Monday, April 18, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Monday, folks! Here's what you need to know to get ahead of the day's big stories in science and medicine. 

House gets started on opioid bills package

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is marking up about a dozen bills this week to improve the response to the opioid crisis in the US. The House hopes they’ll be ready for a floor vote sometime next month. The Senate already passed a bill nearly unanimously — the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act — last month, but the House hasn’t taken action on it. 

Inside STAT: One step closer to a world without polio

Over the next two weeks, the world will take a huge step forward in eradicating polio: 155 countries will switch from their current polio vaccine to an updated one. Eradication of the disease has come a long way. In the 1980s, polioviruses crippled 350,000 children every year; this year, only 10 children have been paralyzed from polioviruses in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the two nations where the viruses still spread. But one part of the vaccine has caused problems, even causing a small number of cases of paralysis. The new vaccine aims to fix that. Between now and May 1, all the countries that use the oral polio vaccine (which doesn't, however, include the US) must switch to a new version. But the switch comes with risks, too. STAT infectious diseases reporter Helen Branswell explains here.

Why you forget what you're about to say, according to science

Science now has an answer to why something escapes your mind when it’s right on the tip of your tongue. Researchers think it has to do with your brain’s stop-start mechanism, which triggers your muscles to stop moving, like when you’re walking and you realize there’s a pole in front of you. Your brain tells your muscles to hit the brakes. In the same way, interruptions from the outside world can disrupt your brain.

The researchers looked at a cluster of neurons in an area of the brain called the subthalamic nucleus (STN) in 20 healthy patients and seven Parkinson’s patients. They gave participants a memory test and, from time to time, interrupted them with different sounds, like a beep or a bird's chirps.  The researchers saw that when unexpected sounds like the chirps triggered activity in the STN, people struggled to come up with their original thought. That suggests researchers should look deeper into the STN in studying Parkinson’s disease — which can cause slowed muscle movement and even tremors — to see if there’s a way to hack the brain’s control over the stop-and-go function of muscles. The research will be published today in Nature Communications

sponsor content by convergence forum: for leaders in healthcare innovation

Can the biotech boom continue?

Venture capital money poured into the biotech field at a record pace in 2015 — nearly $9 billion for the year, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. And of last year’s 170 initial public offerings, 70 came from the healthcare sector. Nearly everyone expects 2016’s pace to slow — but how much? That’s one of the questions that will be explored at the Convergence Forum next month on Cape Cod. Join the discussion May 12th and 13th.

A sweet tooth is worse for kids' health than salty snacks 

Bad news for those of us with a terrible sweet tooth — new research in Pediatrics this morning suggests that kids who eat dessert even when they’re full are at higher risk of becoming overweight than kids who choose other, non-sugary snacks when they’re full. Around 200 moms had their toddlers fast for an hour, then eat a filling lunch. Then, kids were presented with sweet and salty snacks like chips and cookies. The kids who’d gone for the desserts went on to have steeper increases in body fat by the time they were 33 months old. But the study was limited: For instance, it only included low-income mothers and their children, who might have different dietary habits than children from middle-class and wealthy families.

What sharks and snails have to do with your health

Molly Ferguson for STAT
The new episode of the Signal podcast talks sharks and killer snails, and how they're a lot like cancer screenings and the flu. Catch up with it on your commute — listen here

Kidney-liver transplant might be better than just kidney transplant

Getting a kidney and liver transplant at the same time might be better in the long run than a kidney transplant alone, according to new research out of the Mayo Clinic. Researchers looked at kidney biopsies from patients who’d received consecutive liver and kidney transplants. They compared those biopsies against biopsies taken from patients who just had a kidney transplant. Of those patients, people who had a double transplant had a 7.1 percent rate of acute organ rejection after transplant, compared to 46 percent of comparable patients who just had a kidney transplant.

And five years out, the kidneys in double-transplant patients also filtered better than those in patients who received just a kidney transplant. The authors say that suggests transplanting a piece of liver could boost the long-term success of a kidney transplant. That's likely because having as healthy a liver as possible can minimize the circulation of antibodies from donor organs that can lead to organ rejection.

Broken a bone? You're more likely to break another

Breaking a bone once might predict whether you’re going to break a bone again, according to research culled from medical data of nearly 120,000 people in Iceland. A year after experiencing their first major osteoporotic fracture, people were three times more likely to experience a second fracture than those who’d never broken a bone. That increased risk continued to climb with age, and was much higher in women than in men. That might be due to differences in bone density between men and women, particularly postmenopausal women.  

What to read around the web today

  • Inside the movement to declare pornography a public-health crisis. The Atlantic
  • How the WHO's cancer agency confuses consumers. Reuters
  • Do animals have cholesterol problems like humans do? New York Times

More reads from STAT

  • Meet the heart surgeon who inspired a new TV drama. 
  • 5 reasons you might actually want to be infected by a parasite

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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