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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Tuesday, Morning Rounds readers! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine this morning. 

The many health bills making the rounds in Congress

Congress is back in session, and lawmakers are busy splitting their attention between health care bills. The Senate committee that handles veterans affairs is considering more than a dozen bills designed to revamp health care for veterans this afternoon. Among the goals of the new bills: require the VA to cover the costs of live organ donation even when the donor isn’t a veteran, mandate coverage of veterans’ visits to non-VA urgent care centers, and recruit more physician assistants to work at the VA.

The bigger fish to fry right now, of course, is the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the bill to replace Obamacare. GOP leaders are hoping to piece together a new bill and get a vote in before the August recess. But Republican lawmakers remain fiercely divided on what needs to be fixed to win their support. There still isn’t a budget office score for the latest tweaks, either. 

New evidence that brain training doesn't boost cognition

Doubts about the benefits of brain training just keep piling up. In the latest example, researchers testing Lumosity — a brain-training app marketed as a way to boost cognitive function — found it didn’t have any real effect on decision-making or cognitive ability. Researchers tested two groups of 64 young adults each. One group played Lumosity games for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, for 10 weeks. The other group played online video games on the same schedule. The researchers ran decision-making and cognitive tests before and after the training regimen. Lumosity didn’t have any effect on decision-making. And though both groups showed improvement in the cognitive tests, Lumosity’s specific brain training didn’t make any more of an impact than other video games.

When Zika and HIV co-occur during pregnancy

The NIH is launching a new study to take a closer look at the potential risks to a pregnant woman and her fetus when a woman is infected with both Zika virus and HIV. Right now, researchers don’t know much about the two infections co-occurring. What they'll study: whether Zika infection interferes with drugs given to prevent HIV from being passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, and if one infection makes a woman more susceptible to the other. The research, sponsored by the NIH, will include pregnant women with HIV only, Zika only, or both viruses. Researchers are enrolling those women in Puerto Rico right now, and will soon start finding study participants in the continental U.S., too.

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Inside STAT: The doctor that inspiried a new Netflix film

An upcoming Netflix movie called “To the Bone” stars Keanu Reeves as an edgy doctor who runs a group home for people with anorexia and who often turns to bold gestures and profanity to get his point across. For Dr. Richard Mackenzie, the real-life doctor who inspired the character, watching the portrayal of himself is like looking into a mirror — a very, very cloudy mirror. Mackenzie was among the early proponents of techniques to treat eating disorders that are now standard, and actually provided treatment to the film’s writer and director, Marti Noxon, who had anorexia and bulimia. STAT’s Rebecca Robbins has more here.

A spider-inspired fiber that can absorb shock

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behind-the-scenes look at the making of the new spiderman. (University of cambridge)

Taking a page from spiderwebs, architects and chemists have joined forces to create a stretchy, strong bungee cord of sorts that could potentially have a range of medical applications. The fibers are spun out of a hydrogel, a material that’s mostly water with a bit of silica and cellulose mixed in. A machine pulls the hydrogel apart, the water evaporates, and scientists are left with super-thin threads. Those fibers are biocompatible and are created from the same types of gels being tested for drug delivery. A bonus feature: The fibers are good at absorbing and dissipating energy. "There are plenty of biomedical opportunities to develop these fibers to absorb energy or shocks," creator and architect Darshil Shah of University of Cambridge tells me, including in protective gear such as helmets. 

A little piece of surgical history is for sale

If you’re in the market for some Revolutionary War-era surgical tools or are just looking to lighten up your wallet, you’re in luck. Two amputation kits from Continental Army surgeon Dr. John Warren — who went on to found Harvard Medical School — are up for auction. Start counting the coins in your piggy bank: They’re valued at roughly $50,000 and are up for online bidding through tomorrow.

Teach a baby to feed itself, weight gain doesn't change

Letting infants feed themselves solid foods doesn’t reduce the risk they’ll go on to be overweight like pediatric researchers hoped it might, according to a new study. Researchers had 105 women exclusively breastfeed their babies until six months with the help of a lactation consultant, then had those infants feed themselves solid food. Another 101 women used a more traditional mix of breastfeeding and, when ready, spoon-feeding the baby solid foods. Letting babies take the lead on feeding didn’t seem to make any difference in their risk of becoming overweight by age 2. One caveat: The study only included infants in families that were relatively well-off, so it’s not clear whether those results would apply to all infants. 

What to read around the web today

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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