Monday, May 16, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Monday, folks! STAT reporter Rebecca Robbins here, filling in for Megan this morning. Here’s what you need to know about science and medicine today. For more news, follow STAT on Facebook and Twitter and visit us at

Likely today: First look at the Zika funding bill for the House

A bill that would fund emergency efforts to battle the Zika virus will probably be introduced in the House today, Republican congressman Hal Rogers told STAT Washington Editor David Nather on Friday. Expect funding to be less than the $1.1 billion the Senate agreed to last week — and far less than the $1.9 billion the White House wanted. Rogers says the emergency spending will be paid for, which is important to House Republicans, but he wouldn't say how.

Also happening in Washington this morning: A public meeting on the FDA’s plan to create an online tool that would help patients and doctors find experimental drugs that could be a last resort for the seriously ill. More here on why some critics see such initiatives as a Band-Aid.

New this morning: How kids with private insurance get medical services

About half of all US kids have employer-sponsored health insurance at some point in a given year — and they tend to be wealthier and healthier than their peers covered by government programs. A new report from the Washington, D.C., research group Health Care Cost Institute takes a close look at how these kids accessed health care between 2010 and 2014. A few of the most interesting nuggets:

  • They’re using fewer medications and going to the doctor and the ER less often than in years past. But but rising costs mean higher expenses for insurers all the same.
  • The most expensive demographic for insurers? Babies. 
  • The type of prescription medicine that teen boys take the most? Antidepressants. And for teen girls, it’s birth control.
  • Boys cost insurers more than girls over the course of their childhood.

Inside STAT: What you should know about the brash biologist who wants to upend evolution

George Church, the Harvard biologist at the center of last week’s secret scientific meeting about building a human genome from scratch, is no stranger to the limelight. In fact, he’s been brewing controversy, and excitement, for decades. He’s taken unpopular stances on issues like human germline engineering and genetic privacy. He talks about reversing aging, reviving the woolly mammoth, and editing the genes of pigs so humans can make use of their organs. And stay tuned — he’s submitted what’s believed to be a blockbuster paper on creating synthetic genomes to the journal Science. STAT senior writer Sharon Begley has the lowdown on the man who inspires comparisons to Charles Darwin, Santa Claus, and God. More here.

sponsor content by brigham and women's hospital

Did you know women represent only 30 percent of participants in cardiovascular research?

Health problems like lung cancer, heart disease, depression, and Alzheimer’s affect men and women differently — down to the cellular level. Yet women are underrepresented in medical research that informs their care. The Mary Horrigan Connors Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital is committed to changing this by improving our understanding of how disease manifests differently between the sexes and fueling critical research in gender-based care. Join the Us Plus One movement to protect women’s health.

Watch the wiggling dance that helps switch genes on

                       Robert Weinzierl and Natalie Scholes / Imperial College London

The gray blob you’re looking at is a molecular switchboard that’s part of what’s known as the basal machinery at the start of a gene sequence. A transcription factor — the protein with the purple backbone and the green and blue amino acid side chains — is sending signals as it moves in and out of pockets in the basal machinery, part of the binding process that turns genes on. The computer simulation, the most detailed to date, is part of new research from Imperial College London published in PLOS Computational Biology. Better understanding this dance may be able to help researchers identify pockets where drugs can be targeted to block unwanted binding, lead researcher and molecular biologist Robert Weinzierl told me.

We know more than ever about how your dad’s behavior affects your health

There’s plenty of research — and fearmongering — about how a woman’s diet, age, weight, and stressors can cause birth defects in her baby. Now, researchers are gaining a fuller picture of how a father’s behaviors and environment can affect his child. A new review published in the American Journal of Stem Cells on Sunday examines what we know so far about the epigenetic effects of a father’s age, childhood diet, weight, stress level, and alcohol use. What’s needed next, according to the reviewers: Sensible lifestyle recommendations for would-be fathers. And more research on the interplay of epigenetic influences from the mother and the father.

Why Will Smith is addressing the big biotech industry group

The Hollywood A-lister has been tapped for a keynote speaking spot at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s big annual meeting next month, the group announced on Friday. So why Will Smith? He was picked because of his starring role as a crusading doctor in the movie “Concussion” last year, BIO spokeswoman Theresa Brady told me. (Another reason, according to Brady: Smith is an entrepreneur like BIO’s members.) Turns out Smith has a small stake in the biotech business too: He was an investor a few years ago in a $650,000 fundraising round for a startup that analyzes biometric information collected by wearables. No word yet on whether Smith will rap at the conference.

What to read around the web today

  • Inside Venezuela’s failing hospitals. New York Times
  • She's out to change society's perception of the blind. Boston Globe
  • Meet the plastic surgeon who broadcasts his procedures on Snapchat. Vanity Fair
  • Veterans are still waiting to see doctors as 'fix' for long delays falters. NPR

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! My colleague Melissa Bailey will hit your inbox tomorrow with more health and science news.


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