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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Good morning. Elizabeth Cooney here, pinch hitting for Shraddha. We have some news for you:

‘Science was on the ballot’ — and public health lost

Before who won the presidency is decided, returns have already come in for another vote: The 2020 election results were a disaster for public health. More than 67 million Americans appear to agree with a president who called the nation’s top scientists “idiots,” openly mocked mask-wearing, and insisted states must be “liberated” from lockdowns. In preliminary exit polls, just 14% of Republicans voters surveyed said the coronavirus pandemic was the deciding factor in how they cast their vote, despite the fact that the virus has killed more than 233,000 Americans and is spreading unabated across the nation. “Science was on the ballot and this means that a significant portion of America doesn’t want science,” Holden Thorp, the editor-in-chief of Science tells STAT. “Science is now something for a subset of America.”

Covid-19 and air pollution may make a bad mix

There are many known risk factors for more serious outcomes in people who become infected with the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. A person’s age, race and ethnicity, whether they can work from home, and whether they live in crowded housing can increase the odds of contracting and then dying from the disease. A new study comparing Covid-19 death rates and levels of air pollution in U.S. counties draws a line between both metrics, suggesting poor air quality could heighten the severity of Covid-19 symptoms and worsen prognoses for the respiratory disease. While unable to establish causation, the researchers note that even a slight spike in fine particulate matter could be associated with an 11% increase in a county’s Covid-19 death toll.

Alzheimer’s drug candidate may be headed for approval

The long and so-far discouraging road to new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease has taken a new turn. In documents released yesterday ahead of Friday’s highly anticipated FDA advisory committee meeting on aducanumab, reviewers appeared to look favorably on approval of the Biogen drug, while not explicitly saying so. The backstory: Two pivotal studies had different results, and a common side effect might have clued in patients on whether they received treatment or placebo. There was one skeptical voice on the committee: A statistical reviewer did not agree that aducanumab’s sole positive trial could outshine the negative one. If approved, it would be the first drug to reduce cognitive decline by targeting and eliminating clumps of beta-amyloid believed to destroy the brain.

Inside STAT: Black women face challenges in getting care after cancer diagnosis

Tamiko Byrd at her home in Sugar Land, Texas. (Michael Starghill for stat)

Tamiko Byrd was only 43 when she was told she had stage 4 breast cancer. The diagnosis shook her to her core. So did the prospect of navigating cancer treatment. “I wondered, how can I afford this?” said Byrd, who is Black. “How am I going to take care of my young children? Am I going to live?” She missed a year of medical appointments until she was eligible for Medicaid. Now cancer-free, her experience mirrors the challenges many Black women face after a breast cancer diagnosis in the U.S., experts tell STAT’s Priyanka Runwal. Recent research shows barriers to health care meant more Black women delayed initial treatment after breast cancer diagnosis, and on average, they had longer treatment than white women. Read more here.

How immune cells from the gut also protect the brain

You’ve heard of the blood-brain barrier, a line of defense that keeps the central nervous system safe from infection. A new study in mice and human samples says we can thank the same cells that line our intestines for providing that kind of protection in the meninges, three layers of watertight tissue surrounding the brain. First, scientists sequenced immune cells found in the meninges that make antibodies against viruses or bacteria, and then they traced them to the gut. That surprised them, but it also makes sense: “Even a minor breach of the intestinal barrier will allow bugs to enter the bloodstream, with devastating consequences if they're able to spread into the brain,” study co-author Menna Clatworthy said in a statement.

Working memory: Women in the paid workforce had slower cognitive decline

Women who worked for pay outside the home in early adulthood or middle age, whether they were single or married, whether they had children or not, had better memory later in life than women who were not part of the workforce, a new paper suggests. More than 4,000 women, who were 57 at the study’s start, were tested periodically over 12 years. After accounting for race and ethnicity, education, and socioeconomic status in childhood, the average rate of memory decline after age 60 was 50% slower among women who worked for pay. Gaps in employment did not seem to make a difference, the authors said, noting their observational study as a whole can’t prove cause and effect. But they did venture that mental stimulation from paid work could promote social engagement, which has been linked to later-life cognitive health.

What to read around the web today

  • A new Hippocratic oath asks doctors to fight racial injustice and misinformation. NPR
  • ‘Landmark’ study resolves a major mystery of how genes govern human height. Science
  • Denmark will kill all farmed mink, citing coronavirus infections. New York Times
  • Face masks are again in short supply as Covid-19 cases surge. Wall Street Journal
  • In virus era, bubbles provide game-changing lessons learned. Associated Press

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Thursday, November 5, 2020

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