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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Happy Pi Day! Hope there's some delicious pie — or exciting math — in your day. Now, to the news!

Top scientists call for a moratorium on creating ‘CRISPR babies’

A group of 18 leading scientists from seven countries yesterday called for “a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing,” in which DNA in sperm, eggs, or early human embryos is genetically altered and the changes get passed on to subsequent generations. The moratorium, which the scientists say should be in place for at least five years, comes on the heels of the controversial work by Chinese scientist He Jiankui, who used CRISPR to edit the genomes of twin girls while they were still embryos. CRISPR developers Feng Zhang and Emmanuelle Charpentier are among those urging the moratorium, published in a letter in Nature, but other big names, such as UC Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna, are conspicuously absent from the author list — pointing to the divide among experts on the wisdom of a such a move. Read more.

Fights over Medicaid work requirements head to court

The Trump administration is in federal court this morning defending new and proposed rules in two states that require Medicaid recipients to meet certain work requirements. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Arkansas: Some 18,000 people have lost their coverage as a result of new work requirements that went into effect for most last June. The rules say those who work fewer than 80 hours per month for three consecutive months are denied benefits. A group of Arkansans who have lost or are at risk of losing coverage due to the new requirements are challenging the rule, but the government hopes to dismiss the case.

  • Kentucky: Up to 136,000 people in the state may lose coverage if a similar rule goes into effect next month. The case was also challenged by Medicaid enrollees in Kentucky who say that the efforts to transform the Medicaid program "were arbitrary and capricious." National groups such as AARP and the American Medical Association have filed briefs supporting the plaintiffs' claims. 

On a related note, a new report funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation offers a broad look at who would be affected by SNAP work requirements that the USDA drafted last month. The agency has proposed limiting the number of areas that get exceptions to the rules based on high unemployment rates.

Dementia-related deaths have tripled in the U.S.

Over the past two decades, dementia-related deaths have jumped threefold, with more than 260,000 in 2017. Looking at data from 2000 to 2017, researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics found more women than men died from dementia-related causes, and that Alzheimer’s specifically accounted for almost half of the deaths. “Understanding patterns and trends in dementia mortality is an important component of addressing this public health challenge,” the researchers write. 

Inside STATHow Ned Sharpless vaulted to the top of the FDA

Every week for almost the past two years, NCI Director Ned Sharpless has gone 7 miles out of his way to play pick-up basketball with staff at the FDA. Now, as the incoming acting commissioner of the agency, he’ll be spending much more time there. STAT’s Lev Facher and Kate Sheridan have tracked Sharpless’ path to the top of one of the Trump administration’s most stable federal agencies — from his academic accomplishments to the two biotech companies he co-founded. Read more here.

Lab Chat: Inactive ingredients make up majority of commonly prescribed pills

(Diana Saville)

A new study finds that commonly prescribed pills in the U.S. are mostly made up of “inactive” ingredients — substances such as lactose or gluten that are not the main therapeutic component and that can sometimes trigger allergies and intolerances. Here’s what study author Dr. Giovanni Traverso, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and MIT, told me about the research, published in Science Translational Medicine.

Why do these inactive ingredients exist in pills?

Inactive ingredients are an essential part of the medication as they provide stability to the drug. They can also provide the appearance, or shelf-life stabilization, and sometimes they help absorb with the absorption of the drug.

What did you find in the study?

We found that 75 percent of tablets are taken up by inactive ingredients. ... We found in the literature that 38 or so of these ingredients have been associated with very specific allergic reactions. And of all the pills and tablets out there, [over] 90 percent have at least one of those ingredients. But I think the thing to emphasize is that these allergic reactions are rare.

Common antiparasitic effective in curbing malaria in children

Repeated doses of a commonly used antiparasitic can help cut down on malaria cases in children. Ivermectin is used to treat roundworm and other parasitic infections, but recent trials have been exploring using the drug against malaria. In a new study, roughly 600 children in Burkina Faso were divided into two groups: One group received the drug six times over 18 weeks, and another group received a single treatment of ivermectin and another antiparasitic. Children who got the multiple treatments had fewer malaria episodes on average and were twice as likely not to contract the disease as those who got the one combination dose. The authors write that further studies are needed to examine how ivermectin acts on the malaria-causing parasite.

What to read around the web today

  • At a big cardiology meeting, glitzy tech will collide with sober science. STAT
  • 44 deaths and rising: Kentucky's hepatitis A outbreak claims another victim. Louisville Courier-Journal
  • FDA rolls out vaping policy to make it harder for minors to buy flavored products. The Washington Post
  • Parents wanted their unvaccinated children in school. A judge said no. The New York Times
  • Righting the gender imbalance in autism studies. Spectrum News

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Thursday, March 14, 2019


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