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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

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Happy Wednesday! Here's your rundown of the big stories people will be talking about in science and medicine today. 

Watch today: A big hearing on pricey prescription drugs 

Massive price hikes for several drugs are going to be the talk of the nation’s capital today. The Senate Special Committee on Aging is holding a hearing to scrutinize price increases for drugs like Daraprim, the parasite treatment from Turing Pharmaceuticals that’s spurred headlines over the past few months. Expect to see the committee talk about the regulations and policies (or lack thereof) that let companies buy up old drugs on the cheap and then raise their prices overnight. If you want a refresher on the politics of the issue, here's the recent STAT-Harvard poll on the topic.

Infant mortality rates tumble to a record low

Encouraging news from the CDC this morning: Infant mortality rates — notoriously high in the US compared to other developed and wealthy countries — fell to their lowest level ever in 2014. The rate now stands at 582 infant deaths per 100,000 live births. 

New this morning: A majority of doctors have been sued 

Doctors in the US might cringe at this news: 59 percent of primary care docs and specialists have been named in at least one malpractice lawsuit, according to survey data just released from Medscape.  The top reasons doctors were hit with lawsuits include failing to diagnose a condition and treating a patient who suffered abnormal injuries. The most commonly sued physicians? Obstetricians and gynecologists.

Negative results come out of trial aiming to treat sickle cell in kids 

An abnormal, sickle-shaped cell on the top, compared to nearby normal cells. (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

A drug therapy researchers wanted to use to treat kids with sickle cell anemia doesn’t do much to reduce incidents of severe pain or lung problems, according to results published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Prasugrel, sold as Effient by pharma company Eli Lilly, works to keep platelets in the blood from accumulating and is currently approved for use treating heart problems in adults. Researchers hoped prasugrel could be used in combination with the current therapy, hydroxyurea, to treat the rare, inherited blood disorder. But benefits were insignificant in the phase III trial on 341 kids across the globe.

Still, lead researcher Dr. Carolyn Hoppe of the University of California, San Francisco said that doesn’t mean it’s a total dead-end. “Even though the primary efficacy endpoint wasn’t reached, I think it’s short-sighted to drop the notions that platelets are somehow involved in sickle cell anemia,” she told me.

Doctors are testing some diabetics way too often

Adult diabetics who don’t need insulin and have good control over their blood sugar only need their average blood glucose level measured once or twice a year, but they’re often being tested way more than that, researchers from the Mayo Clinic say in a new analysis in the BMJ. About 55 percent of patients in a national cohort of more than 30,000 adults kept their levels right where they needed to be, but were still tested four or more times a year.  Researchers found several possible reasons for over-testing, including fragmented care from multiple providers and doctors not fully understanding the purpose of the test, which gives a three-month average of glucose levels.

Inside STAT: This lab wants to hack your microbiome for medicine

Fluid populates a "gut on a chip" that mimics your actual microbiome. Matthew Orr/STAT

Get a sneak peek of what’s going on in your microbiome — the trillions of bacteria that make up your inner ecosystem — in the new episode of Science Happens. Follow STAT national correspondent Carl Zimmer and senior editor for video Matthew Orr into a lab where scientist Pam Silver is trying to hack the microbiome by altering the DNA of the microbes that populate it. It's an idea that could one day lead to treating disease with living medicine.

We're not as good at multitasking as we might think 

This sounds like a warning to not walk and text if I have ever heard one: Focusing on something visual, like a phone screen, can seriously reduce your responsiveness to sounds around you, according to a new study to be published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Scientists tested the theory on a dozen patients and suspect it’s because your brain has trouble focusing significantly on sight and sound at the same time.

Higher penalties for being uninsured coming next year

People who don't enroll in health insurance could end up paying more in penalties than they would for coverage in 2016, an analysis out this morning from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds. The average household penalty for not being insured looks to be about $969 next year, which is a hefty bump from this year’s estimate of $661. With subsidies, buying insurance might be cheaper than paying that penalty for some people. Read the full report here.

What to read around the web today

  • The first transgenic chicken aims to treat a rare disease. Nature
  • Does quantum physics actually control our thoughts? New Scientist
  • Top US lab regulator replaced in wake of incidents with bioterror pathogens. USA Today
  • Could there be an end to dental fillings in sight? Washington Post

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! Back tomorrow, 

Megan

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