Monday, March 14, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Monday! Kick off your week with the day's new and interesting stories in the world of life sciences. 

Members of Congress to talk concussions

Today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is bringing together a wide range of experts — including neurologists, public health experts, and sports medicine professionals — to talk concussions. The roundtable will focus on what we know and don’t know about what causes concussions, what damage they can do, and how we can best treat them. In attendance: Dr. Walter Koroshetz, the director of the NIH’s neurological disorders program, Dr. Mike Colston, a DOD official who focuses on traumatic brain injury, and Jeff Miller, who runs the safety and health policy arm of the NFL. Read more about the roundtable on the committee’s website here.

Cancer survivors experience significant financial burdens

Nearly 29 percent of cancer survivors experience financial burdens due to their diagnosis and treatment, finds a new study to be published soon in the journal Cancer. The study looked at data on 19.6 million cancer survivors in the US. Of those people, 21 percent reported being concerned about paying big medical bills, 8 percent said they’d borrowed money to pay those bills or gone into debt, and 1.5 percent reported filing for bankruptcy due to the costs of their illness. 

Financial concerns in turn take a heavy emotional toll. The analysis noted that cancer survivors who worried about money reported lower quality of life and were more worried about their cancer returning. 

Inside STAT: Is DIY gene-editing worth worrying about? 

Revolutionary gene-editing technique CRISPR-Cas9 has sparked widespread excitement — and also widespread concern — over its potential uses. Some of those concerns center on its ease of access, which some say could allow ill-intentioned biohackers to create species-specific weapons or disease-causing organisms. But is DIY CRISPR something we should actually be worried about? Experts in biosecurity, genetics, and medicine share their thoughts on the concept in a new STAT First Opinion.

How a tiny sponge could repair serious spine damage 

This polymer bone graft can expand to fit the spine. (Lichin Lu)

Scientists have created tiny, spongy grafts that could one day be placed into the spinal cord to fill missing spaces. Removing spinal tumors or other defects can leave gaps in a person’s spine that are tricky but important to fix. Typically, missing pieces of the spine are replaced by titanium rods or metal scaffolding of some kind, but those can be uncomfortable for some patients over time. The spongy graft is an interesting idea, but likely a long way off — the researchers say the next step is to try it in cadaver spines. The findings will be presented at the American Chemical Society’s upcoming meeting.

Health officials puzzled over bacterial outbreak in Wisconsin

An outbreak of bloodstream infections has killed 15 people and sickened 33 others in Wisconsin, and public health officials have pegged it to a species of bacteria called Elizabethkingia anophelis. What they haven't been able to figure out yet: how it's infecting so many people, or why it's turning out to be so deadly. More here

Preventive mastectomies are on the rise

Women who’ve been diagnosed with cancer in just one breast are increasingly opting to have their non-affected breast surgically removed. But the procedure — called contralateral prophylactic mastectomy — hasn't been shown to improve survival rates in women who are diagnosed with cancer in one breast. Still, use of the procedure tripled from 2002 to 2012, according to new data from a group of 500,000 women with breast cancer. In 2002, 3.9 percent of women diagnosed with cancer in one breast chose to undergo CPM. In 2012, that proportion had jumped to 12.7 percent.

But while the procedure hasn’t been shown to be of major benefit to women with cancer in just one breast, there is evidence that CPM increases survival rates among women who have the BRCA gene variant tied to breast cancer. That’s likely because they're at higher risk of developing cancer in both breasts at some point in their lives. The authors say the findings warrant more research into whether the risks of CPM stack up to the potential benefit. The research was published in Annals of Surgery.

Patients pick tablets over surgeons to explain surgeries

Which sounds better to you: having a doctor explain your surgery, or swiping through a video on a tablet? New research out of Australia suggests that patients absorb more info and generally prefer the prep for surgery when they're able to read about the procedure on their own using a tablet. The researchers took 88 patients getting a common kidney surgery and had them go through both methods of learning about the procedure. About 70 percent of people said they preferred watching a video to hearing about the surgery face-to-face.

What to read around the web today

More reads from STAT

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