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Friday, September 9, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking
Welcome to the end of the week, and welcome to Morning Rounds! I've got the day's news in science and medicine for you. 

Cigna uses TV doctors to talk check-ups

Health insurance giant Cigna has recruited TV's most recognizable doctors to encourage patients to get annual check-ups from their doctors. The new ad campaign — which began airing nationwide this week — features some heavy-hitting fake doctors from "Grey's Anatomy," "M.A.S.H," "House," and "Scrubs." The media budget for the campaign totals $9 million, according to AdAge, and will also run on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

A scalpel-wielding Alan Alda says "I have no idea what I'm doing," while Patrick "McDreamy" Dempsey discloses he "never went to college" — then, the TV docs go on to encourage patients to get an annual wellness exam with a real doctor. But there's one caveat with that message: It's debated whether annual check-ups for otherwise healthy adults are necessary. A 2012 review of research on the subject concluded there's little chance the appointments will be beneficial. 

NIH seeks bright ideas to battle antibiotic resistance

antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus aureus bacteria. (NIAID)

The threat of drug resistant bacteria is looming, and the NIH is seeking innovative research ideas to combat it. The Antimicrobial Resistance Diagnostic Challenge is calling for entries on rapid, point-of-care diagnostic tests that can identify antibiotic resistant bacteria in patients. The agency is also looking for ideas that’d help doctors quickly discern between viral and bacterial infections to avoid unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. Superbugs cause about two million infections and 23,000 deaths in the US each year. The challenge comes with an additional incentive: $20 million in award money.

Lab Chat: How your brain beats the heat

When the late-summer temperatures spike, your body kicks into gear to keep you from feeling the heat. Scientists harnessed the power of optogenetics to understand exactly how that happens. They pinpointed a specific group of cells in the brains of mice that kick off responses — from slowing down your metabolism to shedding heat through sweat — when the body is becoming too warm. Here’s what Zachary Knight of University of California, San Francisco, told me about the new research, published in Cell.

How does the body regulate temperature?

From a neuroscience perspective, behind the scenes of a single temperature there’s a whole array of autonomic and behavioral mechanisms that are occurring in unison to keep your body temperature inside a narrow range. If you’re exposed to heat, your blood vessels dilate to release heat, your metabolic rate might decline to produce less heat, and at the same time, your brain tells you to start looking for a colder environment or turn up the AC. That suggests there’s a mechanism in the brain that coordinates all these things.

How did you identify what that mechanism is?

We looked at the functionally activated neurons by sequencing their RNA. We exposed [mice] to a warm environment, and sequenced the neurons that were activated after they were exposed to warmth. We found a specific population of neurons that are regulated by environmental warmth and become activated within seconds. The entire response to heat seems to be orchestrated by this single neural population. One reason that’s exciting is that it tells us these cells are an entry point into the circuit that controls all of these responses, like why your body wants to turn on the AC versus why it wants to sweat.

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Inside STAT: Multiple sclerosis gene discovery under fire

Scientists are voicing serious concerns about a study published in June that hailed the discovery of a rare genetic mutation that significantly increased the risk of multiple sclerosis. Critics say they haven't been able to replicate those findings, claim the paper has calculation errors, and have called into question why it was published in a top-tier journal. That may put a damper on hopes that the research would spur new drugs for the disease — and it raises a question of how journals should handle critiques of the papers they publish. More from STAT's Sharon Begley here

An electric glove to help stroke patients regain strength

A stimulation therapy that can be slipped on like a glove could help stroke survivors regain hand strength. Strokes often result in some type of paralysis or weakness on the side of the body affected. Now, researchers have turned to the healthy side of the body to give the damaged side a boost. The new treatment relies on two gloves: sensors on the healthy hand and stimulators on the weaker hand. Movement in the healthy hand makes the weaker hand move the same way, giving the patient control over movement of both at the same time. The team of researchers at Case Western tested the technique on 80 stroke survivors who received either standard therapy or therapy with the new glove. After 12 weeks, patients who’d used the new therapy scored better on dexterity tests than those who didn’t. Patients who had a stroke less than two years prior responded best to the treatment. Read more about the therapy in the journal Stroke.

Brain researchers implant prejudice

Scientists from Brown have given volunteers negative feelings about complete strangers, in a technique called "inception." While lying in an MRI scanner, people rated various faces on a scale of like to dislike. Researchers isolated the brain activity for the two extremes, brought the people back in, and showed them faces they had rated as neutral — but with a twist. They reinforced either positive or negative feelings about each face using an MRI feedback technique. It seemed to budge people's opinions a bit, though the participants didn't realize why — those who got positive reinforcement rated neutral faces more toward the "like" end of the scale, and vice versa. That's a potentially riskier use of the feedback technique than the previous kinds of "inception" this research team has done, which simply used colors. But the researchers are hoping it can potentially be used as a way to blunt painful memories in the treatment of trauma.

A case study in water contamination crises

The CDC is using a “do-not-drink” warning issued in an Ohio county as a lesson for how government agencies and local community partners should respond to a water contamination crisis. In 2014, algae contaminated the water supply in Lucas County, Ohio. About 88 percent of households heard about the warnings on the first day — mainly through broadcast television, word-of-mouth, and social media — but many residents were still affected. Nearly 11 percent of residents drank the water and 20 percent brushed their teeth with it during the three-day advisory. Some reported gastrointestinal issues thought to be connected.

In a new analysis, the CDC says those issues highlight the need for government groups and community partners to collaborate on prevention and quick response efforts going forward. That also includes getting residents information on health risks and alternate water sources through multiple types of media. 

What to read around the web today

  • The health care community tackles burnout within its ranks. US News & World Report
  • Full medical records for Trump and Clinton? That's fiction. New York Times
  • France is the country most skeptical of vaccine safety. Science
  • New paper calls perception of statins into question. Reuters

More reads from STAT

  • Allergy-proof? Intelligence booster? FDA looks to rein in health claims on infant formula. 
  • Feed a cold, starve a fever? Here's what the science says
  • Five reasons why no one has built a better EpiPen
  • European agency gives nod to Novartis over toxic chemical in drugs. 

As always, thanks for reading! Back bright and early on Monday,

Megan

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