Friday, August 19, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

We made it to Friday! I've got the day's big stories in science and medicine to round out the week. 

Local Zika transmission suspected in Miami Beach

Health officials believe the Zika virus is now being spread locally in parts of Miami Beach. A handful of cases have cropped up that are thought to be tied to the popular travel destination, a health official tells STAT's Helen Branswell. That development is expected to lead to a travel warning for the area. Late in July, the CDC cautioned pregnant women to avoid an area of the Miami neighborhood of Wynwood where local Zika virus transmission was first identified. 

Concerns rise over cholera outbreak in Central African Republic

Doctors Without Borders and other aid organizations are working to stop the spread of cholera in the Central African Republic. At least 18 people have been killed and 150 infected in the outbreak, which began last week. The outbreak has since spread to the nation’s capital, Bangui, where Doctors Without Borders has opened a medical facility to treat cholera. The bacterial disease can cause severe diarrhea and with it, serious dehydration.

Just yesterday, the UN admitted to its role in another cholera outbreak, one that began six years ago in Haiti. That epidemic, which killed thousands of Haitians, has been blamed on a UN base camp housing peacekeepers from Nepal who'd traveled from a region with a cholera outbreak. 

Happy birthday, dear HIPAA

HIPAA, HIPAA, hooray! This weekend marks the patient privacy law’s 20th birthday. When Congress passed HIPAA in 1996, health care providers still used paper records. But in the two decades since, HIPAA has opened the door to better communication between doctors and patients by making medical records easier for consumers to access. But the law's far from perfect. There’s still no standard set of steps for patients to get their medical info from hospitals, and often, it’s easier for third parties to get those records than it is for patients themselves. Wondering what HIPAA really means for your medical records? Read this.

Low support for mandatory HPV vaccines at school

Just 21 percent of parents in the US say they think it’s a good idea to mandate HPV vaccines for kids before entering school, according to a new survey out this morning. There’s a way to get more parents on board, though — 57 percent said they’d support the requirement if there was a chance to opt out. But that might defeat the purpose of mandating vaccinations, the authors of the new paper say. Currently, only Virginia, Rhode Island, and Washington D.C. require HPV vaccination before school entry. More states have proposed the idea only to see it flop. The lack of support might have something to do with public knowledge of the benefits of the HPV vaccine. Only 40 percent of parents surveyed agreed that the HPV vaccine was helpful in preventing cervical cancer.  

Inside STAT: Supercomputer Watson tackles cancer treatment

IBM's supercomputer Watson won a whopping $1 million on Jeopardy! in 2011. But this year, Watson's tackling a different type of challenge, one that could affect the millions of patients diagnosed with cancer each year. The goal: to use the supercomputer's language processing ability to mine medical literature and patient records. Then, Watson would be able to make the best possible treatment recommendation based on that data. The program is developing rapidly — it started at a hospital in Thailand and this month expanded to another six in India. Next up, 21 hospitals in China. More on the program from STAT's Ike Swetlitz here

Neural stem cells can go their own way

there is no fate but what we make for our cells. (Department of biomedicine, university of basel)

Neural stem cells have the chance to control their own destiny, unlike other stem cells that lean on their environment for cues on what to do. Current scientific theory holds that stem cells —  which can turn into a wide variety of cell types — are differentiated based on the environment they’re in, or their “niche.” But new research shows the niche isn’t the only factor determining how neural stem cells change. Scientists looked specifically at neural stem cells in the hippocampus, which have the ability to turn into a specific type of cell called an oligodendrocyte but never do. That’s because the stem cells house a special protein that blocks the ability to morph into oligodendrocytes. The finding paints a better picture of how stem cell differentiation happens in the brain, the authors say, and could be helpful in understanding how diseases like dementia and epilepsy affect the hippocampus.

An exciting enzyme for weight loss might not be burning fat after all 

Does an enzyme hailed for its potential to burn energy without exercise actually do so? The jury's still out. A study published in Cell in late June identified an enzyme in brown fat that can expend energy in a process called thermogenesis without any physical activity at all. Overexpressing that enzyme in mice boosted their metabolism and helped them shed some pounds (or ounces, in their case). But writing in the new issue of Science, experts from the Salk Institute caution that the enzyme might not be all it’s hyped up to be. It's also highly expressed in the kidneys and liver, which aren’t thought to play a part in thermogenesis. That suggests that the enzyme might be playing some other role in the tissue than burning up energy. More research is needed to understand what the enzyme does and whether it’s a logical target for weight loss treatments, the authors of the Science paper say.

Keep an eye on your contacts

Careful with your contacts — 20 percent of eye infections caused by contacts end in eye damage, according to new data out from the CDC. Those numbers come from more than 1,075 reports issued to the FDA between 2005 and 2015 about eye infections blamed on contacts. The damage ranged from scarred corneas and reduced vision to the need for a corneal transplant. But before you go running for your glasses, know that there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of eye infection. The CDC recommends always taking contacts out before sleeping and always storing contacts in fresh solution.

What to read around the web today

  • The most fatal type of stroke is declining with smoking rates. Reuters
  • Doctors Without Borders pulling staff after bombings in Yemen. New York Times
  • Limited access to drugs in rural areas linked to hospital readmission. The Bulletin

More reads from STAT

Correction: Yesterday's newsletter misspelled the name of intellectual property expert Jacob Sherkow. 

Thanks for reading! Enjoy your weekend, everyone. See you on Monday,


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