Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Happy halfway-through-the-week! Welcome to Morning Rounds. Here's what you need to know about health and medicine today.
Alexander Fleming's penicillin samples go up for sale
Two samples of the original mold that Alexander Fleming used to produce penicillin are going up for auction March 1 in London. The fungi are trapped in a glass disc and are being sold as part of an archive that also includes Fleming’s papers and letters. Fleming’s fungi have traded hands at lots of different auctions over the years. The most recent, in December, saw one such sample fetch a whopping $46,000. Along with it, the buyer got a letter Fleming's housekeeper had written, with this postscript: "P.S. As though you didn't know — but just in case — this round affair is a blob of the original Mould of Penicillin, not to be confused with Gorgonzola cheese!!!"
FTC wrangles refunds for tanning beds touted as safe
Home tanners who bought Mercola indoor tanning systems can expect a refund coming their way, courtesy of the FTC. The tanning beds were peddled by alternative health figure Joseph Mercola — who has been criticized for making claims that aren’t backed up by scientific evidence — and his associated companies. Federal officials allege that Mercola and Co. claimed several of their indoor tanning systems wouldn’t increase users' risk of melanoma and could even reverse the appearance of aging. The CDC has said indoor tanning beds accelerate skin aging and also contribute to some types of melanoma. The refunds, which total nearly $2.6 million, shake out to about $1,900 per person.
Lab Chat: A sea creature's secret to regeneration
Hydra happenings. (Technion-Israel Institute of Technology)
Hydras, tiny creatures that sprout and thrive in fresh water, have an amazing ability to regrow when sliced and diced into pieces. Now, research into their regenerative capabilities is offering new clues about human tissue regrowth. Here’s what Kinneret Keren of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology told me about the work, published in Cell Reports.
What did you discover about hydra regrowth?
When a hydra is cut to pieces, each piece can grow into a new animal. We found that the tissue pieces have a “structural mechanical memory” carried over from the parent hydra. This structural memory is encoded in an array of long stringy protein fibers called the cytoskeleton.
How does that happen?
The small tissue ball grows new body parts according to the pattern retained in the cytoskeleton; the tissue ball first elongates into a tube and then starts to grow its tentacles, until finally a new hydra emerges with all the missing body parts.
What could this tell us about human regrowth?
Aligned cytoskeletal fibers and mechanical interactions between cells [can] be found in many organs in the human body, including our muscles and the heart. A better understanding of how hydra regrow their lost body parts may therefore help understand how mechanical processes complement biosignaling in defining the shape and function of human tissues and organs. [It also] might help understanding regeneration processes in human tissues which are essential for developing regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.
Inside STAT: The brain and the compulsion to go online
Just over two decades ago, a psychotherapist claimed he’d found a new mental illness: Internet Abuse Disorder. The hallmark symptoms? Compulsively reading the web and sending emails. A listserv sprung up to discuss the alleged affliction. The American Psychiatric Association created a task force to look into whether it qualified as a mental illness. They determined that it didn’t — but the story of this would-be illness does hold fascinating clues about how our minds work. Sharon Begley has more — read here.
Merriam-Webster takes a page from science
Dust off your dictionaries, folks — CRISPR, microbiome, and EpiPen are joining the official ranks of the English language. Merriam-Webster has included all three words in its annual additions to the dictionary. Also on the list: Prosopagnosia, also known as “face blindness.” Neurologist Oliver Sacks studied the condition and wrote about his experience with the disease — read his story here. What science lingo would you like to see added to the dictionary? Hit reply to this email and let me know! I’ll share your ideas in tomorrow’s newsletter.
How grocery delivery could help low-income individuals
Home delivery options might increase access to healthy foods among low-income individuals, a new analysis to be published in a nutrition journal this morning suggests. Researchers in Washington mapped both low-income populations and food retailers that accept WIC, a supplemental nutrition subsidy. More than 95 percent of low-income individuals living in rural areas were within a 20-minute drive of a retailer which accepts WIC.
That’s encouraging — but it’s also contingent on access to a car. The study found that 78 percent of low-income individuals who didn’t have reasonable access to a WIC supermarket said it was because they didn’t have their own car. The most logical way to address that: Bring healthy foods directly to low-income individuals who otherwise can’t access them, the researchers say, by making grocery delivery options WIC-eligible. The USDA is taking a similar approach with a pilot program that launches this summer that will allow low-income individuals to purchase fresh produce on Amazon with food stamps.
Differences in tests could skew diabetes numbers
A commonly used test to track blood sugar levels over time might not be as accurate for black patients with a sickle cell mutation — and that might mean diabetes is being underdiagnosed in that group. A new study published in JAMA looked at A1C counts — a measure of glycated hemoglobin, used to track blood sugar control over time — in more than 4,600 people. Some of those individuals had sickle cell trait, a genetic variant in hemoglobin that’s found in 80 percent of black individuals. Using a standard A1C test, researchers found diabetes was far less common in patients with SCT than those without. But when other measures of blood glucose control were used, there wasn’t any difference in prevalence between the two groups. The researchers aren’t sure what’s driving the difference in results between testing methods, but say the finding raises questions about how the tests should be used in practice.
What to read around the web today
- HHS pick made "brazen" stock trades while his committee was under scrutiny. Kaiser Health News
- Map: Find out what new viruses are emerging in your backyard. NPR
- Three minutes with Hans Rosling will change your mind about the world. Nature News
Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,