Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Welcome to February, folks! Here's what you need to know about the world of health and medicine today. 

Trump's SCOTUS pick on contraception, euthanasia

President Trump has named Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch, a Harvard Law graduate, is deeply opposed to human euthanasia and assisted suicide. He's twice ruled against the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act's contraception coverage provision, raising concerns among reproductive rights advocates. Gorsuch hasn't ever weighed in on abortion in a decision, though Trump has previously said he would only appoint a anti-abortion justice. The announcement gets the ball rolling on what will likely be an incredibly heated confirmation stretch. 

The approval process for another Trump pick — Tom Price, the nominee to head HHS — is continuing to drag on. Democrats boycotted the vote yesterday over Price's potential conflicts of interest.

How clean are scopes? Not clean enough, experts say

Infection control experts are raising a red flag that the current methods of cleaning endoscopes — a tool that’s used to peer inside the body — aren’t always effective. Most flexible endoscopes are sterilized thoroughly and then re-used. But a series of inspections of 20 endoscopes found that 12 of the tools had microbes still growing on them after cleaning. Some of the scopes also had residual moisture on them, which runs the risk of fostering bacteria and the growth of biofilms. Gastroscopes, the type of tool used in the upper GI tract, fared worse than the scopes used for colonoscopy. The findings suggest new efforts are needed to ensure those tools are sterilized and dried effectively to tamp down on hospital-acquired infections.

Youth football makes major changes for safety

As professional teams gear up for the Super Bowl this weekend, the littlest of leagues is making a change to keep young players safe. USA Football — the group that oversees amateur football — tells the New York Times it’ll soon set forth significant changes to how youth football is played to make the sport safer. The new rules will cut the number of players on the field from 11 to between six and nine; they’ll also shrink the field and do away with kickoffs and punts. The motivation for the move? Participation is down, which the organization suspects is because parents are concerned about safety. The NFL, which has come under fire for not doing enough to protect players, is gathering its own ideas for products to keep athletes safe with a pitch competition on Saturday in collaboration with Texas Medical Center.

Inside STAT: Will FDA reforms clash with drug industry?

(Mike reddy for stat)

Donald Trump has big plans to overhaul the FDA, with a to-be-named "fantastic person" in charge. He wants to do away with regulations and speed up the drug and device approval process. But do those in the field actually want a deregulated FDA? STAT surveyed doctors, biopharma insiders, financial analysts, and FDA veterans. The consensus: It's a solution in search of a problem. STAT's Damian Garde has the story here

Doctors warn against downing peroxide for health

Doctors have a warning for anyone thinking about chugging high-concentration peroxide as a natural cleanse: don’t. The concentration of hydrogen in a typical household cleaner is between 3 and 5 percent; high concentration is considered anything over 10 percent. But consumers can pick up a pint of 35 percent “food-grade” hydrogen peroxide on health food sites or on Amazon, where commenters tout its healing potential when ingested. In a new paper, though, researchers examined poisoning reports over the past 10 years and found 41 patients who experienced embolisms or similar problems after ingesting hydrogen peroxide. Of those patients, 20 either died or suffered from some type of continued disability.

Lab Chat: Unraveling the mystery of twisted proteins

 cloudy with a chance of intrinsically disordered proteins. (Ella Marushchenko / Ella Maru Studio)

There’s a mysterious type of protein that doesn’t fold in the tidy, origami-like way many proteins in the human body do; instead, it’s twisted and tangled up. To unravel how such "intrinsically disordered proteins" work, scientists have now engineered a similar one in the lab. Here’s what researcher Nick Carroll of the University of New Mexico told me about the work, published in Nature Chemistry.

How would you describe these protein balls?

Even though they lack structure themselves, they play key roles in multiple cellular functions. They make up the largest organelle in the nucleus, which is known as the nucleolus. The nucleolus is comprised of multiple distinct layers of proteins, like an onion, and each layer has a particular function. We were able to describe how these proteins are able to mix into these layers.

What’s the application of that finding?

What this will allow us to do is understand the behavior of a particular intrinsically disordered protein. This allows us not only to investigate the rules governing their assembly, but also understand how deregulation of these proteins can contribute to diseases associated with the deregulation of protein in the nucleolus. That can lead to deregulation of RNAs and in turn, these defective RNAs can produce oncogenes or proteins that contribute to the formation of cancer cells.

What to read around the web today

  • Falcons worried about handling of painkillers. AP
  • Gene drives thwarted by emergence of resistant organisms. Nature News
  • Opinion: A scientists' march on Washington is a bad idea. New York Times
  • Watch the GNC ad that the NFL rejected for the Super Bowl. USA Today

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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