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Friday, December 4, 2015

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

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Good morning, folks! End your week with the stories driving the world of science and medicine today. 

Native Americans have been missing from the boom in microbiome research

The big hype over the microbiome has left out a key group in research: Native Americans — until now. Research in the new Current Biology looks at stool samples and health histories from 38 adults, many from Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, and compares them to European-American microbiomes. 

“Quickly diving into new science with a population that’s socially and economically vulnerable is dangerous, because you don’t know if it might be stigmatizing,” lead researcher Cecil Lewis of the University of Oklahoma told me. But if future treatments are developed from research into the microbiome, it's vital to look at data from all populations. "If the vulnerable populations haven’t [participated], we’re exacerbating the health disparities,” Lewis said.

New today: Polluted tumor info could be an obstacle for precision medicine

A new hitch in the advance toward precision therapy techniques targeted to a patient's DNA: The samples used to customize a treatment might be significantly skewed. Tumors are made up of both healthy cells and cancerous cells. Research published this morning in Nature Communications looked at data from 11,000 patients and 33 types of cancer and found that if tumor purity isn’t taken into account — which it often isn’t — the analysis of which proteins in a tumor to target could be clouded and even misleading.

The government wants to know more about gender reassignment surgery

This call for comments from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services caught my eye — the agency is investigating whether gender reassignment surgery and gender dysphoria treatments can boost health outcomes in the US. You can comment here.

Why one doctor won't stop performing abortions, despite decades of threats

In the 42 years Dr. Warren Hern has been serving women seeking abortions in Colorado, he's received death threats, had his office shot at, been put on a hit list, and heard his assassination called for on the radio by a radical anti-abortion activist. Hern has been put under federal protection multiple times and has mourned the deaths of friends and colleagues murdered by abortion opponents. In the face of last week's Planned Parenthood shooting, Hern says he won't be scared out of performing what he calls his life's work. Read Hern's chilling account of his decades as an abortion doctor under attack here

Inside STAT: Plastic surgeons call for patient mental health screenings

Text from the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Questionnaire. Dom Smith / STAT

A small but growing number of plastic surgeons want to see formal mental health screenings before patients can get elective procedures. Docs say it’s a way to protect patients with mental illnesses such as body dysmorphic disorder from compulsively seeking surgery to fix imagined physical defects. It's also a way for doctors to protect themselves from threats and attacks from patients who will never be satisfied with the results of cosmetic surgery. More from STAT editor Elie Dolgin here.

Only half the people recommended to take statins are actually doing so  

Doctors are sure to be shaking their heads at this news: Nearly half the people in the US who should be taking cholesterol-lowering drugs aren’t, according to the CDC. African-Americans who the CDC said needed the drugs but who reported that they didn’t have regular access to health care had the lowest rate of compliance — just 5.7 percent were taking statins.

The FDA just put off a patient safety ruling — again

The FDA announced yesterday it’ll postpone a big patient safety measure; that decision has infuriated advocacy groups, especially since this is not the first delay. The backdrop: Only brand-name drug makers now have the authority to independently update warning labels if new safety information emerges. The rule would give generics (which now have to consult the FDA to make such changes) the same authority. Advocates say that's vital for patients who take generic drugs and might not otherwise hear about new side effects or risks. More from STAT Pharmalot columnist Ed Silverman here.

Heart defects at birth could be tied to developmental problems in some kids

Congenital heart disease could be connected in some cases to neurodevelopmental problems like autism, which affect 40 percent of kids born with the heart defect, according to new research in Science. Researchers analyzed gene mutations of about 1,200 people with CHD and found some of those mutations were tied to both heart disease and cognitive problems. The goal for future research: “That we can test patients right when they’re diagnosed with CHD to see if they fall into a high-risk group for neurodevelopmental problems, then be able to intervene early on,” Dr. Martina Brueckner of Yale told me. 

What to read around the web today

More reads from STAT

Thanks much for reading! More Monday,

Megan

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