The Week in Review provides an overview of the past week’s top health care content, including industry news and trends, Mayo Clinic and Mayo Clinic Laboratories news, and upcoming events.
Sky-High Prices for Air Ambulances Hurt Those They Are Helping
A 2017 federal investigation found that costs for an average air ambulance flight doubled between 2010 and 2014. Some states saw even bigger increases. New Mexico bills went up 229% between 2006 and 2015, a state investigation found. Each state's law varies in what can be disclosed about these complaints due to its interpretation of patient privacy. In some cases, CNN could see details about the patient's condition, how far and where they were flown, how much they were charged, how much insurance paid and the nature of the complaint. Some states released much less. Some would acknowledge only that there had been complaints. However, it's clear that these bills can be devastating for families. One complaint sent to the Michigan insurance office says a family flew a dying relative home after he got sick in Arizona. To get him to a hospice in Michigan cost $547,725. It cost another family $62,749.35 to fly a child with a malignant brain tumor from Wisconsin to Houston to see a specialist. Via CNN.
Rethinking Bed Rest for Pregnancy
The stated reason: Going to bed will help prevent a premature birth, or worse, a miscarriage. But there's a major problem with this advice—there is no solid, scientific evidence that bed rest improves outcomes for pregnant women and their babies. "The bottom line is that there's never been any proven benefit of bed rest," says Dr. Anne Drapkin Lyerly, an OB-GYN and professor of bioethics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Lyerly and colleagues in 2013 did a review of the scientific research on bed rest as it relates to a variety of conditions, from early contractions to high blood pressure to carrying twins. They found no benefit. In fact, women put on bed rest can suffer harm—physical, psychological, and economic. "It doesn't seem like a dangerous intervention in the same way we think about surgeries or medications," Lyerly says. "But in fact it can be very dangerous." Via Wisconsin Public Radio.
How Can a Medical Device Deemed Unsafe in Another Country Still Be Sold in the U.S.?
Each year, flaws are found in thousands of medical devices. The FDA posted more than 2,000 recalls of medical devices last year, warning about how to avoid possible injuries or even deaths. Sometimes it posts these recalls before other nations impose their own regulations. But there is no global system to make sure that a product found to be problematic in one country is not sold in another. An NBC News analysis found at least five devices about which other nations issued safety warnings and the FDA did not. These devices include a knee implant with high failure rates, a pregnancy test that gave false results, and dental drills that might damage nerves. In other instances, the FDA has lagged months behind warnings issued in other countries. "There exists no global nomenclature for medical devices," said Adriana Velazquez Berumen, senior adviser on medical devices for the World Health Organization. "In each country they have different naming, different coding, different prepping. So that complicates everything." Via NBC News.
Facing Backlash, Chinese Scientist Defends Gene-Editing Research on Babies
The scientist who stunned the world by claiming he created the first genetically modified babies defended his actions publicly for the first time, saying that editing the genes of the twin girls while they were embryos would protect them from contracting HIV. He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, addressed hundreds of scientists gathered at an international gene-editing summit in Hong Kong that has been rocked by ethical questions swirling around his research. Earlier, He surprised the scientists just as they were gathering for the meeting with his claim, which he outlined in a series of YouTube videos. With the announcement, He bypassed scientific norms of first subjecting his experiment to scrutiny by other scientists. Via NPR.
Coffee Drinkers’ Personality Traits Are Different from Non-Coffee Drinkers, a Study Says
The only negative personality trait associated with excessive coffee drinking came after 10 cups. According to the study, people who drink more than 10 cups of coffee a day are more likely than the general population to have a personality disorder. On the upside, Mayo Clinic reported that there are myriad health benefits to drinking a moderately large of coffee, "including protecting against Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer. Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function, and decrease the risk of depression." Via Bustle.
Mayo Clinic News
Dispelling Deadly Myths about the Flu Vaccine
So far, this year’s flu season is starting off slowly and looking fairly conventional, with sporadic cases and small outbreaks starting to occur around the country. The H1N1 strain is circulating, and for now, the vaccine appears to be a good match, says Gregory Poland, M.D., Director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group in Rochester, Minnesota. Hundreds of millions of new influenza mutants form every few minutes, Dr. Poland says. “People tend to think of the flu as a static virus, but it is an incestuous cesspool of viruses,” he says. “Prediction is impossible.” Via Washington Post.
When the Body Attacks the Brain
In the span of eight weeks, Dr. Denise Krivach, a former Abbott Northwestern radiologist, went from making retirement plans in the woods of Montana to being barely able to care for herself. Doctors in Montana diagnosed her with dementia. But that didn’t seem right to her. When she arrived at Mayo Clinic in 2014, doctors ruled out dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “Alzheimer’s doesn’t run like that,” said Andrew McKeon, M.B., B.Ch., M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist. “It runs over a matter of years or decades.” Dr. Krivach was diagnosed with neurological autoimmune encephalopathy. It is an underdiagnosed condition in which her own immune system was attacking her brain, causing nerve interference, swelling and a loss in cognition. The diagnosis gave Dr. Krivach treatment options that not only stopped her cognitive decline but reversed it. Mayo Clinic is on the forefront of autoimmune research—the study of immune disorders that affect the brain or nervous system. Leading researchers in the field are discovering new antibodies or protein anomalies in nerve cells that lead the immune system to attack or interfere with nerve function. Via Post-Bulletin.
Scientists Claim First Genetically Edited Babies
Gene editing works by making a cut in the DNA to disable a specific gene. In this case, to increase resistance to a possible future infection with the AIDS virus. "In principal, it's probably been doable for 20 years," said Stephen Ekker, Ph.D., a Professor at Mayo Clinic and President of the Genome Writers Guild. "It's not a surprise to us that somebody tried this approach, to go after human germ line, it's always been a question of when." But Dr. Ekker says that doesn't mean it's the right time to apply the technology to human embryos. Though the claims out of China have yet to be verified, and the newborn twins have yet to be identified, he says it raises important questions and conversations that are long overdue. "I think it's very important that when we're not talking about just ourselves, but about our future generations, that we understand the full context of what we're doing," Dr. Ekker said. "You've got to have a process by which you decide where that line is, and so it's got to be a dynamic process and it should be adaptable to the science and the ethics and the culture of the times, and I don't feel like we've got that process in place at all." Via Kare 11.
Mitochondrial DNA Can Be Paternally Inherited in Humans, New Study Finds
Mitochondrial DNA can—in rare instances—be paternally inherited in humans, a new study has reported. In most mammals, mitochondria and mitochondrial DNA is inherited exclusively maternally. Though other organisms occasionally experience paternal mtDNA transmission, previous reports of paternally inherited mitochondria in humans have largely been attributed to contamination or sample mix-ups. However, researchers led by Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center's Taosheng Huang and the Mayo Clinic Hospital's Paldeep Atwal reported yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they found biparental mtDNA inheritance in three families. The investigators also confirmed their findings at independent labs with different methodologies. Via GenomeWeb.
Infectious Diseases A–Z: Complications from the Flu Can Be Fatal
The 2018 flu season is expected to get active in the U.S. over the coming weeks. Health officials hope to avoid a repeat of the 2017–2018 season that affected 49 million Americans. "In the U.S. alone, last year 80,000 Americans died from influenza and its complications, and almost a million were hospitalized. That’s a huge burden of disease – much of it preventable by flu vaccine," says Gregory Poland, M.D., Director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group. Via Mayo Clinic News Network.