Week in Review: Jan. 25

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.

Industry News

U.S. Insulin Costs per Patient Nearly Doubled from 2012 to 2016, Study Finds

The cost of insulin for treating Type 1 diabetes in the United States nearly doubled over a recent five-year period, underscoring a national outcry over rising drug prices, according to a new analysis. A patient with Type 1 diabetes incurred annual insulin costs of $5,705, on average, in 2016. The average cost was roughly half that, at $2,864 per patient, in 2012, according to a report released by the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute. The figures represent the combined amount paid by a patient and his health plan for the medicine and do not reflect rebates paid at a later date. The increasing cost of insulin has led some patients to put their own health at risk. In recent months, anecdotal stories have cropped up from family members and patients describing the rationing of the lifesaving medication because they could not afford out-of-pocket expenses for insulin. That has also led to some protests outside company headquarters of insulin makers. Via NBC News.

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Top Names in Health and Medicine Gather in Davos for World Economic Forum

Some of the biggest names in science and medicine are in the Swiss ski resort town of Davos this week to rub elbows with world leaders and one-percenters—and talk about the future of health care. The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum draws in health, medicine, and biopharma leaders from across the globe. Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, Johnson & Johnson chief scientific officer Paul Stoffels, and AC Immune CEO Andrea Pfeifer will be in attendance. They’ll be joined by other top names in the field, including global health philanthropist Bill Gates, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and former CDC director Julie Gerberding. It’s not just biopharma royalty that’ll be in attendance. It’s also actual royalty: Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, is taking part in a panel on promoting mental health across the globe. Via STAT.

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Hospitals' Confusing Online Price Lists Give Patients a Headache

A new federal rule that took effect this year was supposed to make health care costs more transparent by requiring hospitals to disclose their prices to the public. But it may be adding to patients' confusion. Nicki Pogue's recent out-of-network emergency room visit for a viral syndrome left her more fearful of her hospital bill than her illness. Pogue, whose husband is a CBS News contributor, said her insurance company only paid $3,000 of her $13,000 bill. "I never dreamed I'd be on the hook for $10,000," Pogue said. A new government rule that requires hospitals to post their prices online was supposed to help patients like Pogue anticipate their health care costs. But Jeanne Pinder, who runs Clear Health Costs, a website where consumers can look up medical prices, said even she is confused by the hospital price lists. The first problem, she said, is the lists are hard to interpret. There are no uniform standards for how procedures and prices are described. Via CBS News.

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In Davos, U.S. Executives Warn That China Is Winning the AI Race

Top business leaders here at the World Economic Forum are monitoring China’s slowing economy, but they are eager to make another point: China has taken the lead on the artificial intelligence revolution. Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman, who travels frequently to Asia, said he sees an explosion of new AI businesses in China. “When I go to China, there’s almost an endless stream of people who are showing up developing new companies. The venture business there in AI-oriented companies is really exploding with growth,” Schwarzman said on a panel. The Chinese government has made tech dominance a priority in its “Made in China 2025” plan. Chinese leaders are pouring government money into AI research and development in a scientific push that has been compared to the space race or the Manhattan Project that the U.S. government funded during World War II to develop a nuclear weapon. Via Washington Post.

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Spinal Fractures Can Be Terribly Painful. A Common Treatment Isn’t Helping.

Scientists warned osteoporosis patients to avoid two common procedures used to shore up painful fractures in crumbling spines. The treatments, which involve injecting bone cement into broken vertebrae, relieve pain no better than a placebo does, according to an expert task force convened by the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. Dr. David Kallmes, a radiologist at the Mayo Clinic and one of the first doctors to cast doubt on vertebroplasty, said he understands the appeal. “I have seen miracles with vertebroplasty,” he said. “But the data are the data.” He tries to talk patients out of the treatment, describing the risks, which are small but real, including bleeding, infections, leakage of the cement, and new fractures from the procedures. He explains the lack of benefit. But if a patient insists, he sometimes performs the procedure anyway. “If it’s not done by me, it will get done by Joe down the road,” he said. Via NY Times.

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Mayo Clinic News

Blood Test May Predict Alzheimer’s Progression

"These results suggest that in the context of Alzheimer's disease pathology—currently measured by CSF amyloid or amyloid PET, but potentially in the future by blood amyloid—serum NfL could prognosticate the rate of disease progression and potentially be utilized in clinical trials as a surrogate endpoint," observed Michelle Mielke, Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who was not involved in the research. "The authors correctly point out that additional studies are needed over the clinical and pathological course of sporadic Alzheimer's patients, especially because sporadic Alzheimer's patients are older and are more likely to have co-existent vascular and other brain pathology which can also impact serum NfL levels," Mielke told MedPage Today. Via MedPage Today.

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Mayo Clinic Study Finds Mindfulness Can Ease Women's Menopausal Symptoms

Findings of a new Mayo Clinic study have shown an association between mindfulness and menopausal symptoms. Researchers also found that being mindful can be particularly beneficial for menopausal women who experience anxiety, irritability, and repression. Mayo Clinic general internist and women's health specialist Richa Sood and colleagues involved 1,744 women between 40 and 65 who rated their menopausal symptoms, perceived level of stress, and mindfulness in questionnaires. Researchers found that those with higher mindfulness scores tend to have fewer menopausal symptoms. They also found the link between reduced menopausal symptoms and higher mindfulness is stronger in participants with higher perceived level of stress. Via Tech Times.

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Pregabalin Effective for Treating Pain, Bloating, Diarrhea in IBS

Pregabalin—a calcium channel alpha 2 delta ligand—helped treat visceral hypersensitivity in patients with irritable bowel syndrome and reduced symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea, according to research published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. Yuri A. Saito, M.D., of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and colleagues wrote that visceral hypersensitivity is a common symptom of IBS and can be treated with several therapies. However, these treatments do not work for all patients. “Data on pregabalin’s effects on visceral pain and IBS are limited but suggest the drug does reduce gut visceral hypersensitivity,” they wrote. “Because of its known effects on pain, we postulated that pregabalin would decrease bowel symptoms—particularly IBS-related abdominal pain or discomfort.” Via Healio.

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Preventing the Flu

Flu season is back and experts say vaccines offer the best method to prevent the spread of the virus. For about six months the flu virus travels from homes to schools, to the workplace, and in more severe cases in the hospital. "Anybody who is less than two years old, if it's an older sibling we'll get them tested because we want to prevent the baby from getting influenza. So especially those people who have little ones at home we want them to be evaluated if older siblings have symptoms," said Dr. Francesca McCutchun with Mayo Clinic Health System. Via KAAL.

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Frosty Grip Brings Frostbite Fears and Other Weather-Related Worries

Much of the U.S. is facing severe winter storms and subzero temperatures. And one of the first concerns, if you're outdoors, should be frostbite. Via Mayo Clinic News Network.

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Gina Chiri-Osmond is a Marketing Channel Manager at Mayo Clinic Laboratories.