Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, folks! Megan here, back from vacation and bringing you the day's big stories in science and medicine. 

Most people live in air that's too polluted

Most of the world’s population lives in places where air quality standards don’t meet the WHO’s pollution limits, according to a new report put out by the agency this morning. About 3 million deaths each year are tied to outdoor air pollution, with nearly 90 percent of them occurring in low- and middle-income nations. The new report — which relied on data plucked from satellites and ground stations — finds that 92 percent of the population is living in regions with more air pollution than the WHO deems safe. If you’re curious about pollution levels where you live, the organization developed an interactive map that details levels worldwide.

Kidney stones are no match for roller coasters

Patients with kidney stones might be able to skip the waiting room at the doctor’s office and head to their nearest amusement park for relief. A new study finds that riding a moderate-intensity roller coaster might help small kidney stones pass naturally. The best part? They tested the theory by stowing a tiny, model kidney chock full of kidney stones in a backpack and taking it on 20 wild rides. They created a model of a patient’s kidney and filled it with urine and kidney stones of varying size. About 64 percent of the kidney stones passed when riding in the backseat of a coaster. It’s a preliminary study and the scientists aren't sure why, exactly, a quick trip on Space Mountain helped.

Lawmakers discuss lab slip-ups with anthrax and Ebola

Lawmakers are meeting today to discuss a new report from the Government Accountability Office that details how a lack of oversight has made it difficult to determine whether labs are properly deactivating bioterror germs like anthrax before sharing specimens with other researchers. Proper deactivation involves doing away with the more dangerous properties of pathogens like Ebola in a way that retains some of their other characteristics for further research. But since 2003, there have been 10 incidents that exposed lab personnel to risky specimens. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce meets this morning to discuss the report, which committee chair Representative Fred Upton has called alarming. “We cannot risk repeats of such episodes. Without improvements, another incident is likely to happen, and the consequences could be dire," Upton says. 

Inside STAT: Wellness award goes to workplace where health got worse

The Boise School District in Idaho will receive the workplace wellness industry's highest award this week. It's expected that the event will celebrate the district for helping more than 3,000 employees and their families improve their health and slash their risk of disease. But data collected by the company that sold the wellness program to the school district — the same data trumpeted by the "Koop Award" being given out this week — casts doubt on those claims. The numbers actually show that self-reported quality of health grew worse with the program. STAT's Sharon Begley has more here

Lab Chat: Inside the inner workings of a cell's "brain"

Cells treated with a dna damage agent that turns on dino. (howard chang / stanford)

When DNA damage strikes, cells need to make a gametime decision whether to make repairs or to self-destruct. Scientists have discovered an RNA molecule they’ve dubbed DINO that helps cells make the call. Here’s what lead author Dr. Howard Chang of Stanford told me about the research, published in Nature Genetics.

What did you discover about DINO?

DINO is induced by DNA damage. It’s RNA that is not made when the cell is happily going along, but it’s turned on hundreds-fold when the cell experiences DNA damage. It’s turned on [by] a tumor-suppressing protein known as p53. The DINO RNA will bind to the P53 protein to make it more stable. It sticks around for much longer, and helps the cells either take the chance to repair themselves or self-destruct.

What’s the application of that finding?

We’ve discovered that if you block DINO from working, you can actually make cells a little bit more resistant to DNA damage like radiation. And if we put DINO into cells that haven’t been damaged, the cell thinks it’s been damaged and starts executing the damage response. It’s an interesting way to get into the brain of the cell to influence its decision-making.

NIH awards grant to study young people with HIV

The NIH is doling out new funding to create a research network to study kids and young adults with HIV or at risk for the disease. The $24 million grant will help establish three collaborative research centers. The centers — spun out of schools including UCLA, University of North Carolina, and Emory — will bring together researchers and doctors across the country that specialize in caring for HIV-infected youth. The money will also go to setting up a home base to coordinate efforts between the three centers and to collect data on HIV/AIDS prevention efforts that target young people.

Patients and advocates rally to raise awareness

Patients and advocates raising awareness about a disease called myalgic encephalomyelitis — also known as chronic fatigue syndrome— are gathering in 25 cities today to spread their message. It’s part of a movement known as #MillionsMissing that aims to educate the public about the condition, which doesn’t have a designated treatment or cure. There’s no known cause of the illness, which is marked by exhaustion, muscle and joint pain, and other symptoms. Advocates say they want to see increased government funding for research, along with better curriculum on the condition in medical schools. For more on the controversy over research into ME/CFS, read this

What to read around the web today

  • Chris Bosh's desire to play after blood clots leaves the Heat at an ethical crossroads. New York Times
  • A year after collapsing at a marathon's finish line, a Montreal runner crosses it again. The Globe and Mail 
  • Expansion proposed for women's health services without a copay. Kaiser Health News

More reads from STAT

  • Fixing electronic health records is good. Adding scribes is even better. 
  • Diabetes drugs are badly needed, but rarely make it to market. 
  • Novel cancer treatment from Kite Pharma hits some early goals, moves closer to market. 

Thanks for reading! Be sure to check back tomorrow for a special issue of Morning Rounds! 


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