Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

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Good morning, everyone! I'm here to get you ahead of the day's health and science news.

Watch today: A new autism plan from Hillary Clinton 

Hillary Clinton is expected to roll out an autism plan today aiming to reduce the stigma around developmental disabilities. The plan is said to push for private health insurance coverage for treatment and care related to autism. Also part of the plan: a nationwide campaign to promote early screening, an initiative to provide resources to people with autism after they're too old to access school-based services, and an act to ban schools' use of restraints on children with autism, the Tampa Bay Times reports

Britain braces for a massive doctors' strike

The British government is seeking to hold talks with doctors who've announced they'll strike next week. The National Health Service is bracing for its first doctors' strike in decades as junior physicians — who make up about half of the doctors in the NHS — say they haven't seen enough progress in talks about pay and work conditions, Reuters reported this morning. 

Medical debt makes a big impact on many with insurance

Roughly 20 percent of insured people under 65 have a tough time paying their medical bills, according to a new poll out this morning from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the New York Times. In comparison, 53 percent of uninsured said they have problems paying those bills. The Upshot at the NYT gives a personal look at the devastating effects of medical debt by sharing reader notes on the issue here

High doses of vitamin D don't help seniors —  and may actually hurt them

I've been highlighting negative study results in recent weeks, and here's a notable new one: Doctors had hoped that high doses of vitamin D might improve physical mobility in the elderly — but turns out, the treatment doesn’t work, a study in JAMA Internal Medicine finds. In fact, accidental falls were actually more common in patients prescribed a higher dose of vitamin D, with 67 percent of them experiencing a fall, compared to 48 percent in the normal dose group. The randomized trial followed 200 adults over the age of 70 for a year. The analysis did find that nearly 60 percent of study participants were vitamin D deficient to start with, which suggests they could get a boost from taking a normal daily dose of vitamin D.

A new way to classify the cells that make your brain go round

A peek at a cool visual explanation of the new brain research. (Allen Institute for Brain Science)

Scientists need to know what kind of cells are in the brain to understand its inner workings, but that’s proved incredibly complex. A new study published in Nature Neuroscience takes a step in the right direction. It catalogs 49 distinct cell types in one part of a mouse brain. The research pinpointed some brand-new, unique types of cells scientists previously didn’t know existed, like  excitatory neurons. It also confirmed the presence of some well-known cell types. “If you analyze all the genes expressed in a cell — there are thousands of them — you can classify cells very well,” lead researcher Bosiljka Tasic of the Allen Brain Institute explained to me. But it's still not clear exactly what most of those cell types do, Tasic said.

Also interesting: Teasing out individual cell types is harder to do in adult human brains. “The older the brain gets, the more tightly connected and kind of solid it becomes,” Tasic explained. “Isolating live cells from this highly entangled structure is quite difficult.”

Inside STAT: Flushing out the toxic myths about detox water 

Popular health personalities from Dr. Oz to Jillian Michaels tout water steeped with fresh fruit as an easy, sippable way to “flush out toxins.” But can detox water really make a difference? “More water makes the body’s job of flushing toxins easier,” Cornell nutrition and chemistry professor Thomas Brenna told me, “but I can get that water from my tap.” No cucumber slices needed. More on the trend — and the science — here.

This journal wants to tackle science's credibility crisis head-on

Billions of dollars go down the drain every year funding scientific research that turns out to be unreproducible, and that’s causing a crisis in public confidence, according to a new editorial from PLOS Biology. The journal's solution: A new section featuring research on scientific research. It kicks off with two interesting articles: One looks at reproducibility and transparency in biomedical research. (Not good.) Another discusses the lack of sufficient sample size data on rats and mice used in hundreds of cancer and stroke studies. We’ll be watching to see what else this new effort turns up. For more on the topic, listen to this recent Signal podcast which took on the reproducibility crisis. 

What Morning Rounds readers think will be big in 2016

Here are more reader predictions for the coming year: 

“I’d add single-cell genomics as a major up-and-coming technology that is going to enable rapid progress in understanding topics as varied as the evolution of the human brain and the breakaway events that produce metastatic cancers.”

-Nicholas Weiler, public information officer, University of California, San Francisco

“As more providers and Medicare patients become aware that CMS is now paying providers to do virtual visits for patients with chronic conditions (a new development in 2015), we will see a greater usage of telemedicine.”

-Carla Smith, executive vice president, HIMSS North America

“Engineered T-cells + Gene-editing = Universal therapies in which T-cells from a single healthy donor could be used to treat thousands of cancer patients across multiple types of cancer. We believe that the next ‘big thing’ in cancer research will be combined therapies that improve upon what can be achieved using individual technologies.” 

-Chuck Wilson, CEO, Unum Therapeutics

What to read around the web today

  • What one man learned from obsessively tracking his vital stats for nearly 50 years. Vox
  • Who pays the medical bills for victims of violent crime? Yakima Herald
  • An Editas IPO could test the strength of the biotech market. Boston Globe

More reads from STAT

  • After concussions, a young football player pleads for his brain to go to science.
  • Think your job is hard? Try squirting a vaccine up a camel's nose.  
  • A singing staffer eases stressful hospital corridors. 

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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