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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Good morning. Elizabeth Cooney sitting in this week. You can reach me at

Covid-19: Can health tech come to the rescue?

The Trump administration has taken actions — such as lifting restrictions on telehealth services for seniors covered by Medicare — that show government officials are counting on health tech, and especially telemedicine, to save the country from the coronavirus pandemic. But can the technology meet the demands of this extraordinary moment? Right now telehealth services are sagging under the weight of an unprecedented surge in patients as hospitals scramble to shift routine care online in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

More of the latest developments:

  • That makes 50: On Tuesday West Virginia became the last state to confirm its first Covid-19 case.
  • The Pentagon will provide civilian health authorities with 5 million respirator masks and 2,000 specialized ventilators to help them respond to the pandemic.
  • The Bay Area's near-lockdown, which aims to slow the spread of the coronavirus, is ushering in a new reality for biopharma companies and biomedical labs. 
  • A Texas-based health care system announced it would convert one of its hospitals in Boston into a treatment center for patients with Covid-19.
  • Regeneron said it has developed hundreds of potential Covid-19 drugs and that it may enter clinical trials by early summer.
  • In response to a dire shortage of tests for detecting the fast-moving coronavirus, the FDA is giving states new powers to authorize laboratories to develop their own diagnostic.
  • Stanford’s John P.A. Ioannidis asks if the coronavirus response is a fiasco in the making. Because, he writes in a First Opinion for STAT, we are making decisions without reliable data.

No, not that kind of protein bar

Ever heard of protein sonification? That’s shorthand for creating music from patterns found in proteins. Each of the 20 amino acids found in proteins hums with a particular vibrational frequency; they can be mapped together as notes, chords, rhythm, or melody. In 2016 scientists designed software to assign a musical motif to the contours of a folded protein, in health and disease. Now another group has upped the ante, deploying artificial intelligence to create entirely new proteins by translating existing ones into musical scores, hoping they might be helpful in in biology, medicine, and engineering. In their new paper scientists report how they used machine learning to compose proteins that nature has not yet invented. While you ponder whether nature can be improved upon, you could hum a few bars of predatory marine snail venom.

Proposed school lunch changes draw fire — and a new analysis of impact on children

Spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, many communities whose schools have closed for the duration are striving to keep breakfast and lunch available to children who rely on them. An analysis out today from a group supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation counters what it calls a longer-term threat. In January, the USDA’s food and nutrition arm proposed changes to the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs to give greater flexibility for providers. In the foundation-funded report, health experts decry weakened nutrition standards — less fruit, fewer whole grains, fewer varieties of vegetables, and more starchy vegetables than standards set in 2010 — and their potential harm for the most vulnerable among the 29.5 million children who eat school lunch and the 14.7 million who eat school breakfast every day. 

Inside STAT: Revealing the hidden beauty of research

Photosynthetic dinoflagellates, like these three Ceratium, are major primary producers of oxygen.  (KEITH ELLENBOGEN, TOM CONSI/MIT SEA GRANT)

When you combine photography with microscopy, art and science deliver the inner workings of human physiology and bioscience in their unparalleled beauty. Who knew lymph nodes could shimmer or young brain cells could pull themselves up like children in a gym class squirming up a rope? For the 10th year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Koch Institute has featured a public gallery of these bioscience images and more in its Cambridge, Mass., lobby. Those on display represent the winners of the institute's annual images award. You can see them all here.

Medical radiation exposure plummets, reversing a trend

Radiation is an integral part of medical practice, whether it’s a CT scan or a nuclear medicine procedure, in which small amounts of radioactive substances are injected, inhaled, or swallowed to diagnose or treat illness. An alarming report published in 2008 found that radiation exposure in the U.S. jumped sixfold between 1980 and 2006. A new study charts a 20% decline since then in the estimated annual dose each person receives. Even though more CT scans were being done, the doses were lower. Another reason for the drop: A cut in Medicare reimbursement drove many cardiologists away from nuclear medicine in favor of ultrasound. "Nuclear medicine basically fell off a cliff,” said study senior author Fred A. Mettler.

THC, but not CBD, tied to distressing psychological episodes

Just one dose of THC, or about the same as smoking one joint, can induce a serious psychological state, a new review of 15 previous studies reports. Combing through data from 331 people without a history of psychiatric disorders, the reviewers found that study participants who took the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis were more likely to experience temporary symptoms of psychosis, depression, and anxiety than people who took a placebo. Four of the studies looked at whether cannabidiol (CBD) made a difference and found that it didn’t duplicate or moderate the effects they saw with THC. “This potential risk should be considered in discussions between patients and medical practitioners thinking about using cannabis products with THC,” a review co-author wrote.

Correction: An item in yesterday's newsletter gave an incorrect number of alcohol-involved crashes from 2000 through 2015. That figure is 223,471. 

What to read around the web today

  • Poll: As coronavirus spreads, fewer Americans see pandemic as a real threat. NPR
  • Tracking the coronavirus: how crowded Asian cities tackled an epidemic. New York Times
  • Coronavirus: Three things all governments and their science advisers must do now. Nature 
  • Changes in language on Facebook posts could signal need for hospitalization or emergency services. STAT
  • Despite coronavirus disruption, major microbiome companies are cautiously optimistic about upcoming data readouts. STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Wednesday, March 18, 2020


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