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Friday, April 1, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Friday! Here's what you need to know to get ahead of the big stories in science and medicine today. 

Health officials gather to create Zika action plans  

A slew of federal, state, and local officials are gathering at the CDC today to figure out how to best prep their jurisdictions for the potential spread of Zika virus. Cases of Zika have been seen in most states, but so far there’s no indication of any local spread. But with summer mosquito season just around the corner, that risk is growing. At the Zika Action Plan Summit, which begins this morning, mosquito control officials and health experts from the White House and the CDC are trying to identify vulnerabilities that might make local transmission more likely — reporter Drew Joseph is at the summit and will keep you updated here

Lab Chat: A new suspect in celiac disease

A wheaty way to illustrate the genetic variation that can contribute to celiac disease. (Columbia Medicine)
Though about 40 percent of people carry a gene that makes them vulnerable to developing celiac disease — an autoimmune condition marked by bad reactions to dietary gluten — only a tiny fraction of people actually do. New research in Science gives a clue as to why that is. Here's what lead researcher Dr. Sankar Ghosh of Columbia told me about the findings. 

How did you study the genetic basis of celiac disease? 

GWAS, or genome wide association studies. You sequence DNA and RNA of patients to find variations that exist between individuals. If you look through tens of thousands of patients with celiac and compare them with tens of thousands of people who don’t have the disease, you might be able to potentially find risk factors.

What difference did you see that stuck out to you? 

One of the very important risk [factors] was a long noncoding RNA. This long non-coding RNA, under normal circumstances, [suppresses] the expression of certain inflammatory genes. But if you’re not healthy in this regard, this long noncoding RNA does not fold same way. And if it folds in a different way, it can no longer form the complex that is needed to suppress the inflammatory genes. So if you're unlucky enough both to be genetically predisposed and have an abnormality in a long, noncoding RNA, you might then have the symptoms of celiac disease. 

Could burnout contribute to a physician shortage? 

The more burned out doctors get, the more likely they are to cut back on their work hours, finds a new analysis out this morning in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The study surveyed Mayo Clinic physicians in 2011 and 2013. For every point increase that doctors reported on a seven-point scale of emotional exhaustion, the researchers found a 40 percent greater chance that those physicians would slash his or her work hours at some point over the next two years.

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Imagine “smart bombs” that fight cancer and reduce side effects

In the ongoing fight against cancer, new “smart bombs” target tumor cells but leave healthy cells alone, resulting in fewer side effects for America’s patients. These precision weapons are just some of the more than 800 leading-edge medicines and vaccines in development for cancer by America’s biopharmaceutical research companies. Learn more here.

Inside STAT: How an ovarian cancer study led to a major letdown

Patients and doctors have been waiting for years for the results of a major study on ovarian cancer. The study's approach, called IP chemo, had shown promise in previous research, and advocacy groups had since been fighting for patients to receive it. But at a gynecological oncology conference last week a roomful of attendees got shocking news: the treatment turned out to be no better than conventional methods. “You could have heard a pin drop,” said Dr. BJ Rimel, a gynecological oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Hospital who had enrolled patients in the study. More from STAT contributor Usha Lee McFarling here.  

Doctors in India respond to charges of corruption in health care

In 2014, the BMJ launched a campaign against corruption within the Medical Council of India —the establishment that oversees medical education and care — and now, doctors in India are addressing those concerns in the same journal’s pages. The council was briefly dissolved in 2010 after accusations of corruption (such as doctors receiving kickbacks for referrals) that left health services in some regions of India in shambles. But while the doctors writing in the new BMJ say they appreciated the journal's investigation, they also say the it misses one big problem with the system: “the complicity of ruling politicians, many of whom own private medical colleges.” Read the doctors’ response in full here.

Senators want to free up researchers' time for actual research

Researchers, like the rest of us, get tied up in the day-to-day administrative grind, and leaders of the Senate health committee want to fix that. Yesterday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Promoting Biomedical Research and Public Health for Patients Act, which aims to cut down on time-wasting by identifying unnecessary administrative procedures that keep scientists tied up. The bill also proposes to increase accountability among NIH officials by requiring that the directors of national research institutes be reappointed every five years. Being evaluated more often will keep higher-ups on their toes, the bill suggests.

Concussion concerns in rugby, horseback riding, and other sports

This morning’s issue of the journal Neurosurgical Focus has a big roundup of new concussion research. One study in particular that caught my eye: the most commonly reported cause of concussions for adults is horseback riding accidents.  Another study found that rugby players often think helmets are more effective than they actually are at preventing concussions, which could lead them to play more aggressively and up their chance of injury. For more on concussions, see STAT’s High Impact series here.

What to read around the web today

  • Theranos devices often failed accuracy requirements. WSJ
  • Scientists now know what the Zika virus looks like. The Verge
  • An experimental drug for eczema has cleared hurdles in major trials. Reuters

More reads from STAT

  • What you need to know about vaccines, autism, and the hubbub over "Vaxxed". 
  • This scientist works with tissue from aborted fetuses. Now Congress has come calling.
  • GSK is widening access to its medicines in poor countries. 

Thanks so much for reading! Back bright and early on Monday,


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