Thursday, December 21, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Thursday, folks! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine this morning. 

House lawmakers propose temporarily extending CHIP funding

House lawmakers released a resolution early this morning that includes money for the Children's Health Insurance Program — funding for which lapsed in September — through the end of March. It's part of the GOP's last-minute effort to reach a short-term spending deal that would avert an otherwise imminent government shutdown, at least until Jan. 19. There's also a short-term patch that would fund community health centers through March; federal funding for the facilities also expired this year. But for now, lawmakers are planning to put off dealing with an effort to stabilize Obamacare's struggling insurance markets with extra funding for insurers, until 2018. 

Meanwhile, the medical device industry is pressing to forestall a tax on their products, which will otherwise take effect Jan. 1 after several legislative delays. Hospital lobbyists, too, are pressuring Congress to avert a $1.6 billion cut to the so-called 340B program that's set to take effect at the start of the year. The House's latest draft doesn't address either of those issues.

Life expectancy is falling. Drug deaths are soaring


(megan thielking / stat)

Life expectancy in the U.S. has fallen for the second year in a row. And at the same time, drug overdose deaths are soaring, according to two new reports out from the CDC. Here’s your rundown:

  • Heart disease is the most common cause of death, followed by cancer. Unintentional injuries climbed to the third leading cause of death in 2016. Worth noting: Most drug overdose deaths are classified as unintentional injuries.

  • Life expectancy isn’t falling for women — just for men. Life expectancy for women born in 2016 is 81.1 years, compared to 76.1 years for men.

  • Black men are dying at alarmingly high rates. Death rates among black men climbed 1 percent in 2016 — the highest rate of any racial group detailed in the report — while death rates among white women actually fell 1 percent.

  • Deaths due to synthetic opioids are rising. The rate of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone — a category that includes fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and tramadol — doubled between 2015 and 2016.

Double check your eggnog

There’s an eggnog recall underway right in the middle of the only season people actually drink eggnog. Arruda’s Dairy Farm in Rhode Island is recalling its eggnog after health officials found salmonella when sampling its products. There haven’t been any illnesses tied to the product, but salmonella can cause serious infections that are particularly dangerous for children and the elderly. Other items to be wary of at your holiday potlucks: Springfield smoked salmon and fruit salad with apples plucked from this Michigan orchard.

Sponsor content by Bristol-Myers Squibb

New post-surgery treatment option approved to help prevent melanoma’s return

Currently, around three out of 10 patients with stage III melanoma receive treatment after surgery — even though most will experience disease recurrence within five years. Adjuvant therapy may help reduce the risk of cancer’s return following surgical resection. Learn more here about a newly approved adjuvant treatment option for patients whose melanoma and lymph nodes that contain cancer have been removed by surgery.

Inside STAT: An infant's medical mystery


(molly ferguson for stat)

When the infant was first born, his mother thought something seemed off. The baby’s doctors thought so too. He was overdue, but weighed only a bit over five pounds. And it looked like he was missing a patch of skin on his scalp. Over the next eight years, his family navigated the boy's increasingly perplexing mix of health conditions — from acid reflux to stunted growth and poor healing — until a geneticist finally came upon the answer. STAT contributor Dr. Allison Bond has more in our latest medical mystery — read here.

What's on the horizon in health care?

I want to hear your predictions for what 2018 will mean for health and medicine, whether that’s in drug development, disease trends, or patient care. Send me your predictions at, and I’ll share some of your responses after the new year.

Scientists use CRISPR to treat mice with ALS and deafness

Add two more diseases to the list of those treated with CRISPR in mice. Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, say they've used a virus to carry CRISPR-Cas9 into mouse spinal cords to disable a mutant gene that can cause ALS, the neurodegenerative condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which doesn’t have a cure. Treated mice had 50 percent more motor neurons — which ALS destroys — and lived 25 percent longer than untreated mice with the mutation. Key to the advance: the virus scientists engineered to carry CRISPR-Cas9 only into motor neurons in the spinal cord. When mice died, their only surviving motor neuron cells were those "infected" with the virus. UCB bioengineer David Schaffer says if the virus can be tweaked to enter more cells, it could one day form the basis of an effective treatment in people.

And scientists at Harvard Medical School report they’ve used CRISPR-Cas9 to disrupt a genetic mutation that leads to progressive hearing loss in a mouse model. In this case, the CRISPR complex was delivered using an injection that didn't require a virus. "We just injected a very small amount into the mouse ear, and as a result we prevented hearing loss substantially,” researcher Zheng-Yi Chen tells me. The next steps: Test them in human cells in a dish and bigger animal models.

What to read around the web today

  • Racism may cause black mothers to suffer the death of their infants. NPR
  • A contraceptive gel for men is about to go on trial. MIT Technology Review
  • How one teen battled obesity with medicine’s best — and most underused — tool. Vox

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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