Friday, October 16, 2015

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Friday everyone, and welcome to your Morning Rounds, where I give you a quick report of what's new in the world of science and medicine. Follow Stat on Twitter and give us a like on Facebook to satisfy your appetite for more stories. 

Stat scoop: Martin Shkreli dishes dirt on Bernie Sanders (and vice versa)

Embattled pharma exec Martin Shkreli and pharma-hating presidential candidate Bernie Sanders trashed one another with gusto late yesterday in response to pointed questioning by Stat Washington Editor David Nather. 

To set the stage: Shkreli recently donated $2,700 (the max amount possible) to Sanders' presidential campaign as a ploy to get the Vermont senator's attention in hopes of setting up a meeting. Shkreli told Nather he did it because he was tired of being used as a punching bag by politicians who didn't have the courage to talk with him directly. 
“I think it’s cheap to use one person’s action as a platform without kind of talking to that person,” he said.

The Sanders campaign initially sent a form letter thanking Shkreli. Which seemed odd, given that Sanders called Big Pharma one of his top political enemies in this week's Democratic debate. But pressed by Nather, the campaign said last night that Sanders doesn't want "the money from this poster boy for drug company greed." Instead, Sanders will donate the donation to a health clinic in D.C. Shkreli later tweeted that he appreciated Sanders "using my contribution as a continuation of my philanthropy."

A little coda: Shkreli isn't really a Sanders hater. In fact, he told Nather he admires Bernie's passion and his penchant for provocation. Get the rest of the juicy interview here.

Theranos' micro-vial blood collection screeches to a halt

Silicon Valley's much-buzzed-about lab startup Theranos announced late last night it'll stop collecting micro-vials of blood for use on its proprietary testing technology due to pressure from the FDA, the Wall Street Journal reports. The news comes hot on the heels of a big Journal investigation that found the company wasn't actually using its own, widely-touted technology for many of the blood tests it conducted for customers. Theranos has been valued at an eye-popping $9 billion.

And in other startup news, biotech racked up another $2 billion in venture capital this quarter, Fierce Biotech reports — but will it last? 

Does the FDA ever sleep? 

The agency also rejected AstraZeneca's combination diabetes therapy, asking the drugmaker to cough up more clinical data before bringing the drug back to the table, Reuters reports.  The company had predicted the combo therapy could eventually ring up annual sales of $3 billion.

Antibiotic resistance is hitting cancer patients hard

Antibiotic resistance is on the rise — and now, evidence suggests that could be incredibly harmful to patients. New numbers in The Lancet Infectious Diseases show up to half of all post-surgical infections and more than a quarter of all post-chemo infections stem from bacteria that are impervious to the typical antibiotics used in the US.

Stat West Coast Editor Charles Piller reports that researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have an idea for turning things around. In a commentary in the new American Journal of Public Health, they urge hospital cafeterias to stop feeding patients and staff members so much meat from animals heavily treated with antibiotics.

Lab Chat: Creating fake skin with a real sense of touch

Prosthetics research just got a little more exciting thanks to an artificial skin, developed by Stanford scientists, that can actually sense pressure. I chatted with researcher Alex Chortos about the work, published in the new Science.  

How does the skin work? 

We took a sensor that measures pressure and we combined it with a flexible circuit layer. And the two of those things together communicate information about pressure in a way that's understandable by the brain. 

Can it pick up different textures, like the difference between a piece of fabric and a blade of grass?

What you’ve described is the next step in our research, to create lots of sensors and lots of different types of sensors. Your skin also measures vibrations, it measures stretching of the skin, those kinds of things, and we want to capture that.

Your iPhone camera could be good for more than just selfies

The latest foray into digital health: an app that aims to figure out if it’s possible to screen kids for autism through a smartphone. Autism & Beyond, out now in Apple’s ResearchKit app, plays video clips for kids and uses the front-facing camera to evaluate their reactions. If the video analysis turns out to be reliable, the Duke researchers behind the project could be sitting on a massive amount of information about autism and other developmental disorders. Apple also rolled out new ResearchKit apps to study epilepsy and melanoma.

Low-income patients less likely to join clinical trials

Low-income cancer patients are less likely to take part in clinical trials than their wealthier peers, according to a new study in JAMA Oncology. Looking at more than 1,000 cancer patients, researchers found those with household income under $50,000 were much less likely to get involved in clinical trials. “Lower-income patients are more sensitive to hidden costs, like taking time off work for extra clinic visits or having to pay for transportation,” the paper’s lead author, Joseph Unger, tells me. It’s a problem for both patients and researchers, Unger explains. Researchers aren’t getting representative samples in trials, and there isn’t a level playing field for giving patients access to experimental drugs and devices.

Ups and downs for Obamacare

The Obama administration said Thursday it expects 10 million people to be enrolled in insurance through the Affordable Care Act by the end of 2016. That's a 10 percent increase from this year but it falls far short of the 20 million enrollments the Congressional Budget Office had predicted back in June, The Hill reports. Meanwhile, Obamacare's Medicaid expansion has led to record-breaking increases in both Medicaid enrollment and health care spending nationwide, according to a budget survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Last fiscal year, the 29 states that expanded Medicaid eligibility had enrollment rates three times higher than other states. 

Correction: Yesterday's newsletter misspelled the names of 23andMe and genetics pioneer Craig Venter.
I'll be back on Monday! Have a great weekend,

Have a news tip or comment you want to send me?

Send me an email

subscribe to stat's morning rounds

This email was sent to <<Email Address>>
Unsubscribe from this listUpdate subscription preferences
Copyright © 2015, All Rights Reserved, STAT.