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Good morning. Before we get to the serious news of the day, I’d like to take a page from my colleague Ed Silverman’s playbook and share some coffee news.
Mexico’s activist abortion ‘companion networks’ are quietly migrating to the U.S.
In Mexico, volunteer groups of activists form ‘companion networks’ to provide advice, emotional support, and free medications to those seeking abortion. More and more of the people they help live in U.S. states where abortion has been sharply restricted since Roe was overturned, just as Mexico decriminalized abortion. These networks have quietly been sending abortion pills across the border, often to vulnerable people who lack funds or immigration papers, and training volunteers in the U.S. to establish their own companion networks.
Crystal Pérez Lira (above) founded one of the groups two years after she crossed from Tijuana to San Diego to seek an abortion a decade ago. Now her group has helped 60 people obtain medication abortions, offering support throughout the procedure. “We’re migrating the way we’re working,” she said. “We’re migrating that mission into the U.S.” STAT’s Olivia Goldhill has more about this secretive operation.
White House throws support behind controversial way to lower drug prices
Big news on the pharma front: The Biden administration on Thursday will back the expanded use of “march-in rights,” sources tell STAT’s Sarah Owermohle and Rachel Cohrs. The policy would allow the National Institutes of Health to seize patents from drugmakers whose products rely on federally funded research. Up till now, the U.S. government has avoided exercising this kind of broad authority.
“The White House is using every tool at its disposal to bring down the cost of prescription drugs,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said in a brief interview with STAT. “Sure, Congress could do more, but with the Republicans in control of the House, that’s blocked. So President Biden is stepping up and making clear that when markets fail, the consequence won’t be for consumers.” Read more.
‘Bound to slavery’: NEJM reckons with its racist past
The New England Journal of Medicine, the world’s oldest continuously published medical journal, confronted its history and complicity surrounding slavery and racism yesterday. The first essay in a series by independent historians describes the journal’s role in perpetuating racist thinking in medicine that continues to this day. The historians describe the journal, founded in 1812, as “bound to slavery”: One journal founder owned enslaved people, and the other’s family got rich through trade closely tied to slavery.
Throughout the 19th century, authors routinely and casually used racist and dehumanizing language about Black Americans in the journal, with little pushback from editors who also reprinted articles from Southern medical journals filled with racist ideology about the intelligence and health of Black Americans. “History matters,” said Evelynn Hammonds of Harvard and one of the essay’s authors. “Not everybody gets the same health care in America. How did we get a system like that? It didn’t just pop up from nowhere.” STAT’s Usha Lee McFarling has more.
Proposals to protect abortion patients’ records are getting pushback
Like many other repercussions from the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the issue of patient privacy is fraught. Abortion access and laws vary widely depending on where you are, spurring concern about what happens when patients’ electronic health records are shared across institutions and state lines. The Biden administration hopes to introduce new patient privacy regulations to protect patients and providers from prosecution, but health care giants UnitedHealth Group and Epic are pushing back.
After years of pressure to increase data sharing in the health care system, new efforts would require software makers to ensure that health care providers can easily segment and protect specific information from disclosure when requested by patients. “EHRs have been working so hard to share data automatically,” family medicine physician Michele Gomez told STAT contributor Paul Webster, “that we’re now behind in thinking about how to not share when that data can be used to criminalize a patient.” Read more.
For ovarian cancer, proof of principle from a Pap test inspires hope
A diagnosis of ovarian cancer can be especially devastating because it’s usually delivered too late for treatments that work well early in the disease to help those in the later stages. That’s why there’s such an urgent need for early detection. Researchers writing in Science Translational Medicine yesterday raised some hopes with their small, retrospective study of Pap smears that they emphasize is only a proof of principle. They report that their test found genetic changes predicting ovarian cancer up to nine years before diagnosis.
The corresponding author and two outside experts flagged some important caveats (the healthy group was younger than the cancer group, for example), but their hope for progress was clear. “I think it’s conceptually very interesting and also very exciting,” said Naoko Sasamoto, a Harvard Medical School gynecologist and clinical oncologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “However, I have to say that we’re not there yet.” I have more here.
AI-guided blood test predicts organ aging — and risk
Do you know the organs in your body age at different rates? For most people, kidneys, hearts, and livers are on different clocks, research over the last decade has concluded, ticking away until disease or injury jam the works. The challenge, one accepted by researchers whose work appeared yesterday in Nature, is to puzzle out which organ is headed toward trouble before it’s too late to fix it. Their method analyzed distinct proteins shed by organs into the blood, enlisting AI for this cause.
The research suggests it might be possible one day to use a blood test to warn people at high risk for different organ-specific diseases. In the study cohort of more than 5,000 adults over age 50, about 1 in 5 had one organ aging significantly faster than the rest. Accelerated heart-agers, for instance, were at a 250% increased risk of heart failure later in life. STAT’s Megan Molteni tells us more.