Monday, February 29, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone! Morning Rounds gets you ahead of the day's big science and medicine news. Here's what you need to know today. 

Docs tout drugs on social media, but fail to disclose financial ties to industry

Doctors are tweeting medical advice and touting specific drugs on social media, often without disclosing that they’ve pocketed tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars from the companies making those drugs, a new STAT analysis finds. Doctors aren't legally obligated to disclose industry payments on social media, but the practice raises ethical questions and draws sharp critiques from some experts.

Another interesting finding: Touting products and pills online isn’t limited to one medical field. There are women’s health specialists who promote Addyi, the female libido drug, on Twitter — and also get paid as consultants for the drug maker. Or take the pharmacologist who endorses Allergan’s antipsychotic drug, Saphris, on YouTube, without noting that she was paid by the company to do a media tour. Read the investigation from STAT D.C. reporter Sheila Kaplan here. And to see more tweets from docs, read this.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals delays release of much-awaited Q4 numbers

Valeant Pharmaceuticals — the company that’s been scrutinized for its relationship with pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts and was sharply criticized in a congressional hearing into high drug prices  — has delayed the release of its fourth-quarter results, which were supposed to be shared in a conference call today. The delay comes along the announcement that CEO Michael Pearson will be returning from medical leave; he left in late December. The company’s had quite a rough time in the past few months — its stock price has plunged to $80 a share, from a recent high of more than $240 in mid-September. 

Scientists get a super-close look at a major type of virus

A scene straight out of Jimmy Neutron's lab. (Veesler Lab / University of Washington)

Big advances in microscopy and computing have given researchers a chance to look quite closely at coronaviruses, which can crop up in humans and cause symptoms that range from mild to deadly. Coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS, use a spiky protein to help them attach to human cells.

As described in Nature, the scientists used single particle cryo-electron microscopy — a long name for a technique that relies on seriously cold temperatures to see substances on a nearly atomic level — to look at the proteins on the surface of a coronavirus. What they saw: When a coronavirus is latching onto a human cell, its structure gets rearranged to help the virus fuse to the cell's membrane. The virus then can enter right into that cell, causing an infection.

Is tarantula venom the next Tylenol? 

Here’s a painkiller you might think twice before taking — tarantula venom. While the cocktail is lethal when it comes from a bite, scientists say it might be possible to pull out individual peptide toxins from tarantula venom to inhibit pain receptors in the brain. There’s no published data on it, yet though — it’s just an idea researchers are tossing around this week at the Biophysical Society's annual meeting in Los Angeles.

Stem cells that show up in the prostate could be tied to cancer

Adult stem cells that seem normal may actually be tied to the development of treatment-resistant prostate cancer, according to research published this morning in Nature Communications. Researchers found that the prostate's basal cell layer houses adult stem cells — something that’s been debated but not proven before. Those cells express unique genes that appear to be similar to genes expressed in a deadly form of prostate cancer. That suggests a potential route for scientists seeking treatments for therapy-resistant prostate cancer, which account for under 5 percent of all cases.

Smoking rates have skyrocketed in India

The number of men who smoke tobacco in India has jumped by more than a third since 1998. About 108 million men in the country smoke and it's a major public health concern; about 10 percent of all deaths in India in 2010 were tied to the habit. Researchers saw the biggest increase in men between the ages of 15 and 29. That’s indicative of a bigger problem: While smoking rates are falling in countries like the US, which has strict restrictions on the advertising and labeling of tobacco products, the rates are on the rise in poorer countries, which often have less regulation over sales and advertisements. Read about the research here

What to read around the web today

  • Charles River Labs provides the backbone of biotech firms. Boston Globe
  • Two years into Obamacare, health quality an issue for poor individuals. NPR
  • The little-known medical history of homesickness. Science of Us

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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