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Institutions push back on scientific misconduct rules
Investigating scientific research misconduct is necessarily a heavy lift for universities and other institutions. Many are now saying that proposed changes from the U.S. Office of Research Integrity could force them to lose their independence in reviewing misconduct allegations.
The updated polices and procedures, estimated to take a combined 95,000 hours and $10 million to implement, include a new 30-day turnaround time for institutions to conduct an initial assessment of an allegation. “Rushing this process may result in hasty conclusions and potential miscarriages of justice,” Purdue University wrote in public comments on the regulations portal. Noted scientific integrity expert Elizabeth Bik also warns that a vaguely worded proposal allowing the identities of whistleblowers to be disclosed to those who “need to know” could discourage people from coming forward with concerns. STAT’s Annalisa Merelli has more on the back-and-forth.
Senate committee looks into private equity’s impact on health care
Private equity has a bad reputation in the hospital world, stemming from research showing private equity ownership jacks up the cost of medical care and stacks debt on hospitals — so much so that 9 of 10 hospitals in financial distress are owned by private equity. STAT’s Tara Bannow and Bob Herman told us last year how private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, now the target of an FTC investigation, chased profits by exploiting loopholes and government programs in niche areas of the health care industry.
Yesterday, the Senate Budget Committee launched a bipartisan investigation into private equity ownership of hospitals, citing concerns that such arrangements are bad for both health care providers and patients. “As private equity has moved into health care, we have become increasingly concerned about the associated negative outcomes for patients,” Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a statement. Brittany Trang has more.
Ultrasound could 3D-print organs inside the body, study on pigs suggests
Imagine you’re a patient sitting in a chair. You need one of your organs repaired or even replaced, but instead of a surgeon’s scalpel cutting you open, a robotic arm, guided by AI, will wield an ultrasound transducer to 3D-print a patch or an organ inside you in a precise pattern, using bioink delivered via catheter or syringe. This emerging technology, called deep-penetrating acoustic volumetric printing and described yesterday in Science, opens the door to many potential applications in medicine.
To get there, researchers had to substitute sound for the light typically used in printing engineered tissue, flexible electronics, or medical devices. They settled on a focused ultrasound transducer to convert electrical energy into sound waves that can be manipulated remotely to travel through the tissue to create any structure. The ink was a cocktail of chemicals that respond to sound waves. STAT’s Debbie Balthazar has more, including overcoming the potential problem of “soundburn.”
Antimicrobial resistance growing with war in Ukraine
Antimicrobial-resistance is a global health scourge, one made worse by the spread of bacteria impervious to multiple antibiotics among patients wounded in the Ukrainian war. Rates of antimicrobial resistance were already high in Ukraine, but a survey of three Ukrainian hospitals published yesterday by the CDC found many patients had war-wound infections that were difficult or impossible to treat because they were caused by resistant bacteria. These results mirror what’s happened in other conflicts, including Iraq.
Gaps in infection prevention and control as well as lab capacity may be causing delays in identifying these dangerous germs, potentially leading to spread in Ukraine and beyond its borders. An example of the problem: Among 353 patients on surveyed hospital wards, 50 had health care–associated infections. “The spread of antimicrobial resistance in Ukraine is an urgent crisis that must be addressed, even during an ongoing war,” the researchers say.
Study attempts to ease long Covid symptoms through the gut microbiome
A study published in Lancet Infectious Diseases yesterday on a live microbial dietary supplement’s effects on long Covid was praised in a commentary as “a foundational step.” But caveats should be foregrounded: People’s reports of a treatment’s effects on their symptoms may not be reliable, and results from one ethnic group may not apply to others.
Previous research has shown people with long Covid have less diverse microbiomes, so the study randomized half of participants with at least one long Covid symptom to take an oral combination of prebiotics and probiotics daily for six months. The other half took a placebo.
At the trial’s end, more people in the treatment group said their fatigue, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, GI upset, and general unwellness had eased compared with people in the placebo group, which also generally felt improvement. The authors speculate that lower systemic inflammation thanks to higher gut microbial diversity might be at play, while urging more study of the gut microbiome in long Covid.
Clinical trials for gynecologic cancers are weak on diversity, study says
“Nothing about us without us” has been a rallying cry for generations. The expression came to mind in light of this study published yesterday in JAMA Oncology on the dearth of underrepresented populations in clinical trials. Among more than half a million women with endometrial, ovarian, or cervical cancer, the odds of clinical trial enrollment were lower among Asian, Black, and Hispanic women compared to white women. The overrepresentation of white women when measured against the U.S. population persisted for all three gynecologic cancers, while underrepresentation was true for Asian and Hispanic women. Black women were adequately represented for endometrial and cervical cancers but underrepresented for ovarian cancer.
Overall, women who received a diagnosis for one of the three cancers between 2016 and 2019 were roughly 10 times more likely to be enrolled in clinical trials compared with those who received a diagnosis between 2004 and 2006. Still, “[r]acial and ethnic disparities in clinical trial enrollment are unjust and hinder development of new cancer treatments,” the researchers write.
What we’re reading
- Texas judge grants pregnant woman permission to get an abortion in challenge to state’s ban, Associated Press
- 11 clinical trials that will shape medicine in 2024, Nature
- Biden proposal targeting pharma patents spurs industry fears and consumer doubts, STAT
- The sauna secret: Why Finland is the happiest country in the world, The Guardian
- Sen. Warren pushes for more data on Medicare Advantage coverage hurdles, denials, STAT