Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Here's what you need to know about science and medicine this morning. 

President Trump proposes a boost to health funding 

Congress is kicking off the process this week of considering how much money to dole out to each federal agency, following the release of President Trump's own budget outline yesterday. Here's what the president proposed:

  • NIH and FDA funding: Trump proposed raising the budget at both the NIH and the FDA — a sharp turn from his proposed budget last year, which suggested slashing federal funds to both agencies.
  • Drug prices: The president released a plan to bring down high prescription drug prices as part of the administration's budget proposal. But it didn't make any mention of what HHS Secretary Alex Azar said is "the most important thing": lowing the actual list prices that drug makers set for their products. More on the drug pricing plan here
  • The catch: The proposal isn't much more than a suggestion to Congress. Azar is headed to testify in the House tomorrow and in the Senate on Thursday about the budget proposals.  

A strong case for why the NIH should fund basic science


A boost to NIH funding might mean a boost to drug development, too. In a new paper, researchers at Bentley University scoured millions of research papers for mentions of the 210 new drugs approved between 2010 and 2016 or their molecular targets. Their conclusion: NIH-funded research contributed to the science that underlies every one of those drugs, either directly or indirectly. The rundown:

  • The NIH chipped in billions. More than $100 billion in NIH funding went toward research that contributed, either directly or indirectly, to the drugs approved between 2010 and 2016. 

  • The bulk of funding was for basic science. More than 90 percent of the publications were related to the biological targets of the drugs. 

  • That drives home the need for funding. "Knowing the scale of the investment in the basic science leading to new medicines is critical to ensuring that there is adequate funding for a robust pipeline of new cures in the future,” Dr. Fred Ledley, one of the study’s authors, tells me.

Doctors tackle thorny questions around assisted death

Doctors and ethicists are gathering today to talk about the complicated legal and ethical questions surrounding physician-assisted death. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is convening the meeting to look at the particular challenges clinicians face when it comes to assisted death, like what doctors should do if a patient requests aid in death but the physician is personally opposed to the practice. Five states and D.C. have passed laws legalizing physician-assisted death, and activists are pushing to pass similar legislation in other states.

Sponsor content by The Jackson Laboratory

Forget me not: Living with early on-set Alzheimer’s

Jackie Frisk can no longer recall how many children she has, but she can still play the piano beautifully. This strange juxtaposition is one of many changes that have come with the progression of her Alzheimer’s disease. Click here to learn more about how researchers at JAX are helping the fight against Alzheimer’s.

This tiny robot targets a tumor's blood supply


the nanorobot stops blood from feeding into a tumor. (JASON DREES / ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY)

Scientists are trying a new tactic to take on tumors: sending in teeny tiny robots to cut off their blood supply. The nanorobots are made from a flat sheet of folded-up DNA with two key substances on the surface: a blood-clotting enzyme called thrombin and a molecule that goes after a protein produced only on the surface of tumor cells. The scientists rolled up the nanorobots and injected them into mice with cancer, where they shuttled through the bloodstream to tumors and exposed the blood-clotting thrombin to starve the cancer's blood supply. The tumors shrank in response — though the research is still a long way off from being tested in human patients.

Inside STAT: Trial to test brain implants for opioid addiction

There’s a growing arsenal of therapies to treat opioid addiction, from patches and pills to over-the-ear electrodes and virtual reality headsets. But a clinical trial slated to start later this year could be the first in the U.S. to test a much more invasive approach than any currently in use: deep brain stimulation. The therapy requires doctors to implant electrodes in a patient’s brain to regulate the activity of neurons, kind of like how a pacemaker keeps the heart’s rhythm in check. The trial is the brainchild of Dr. Ali Rezia, a neurosurgeon hired by West Virginia University to battle the epidemic with new types of technology. But the path to market is fraught with challenges — STAT’s Max Blau has more here.

How two common seizure drugs stack up

Two drugs are commonly prescribed for infants with epilepsy — but one of them seems to be much more effective than the other, a new study finds. Doctors looked at 155 infants who received either levetiracetam or phenobarbital for nonsyndromic epilepsy. After six months of treatment, 40 percent of infants who took levetiracetam didn’t need a second drug to control their seizures. They’d also become seizure-free within three months of starting the drug. Just 16 percent of the infants on phenobarbital hit those same outcomes. The researchers say their findings suggest a shift in practice might help get seizures under control faster for more infants.

What to read around the web today

  • How protein conquered America. Eater 
  • He took a drug to get aids. Then he couldn't get disability insurance. New York Times
  • Ethical questions over decision to give children with asthma a placebo. Boston Globe

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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