Testing Drugs On ‘Mini-Hearts’ Created In Labs Could Prevent Clinical Trials’ Harmful Consequences
A biomechanical engineer has created the first heart organoid that contains a hollow chamber, like one of the four in actual human hearts, that responds to stress hormones and beats with electrical activity. The innovation could open doors for safe and effective research. In other public health news: sepsis, fitness trackers, cancer treatments, measles, antidepressants, and supplements.
It Beats Like The Real Thing, But Can A Heart Organoid Prevent The Next Vioxx?
It’s all part of a growing effort to overcome shortcomings of using animals or human cell cultures in research, by building more realistic human organ models. Such models have a range of uses: By observing organoids created from the cells of people with a genetic disease, for instance, scientists are trying to understand what goes wrong and when, in hopes of finding ways to prevent or fix the problem. More immediately, they are using organoids to screen drugs for safety and efficacy, ideally identifying problems before a company takes an experimental compound into expensive clinical trials — but definitely before people are harmed, as happened with Merck’s arthritis drug Vioxx. (Begley, 2/23)
New Sepsis Alert System Relies On Algorithms And A Nurse's Wisdom
A quarter of a million Americans die every year from sepsis, which is the body's reaction to overwhelming infection. This cascade of organ failure can be nipped in the bud if health care workers know it's ramping up, but that's often not easy to do. "Sepsis is a really frustrating disease," says Dr. David Carlbom, a critical care pulmonologist, and medical director of the sepsis program at the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. "There's no blood test for sepsis," he says. "There's nothing you can look at under the microscope and say 'this is sepsis.' " (Harris, 2/22)
New Eyeglasses With Tiny Fitness Tracker Make Debut
Rancho Cordova-based VSP Global embedded a tiny new fitness tracker into the temple of a new line of eyeglasses known as Level smart glasses, and the company is launching sales in the Sacramento region. The devices keep track of information such as the number of steps taken, calories burned, distance traveled, and it transmits all the data via Bluetooth technology to a mobile app on smartphones. (Anderson, 2/22)
This Gel Loaded With Drugs Aims To Hit Cancer With A One-Two Punch
Scientists looking to make cancer therapies that combine chemotherapy and immunotherapy safer and more effective have come up with a new tactic to deliver those drugs: stick them in a hydrogel, inject them into a tumor, and let the drugs kick in one after the other. The idea was the brainchild of Zhen Gu, a biomedical engineer at the University of North Carolina. It’s the latest in a series of biomedical inventions from Gu, who created a “smart” insulin patch and was recognized by MIT Technology Review as one of the top 35 innovators under 35. (Thielking, 2/22)
The New York Times:
Measles Cases In Europe Quadrupled In 2017
Measles cases soared in Europe last year, and at least 35 children died of the highly infectious disease, according to the World Health Organization. The virus found its way into pockets of unvaccinated children all over the continent, from Romania to Britain. The number of recorded cases quadrupled, to 21,315 in 2017 from 5,273 in 2016, a record low. (McNeil, 2/23)
A Big Study Finds Antidepressants Work In Adults, But Will It End Debate?
Seeking to end a long-running debate over whether antidepressants are truly effective, a group of researchers conducted a sweeping new analysis of hundreds of studies and determined the pills were useful in relieving depression among adults. Although effectiveness and side effects varied, the findings indicated antidepressants were, across the board, more effective than a placebo. Consequently, the results provide “the best currently available evidence base to guide the choice about pharmacological treatment” for adults suffering from depression, the researchers wrote in The Lancet, where the new study was published. (Silverman, 2/22)
The Wall Street Journal:
Herbal Supplement Has Some New Yorkers Talking, Instead Of Coughing
If there’s one thing New Yorkers love more than discovering a new secret remedy, it’s telling other New Yorkers about it. “I’d been super sick for a week and half and couldn’t stop coughing,” said Alex Schweder, an architect and professor of design at Pratt Institute. That’s when his girlfriend gave him a bottle of Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa, an “herbal dietary supplement with honey and loquat,” according to the label. (Rovner, 2/22)