AngelMD Friday Round – July 13, 2018

The Friday Roundup is a collection of five stories that you need to know about each week. From policy, to innovations, look to us to keep you up to date on what’s happening in the healthcare industry.

Fears of a Sexually-Transmitted Superbug

An article from the BBC highlights a new danger that could go unnoticed. Mycoplasma genitalium (MG) is a sexually-transmitted disease that, because of its lack of symptoms, could easily be spread without either party knowing. The long-term effects of MG include infertility in women, and left untreated the disease could gain resistance to antibiotics.

Most carriers of MG become aware of the problem due to discharge from the urethra, or painful urination. But in many cases, there are no symptoms at all. The British Association of Sexual Health and HIV is going on the offensive to prevent the spread of the disease. Campaigns are being launched to tout the use of condoms as an effective barrier from MG, and to encourage testing in those people who believe that they may have contracted the disease.

Coffee Could Help You Live Longer

Your morning brew could provide more than a pick-me-up. According to a JAMA study highlighted by NPR, coffee drinkers tend to live longer. The study highlighted over half a million participants, ranging in age from 38 to 73. It found that those who drank at least three cups per day of coffee had a twelve percent lower risk of mortality compared to those who abstained.

Interestingly, it appears that there is no relation between the longevity and caffeine. Even those who reported drinking decaf coffee showed the same improved life expectancy. This new data, combined with studies that show a daily coffee habit linked to a decreased risk of stroke and Type 2 diabetes, should give lovers of the roasted beans reason to rejoice.

CRISPR the Cancer Slayer?

While scientists are still finding new uses for CRISPR gene editing, an interesting behavior has been uncovered and reported in ScienceNews. Cancer cells have a unique ability to return to their original source tumor. This knowledge has been used in the past to deliver cancer-killing viruses back to the host tumors. But now researchers have taken this method a step further.

By editing the genes in the cells, this homing effect is now being used to kill the host tumor without the addition of viruses. “The new twist here is the use of CRISPR-based technology to add resistance or sensitivity features to the parental cells,” says Renata Pasqualini, a cancer biologist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in Newark.

A New Definition of Alzheimer’s

Scientists at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the Alzheimer’s Association (AA) have proposed that it’s time to change the definition of Alzheimer’s disease. Rather than relying on the symptoms associated with the disease, they posit that it should instead be defined by biomarker pathology.

“The biggest change we are proposing — for research purposes only — is that AD no longer be defined by the presence of clinical symptoms and a stereotypical clinical presentation, which has historically been the definition used for clinical and research purposes,” lead author Clifford R. Jack Jr, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, told Medscape Medical News.

Is Cancer Research Overfunded?

If you caught up with our 2017 Private Healthcare Investment Report, chances are that you noticed the dramatic gap between funding for cancer research and all other areas of healthcare. As it turns out, this is a hot topic elsewhere as well. During the MedCity CONVERGE conference in Philadelphia, a panel raised the difficult questions that must be answered in order to get a grasp on the costs of cancer research.

“Do we want to overinvest in cancer treatment? Do we want to spend more on children with cancer as opposed to patients of other ages? What if we looked at every disease state and asked what the bang for the buck is?” These questions, while shocking when taken at face value, make up a core problem that faces anyone involved with cancer research funding.  Going Below the Surface is a new initiative looking to bring together stakeholders to take a better look at how the United States uses healthcare resources.

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AngelMD Friday Roundup – July 6, 2018

The Friday Roundup is a collection of five stories that you need to know about each week. From policy, to innovations, look to us to keep you up to date on what’s happening in the healthcare industry.

Blood Test for Prostate Cancer Extends Lives

A new study focuses on a pricey blood test that can detect a protein variance in patients that causes resistance to an ARS inhibitor drug commonly used for treatment. The variance shows up in 10 to 20 percent of patients and is a “fork in the road for treatment.”

The study found that switching to another ARS inhibitor is unlikely to help, thus making the test useful in determining a course of treatment for the patient. Despite the findings, there are critiques of the study as it was retroactively examining real-world results rather than conducting a trial.

A Piece of the Alzheimer’s Puzzle is in Your Medicine Cabinet

A study further looked into the use of aspirin as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, using mice with a comparable condition as subjects. Scientists currently believe that the buildup of amyloid beta in the hippocampus leads to the disease, and are trying to find ways to clear the brain of the plaque buildup or prevent it from happening.

In the study, researchers found aspirin helped stimulate organelles called lysosomes that can break down the plaque. The low doses of aspirin did slow the development condition, but another study in humans will need to be conducted for more definitive conclusions.

Poor Quality Care Has a Cost

When patients receive care that does not meet the standard, they end up paying for it in more way than one. A report from the World Health Organization studied the impact of misdiagnoses, inappropriate treatment, and unsafe facilities worldwide and found poor care holds impacts health in all countries, regardless of income.

In low and middle-income countries, 10 percent of hospitalized patients develop an infection. The number is slightly lower in high-income countries at 7 percent. The report also indicated that access to care is skewed by the presence of clinics as sometimes only a fraction of the clinical are “effective” at treating its patients.

Could AR Increase Patient Engagement?

Though augmented reality is most commonly associated with its gaming applications, there are other ways to utilize the technology. Patients with chronic conditions rely of meeting with their doctors to manage their conditions, and using AR offers the patient immersive learning about the intricacies of their condition.

For example, AR could overlay certain appearances of the skin and display effects when topical ointments are applied. AR also has other applications in healthcare, like medical education apps that allow students to intimately interact with the human anatomy.

The CRISPR Switch

CRISPR, the well-known DNA editing technology, has a few issues associated with its potential use. One of which being that the stuff that actually changes the genes stays activated in the body after it’s done fixing what it is supposed to fix, meaning the tech has unknown potential side effects.

However, scientists in the U.K. may have solved this problem by developing a “switch” made of an amino acid. Other scientists have begun to tackle the same problem with different solutions like editing RNA to ensure the editing is reversible.

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AngelMD Friday Roundup – June, 27 2018

The Friday Roundup is a collection of five stories that you need to know about each week. From policy, to innovations, look to us to keep you up to date on what’s happening in the healthcare industry.

Using Sewers to Track the Opioid Epidemic

As the crisis continues to claim lives across the country, some companies are getting innovative with their approach to the problem. Biobot Analytics has done just that by using the water sensors in city sewers to map drug use patterns.

There is some concern around privacy, this essentially means anyone using a toilet is voluntarily providing their sample. Biobot can distinguish between drugs that were merely flushed versus consumed. Considering the stigma surrounding drug use, some citizens and city officials aren’t exactly supportive of the practice.

Getting to the Source of the Pain

The quest to map the brain has led down some interesting paths, including the study of pain. The last two years have seen a growth in the research and collection of data surrounding pain.

Some researchers use fMRIs to capture brain activity while subjecting people to pokes and burns, while others utilize linguistics and how patients describe their pain to try to make sense of it. An article in The New Yorker goes into exhaustive detail about those currently studying pain and how the field got to where it is today.

Amazon Buys Online Pharmacy PillPack

For a little under $1B, Jeff Bezos has expanded his empire yet again with the acquisition of PillPack, a company that allows users to order medications in pre-made doses online.

Previously, PillPack had been talking with Amazon rival Walmart, but Amazon was able to offer more to the company. PillPack currently operates in all 50 states, but has yet to venture into international markets, something Amazon can likely help scale.

Measuring Care for Complex Needs

There’s has been a trend of increased accountability in healthcare when it comes to quality of care, but when a patient has a complex combination of needs, that measurement can be more challenging.

Those with high needs often have multiple chronic conditions, the care of which is assessed separately, but that does not take into account the way the conditions intersect and how that can impact that care. The solution? A new wholistic performance measurement system specifically for high needs patients.

FDA Encourages Inclusion of Patients with Suicidal Thoughts

Historically, patients experiencing suicidal thoughts have been left out of trials for drugs treating depression because of safety concerns, but new guidance from the FDA states that exclusion is not necessary.Previous exclusion of these patients can be tricky for researchers as they cannot confirm that the drug will function when a patient is in the most dire of circumstances.

Some companies are adjusting their exclusions to include those who have suicidal thoughts, but no intention of acting on them, but still exclude those at higher risks who may have been hospitalized in recent months due to their depression.

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AngelMD Friday Roundup – June 22, 2018

The Friday Roundup is a collection of five stories that you need to know about each week. From policy, to innovations, look to us to keep you up to date on what’s happening in the healthcare industry.

Dr. Atul Gawande Gets the Amazon Healthcare CEO Spot

After months of speculation, the healthcare venture from Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway finally has a CEO. Dr. Atul Gawande is a general and endocrine surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who is also a prolific author for The New Yorker and his own books.

His position starts July 9th, out of the company’s Boston offices. That said, the company still does not have a name out in the public. The only other information that anyone knows is the direction — The company was formed to find ways to address healthcare for their US employees, with the aim of improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs.

What Happens if the Unthinkable Becomes Reality?

According to former CDC director Tom Frieden, if a worldwide epidemic hits, we are ill-prepared for its impact. The PreventEpidemics.org website highlights gaps in preparedness among all of the countries in the world, using color codes to denote a five-rank level of preparedness.

Gaps that are shown include monitoring systems, epidemic tracking, and insufficient training. To make alarming news even worse, only six percent of the world’s population lives in countries that are considered to be better prepared, at least according to the PreventEpidemics.org scoring system.

CVS Aetna Deal Could Close By End of 2018

In an interview with CNBC, CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo said that the company is pleased with the progress of the merger, even with having to wait for the Department of Justice to approve the deal. An approval for the merger of AT&T with Time Warner has been seen as a positive sign for the CVS deal, but there are still many obstacles ahead.

CVS had announced in December that it planned to buy Aetna. The $69 billion deal is slated to offer more choices for Aetna customers, and a wider market share to CVS.

Opioid Restriction Increased Black Market Sales

An October 2014 reclassification of hydrocodone products has caused black-market sales to spike, according to a recent study cited by Reuters. The Schedule II classification, which affords stricter controls, means that fewer patients were able to get their hands onto the products through legal means, and instead turned them to other methods of acquisition.

The news is especially alarming considering the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States. While the rescheduling was aimed at reducing the nubmer of patients on opioid medications, the unintended side effect of patients pursuing the drugs via the black market also raises questions about the reclassification’s efficacy on more than just paper.

Healthcare Analytics Sees Large Uptake

A new survey from Ernst & Young shows that 91 percent of respondents have already or plan to undertake tech adoption in the next 12 months. Of these adoptions, analytics is the most commonly-planned project, with 50 percent saying that they hope to tap into the services. That said, only 43 percent say that they’ve actually touched an analytics project in the previous 12 months.

Staff satisfaction initiatives, which could have direct impact on physician burnout, are taking a hit according to the survey. While 62 percent say that they had focused on staff satisfaction in the previous year, only 36 percent planned to continue their efforts in the next 12 months.

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AngelMD Friday Roundup – June 15, 2018

The Friday Roundup is a collection of five stories that you need to know about each week. From policy, to innovations, look to us to keep you up to date on what’s happening in the healthcare industry.

Gene Therapy Reverses Rat Paralysis

A team at King’s College London has discovered a gene therapy breakthrough that could offer promising future results for humans. The early-stage research showed that scientists were able to use gene therapy to reverse spinal cord paralysis in rats.

The challenge with most therapies is that scar tissue blocks the new nerve connections from forming. By using gene therapy to modify the instructions of the spinal cord genes, researchers were able to cause the same scar tissue to be broken down instead. Two months after the therapy began, the rats were able to use their front paws once more.

A Bloodless Test for Malaria

A 24 year old Ugandan man named Brian Gitta has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for his device that detects malaria without the use of a blood test. He developed the device, which uses a beam of light projected through the user’s finger, after a traditional test failed to diagnose his own malaria.

The Matibabu device works similarly to a pulse oximeter, clipping onto the finger. However, it is then able to read changes to the color, shape, and concentration of red blood cells. All of these factors are influenced by malaria. The majority of malaria-related deaths in the world occur in Africa, and Gitta’s team hopes to one day be able to better detect malaria across the continent.

Vitamin D May Protect Against Colorectal Cancer

Some time in the sun may be just what the doctor ordered. Or at least 600 IU’s of vitamin D from your food. A large, international study has provided the strongest evidence yet that vitamin D could in fact protect you from colorectal cancers. Further, the study shows that a deficiency of vitamin D may increase the risk of the cancer occuring.

In both men and women, deficiencies were associated with a 30 percent increased risk of colorectal cancer, according to epidemiologist Marji McCullough. The study included nearly 13,000 participants across the United States, Europe, and Asia. Interestingly, the study did show that beyond the adequate dosing for cancer prevention, there were no additional benefits provided with higher doses.

Old Dogs Teach Humans New Tricks

Specifically old, fat dogs. In a Hungarian study, researchers have found that overweight dogs have a lot in common with overweight humans. This includes the dogs being unwilling to settle for lesser quality food. When provided with two bowls of food, overweight dogs eventually stopped going to the second bowl which contained a lesser-quality kibble.

In results published in the Royal Society Open Science Journal, the behavior of the dogs is noted to closely align with that of humans. Humans often see food as a reward, and therefore are less willing to settle for something that is less desirable to them. Likewise, because the food is seen as a reward, humans can tend to want to overeat in order to continue feeling rewarded.

CRISPR Tech Raises Cancer Concerns

Gene therapy continues to be a pervasive topic in medicine, but STAT reports that editing cells may increase the risk of triggering cancer cells according to two studies published on Monday. Novartis and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute both found that edited cells have the potential to see tumors, leaving them as a potential source of cancer at a later time.

CRISPR Therapeutics CEO Sam Kulkarni has confirmed that the results are plausible, although he goes on to say that they likely only apply to one of the ways in which CRISPR edits genomes. “It’s something we need to pay attention to, especially as CRISPR expands to more diseases. We need to do the work and make sure edited cells returned to patients don’t become cancerous.”

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