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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Our latest STAT report delves into the promises and perils of artificial intelligence — how the technology can aid faster diagnoses, but also exacerbate disparities and endanger patient privacy. Download the free book, supported by the Commonwealth Fund and written by STAT's Erin Brodwin and Casey Ross, here

CDC advisory group set to vote today on whether J&J Covid-19 vaccinations should resume

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is set to meet again today to recommend whether vaccinations with Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 shot could resume in the U.S. The CDC and FDA urged a pause on the use of J&J's vaccine on April 13, after identifying serious but rare instances of blood clots in six women who received the shot. The advisory group delayed announcing its decision after a meeting last week as some experts on the committee felt they didn't have sufficient information to vote decisively on the issue. “We know that it’s not a good thing to leave the pause going for any longer than it absolutely has to go for,” the FDA's top vaccine regulator Peter Marks told The New York Times yesterday. “Once, essentially, the adequate discussion has occurred, we’re prepared to move as quickly as we possibly can,” he added.

States with springtime Covid-19 surges appear to have turned a corner

In encouraging news, states that had springtime surges in Covid-19 cases seem to be turning a corner as vaccines reach critical areas. Cases in Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, and other Midwestern states have been falling steadily as vaccines are now available to all aged 16 and over. In Michigan, which had experienced some of its biggest spikes of the Covid-19 pandemic in recent weeks, hospitalizations have also gone down. Experts are still urging caution since progress is still uneven — Puerto Rico, for instance, is now experiencing a rise in cases while cases in previously hard-hit California are flattening. “We remain in a complicated stage,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing this week.

New study projects worsening representation of people of color in trials for eye conditions

A review of clinical trials for ophthalmology therapies approved by the FDA between 2000 and 2020 reveals that people of color were underrepresented, and the disparity is projected to get worse. Here's more: 

  • The study: Scientists included 31 trials — representing more than 18,000 participants and 13 medications — in the analysis. They specifically looked at drugs for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy (DR), and the most common form of glaucoma. 
  • The findings: The proportion of Asian individuals enrolled in AMD and DR trials doubled between the first and second decades studied, and enrollment of Hispanic individuals in AMD and glaucoma trials also increased. And although there was also an increase in enrollment of Black people for glaucoma trials, there was a decrease in their inclusion in DR trials. 
  • The takeaway: The small gains in enrollment don't reflect how the diseases affect these populations, the authors write. Based on the trends, the authors predict that white individuals will be overrepresented in trials for the three conditions by 2030 and 2050, and that Black and Hispanic individuals will be underrepresented. 

Inside STAT: Could souped-up Covid tests be our shortcut to tracking variants?

Genomic sequencing is one of the best surveillance tools to keep viruses and other pathogens in check, but the technology is still slow and expensive to be deployed on a reliable basis. In an effort to keep up with new variants of SARS-CoV-2, some epidemiologists are now suggesting a souped-up version of already-available Covid-19 tests that can mimic the surveillance power of traditional sequencing tools. Such tests are already being used in countries including Denmark and the U.K. to track the coronavirus. Skeptics caution that implementing a new tool, especially with the pandemic's end in sight here in the U.S., could disrupt a system that has, more or less, fared well. STAT contributor Marion Renault has more here

In mouse experiments, scientists unlock the key to scar-free skin healing

Confocal micrograph of a primary human fibroblast cells grown in culture. (MATTHEW DANIELS / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD/WELLCOME)

Scientists have long sought the secrets to wound healing, especially without scarring, and researchers behind a new study in Science may be one step closer to scar-free skin healing. In the study, conducted in mice, scientists took a specific type of skin cell known as fibroblasts and determined these cells expressed a protein known for scar formation. They then worked to block the protein and reprogrammed the fibroblasts into a different form of specialized cell that heals wounds without forming scars. Mice with these reprogrammed cells regrew hair follicles and sweat glands with intact skin, which was also comparable to normal skin when tested for mechanical strength. Read more here

Homelessness among pregnant women is associated with preterm labor, study finds

Homelessness is associated with a higher chance of preterm labor and placental abnormalities, according to a new study. Researchers compared outcomes in roughly 15,000 pregnant women experiencing homelessness with data from nearly 310,000 pregnant women who were not. Those experiencing homelessness were almost 4% more likely to go into labor preterm, and were almost 2% more likely to have placental abnormalities (although this was not statistically significant). Women experiencing homelessness also had an average of about $400 more in delivery-associated hospital costs. The findings indicate the need for homelessness screening during prenatal care, the authors write, so that physicians can help address any specific needs during pregnancy. 

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 67.257
Deaths yesterday: 943

What to read around the web today

  • India’s Covid-19 taskforce did not meet in February, March despite surge, say members. The Caravan
  • California and Texas took different routes to vaccination. who’s ahead? California Healthline
  • ‘There are no alternatives’: As Pfizer discontinues an old glaucoma drug, a small group of patients struggles to cope. STAT+
  • Opinion: I run the WHO, and I know that rich countries must make a choice. The New York Times
  • Burned out by the pandemic, 3 in 10 health-care workers consider leaving the profession. The Washington Post

Thanks for reading! I'll be back Monday, 

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