Health News
  • Addicted to menthol: Big Tobacco’s targeting of Black communities could soon end. Los Angeles Times
  • As pandemic spread pain and panic, congressman chased profit. Associated Press
  • Why is the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccine campaign faltering? Science
  • What happens when Americans can finally exhale. The Atlantic

Thanks for reading, and a have a nice weekend! More on Monday,

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