(The Atlantic) – “Any other call I would have ignored,” the surgeon admitted to me when we spoke in early August. But he knew that the dental student had nowhere else to turn. He is the only orthopedic surgeon in the “Madaya Medical Consultants,” a group composed of over two dozen, mostly Syrian American doctors, whose specialties include pediatrics, obstetrics, and pulmonology. They meet, digitally, in a WhatsApp chat room that supports the Madaya clinic around the clock. Most of the doctors in the group quoted in this story asked not to be identified, for fear of endangering their families in Syria. Rajaai Bourhan, a resident of Madaya, introduced me to the Madaya clinicians, whose identities I’ve also left anonymous for similar reasons.
(Nature) – The DNDi is an unlikely success story in the expensive, challenging field of drug development. In just over a decade, the group has earned approval for six treatments, tackling sleeping sickness, malaria, Chagas’ disease and a form of leishmaniasis called kala-azar. And it has put another 26 drugs into development. It has done this with US$290 million — about one-quarter of what a typical pharmaceutical company would spend to develop just one drug. The model for its success is the product development partnership (PDP), a style of non-profit organization that became popular in the early 2000s. PDPs keep costs down through collaboration — with universities, governments and the pharmaceutical industry. And because the diseases they target typically affect the world’s poorest people, and so are neglected by for-profit companies, the DNDi and groups like it face little competitive pressure. They also have lower hurdles to prove that their drugs vastly improve lives.
(Medical Xpress) – A 25-year-old man recovering from a coma has made remarkable progress following a treatment at UCLA to jump-start his brain using ultrasound. The technique uses sonic stimulation to excite the neurons in the thalamus, an egg-shaped structure that serves as the brain’s central hub for processing information. “It’s almost as if we were jump-starting the neurons back into function,” said Martin Monti, the study’s lead author and a UCLA associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery.
(Nature) – Over the past decade, the Supreme Court has used a series of patent cases to clarify what the USPTO should consider patentable. Natural phenomena and abstract ideas, for example, are not patentable, according to section 101 of the US patent code, and the court has attempted to distinguish between these categories and true inventions. Two of those Supreme Court cases touched directly on the biomedical industry. In 2012, the Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. decision struck down two patents on medical diagnostics, and in the 2013 Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics ruling, the court threw out patents on gene sequences used to assess cancer risk. In the wake of those decisions, many lawyers predicted that patents on inventions that are important to personalized medicine — particularly, diagnostic tests that could match individuals to a particular therapy — would be hard to come by, potentially driving away investors.
(UPI) – Some patients’ movement needs to be restricted in order to prevent them from hurting themselves or falling, or disrupting their own treatment. New research suggests, however, that restraints are used less when more nurses are on duty. The use of hospital restraints has declined steadily, at least partially because doctors and patients prefer they not be used, but in hospitals with more registered nurses on shifts restraints are far less likely to be used, according to the new study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
(Medical Xpress) – A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) from the University of Missouri has succeeded in creating embryos with “heteroplasmy,” or the presence of both maternal and paternal mitochondrial DNA. This new innovation will allow scientists to study treatments for mitochondrial diseases in humans as well as the significance of mitochondrial inheritance for livestock.
(Managed Care Magazine) – It’s been almost four years since the ACA’s contraceptive coverage requirements kicked in, and women have benefited from broader coverage and lower out-of-pocket costs for birth control. But that doesn’t mean this provision of health care reform has escaped controversy. Legal challenges arguing that required contraceptive coverage impinges on employers’ religious liberty have twice reached the Supreme Court.
(CBC News) – Canada needs to broaden its approach to palliative care to provide support to patients with serious chronic illnesses, not just those with cancer, suggests a group of doctors who deal with end-of-life care. Writing in Monday’s edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the specialists suggest major changes are needed to improve access to palliative care, especially for patients with such conditions as end-stage heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
(The Atlantic) – People convey meaning by what they say as well as how they say it: Tone, word choice, and the length of a phrase are all crucial cues to understanding what’s going on in someone’s mind. When a psychiatrist or psychologist examines a person, they listen for these signals to get a sense of their wellbeing, drawing on past experience to guide their judgment. Researchers are now applying that same approach, with the help of machine learning, to diagnose people with mental disorders.
(The Guardian) – The head of the International Paralympic Committee said the organisation’s firm anti-doping stance has been vindicated after the court of arbitration for sport dismissed Russia’s appeal against their exclusion from next month’s Paralympic Games in Rio. The president of the IPC, Sir Philip Craven, expressed his satisfaction after a Cas panel found that the decision to suspend the Russian Paralympic Committee on 7 August – as exclusively revealed by the Observer – because of evidence of state-sponsored doping was neither disproportionate nor in violation of procedural rules. He added that he hopes the ban will act as a catalyst for change in Russia.
(Pro Publica) – Pharmaceutical and medical device companies are continuing to pay doctors as promotional speakers and expert advisers even after they’ve been disciplined for serious misconduct, according to an analysis by ProPublica. One such company is medical device maker Stryker Corp. In June 2015, New York’s Board for Professional Medical Conduct accused orthopedic surgeon Alexios Apazidis of improperly prescribing pain medications to 28 of his patients. The board fined him $50,000 and placed him on three years’ probation, requiring that a monitor keep an eye on his practice.
(New Scientist) – An alternative is to remove a woman’s eggs while they are still immature and mature them in the lab before fertilising them. But this technique – called in-vitro maturation (IVM) – is less successful, with a success rate around half that of IVF. As of last year, only around 400 babies worldwide had been born using this method. Now Ledger’s colleague, Robert Gilchrist, has found a way to increase the number of embryos produced by IVM by 50 per cent. He did this by combining two growth factors that stimulate egg maturation into a single compound for use in IVM.
(World Health Organization) – The Committee unanimously agreed that the international spread of poliovirus remains a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), and recommended the extension of the Temporary Recommendations for a further three months. The Committee considered the following factors in reaching this conclusion.
(CNN) – Net spending on prescription drugs by consumers in the United States has increased about 20% between 2013 and 2015, according to a new paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday. Prescription drugs also cost about twice as much in the United States compared to other advanced nations. In other words, EpiPens are not the only prescription drugs with steep price hikes.
(MIT Technology Review) – Parkinson’s patients who take the drug levodopa, or L-Dopa, are inevitably disappointed. At first, during a “honeymoon” period, their symptoms (which include tremors and balance problems) are brought under control. But over time the drug becomes less effective. They may also need ultrahigh doses, and some start spending hours a day in a state of near-frozen paralysis. A biotech company called Voyager Therapeutics now thinks it can extend the effects of L-Dopa by using a surprising approach: gene therapy. The company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is testing the idea in Parkinson’s patients who’ve agreed to undergo brain surgery and an injection of new DNA.
(The Washington Post) – As part of my OB/GYN family-planning fellowship at Boston Medical Center, I helped educate health-care providers of obstetrics and gynecology about patient-centered contraceptive counseling and access to all forms of contraception. The harsh fact, though, is that the virus is spreading much faster than our efforts to spread awareness and resources, and the effects are devastating. Given how quickly people are becoming infected, it is critically important to put contraception into the hands of women in Puerto Rico. It is by no means a cure for those already infected by Zika, but contraception serves to drastically reduce the chances of those infected men and women creating unintended pregnancies that could result in children born with birth defects.
(Health IT Analytics) – Gene therapy researchers aiming to create precision medicine treatments may be heading in the wrong direction, according to an editorial published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and should not be the only areas of study to receive large amounts of funding from organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Major research organizations with millions of dollars to spend should cast a wider net when choosing which studies to fund, and should trade an emphasis on immediate, concrete results for a more open approach that allows for the exploration of additional scientific theories.
(San Diego Union-Tribune) – But amid this torrent of discoveries, there’s a growing backlog in trying to put them into action. The innovations remain stuck in the laboratories or kept within elite medical institutions, left untranslated into medications, equipment and other therapies that would help doctors, health insurers and the public. Fixing the bottleneck has become its own branch of medical science. The young but exploding field is known by various names that emphasize various nuances — translational medicine, personalized medicine, individualized medicine and precision medicine.
In Death of D.A. Henderson, Credited with Eradicating Smallpox, the World Loses an Intellectual Giant
(STAT News) – There are few people in the field of global public health so well-known that you merely need to utter two initials to evoke instant recognition. But to raise in conversation Dr. Donald Ainslee Henderson, the man who led the successful effort to eradicate smallpox, all anyone ever bothered to say was “D.A.” Henderson, a few weeks shy of his 88th birthday, died late Friday of complications that arose after he recently fractured a hip.
(NPR) – Every year they’re forced to weigh their options again, Gatz tells Shots, when a letter arrives from the fertility clinic. It asks whether they want to destroy the embryos, donate them for medical research, give them to another infertile couple or continue paying $800 annually to keep the embryos frozen. “Every time we read the ‘destroy’ option on the form, my stomach does a somersault,” Gatz says. “It feels as if our future children are showing up once a year to confront us.”