Morning Rounds Megan Thielking

Good morning! STAT reporter Andrew Joseph here filling in for Megan. To the health and medicine news we go:

FDA chief unveils new office for drug reviews

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb will tell the biotech bigwigs at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco today how the agency plans to modernize the review of drug applications. The new Office of Drug Evaluation Science will be tasked with creating a standard way to include personalized medicine and digital data in those reviews. Gottlieb will be beamed in for the talk, though — he canceled plans to go to the Bay Area to help the FDA’s limited staff navigate the continuing partial government shutdown.
Meanwhile, seven former FDA commissioners are calling for the agency to become independent from HHS, which, the commissioners argue, would free it from political whims. 

Zika blood screening policy not cost-effective

During the Zika outbreak in Latin America, U.S. health regulators decided to screen donated blood for the mosquito-borne virus. But according to a new study, the policy was not cost-effective. Moreover, the researchers ran a simulation and found that such a policy would only be cost-effective during mosquito season in Puerto Rico and never in U.S. states. The simulation found that screening would only prevent one case of congenital Zika syndrome (the defects in children who are infected during gestation) every 33 years in Puerto Rico — and one case every 176 years in the 50 states. The FDA has eased back on screening rules — allowing pools of blood to be sampled instead of individual donations — but the researchers say the policy still isn't cost-effective.

How brain tumors damage surrounding tissue

Brain tumors cause “solid stress” — a compression of nearby tissue that can kill cells and result in some of the symptoms patients with brain cancer exhibit. In a new study, researchers set out to find what types of tumors are more likely to cause solid stress and if it can be alleviated. By both imaging patients' brain tumors and investigating tumors in mice, they found that tumors that remain a mass cause more stress than tumors that snake out into healthy tissue. These “nodular” tumors were more likely to decrease the blood flow in neighboring vessels and damage nearby cells. The researchers also explored ways of relieving the compression and found that in mice, the drug lithium reduced the surrounding cellular damage the tumors caused.

Inside STAT: People who don’t respond to HIV meds overlooked by pharma, researchers


Nelson Vergel's immune system has not recovered despite antiretroviral therapies.

Antiretroviral therapies have revolutionized the lives of many people with HIV, keeping their viral loads down and restoring their immune health. But some people don’t see their immune systems bounce back, and their beaten-down defenses leave them vulnerable to heart attacks, cancers, and dangerous infections. What’s more, drug companies aren’t pursuing new treatments that could help these so-called immunologic non-responders. “The field is moving on,” says Nelson Vergel, who has been dealing with HIV for 35 years. STAT contributor Apoorva Mandavilli has more here about how Vergel and a group of other HIV/AIDS activists are trying to change that.  

Need to study a parasite? Infect a grad student

Some graduate students subsist on ramen, some volunteer to get infected by worms. In a case report, researchers at the Netherlands' Leiden University Medical Center describe infecting two students with Schistosoma worms in an attempt to better understand how Katayama syndrome — an illness that arises after infection by Schistosoma larvae — is caused. The students were infected by male worms (chosen so the worms couldn’t lay eggs in their hosts) and developed symptoms including fever and headaches a few weeks later. The cases indicated that it is not the parasite's eggs that cause the syndrome and suggested the culprit might be antigens on the developing worms. Hope the students got some extra credit.

E-cigs boost flavored tobacco use among students

E-cigarettes appear to have driven an increase in the prevalence of middle and high school students who use flavored tobacco products, according to a new JAMA Pediatrics study. Researchers studied surveys from more than 78,000 students and found that, among students who use tobacco, the prevalence of those using flavored products dropped from 69.4 to 57.7 percent from 2014 to 2016. The figure increased in 2017, however, to 63.6 percent — a jump researchers attributed to the growing use of flavored e-cigarettes. The new data arrive as federal regulators aim to crack down on youth e-cigarette use.

What to read around the web today

  • Opinion: The Apple Watch 4 is an iffy atrial fibrillation detector in those under 55. STAT
  • Is marijuana as safe as we think? The New Yorker
  • Supreme Court seems unlikely to overhaul popular drug industry legal strategy. STAT Plus
  • A $20,243 bike crash: Zuckerberg hospital's aggressive tactics leave patients with big bills. Vox
  • Magic mushroom decriminalization just got 8,000 signatures closer to being on Denver's ballot. The Denver Post

Thanks for reading! 


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Tuesday, January 8, 2019


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