KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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The Way People Touch, Use Smartphones Could Predict And Preempt Mental Health Issues

A study has found a strong correlation between patients suffering from depression and anxiety and certain patterns in keyboard and other touchscreen actions on their smartphones. In other public health news: Alzheimer's tests, tobacco, sleep apnea, sexual assault and paralysis, kids with inexplicable pain, and more.

Stat: Mindstrong Wants To Predict Mental Illness From Smartphone Interactions
Dr. Thomas Insel is one of the most high-profile scientists who has departed Verily Life Sciences, the Google spinoff that has been plagued by turnover at the top and questions about its approach to science. Insel, a neuroscientist and longtime head of the National Institute of Mental Health, left for a venture that he says could use people’s behavior on smart phones — such as the speed and cadence of their typing and scrolling — to improve diagnosis and treatment of mental health. The idea, he said in an interview, is to apply the kind of precision approach used for cancer or heart disease to “predict and preempt” serious mental illness. (Piller, 8/7)

NPR: Better, Cheaper Alzheimer's Tests In The Works
Efforts to develop a treatment that stalls the memory-robbing devastation of Alzheimer's disease have so far been unsuccessful, but scientists are making strides in another important area: the development of better tests to tell who has the condition. Their aim is to develop more accurate, cheaper and less invasive tests to detect the biological markers of Alzheimer's-induced changes in the brain. (Wang, 8/4)

The Wall Street Journal: Big Tobacco’s Next Big Thing? Tobacco
Big Tobacco is working on its next act, as cigarette sales decline around the world and once-breakneck growth from the first wave of e-cigarettes fades. Three of the world’s biggest tobacco firms are rolling out new, electronic tobacco-heating devices they say are healthier alternatives to traditional smoking, but feel more like puffing on a real cigarette. That is a sensation many smokers complain is missing from the wide array of electronic cigarettes currently on the market. (Chaudhuri, 8/6)

Bloomberg: Trump Administration Halts Federal Effort To Combat Truckers' Sleep Disorder 
The Trump administration is halting a year-old effort to seek better ways to diagnose truckers and railroad workers who have sleep apnea, a health condition linked to deadly accidents. Two agencies in the Department of Transportation announced Friday that they will no longer pursue a regulation to combat obstructive sleep apnea, which prevents people from getting decent rest and has led to drivers nodding off behind the wheel. The federal government was considering screening truck drivers and train engineers for the disorder. (Levin, 8/4)

The Washington Post: How Talking To Yourself Can Help Scientists Understand The Brain
Do you talk to yourself? Don’t sweat it: Scientists say you’re not alone. And the ways in which you chatter to yourself, both in your head and out loud, are changing what neuroscientists know about the human brain. Writing in Scientific American, psychologist Charles Fernyhough reveals why we’re our best conversational partners. Scientists have only recently learned how to study self-talk — and it’s opening up exciting new avenues of research. (Blakemore, 8/5)

Stat: Track Authorities Move To Again Bar Women With Naturally High Testosterone
The limit dates back to 2011, when the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), which oversees track and field events, first created the rule. Naturally produced high testosterone, the group ruled, provided female athletes with an unfair advantage akin to doping — and so, to compete, a woman over the limit would have to lower her testosterone, through medication or surgery, or prove that she was not sensitive to its effects. (Caruso, 8/7)

Chicago Tribune: Doctors May Be Over-Prescribing Seizure Drugs To Treat Pain
Doctors are prescribing the anti-seizure drugs gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica) to treat pain more frequently, partly in response to the opioid epidemic in the United States, said Dr. Allan Brett. He's a professor of clinical internal medicine with the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Columbia.However, the drugs might not be doing any good for many people suffering from chronic pain, Brett said. (Thompson, 8/4)

Stat: How Obama's Science Experts Are Still Operating In The Shadows
Nearly all of the Obama administration’s science staff has departed the White House since January, and the Trump administration has moved slowly to replace them. In the meantime, however, an unofficial shadow office, stocked with Obama loyalists, is quietly at work. The network, described to STAT by officials from the previous administration who are involved, is informal yet organized, allowing for a far-reaching if largely inconspicuous effort to continue advocating for the Obama science agenda. (Facher, 8/7)

Columbus Dispatch: Doctors Warn Of Deadly Risks Of Antibiotic Overuse
For decades, doctors and patients have overused, misused and abused antibiotics without much thought, but public health officials are warning that the practice is taking a dangerous, even deadly toll. ...Each year, at least 2 million people in the United States become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (Pyle, 8/6)  

WBUR: 'Mozak' Lets Online Players Beat Brain Scientists At Their Own Game
Created by the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the Center for Game Science, the free online game has attracted around 2,500 players since its release last November. They're helping to fill a major scientific gap: We still don't really understand how neuron circuits in our brain are structured or how they work. (Choi, 8/4)

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