Week in Review: Sept. 23

shutterstock_184172777The Week in Review provides an overview of the past week’s top health care content, including industry news and trends, Mayo Clinic and Mayo Medical Laboratories news, and upcoming events.

Industry News

When Blind People Do Algebra, the Brain’s Visual Areas Light Up

People born without sight appear to solve math problems using visual areas of the brain. A functional MRI study of 17 people blind since birth found that areas of visual cortex became active when the participants were asked to solve algebra problems, a team from Johns Hopkins reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Via NPR.

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New Muscular Dystrophy Drug Wins FDA Approval, but Questions Linger

Tentative approval has been granted by federal regulators for the first muscular dystrophy drug. The approval follows an intense public campaign from patients and doctors who pushed for the largely unproven medication. The approval comes nearly five months after the Food and Drug Administration and a panel of outside advisers panned the drug, saying there was little evidence that it helped. But regulators faced a public backlash from patients’ families, politicians and physicians. The FDA cleared Sarepta Therapeutics’ Exondys 51 for a rare form of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a deadly inherited disease that affects boys. It’s the first FDA approval for the degenerative condition, which causes muscle weakness, loss of movement, and eventually death. Via CBS News.

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Want a Zika Test? It’s Not Easy

As worries about the spread of the virus in the United States continue to mount, public health department labs in Florida and New York City are running at or close to capacity, while private commercial labs have won emergency approval to run Zika tests and have ramped up their testing capacity. That’s because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued strict guidelines about who should be tested, giving priority to pregnant women with possible exposure to Zika and people with Zika-like symptoms. Already public health officials in Florida say they face a backlog of tests for pregnant women, some of whom may be waiting to make decisions about whether to have abortions if they test positive. But the CDC’s testing policy largely ignores a sizable subgroup of women and men also at risk — those who are trying to conceive but fear they have been exposed to Zika. Via NY Times.

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Zika’s Persistence in the Eye May Play a Role in Spreading the Virus, Study Finds

Researchers have found that the Zika virus can live in eyes, and research in mice may help explain why some Zika patients develop eye disease, including a condition that can lead to permanent vision loss. In a study published in Cell Reports, researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis describe the effect of Zika virus infections in the eyes of mouse fetuses, newborns and adults. The study suggests that the eye could be a reservoir for the virus. Eye infection raises the possibility that people could become infected with Zika through contact with tears from infected people, they said. Via Washington Post.

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What We Know About Drug Studies is About to Change

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health said that while clinical trials have improved over the years, scientists conducting the research need to be held accountable so that the public can have timely access to clinical trials in progress and their final results – whether the findings are positive or negative. The problem, they said, is that when a study’s results are disappointing – a promising new drug formula turns out not to work the way its developers hoped, or people experience unacceptable side effects, for example – the findings were often swept under the rug and not published. To make this happen, HHS is issuing a final rule with requirements on how and when researchers should register clinical trial information and submit results to ClinicalTrials.gov, a public online portal where anyone can go to read up on current clinical trials. Via CBS News.

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Mayo Clinic News

Getting Pharmacogenomics Into the Clinic

In recent years, advances in genetic testing have made such drug-response predictions possible for patients with certain gene variants. But physician adoption is moving slowly, say experts in the growing field of pharmacogenomics. In the results of a nationwide survey by the American Medical Association released in 2012, only 13% of more than 10 000 responding physicians had ordered a pharmacogenomic test in the previous 6 months, although almost all of them—98%—agreed that drug responses may be influenced by genetic variations. Pharmacogenomics may help inject more science into the art of prescribing. Mark Frye, M.D., professor and chair of the department of psychiatry and psychology at the Mayo Clinic, believes the technology has the potential to transform antidepressant treatment for major depressive disorder, multiple anxiety disorders, and some chronic pain conditions. Via JAMA.

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New Breast Cancer Test Finds Disease When Mammograms Don’t

Researchers at Mayo Clinic developed a technology that can spot breast tumors in dense tissue at a fraction of the cost of MRI's. It is estimated that half of all women have dense breasts, and in their mammograms tissue shows up white, the same color as a tumor. This makes it difficult to distinguish if cancer is present or not. Using MBI, patients are injected with a tracer that seeks out cancer cells, making them more easily visible on test result scans. Via Miami Herald. 

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Mayo Clinic’s Caring Canine Program Continues to Grow

Volunteers play a key role in making a difference for patients at Mayo Clinic and as you walk around the campus, you may start to notice more four-legged volunteers. Mayo’s Caring Canine Program is continuing to expand. Jessica Smidt, who took over as program coordinator 3 years ago, says there were just 8 therapy dogs on campus and now there are 30 in the program. Smidt says the demand for therapy dog visits is higher than ever. Via KIMT.

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The Perks of Manipulating the Microbiome

John DiBaise, M.D., professor of gastroenterology and hematology at Mayo Clinic, in Scottsdale, Ariz., said his institution has performed more than 225 fecal transplants since they began offering the procedure in 2011. He said their rates of success in curing recurrences of C. difficile exceed 90%. They also occasionally treat irritable bowel syndrome. “We’re typically doing six of these a month,” he said, noting they would do more if not limited by his available time. Pharmacists should stay informed about this emerging therapy, and especially keep an eye out for an encapsulated form of FMT, said Dr. DiBaise, who also presented at the conference. Via Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News.

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Opioid Crisis: Video with Mayo Experts Available for Media

Each day, 78 people in the U.S. die of opioid overdoses, and more than 1,000 are treated in emergency departments for opioid misuse, federal figures show. In a series of broadcast-quality, 60-second videos available for media use, Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist and pain medicine expert W. Michael Hooten, M.D., and gastroenterologist Michael Camilleri, M.D., discuss the opioid epidemic and the dangers associated with inappropriate use of prescription pain medication. Via Mayo Clinic News Network.

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Gina Chiri-Osmond

Gina Chiri-Osmond is a Marketing Channel Manager at Mayo Medical Laboratories. She manages public relations and media outreach. Gina has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2011. Outside of work, Gina is going for gold in volleyball at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo . . . or at small-town summer festivals.