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Morning Rounds

Nobel Prize in medicine awarded to two researchers for key cancer discovery

The Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was jointly awarded this morning to two scientists whose work revealed that the immune system can be tweaked to unleash tumor-attacking T cells.

  • James Allison: The MD Anderson Cancer Center immunologist studied a protein called CTLA-4 that acts as a brake on the immune system. In the ’90s, he discovered that releasing that brake can lead immune cells to attack tumors. The molecule that lifts the brake became ipilimumab, a breakthrough drug approved by the FDA in 2011 to treat metastatic melanoma. 
  • Tasuku Honjo: In 1992, the Kyoto University immunologist discovered a protein on immune cells called PD-1 that also acts as a brake. Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer. The FDA approved the first anti PD-1 drug, Keytruda, in 2014.
More on the winners here

Why the health secretary is headed to Brazil

It’s a busy week for HHS Secretary Alex Azar, who is in Brazil for a series of meetings about global health security and research partnerships. He’ll meet with families affected by Zika virus and microcephaly, a Zika-related condition that causes the brain and head to not develop correctly. He’ll also talk with health officials about how Brazil and the U.S. can work together to respond to global health threats and deliver a talk in São Paulo on health care innovation. And later in the week, he’ll be at a meeting of G20 health ministers in Argentina.

Inside STAT: Experts call for more research on pregnant and lactating women

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(molly ferguson for stat)

There’s very little research on whether medications are safe and effective in pregnant and lactating women, but a task force formed by Congress has ideas to close that information gap — and just fired off 15 recommendations to health officials. Among them:

  • Liability: A huge hurdle to inclusion is fear about liability if a medication harms a pregnant woman or her fetus. The task force says the government needs to come up with a system to cover liability for study sponsors.
  • Education: The task force says HHS should create an educational campaign that get both the public and health care providers talking about the importance of research on pregnant and lactating women.
  • Incentives: Give drug companies an incentive to study drugs in pregnant and lactating women, like longer patent exclusivity if they carry out studies in those populations.
I have more on the report here.

WHO launches push to boost cancer survival rates in kids

There’s a new, global effort to improve survival rates for children with cancer. An estimated 300,000 children and teens are diagnosed with cancer each year, and those in low- and middle-income nations are four times more likely to die than kids in high-income nations. That's often because they’re not diagnosed, can’t afford treatment, or don’t have access to providers with the right kind of training. The new effort, led by the WHO, aims to double the survival rate for pediatric cancer to at least 60 percent by 2030. One of the first steps: help countries evaluate how well they're currently equipped to diagnose and treat kids with cancer. 

Study ties blood pressure, cholesterol fluctuations to heart attack risk

New research suggests that fluctuations in blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels in healthy people is tied to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Researchers looked at data from nearly 7 million people in Korea with no history of heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. People with the most variability in their measurements from one doctor’s visit to the next were 43 and 41 percent more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, respectively, than people with stable measurements, the study’s authors report. The big caveat: The study doesn’t show cause and effect.

A new challenge asks researchers to 'redesign dialysis'

The American Society of Nephrology and HHS want to “redesign dialysis” — and they’re on the hunt for the best ideas on how to do so. They just launched a competition to develop better treatment options for patients with kidney failure than dialysis and have committed more than $2.2 million in prize money. The challenge will run in two phases: The first will launch later this month and asks people to come up with tools or treatments that can replicate normal kidney function and improve quality of life for patients. Then, they’ll ask participants to develop prototypes of those therapies.

What to read around the web today

  • In the nursing home, empty beds and quiet halls. New York Times
  • In rollback of mercury rule, Trump could revamp how government values human health. Washington Post
  • How funding from the FDA is helping this Boston biotech fly under the radar. STAT Plus
  • 'Contraception deserts' likely to widen under new Trump administration policy. Kaiser Health News

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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Monday, October 1, 2018

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