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Monday, December 28, 2015

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

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Good morning, folks — Megan here! Back to bringing you ahead of the big news in science and medicine this morning. 

New this morning: Asthma is down in US kids after decades on the rise

The asthma rate among kids in the US has fallen to just 8.3 percent, a drop that comes after decades of increasing prevalence of the condition, a new study to be published in Pediatrics this morning finds. Between 1980 and 1995, asthma rates doubled as awareness of the condition grew. The best guesses for the current decline: less air pollution and a leveling off of childhood obesity rates. 

How much more are cancer survivors shelling out for care? 

Cancer survivors have to cough up thousands of dollars in medical costs each year, and how much they spend depends on how old they are and what type of cancer they have, finds a report published Sunday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The priciest diagnosis? Colorectal cancer, which costs a whopping $8,657 more in medical costs each year for non-elderly survivors than their peers without colorectal cancer. The study combined out-of-pocket costs to patients and payments by insurers.

Alternative HIV treatment doesn't work on patients who've taken traditional drugs

An antibody treatment latches onto the HIV virus. (C. Bickel / Science Translational Medicine)
A therapeutic antibody that neutralizes many HIV-1 strains could work well in patients that haven’t been treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART), the conventional medications given after an HIV diagnosis, but results from a phase 1 clinical trial show the antibody doesn’t do much to boost treatment for patients who’ve already received ART. Read the findings here.

Pacemakers could help hearts by making them beat irregularly, too

This new finding sounds a little counterintuitive — using pacemakers to make the heart beat irregularly might actually strengthen it. In the study, researchers gave those with congestive heart failure — when the heart is dangerously weak, causing fluid to build up in the lungs — an irregular cardiac rhythm for six hours a day. This led to improvements in the structure of muscle fibers in the heart and less thinning of the heart muscle. The researchers think the switch from synchronized to unsynchronized heart rhythms could be improving the heart’s control over contractions on a cellular level. One caveat: the test was on dogs, so the technique still needs to be tried in humans to see if it works the same way.

Inside STAT: The long, fruitless quest for a pill to treat concussions

(Alex Hogan / STAT)

Hundreds of animal studies and more than 30 clinical trials have turned up nothing concrete in the search for a pill to protect the brain from the damage of a concussion. Dr. David Wright, an Emory neurologist who recently ran a study of a potential treatment that failed, said the research feels a lot like Sisyphus. “We constantly are pushing the rock up the hill, and it continuously rolls back down,” Wright said. What makes the treatment so evasive? The failures are due in large part to the complexity of individual brains and unique concussions, as contributor Cassandra Willyard explains in a new story in High Impact, a STAT series on the science of concussions. And for a thorough explanation of what exactly we know — and don’t know — about concussions, read this great rundown.

The hormone that halts your craving for holiday cookies

Think about all the cookies you’ve scarfed down in the past week when you read this — scientists think they know now what hormone curbs your cravings for sugar. Researchers say they’ve observed a hormone created by the liver that can flip off your urge to eat sugar in the brain. Read about the research in the new Cell Metabolism.

Lab Chat: The gene that keeps your chromosomes in check

When the number of chromosomes in a cell becomes unstable, that abnormality can lead to problems such as cancer, in which cells are frequently seen to have the wrong number of chromosomes. Scientists have now nailed down what gene — called NORAD — helps maintain the right number of chromosomes in a cell. Here’s what lead researcher Dr. Joshua Mendell of UT Southwestern told me about the research, published in the new Cell.

How does the gene regulate the number of chromosomes in a cell?

It's a little bit indirect. The gene regulates a different protein in the cell, and what this protein does is it turns down the levels of other genes in the cell, like thousands of genes. And many of the genes that it turns down are important for the ability of the cell to properly divide chromosomes.

What happens when the gene runs into problems?

When NORAD is disrupted, the protein becomes too active, it turns down the other genes, and when those genes aren't at the proper levels, it can cause problems in the division of cells, like in cancer cells, which are unable to properly divide chromosomes.

Putting the brakes on a protein that causes metabolic problems like diabetes

A treatment that blocks a protein tied to obesity trips up some of the metabolic problems caused by diabetes, new research from Harvard shows. The protein — called aP2 — regulates blood sugar in the body, and often turns up in higher levels in obese people and individuals with metabolic problems such as diabetes or heart disease. The protein is secreted by fat cells, so scientists turned their drug development work toward attacking the proteins coming out of those cells with antibodies. In a mouse model created to resemble both genetic and dietary causes of metabolic problems, the antibodies lowered blood sugar levels and reduced fat buildup in the liver.

What to read around the web today

  • At Theranos, many strategies and snags. Wall Street Journal
  • States deny pricey hepatitis C drugs to Medicaid patients. NPR
  • State-level brawls over Medicaid point to a bigger issue. New York Times

More reads from STAT

Thanks, as always, for reading! Until tomorrow, 

Megan

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