Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

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Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Morning Rounds, where I keep you ahead of the big news in science and medicine. 

Hong Kong on health alert after a bird flu death

A 26-year-old woman's death from the bird flu last week has led to a health alert in Hong Kong, Reuters reports this morning. The woman died in Shenzhen after coming down with H5N6, a strain of the bird flu. The government is tracking other cases of H5N6 closely. 

Bacteria could be helping some skin cancer cells thrive

Skin lymphoma is a rare kind of cancer that makes the skin more vulnerable to infection by staph bacteria. New research finds that toxins in the bacteria might actually be helping the cancer cells send out signals that block the immune system's response to the cancer. In other words, the bacteria may be giving the cancer a boost, researchers at the University of Copenhagen found. The next step: Figuring out if there’s a practical way stop or slow the damage from those infections.

Diabetes takes a hefty toll on life span and disability

Adults with type 2 diabetes die, on average, nearly five years earlier than their peers without the condition, according to startling new statistics published in Diabetes Care. They also develop disabilities — like losing limbs or toes due to poor circulation — six to seven years earlier than non-diabetics.

Lab Chat: A new, potentially more direct path for stem cell therapies

Scientists have transformed human skin cells into insulin-producing pancreatic cells using an exciting approach that could open the door for new types of therapy. The typical approach (known as iPSC) is to first convert skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells, then turn those into more specialized cells. Instead, researchers turned the skin cells into early development cells, called endoderm progenitor cells. That technique, to be published this morning in Nature Communications, offers interesting and important benefits, as lead researcher Sheng Ding of the Gladstone Institutes told me. 

Why not use iPSCs as a way to develop stem cell therapies?

Once you make pluripotent stem cells, you have to really push to make sure all [of them] get differentiated, or specialized, or else in humans they would form tumors. That’s one of the big concerns in using iPSCs in stem cell therapy. For treating patients, you need millions and billions of cells. We want to make sure all those cells are safe and functional.

How does your approach allow you to make sure cells are safe to use?

These cells intrinsically go through distinct steps. In the past, people couldn’t stop the process because they don’t have a brake.... But we identified a combination of molecules that serve as signals that instruct the cells to stop at a point, to expand, to replicate, or to differentiate. And only when we release that brake can they go on to the next step. So at every stage, we can take all the good ones and make more cells. So you only need hundreds or thousands of cells to start with to create millions or billions.

Hacking the way bacteria move to beat infections

Billions of bacteria swim through a microfluidic lattice. (Dunkel, et. al)

Bacteria and electrons have something surprising in common — they both synchronize and swim in much the same way. And it turns out that fine-tuning the microfluidic lattice that microbes float around in can affect that movement. Manipulating how bacteria move is a potential way to stop biofilms from forming on medical devices and causing infections. Read more about the research in Nature Physics.

Inside STAT: Can Medicare negotiations really slash high drug prices?

As public frustration grows over high prescription drug bills, Democrats have proposed letting Medicare negotiate prices to bring down costs. But policy experts say that idea— which has been tossed around for years — might not be that feasible, because the government doesn't really have all that much power to lower drug prices on a large scale. STAT Washington editor David Nather takes the campaign platform point apart with a look at if, and how, it could work.

Thank evolution for your urge to snack 

Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me: Humans might have an urge to overeat in winter, and it could be thanks to the evolutionary impulse to stock up when food is scarce, according to new data from computer modeling published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Easing the burden of uninsured patients 

The number of uninsured patients seeking hospital care has dropped by half in states that expanded Medicaid coverage, a new analysis in Health Affairs finds. Meanwhile, hospital stays for Medicaid patients rose by 20 percentage points in those states. Analysts say that's just what should be happening as more low-income people get subsidized coverage. One oddity in the data: Wisconsin — which didn’t expand Medicaid — also saw a jump in hospital stays for Medicaid patients. That could be, in part, because all the publicity about Medicaid made more people realize they were eligible for the insurance.

What to read around the web today

  • A surrogate mother carrying triplets is suing after being asked to abort a fetus or face monetary consequences. Time
  • Jeb Bush drops his guard to share a family story of addiction. New York Times
  • Dogs thwart the effort to eradicate Guinea worm. Nature

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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