Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Here's what you need to know about science and medicine today. 

House takes on how we're prepping for superbugs

A House subcommittee is meeting today to gather information on how prepared the US is to deal with the growing threat of superbugs. In the past month, a new superbug that’s resistant to last-ditch antibiotics has turned up twice in the US, and the threat of more cases looms. Experts discussing the issue today include Dr. Beth Bell, head of the CDC’s infectious disease arm and Dr. Janet Woodcock of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. The hearing is at 10 this morning.

Telemedicine to bolster mental health treatment for military

Telemedicine could be a good way to bolster mental health care for military members with PTSD, according to new findings in JAMA Internal Medicine. Up to 18 percent of service members suffer from PTSD, and researchers wanted to test an intervention to treat mental health problems in patients worried about the stigma of directly seeing a psychiatrist.They assigned each of the 666 patients a nurse to serve as a mental health care manager, provided face-to-face psychotherapy through a primary care doc, and also made telephone cognitive behavioral therapy available. That combo seemed to work, at least for some — after one year, a quarter of the patients showed a moderate improvement in symptoms. One caveat: The participants were almost all men in their 20s, which means the intervention might not translate quite the same way among women or older men. 

AMA debates how to curb direct-to-consumer drug ads

The American Medical Association is tossing around a new way to put an end to direct-to-consumer drug advertisements. Delegates at the AMA meeting in Chicago yesterday debated whether to press Congress to nix the tax deduction that drug companies can take to offset the cost of their ad campaigns. The association is also upping its lobbying efforts against DTC advertising. But not all docs were on board. MD Magazine reports that Dr. Bob Frankel, a New York delegate, defended the tax deduction, asking whether ice cream ads should also be banned given that they could contribute to obesity.

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Cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi awarded prestigious Dr. Paul Janssen Award for biomedical research

Johnson & Johnson named Yoshinori Ohsumi, Ph.D., of the Tokyo Institute of Technology the 2016 winner of the Dr. Paul Janssen Award. Dr. Ohsumi’s pioneering discoveries concerning the molecular basis of autophagy significantly accelerated the understanding of the process and its role in health and disease. The Dr. Paul Janssen Award honors one of the 20th century’s most accomplished pharmaceutical researchers, and celebrates today’s scientists whose passionate pursuit of innovation transforms human health.  

Lab Chat: Nanorods that soak up humidity and spit out water

The water, designated by the red arrows, seeps out of the rods as humidity rises. (PNNL)

This exciting new accident in science caught my eye — researchers running a completely different experiment unintentionally created nanorods that can expel water like a sponge. Normally, materials soak up more water as humidity rises, but the carbon-based rods behave quite the opposite; they spit it out. That offers potential for harvesting safe-to-drink water for human consumption and could potentially be used in workout gear to convert and dispel sweat as a vapor. Here’s what Satish Nune and David Heldebrant of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory told me about the discovery, written about in the new Nature Nanotechnology.

How did you stumble upon the rods? 

We were in the process of making other materials when a colleague had isolated these rods as a byproduct of another reaction. These rods are really unique. They absorb water vapor and then they expel liquid water spontaneously, which is something completely unexpected. It’s similar to a sponge, picking up water and as you expose it to more water, the sponge sort of wrings itself out.

How do the rods expel the water?

[It’s] like a sea urchin moving its spines. Here, adjacent rods are pulled towards each other but do not completely touch, and fluctuate around a critical distance (i.e., the space between the rods). The rods waver back and forth around this distance, enabling water uptake or release. .. So the first place we would be looking at using the material is water harvesting in arid climates, where you could adsorb water at lower humidity from the air and expel it for human consumption. If these rods can be perfected to the right shape and size, the application could be expanded to other liquids.

Inside STAT: A schizophrenia researcher becomes a schizophrenia patient

Fresh out of college and hoping to bolster future med school applications, Brandon Chuang started work in a San Francisco lab studying the effect that oxytocin could have on the social abilities of schizophrenia patients. But six months into the work, Chuang started experiencing some of the same symptoms as the patients he was working with. His brain felt “covered in mud." He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, spending a long, painful year in and out psychiatric hospitals. STAT’s Usha Lee McFarling shares Chuang’s story — read here.

VA gets negative PR for keeping doctor info locked down

The VA is a finalist for a less-than-prestigious award for a less-than-admirable reason — keeping records on medical staffers locked down. The Investigative Reporters and Editors group has named the new Golden Padlock award finalists, a dubious distinction the group doles out to the least transparent government agencies each year. The VA withheld records sought by journalists about the qualifications of medical staffers in charge of examining thousands of veterans for potential brain injuries. The VA announced after an internal investigation that 25,000 of those veterans were evaluated by doctors who weren’t qualified to diagnose brain injury.

Steering corrupted immune cells back to fighting cancer

Cancer can harness macrophages — immune cells that protect the body from foreign pathogens — to keep the body’s immune system from targeting tumors. Macrophages are controlled by microRNA that end up shielding tumors when hijacked by cancer cells. But new research published in Nature Cell Biology suggests there’s a way to reprogram those corrupted macrophages to take away some of their tumor-protecting qualities. Scientists genetically modified the tumor-associated macrophages, or TAMs, to nix their ability to produce microRNA. Breaking down that protective wall allowed the macrophages to alert the immune system to the presence of a tumor. There’s currently no way to selectively program those microRNAs, though, and the finding won’t be applicable in humans unless that becomes possible.

What to read around the web today

  • The mystery of ALS patients who experience "reversals" of their condition. WSJ
  • Behind the fight for better mental health research. Washington Monthly
  • Dizzy and disoriented, with no cure in sight. New York Times

More reads from STAT

Thanks so much for reading! Back tomorrow, 


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