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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Congress weighs dropping ban on altering DNA of human embryos

A congressional committee is expected to vote today to drop a ban on genome editing to alter embryos intended for pregnancies. The decision could pave the way for babies whose genomes have been edited in a way that would affect future generations — like China’s “CRISPR babies” — or for babies created from genetic material from three people. The ban on the procedure has been attached to FDA spending bills for the past three years, but the latest such bill, which was approved by a House subcommittee last month, does not include this rider. Some scientists are urging Congress to not drop the rider, arguing that it would be the only thing preventing the creation of “genetically engineered children.” Others are urging Congress to allow for experiments to create so-called three-parent embryos, a technology with the potential to prevent mitochondrial diseases.

Judge to hear landmark climate change case brought by children alleging public health threat 

A federal judge this morning will hear oral arguments in the case Juliana v. U.S., a 2015 lawsuit brought by 21 children against the U.S. government, alleging that their future is under threat because of government inaction on climate change and the enforcement of other harmful policies. Among the reasons that the children — some of whom are now adults — provide are public health threats, including toxic air and water quality due to fracking and worsening wildfires. Several doctors and public health experts have also sent in briefs in support of the lawsuit, some of whom penned an article last week stating that “climate change is the greatest public health emergency of our time and is particularly harmful to fetuses, infants, children, and adolescents.” Today’s hearings will decide whether the lawsuit — which the government has fought to dismiss — moves to trial.

More than a third of Americans worry about providing for their families' needs

A new survey from Kaiser Permanente finds that more than a third of Americans worry about providing for their family, whether it’s food-related expenses or health-related needs. Here’s more from the survey: 

  • Emergency health funds: If met with a $500 emergency health expense, 44% have funds or cash in hand to cover the cost, while 13% would need to redirect funds from their food budget. 
  • Accessing resources: Over a third lacked the confidence to identify the resources they need. More than half were unaware if their community offered free or subsidized group fitness classes, and more than 15% were unsure about the availability of senior centers or food banks. 
  • Holistic views on health: The majority believe that other social needs — including housing and supportive social relationships — are important for health, and that medical providers should ask about these related factors. 

Inside STAT: Measles outbreaks put U.S. at risk of losing prized ‘elimination’ status


A flyer educating parents about measles is displayed at a pediatrics clinic in Greenbrae, Calif. (ERIC RISBERG/AP)

Public health officials in the U.S. are now grappling with the unpleasant prospect that the country could lose its measles-free status. Measles outbreaks have been raging in 10 states across the country, and the number of cases — more than 970 — recently topped the 25-year record. But if transmission from two of these outbreaks — in Rockland County and Brooklyn, both in New York — continue unabated, then the U.S. in September could join Venezuela and Brazil in being the only countries in the Americas where measles is endemic. And it wouldn’t just be a titular loss: It would be a sign that the U.S. could face larger epidemics that would put a strain on public health resources and make it even more difficult to contain measles. STAT’s Helen Branswell has more

Men more likely than women to experience substance abuse, mental illness

A new analysis from Pew finds that men are twice as likely as women to develop a substance use disorder. Looking at data from the CDC, the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, and elsewhere, researchers found that men are more likely to drink alcohol excessively and are also more frequent users of marijuana than women. The impact of trauma — from childhood abuse or another cause — appeared to be stronger in men, who are also at higher risk of developing a substance use disorder as a result. The analysis also found that the rates of suicide are almost four times higher in men than in women. Given that substance abuse and past trauma are related, interventions should focus on treating both mental health issues and substance use disorders, the report suggests. 

Nearly 20% of U.S. health care workers are immigrants

As the current administration continues to enact policies that make it challenging for foreign workers to come to the U.S., a new study finds that more than 18% of the health care workers who care for the elderly and disabled in the U.S. are immigrants. Here’s more on the findings:

  • By setting: More than a quarter of immigrant workers were in direct-care settings, which includes providing nursing, psychiatric aid, or other home help.

  • By immigration status: Some 43% of immigrant workers living in the country illegally were employed in long-term care settings. Naturalized citizens made up 16% of home health agency workers and nearly 14% of all direct-care workers.

  • Comparison to U.S. workers: More than 30% of immigrant health workers were employed in long-term care settings compared to about 22% of U.S.-born workers.

What to read around the web today

  • FDA wins groundbreaking case against for-profit stem cell company. The Washington Post
  • Updated Apple Watch will track your menstrual period and aim to protect your hearing. STAT
  • How Much Does Your Education Level Affect Your Health? The New York Times
  • As bombs fall, a neurosurgeon tells how he keeps calm in Syria. NPR
  • Chinese American scientists uneasy amid crackdown on foreign influence. Nature

Just wanted to share an update that members of the National Academy of Sciences voted yesterday to amend the bylaws of the organization so that those who violate its code of conduct, including sexual harassers, could be expelled from the organization, reversing the rule of lifetime membership. 

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

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