Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, folks! I'm here to get you ahead of the health care news of the day. For more STAT stories, like us on Facebook

New precision medicine trial targets pancreatic cancer

Today, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is announcing its answer to the chronic problem of how few adult cancer patients — just 3 percent — enroll in clinical trials testing experimental treatments. There’s a key reason for that shortcoming: Most trials only take patients looking for a “first line” therapy, but most patients have already had at least one treatment by the time they consider clinical trials. “There is a mismatch between what patients are looking for and the landscape of clinical trials,” said Lynn Matrisian, chief research officer of the network.

In what the group calls Precision Promise, 12 sites announced this morning will enroll patients in the first large-scale precision medicine trial for pancreatic cancer. Crucially, patients will be able to easily move between treatment options, called sub-studies, under the umbrella of a single Precision Promise trial. Patients will have their tumor molecularly profiled to identify possible therapy targets, be put on the treatment that has the best chance of success, and then can be switched to a different sub-study if that drug doesn’t help or stops working. Patients can start enrolling next spring. In an echo of the data-sharing championed by the White House’s cancer moonshot, all data from the 12 sites will be analyzed together and quickly released to researchers, Matrisian said.

Southerners take action to prevent Zika

People in the South seem to be taking the threat of Zika seriously. A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that Southerners are likely to report taking action to do away with mosquitoes in and around their homes. About 57 percent of Southerners say they’ve removed outdoor standing water, higher than any other region in the country. Nearly a quarter of residents in the South say they’ve had a pest control company spray outside their homes. Other common precautions: wearing mosquito repellent and avoiding travel to areas where Zika infection is a concern.

Tongue-on-a-chip could help muscular dystrophy research

Healthy muscle cells respond to stimulation on left, with cells affected by muscular dystrophy on the right. (Harvard seas, Wyss institute)

Scientists working on a muscle-on-a-chip model of muscular dystrophy took inspiration from a surprising source: the tongues of MD patients. It’s difficult to measure changes in muscle strength in an individual with MD because strength is highly variable over time. "Our strength can vary pretty significantly from day to day based on how much we ate [or] how much we slept," study author Peyton Nesmith of Harvard explained to me. "However, tongue strength is fairly stable over time on the basis of age and gender." 

The team of Harvard researchers set out to build a tongue-on-a-chip that could translate directly to the measures clinicians use to keep tabs on the disease. They used stem cells to grow skeletal muscle, then stimulated the chip to make it move like a tongue might. The researchers say the lab-grown tongues will help them understand how the disease’s progression affects strength — and help them study potential treatments.

Sponsor content by precisioneffect

Leveraging the science of storytelling to change health behaviors

It can take years for medical advances to be incorporated into care pathways. While the pace of scientific change continues at rapid speed, the forces that perpetuate the status quo in medical practice and human behavior are mighty foes. Circumventing those forces, to spark interest, trial and adoption begins by understanding just what underlies current choices. Boston medical marketing agency, precisioneffect, has spent nearly 40 years uncovering motivation to change the minds and behaviors of physicians, patients and caregivers. Some of those stories start here.

Inside STAT: Paying for donor breast milk like medicine

Breast milk can help reduce the risk of dangerous infections in premature or underweight infants, but mothers of premature babies aren’t always able to produce enough milk to provide for their newborns. That’s where donated breast milk comes in — but there’s no national mandate to make Medicaid or private insurance cover the cost. Now there’s a growing movement across the country to change that, with five states and the District of Columbia requiring Medicaid to cover the cost of donor breast milk for medically fragile preemies. STAT contributor Olivia Campbell has more here.

Mental health education added to NY curriculum

School teachers in New York will soon have to cover mental health as part of their curriculum. The new law — which will go into effect in July 2018 — requires mental health education as part of state-mandated health classes. The state already requires education on alcohol, drug, and tobacco use, as well as cancer prevention. Health officials are hopeful the new curriculum will help students recognize signs of mental illness and get themselves or their peers the help they might need. 

How economic opportunity can impact health

Economic opportunity is strongly tied to physical and mental health in young adults, finds a new study published in the Lancet Public Health. Researchers analyzed data on nearly 150,000 Americans between ages 25 and 35, comparing their health info to data on economic opportunity in the counties where they lived. Those living in counties that fell in the top 10 percent of economic opportunity reported 20 percent fewer days of poor mental or physical health than those living in counties that ranked in the bottom 10 percent for economic opportunity. Young adults living in those low-opportunity counties were also more likely to report smoking and intravenous drug use. The findings back up previous research linking economic factors and health outcomes. 

White House screens opioid crisis documentary

The White House is screening a new documentary about the opioid crisis on the South Lawn this afternoon. The MTV film “Prescription For Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis” is being played as part of the president’s South by South Lawn ideas festival, and which features both Obama and hip-hop artist Macklemore. Macklemore has previously worked with President Obama to shed light on the opioid crisis. The singer has said he abused prescription drugs and battled addiction before getting help. MTV correspondent Ana Marie Cox is hosting a discussion after the screening with Macklemore and National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli, which you can watch live here at 1 p.m. ET.

What to read around the web today

  • Zika vaccine race spurred by crisis and profit potential. Reuters
  • How Michelle Obama quietly changed how Americans eat. Vox
  • Japan probes dozens of hospital deaths after poisonings. AFP

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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