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CRISPR ‘Cousin’ Put to the Test in Landmark Heart-Disease Trial

July 15, 2022

(Nature) – It’s test time for CRISPR’s cousin. A clinical trial that recently treated its first participant will test whether base-editing — a genome-editing method related to the CRISPR–Cas9 system — can safely be used to make precise, single-letter changes to a DNA sequence in a cholesterol-regulating gene without breaking both strands of DNA first, as CRISPR–Cas9 would do. This study will be followed by another base-editing trial, slated to treat its first participant later this year, that will aim to treat sickle-cell disease, a genetic blood disorder. (Read More)

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Insurers, Courts Grapple with How and When to Pay for Wilderness Therapy–a Polarizing Industry with a Sordid Past

July 15, 2022

(STAT News) – The wilderness therapy and a subsequent stay at a residential treatment facility for girls cost more than $70,000, and I.’s family expected it to be covered the way comparable medical treatments are. But their health insurer refused to pay. First, UnitedHealthcare cited missing information. Then, it said I.’s policy excludes wilderness therapy because it’s considered “experimental.” Like dozens of parents before him, I.’s father is turning to the legal system in hopes of forcing payment. It’s an increasingly common move — but one that heaves a formidable question onto judges, who must decide whether the polarizing therapy has enough evidence behind it to warrant insurance coverage. (Read More)

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Texas Hospitals Delaying Care Over Abortion Law, Letter says

July 15, 2022

(Associated Press) – Some hospitals in Texas have reportedly refused to treat patients with major pregnancy complications for fear of violating the state’s abortion ban, the Texas Medical Association said in a letter this week. The association did not name the hospitals but said it’s received complaints that hospitals, administrators and their attorneys may be prohibiting doctors from providing medically appropriate care in some situations, The Dallas Morning News reported. (Read More)

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New 988 Hotline Is the 911 for Mental Health Emergencies

July 15, 2022

(Associated Press) – Quick help for suicidal thoughts and other mental health emergencies will soon be as easy as 9-8-8. The United States’ first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline goes live on Saturday. It’s designed to be as easy to remember and use as 911, but instead of a dispatcher sending police, firefighters or paramedics, 988 will connect callers with trained mental health counselors. (Read More)

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U.S. Tells Pharmacists Not to Withhold Pills That Can Cause Abortion

July 14, 2022

(New York Times) – In four pages of guidance, the federal Department of Health and Human Services ticked off a series of conditions — including miscarriage, stomach ulcers and ectopic pregnancy — that are commonly treated with drugs that can induce abortion. It warned that failing to dispense such pills “may be discriminating” on the basis of sex or disability. (Read More)

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Drug-Resistant Infections in Hospitals Soared During the Pandemic, C.D.C. Says

July 14, 2022

(New York Times) – Deaths caused by infections impervious to antibiotics and antifungal medications rose 15 percent during the first year of the pandemic compared to 2019, federal health officials found. Much of the increase was tied to the chaos wrought by the coronavirus as doctors and nurses struggled to treat waves of grievously sick patients whose illness they did not fully understand, before vaccines and treatments were widely available. About 40 percent of the deaths were among hospitalized patients, with the remainder occurring in nursing homes and other health care settings, the C.D.C. report found. (Read More)

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Patients with Epilepsy Navigate Murky Unregulated CBD Industry

July 14, 2022

(Kaiser Health News) – The federal government has since legalized CBD, and it has become a multibillion-dollar industry. The FDA also has approved one cannabis-derived prescription drug, Epidiolex, for three rare seizure disorders. But not much has changed for people with other forms of epilepsy like Taylor who want advice from their doctors about CBD. Dr. Joseph Sirven, a Florida neurologist who specializes in epilepsy, said all of his patients now ask about it. Despite the buzz around it, he and other physicians say they are reluctant to advise patients on over-the-counter CBD because they don’t know what’s in the bottles. (Read More)

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The Radical Plan for Vaccine Equity

July 14, 2022

(Nature) – At the root of the problem lies a dependence on the limited goodwill of countries — mainly in the global north — where the majority of large pharmaceutical companies are based. That’s why more than a dozen countries in the global south are banding together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other groups in a long-term initiative to build vaccine- and drug-making capacity throughout Africa, South America, Asia and Eastern Europe. (Read More)

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Pharma Companies Sue for the Right to Buy Blood from Mexicans Along Border

July 14, 2022

(ProPublica) – In the year since the United States blocked Mexicans from entering the country to sell their blood, the two global pharmaceutical companies that operate the largest number of plasma clinics along the border say they have seen a sharp drop in supply. In a suit challenging the ban, the companies acknowledged for the first time the extent to which Mexicans visiting the U.S. on short-term visas contribute to the world’s supply of blood plasma. In court filings, the companies revealed that up to 10% of the blood plasma collected in the U.S. — millions of liters a year — came from Mexicans who crossed the border with visas that allow brief visits for business and tourism. (Read More)

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One Coronavirus Infection Wards Off Another–But Only If It’s a Similar Variant

July 14, 2022

(Nature) – Natural immunity induced by infection with SARS-CoV-2 provides a strong shield against reinfection by a pre-Omicron variant for 16 months or longer, according to a study. This protection against catching the virus dwindles over time, but immunity triggered by previous infection also thwarts the development of severe COVID-19 symptoms — and this safeguard shows no signs of waning. The study, which analyses cases in the entire population of Qatar, suggests that although the world will continue to be hit by waves of SARS-CoV-2 infection, future surges will not leave hospitals overcrowded with people with COVID-19. The research was posted on the medRxiv preprint server on 7 July. It has not yet been peer reviewed. (Read More)

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Experts Say It’s ‘Meaningless’ to Compare Case Counts, Positivity Rates from the Current COVID-19 Wave Driven by the Omicron BA.5 Subvariant to Earlier Spikes

July 14, 2022

(Business Insider) – Comparing current COVID-19 data — like case counts and positivity rate — to earlier points in the pandemic is now “meaningless” thanks to the widespread use of rapid at-home testing and the underreporting of results, public health experts told Insider. “It’s an invalid comparison. They’re not telling you the same type of information,” infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said. (Read More)

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Some Doctors Rethink Careers After States Restrict Abortions

July 14, 2022

(Wall Street Journal) – The overturning of Roe v. Wade has changed the work of some doctors performing abortions and other healthcare workers involved in the procedures. In response, some of the doctors and workers are traveling to other states to practice temporarily or moving to states where abortion remains legal from states where it is now restricted. Others said they plan to stay in states curbing abortion to provide access in cases when it remains legal. (Read More)

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Venezuela’s Alarmingly Low Vaccination Rate Among Worst in World

July 14, 2022

(Associated Press) – Public health officials have long warned that Venezuela, with an unraveling health-care system and roughly a decade of political unrest, has alarmingly low vaccination rates. The country is banned from purchasing vaccines through a regional system that offers affordable prices until it pays off an $11 million debt — largely the result of a power struggle between the government and the U.S.-backed opposition. Specific data on vaccination rates have been elusive in Venezuela, where institutions are shrouded in secrecy, corruption and bureaucracy. The country hasn’t published rates since 2015. But an Associated Press analysis of rare government data and estimates from public health agencies shows that Venezuela’s vaccination crisis is growing, putting it among the world’s worst countries for inoculating children against potentially fatal diseases. (Read More)

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US Regulators OK New COVID-19 Shot Option from Novavax

July 14, 2022

(Associated Press) – The U.S. is getting another COVID-19 vaccine choice as the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday cleared Novavax shots for adults. Novavax makes a more traditional type of shot than the three other COVID-19 vaccines available for use in the U.S. — and one that’s already available in Europe and multiple other countries. Nearly a quarter of American adults still haven’t gotten their primary vaccinations even this late in the pandemic, and experts expect at least some of them to roll up their sleeves for a more conventional option — a protein-based vaccine. (Read More)

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US Regulators Clear Way for More Monkeypox Vaccine Shipments

July 14, 2022

(Associated Press) – Thousands more doses of monkeypox vaccine are expected to soon begin shipping to the U.S. after federal health officials said they had completed an inspection of the overseas plant where they were manufactured. The update from the Food and Drug Administration comes amid growing frustration about limited access to the two-dose vaccine as thousands of people in New York City, California and other parts of the U.S. await a chance to get the shot. (Read More)

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The Age of Distracti-pression

July 13, 2022

(New York Times) – First, the broad strokes: In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 15.8 percent of American adults took prescription pills for mental health. During the pandemic, the National Center for Health Statistics teamed up with the Census Bureau to carry out quick online “pulse” surveys and tracked mental health prescription pill use. The numbers they turned up echo what we already sense: We are depressed, anxious, tired and distracted. What’s new is this: Almost a quarter of Americans over the age of 18 are now medicated for one or more of these conditions. (Read More)

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Doctors Using AI Catch Breast Cancer More Often Than Either Does Alone

July 13, 2022

(MIT Technology Review) – Radiologists assisted by an AI screen for breast cancer more successfully than they do when they work alone, according to new research. That same AI also produces more accurate results in the hands of a radiologist than it does when operating solo. (Read More)

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In Shanghai, a Surge in Cases Raises Fears of Another Lockdown.

July 13, 2022

(New York Times) – Barely six weeks after Shanghai fully lifted a prolonged and harshly enforced lockdown, China’s biggest city is again grappling with a surge of coronavirus cases. Residents wary of being suddenly confined in their homes have been alarmed by mixed messages from official sources circulating on social media, including advice that they stock up on food and medicine. (Read More)

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Beauty Filters Are Changing the Way Young Girls See Themselves

July 13, 2022

(MIT Technology Review) – The face filters that have become commonplace across social media are perhaps the most widespread use of augmented reality. Researchers don’t yet understand the impact that sustained use of augmented reality may have, but they do know there are real risks—and with face filters, young girls are the ones taking that risk. They are subjects in an experiment that will show how the technology changes the way we form our identities, represent ourselves, and relate to others. And it’s all happening without much oversight. (Read More)

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They Blazed a Trail By Having Their Brains Linked to Computers. Now They Want to Help Shape the Field’s Future

July 13, 2022

(STAT News) – The [brain-computer interface] field is reaching an inflection point as the research-only technology is being advanced by commercial interests. With the expected influx of patients — and money — Burkhart intends to lead the discussions into difficult, but necessary, territory in quarterly webinars, beginning in September. Who owns data extracted from someone’s brain? What is autonomy when some version of your thoughts are read into a circuit board? Is the goal restoration of movement, augmentation, or maybe enhancement? In what ways are patients allowed to use their BCI? (Read More)

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