Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine this morning. 

NIH launches a push to accelerate genome editing

The NIH is making a new push to get genome editing technologies like CRISPR-Cas9 into the clinic faster. Scientists have made huge strides in genome editing research in recent years, but the field still faces big hurdles before that kind of technology can be used broadly to treat or prevent genetic diseases. Now, the NIH is planning to dole out $190 million in research grants over the next six years to speed things along.

The agency is specifically interested in funding research to develop better genome editing tools and better tests to make sure they’re safe and effective. The caveat: The NIH says it has enough money to launch the program right now, but funding over the next few years is contingent on annual budget appropriations.

Safe injection sites get the green light in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is pushing forward with a plan to support the opening of safe injection sites where people can use drugs under medical supervision. The decision, announced by Philadelphia officials yesterday, puts the city on the path to become the first in the nation to establish an officially sanctioned safe injection site as opioid overdose deaths in the city continue to soar. An estimated 1,200 people died of opioid overdoses in Philadelphia last year — which is four times higher than the city’s homicide rate, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. A handful of cities are currently considering the idea of sanctioning safe injection spots — including Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City — but no U.S. city has actually established such a site. 

U.S. ranks 27th in environmental health rankings

the u.s. is lower on the rankings than several other wealthy nations. (Environmental performance index)

Poor air quality is the biggest environmental threat to public health, according to a new analysis out from Yale and Columbia. The report looks at the environmental health of every country, accounting for everything from air pollution to access to clean water. Here’s a rundown of the rankings:

  • Switzerland is the greenest country in the world, figuratively speaking. Switzerland’s national strategy to control air pollution has helped to dramatically improve air quality in the country. France, Denmark, Malta, and Sweden rounded out the top five.

  • The U.S. comes in 27th place, scoring well on sanitation and air quality, but scoring poorly on deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and other factors. That leaves the U.S. lower on the list than many other industrialized nations, including the U.K., Japan, and Canada.

  • India and Bangladesh are at the bottom of the rankings, along with Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nepal. It’s worth pointing out that some of the lower-ranking nations face broader issues right now, including war.

Inside STAT: As hospital chains grow, local services shrink

It’s easy to see when most hospitals close. The equipment is hauled away, doctors and nurses leave, and once-bustling buildings are shuttered. But there’s a fate for some U.S. hospitals that’s harder to see — across the country, conglomerates that control a growing share of the hospital market are changing how they run their businesses. That means eliminating maternity units, complicated surgeries, and intensive care units. Many hospitals have seen their entire inpatient departments closed in recent years. Hospital execs see these cuts as sound business decisions. But the changes also mean local hospitals are losing revenue and jobs that sustain their communities. STAT’s Casey Ross has more here.

A fetus's kicks grow stronger as pregnancy progresses

Those soccer kicks in the womb actually get stronger as a pregnancy progresses, researchers report in a new study. Movement in utero is crucial for bones and muscles to develop, but we haven’t completely understood how those kicks change throughout pregnancy. So scientists captured those fetal calisthenics using an MRI and then used computer models to calculate the strength of a kick and the stress it puts on growing bones. The kicks keep getting stronger after 20 weeks, until around 30 weeks, when they start to become less forceful again. The researchers say their findings will shed some light on what happens when there are abnormal movements in utero, which have been tied to several muscle and skeletal disorders.

Injectable skin whitening kits recalled

A New Jersey company is recalling injectable skin whitening kits — some of which claimed to contain human placenta — months after a federal judge ordered the company to stop selling some of its products and recall those already on the market. Last fall, the Justice Department filed a complaint against Flawless Beauty on behalf of the FDA, alleging that the company was selling unapproved and mislabeled drugs that could pose serious risks. Health officials said they were concerned about the sterility of the products and the health risks of injecting unapproved drugs, which include infection and damage to blood vessels and nerves.

What to read around the web today

  • States face costly conundrum: how to treat inmates with hepatitis C. Kaiser Health News
  • Opioid commission member: Our work is a 'sham.' CNN
  • Trump’s global gag rule goes far beyond abortion, groups say. Associated Press

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


Have a news tip or comment you want to send me?

Send me an email