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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Thursday! Here's what you need to know about science and medicine today. For more STAT newsletters, sign up here. 

STAT-Harvard poll finds docs blamed for addiction epidemic

More than two in five Americans say that the government isn’t spending enough money on treatment programs for people addicted to prescription painkillers or heroin, finds a new poll conducted by STAT and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. That sentiment was shared across party lines. And more than a third of people polled said doctors are to blame for the growing problem of opiate addiction in the country. Read the full findings of the poll here.

Strategy for preventing pre-term birth doesn't work

A method of preventing preterm birth — placing a support device into a woman’s cervix — doesn’t help as researchers hoped it might, finds a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. More than 70 percent of neonatal and infant deaths are due to premature birth, and the study’s authors wanted to test whether putting supports into women with short cervixes would lower the rate of premature birth. In the group that received the cervical support, 12 percent of women gave birth before 34 weeks; that was actually higher than the control group figure of 11 percent. There also wasn't a significant difference between the two groups in terms of infant death or other adverse events.

Potential bone drug actually makes arthritis worse in mice

Scans showing the effects of the drug on joint inflammation. (C. Wehmeyer, et. al, Science Translational Medicine)
A drug currently in clinical trials to treat osteoporosis could actually make joint problems worse in people with arthritis. The drug blocks the activity of a protein called sclerostin that stunts bone growth. Researchers wanted to see if it might help the joint inflammation that causes some types of arthritis, too. But when they tested the drug in a mouse model, blocking sclerostin actually made joint damage worse in mice with inflammatory arthritis. Read the new research in Science Translational Medicine.

sponsor content by heart rhythm society

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) quality improvement (QI) innovation grants

The Heart Rhythm Society, in partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (BIPI), is seeking grant applications to support innovation and advancement in atrial fibrillation and stroke prevention research via demonstration projects/research by providing up to $500,000. Finalists will present their proposals to an expert panel at Heart Rhythm 2016 in San Francisco, California, on May 5, 2016. The winner will go on to present their outcomes at Heart Rhythm 2017 in Chicago. Learn more and apply by April 18.

How to hack your basketball bracket with science

Here’s an interesting way to go about your March Madness bracket — see how much players’ circadian rhythms will be thrown off by the location of their games. That is the strategy of one University of Michigan neurologist who put the science of sleep into her picks. Her prediction? The well-rested players at University of Southern California will take their team to the top.

More proof that a healthy heart makes a healthy brain 

A healthy heart might help you maintain a healthy brain as you age, finds new research in the Journal of the American Heart Association. A group of about 1,000 participants had their cognitive ability measured once at the beginning of the study, and then again six years later. Researchers also took stock of patients’ good heart health characteristics, like not smoking, being at an ideal weight, and having a good resting glucose level. “The more of these you had, the better you [cognitively] performed,” said Hannah Gardener, an epidemiologist at the University of Miami and one of the study’s authors. That association was seen across a racially diverse set of participants, Gardener pointed out. The bad news: Very few people had all seven signs of good heart health.

Lab Chat: Creating stem cells with just half a genome

Scientists have created stem cells that have just half of a genome but can still divide and differentiate — a pretty impressive feat. There are only two types of so-called haploid human cells, or those that have just 23 chromosomes: sperm and egg cells. And they can't divide. But haploid stem cells could make testing drugs a lot easier. Here’s what researcher Ido Sagi of Hebrew University told me about the work, published in Nature.

How did you create these stem cells?

We generated haploid human embryonic stem cells by taking haploid human eggs and triggering them to divide into embryonic cells without fertilization. These embryonic cells included cells that remained haploid, just like the egg cell itself. And after detecting these cells in embryonic stem cell cultures, we could also isolate the haploid cells by labeling their DNA.

How could those stem cells be used?

As pluripotent cells, these haploid stem cells could be differentiated into many cell types of the body, including nerve cells, heart muscle cells and gut cells. ... The most important application of haploid human stem cells has to do with genetic screens. In diploid cells, mutating just one copy of a gene usually does not produce a biological effect because there is always a second copy that serves a "backup." Learning about the genetic basis of how drugs work in treating certain diseases requires a haploid genome with only one copy of each gene — where every mutation would have an effect that we will be able to learn something from.

Listen to this on your lunch break

(Molly Ferguson for STAT)
The newest episode of our podcast, Signal, explores how much we're willing to pay for a new, innovative generation of cures that, in some cases, can come with a massively steep price tag. Listen here

Zapping the brain could speed stroke recovery 

Electric brain stimulation might boost recovery for stroke patients, according to new results from a small clinical trial of 24 stroke patients published in Science Translational Medicine. Patients were split into two groups for a nine-day rehab program — they either received non-invasive brain stimulation known as transcranial direct current stimulation along with physical therapy, or they received a control treatment. The patients who had the combo of brain stimulation and therapy showed better levels of upper limb mobility and other motor skills for at least three months after the rehab finished. 

What to read around the web today

  • Drug company payments reflected in doctors' brand-name prescribing. ProPublica / NPR
  • It's quite difficult to find out if there is lead in your water. USA Today
  • Pigeons in tiny backpacks are measuring air pollution. Washington Post
  • The red-hot debate over transmissible Alzheimer's. Nature

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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