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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

National Cancer Institute director to be named acting FDA chief

Ned Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute, will serve as acting FDA commissioner starting next month. The announcement comes just a week after Scott Gottlieb said that he will resign as head of the agency in April. Prior to joining the NCI in October 2017, Sharpless served as the head of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina. Sharpless has also supported Gottlieb’s policies to curb tobacco and e-cigarette use. Although he was seen as a likely pick to replace Gottlieb, it’s unclear whether Sharpless will lead the agency over the long term.

Sharp rise in obesity, anemia among adolescents worldwide

Nearly a billion young people across the world are living in countries where they face multiple health burdens, a jump of more than 250 million from nearly two decades ago, according to new research. Here’s a rundown of the study:

  • The design: The authors looked at changes across 195 countries between 1990 and 2016 for a dozen health indicators, including rates of obesity, anemia and infectious disease. 

  • The findings: Adolescent obesity more than doubled to nearly 325 million people, while the rate of anemia also climbed 20 percent. However, 38 million fewer adolescents smoked in 2016 than in 1990. 

  • The takeaway: “Despite improvements in many settings, the adolescent health challenge is greater today than it was 25 years ago,” the study authors write.

New censorship tracker logs changes on federal health websites

The Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project — which documents deletions and removals from federal websites, including information on the ACA and resources on minority health — is launching a new tracker to aggregate the most significant examples. One such example in the tracker, called Gov404, is an overhaul of HealthCare.gov’s “Apply for Health Insurance” webpage, which the project says was altered midway through the open enrollment period at the end of last year to remove information on how to apply by phone or mail but added a link to an “on demand” consumer assistance referral system. The tracker also notes the removal of the ACA’s website from within Medicaid.gov last summer.

Inside STAT: Efforts to save the sperm of the dead bring heartache and tough questions


Peter Zhu (United States Military Academy via AP)

A case involving a 21-year-old West Point cadet who died after a ski accident has reignited the debate around postmortem sperm retrieval. Peter Zhu's parents got an emergency court order to save a sample of his sperm, and wrote in court documents that they were trying to realize Peter's dream of becoming a father. But the procedure, which is banned in some countries, is in ethically tricky terrain. And as earlier cases of parents obtaining their deceased sons' sperm show, saving the sperm is just the first step in the long, complicated process of figuring out if and how to pursue starting a pregnancy.  STAT's Andrew Joseph has more here.

Small blood draw reveals changes in newborn immune system

A tiny amount of blood — less than a quarter-teaspoon — drawn from newborns can reveal discernible and consistent changes in the immune system in the hours and days after birth, according to a new study. Sixty babies from Gambia and Papua New Guinea had two blood draws each — one at birth, and one again within a week after birth — and researchers compared the data from the two samples to track which genes were being activated and which proteins were beginning to be produced. The findings will help create a baseline for how infants’ immune systems should develop. “We can use this technique and approach to optimize vaccines and other interventions … to reduce infection and enhance health in early life,” Dr. Ofer Levy, one of the study’s authors, tells STAT.

Doudna to offer ‘CRISPR-101’ on Capitol Hill

CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley is scheduled to meet with The Biophysical Society and Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) for a “CRISPR-101” briefing this morning. The session, tailored for new members of Congress and their staff, will give a broad overview of the gene-editing technology, plus get into issues surrounding ethics and patents. The event also comes the day after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a much-contested foundational patent for the technology to the University of California, which, at least for now, means that companies hoping to use the technology might have to license it from both UC and the Broad Institute, which has been issued competing patents.

Correction: Yesterday's newsletter misstated the amount a prescription drug spending cap for seniors would cost the federal government. The correct figure is $14 billion.

What to read around the web today

  • Parents want to help their kids. Teenagers want privacy. A mental health bill in Washington state tries to balance both. STAT
  • What virtual-reality animal experiments are revealing about the brain. Nature
  • Vulnerable Mainers pin hopes on bill to tighten vaccination standards. Portland Press Herald
  • Opinion: Biotech execs need to create an environment that fosters a truly scientific culture. STAT
  • US communities reach out to homeless as liver disease surges. Associated Press

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

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