New from the @EmoryCSHH News Team: The FDA has recently approved a new treatment for patients suffering from severe frostbite, and in an intriguing development on the global health policy front, one country has taken a bold step by considering severe menopause symptoms as a qualifying condition for disability benefits. Meanwhile, a major embryo shipping company has decided to halt its operations in Alabama due to regulatory concerns.
By Pam Belluck, The New York Times
Abortion restrictions are now affecting women who want to be pregnant. Following last year’s Supreme Court decision which overturned the national right to abortion, pregnant women facing life-threatening medical conditions from their pregnancies are being denied abortion care. While state abortion bans already include exceptions for life-threatening emergencies, unclear wording of these bans has caused doctors to fear legal persecution if they perform an abortion for any reason. Abortion advocacy groups are now filing lawsuits aimed at clarifying the language used in said bans. When a fetal life begins is still widely debated, but a pregnant woman’s life is not. Now it needs to be legally defined.
— by Cora Bainum
By Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic
After years of compelling studies and a recent 16-0 vote by the FDA advisory panel, there is no doubt that the active ingredient in almost all over-the-counter decongestants, phenylephrine, is “entirely ineffective” when taken orally. With this information, the FDA must decide now whether they should continue to allow products with phenylephrine to remain on the shelves of pharmacies all across America, threatening the estimated $1.7 billion industry for cold and allergy drugs with phenylephrine. Many are wondering how the FDA allowed the drug to be put on shelves in the first place, considering the numerous studies that disproved its efficacy. The FDA originally reviewed 14 studies, of which five demonstrated positive outcomes; however, the five positive studies all originated from a single research center. Even after researchers conducted studies to evaluate if a higher dose of phenylephrine would be effective, the results against oral phenylephrine were conclusive: it does not work. While these findings threaten many of the most well-known decongestants, such as DayQuil, Sudafed PE, and Benadryl Allergy Plus, some effective decongestants are available over the counter, and many of which still contain phenylephrine, just not in an oral form. Instead, to receive the benefits of phenylephrine or any decongestant, it must be administered by a spray directly into the nose. This story highlights the importance of reevaluating over-the-counter drugs and conducting rigorous research to determine their efficacy.
— by Gillian Feinglass
By Mariana Lenharo, Nature
Scientists have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that can diagnose and predict several diseases simply by looking at a person’s eye. The new device, RETFound, uses self-supervised learning to recognize the human retina in both the standard and diseased states. RETFound works similarly to ChatGPT because it can use millions of retinal photos to learn and predict missing portions of the image like ChatGPT recognizes missing words in a sentence. The retina is a window into an individual’s health. It is the only place in the human body where the capillary network and neural tissue are visible. However, most professionals “don’t have the expertise to interpret these scans. This is where AI comes in.” RETFound has the potential to detect anything from Parkinson’s to a heart attack accurately. The developers of RETFound have made the tool publicly available and hope that groups worldwide may “optimize [it] for their use.” This means that RETFound will become more intelligent and more accurate at predicting several diseases as more groups utilize it. However, the developers caution that it must be used ethically and safely.
— by Lexy Campbell
By Christina Zdanowicz, CNN
A 16-month-old boy from Little Rock, Arkansas, died on September 4th from a deadly brain-eating amoeba infection following a visit to a splash pad at a local country club. The victim died from infection with the rare parasite Naegleria fowleri, causing a condition known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). An estimated three individuals in the United States contract this type of infection per year, according to the CDC. The amoeba enters the body through the nose and travels up to the brain where it destroys brain tissue and causes the brain to swell. Early symptoms of the infection include headache, nausea, vomiting, and fevers, potentially followed by confusion, seizures, and hallucinations. Symptoms typically begin five days following exposure. It is important to note that Naegleria fowleri infection is not contagious; it cannot be spread from person to person. According to the state health department, the last case of Naegleria fowleri in the state of Arkansas was in 2013. Samples from the pool and splash pad at the Country Club of Little Rock were sent to the CDC. One of the splash pad samples contained the amoeba; analysis of the remaining samples is still pending. Although Naegleria fowleri is typically found in soil and freshwater bodies of water, in rare instances, it also can be found in recreational bodies of water such as pools or splash pads that do not have sufficient amounts of chlorine. The CDC says that the best way to prevent this type of infection is to prevent water from going up the nose when swimming in freshwater. It’s also important to ensure that bodies of water used for recreational purposes are treated with chlorine and adequately disinfected.
— by Harleigh Markowitz
By Paula Span, The New York Times
Judy Govatos is a 79-year-old two-time lymphoma survivor. However, her treatment of chemotherapy which put her in remission, was so aggressive that she was wheelchair-bound. Due to this, she has consulted with her physician for Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) if the cancer comes back. Govatos resides in Delaware, where MAiD is illegal but lives 30 minutes away from New Jersey where MAiD is legal. She is now a plaintiff in a case to allow non-New Jersey residents to receive MAiD treatment using the immunities clause and its equal protection clause in the New Jersey Constitution. Advocacy group Compassion & Choices has also perused expansion in MAiD in Oregon and Vermont, where residency requirements were appealed. Repealing the residency requirement in New Jersey would have long-lasting implications due to the large population density in the states bordering New Jersey, leading to the fear of “death tourism”. If the legislation does pass, this does not mean that MAiD will be easily accessible, since there are still many steps before the lethal drugs can be prescribed. This story highlights the implications of health policy and how the ethical dilemma of medical assistance in death is now being expanded and taken to the courts. This will allow people to have the autonomy to die with dignity and avoid a prolonged life that will be full of painful treatments that diminish a person’s quality of life. While MAiD isn’t a life-saving treatment, it does give patients the ability to take control of their lives so medical care and diseases don’t.
— by Caroline Hansen
By Rachel DuRose, Vox
The topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has dominated popular culture lately, with the advent of ChatGPT and Google’s ‘Bard’, among other programs. however, machine learning is now being used to spur innovation in drug development. Traditional methods have had difficulty in keeping up with antibiotic resistance; roughly 700,000 people each year die from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, and scientists expect the death toll to reach 10 million annually by 2050. However, AI may allow researchers to significantly limit this projection. The use of computer programming to aid in drug development has existed for decades; however, their capabilities were very limited. Now, researchers can train computer models on which elements are effective against a bacterium of interest, and then test thousands of compounds to determine which drug (or combination of drugs) contains the necessary molecules to kill a specific bacteria. And, this method requires a fraction of the time and cost used in traditional drug development. In 2018, Google-backed AI laboratory DeepMind developed AlphaFold, which allows for the determination of a protein’s structure and folding from its amino acid components. This information is combined with the molecular library Enamine REAL Space to test compounds that have desired effects. On August 8th of this year, biotech company Recursion announced a partnership with Nvidia, allowing the programs to simulate the interactions of 36 billion target molecules with 80,000 protein binding sites in 15,000 proteins. Fully AI-generated drugs have only been developed in the last few years, and thus remain in clinical trials, undergoing testing by humans. Moving forward, AI can serve as a powerful supplement to drug discovery, providing a much-needed boost in the evolutionary arms race.
— by Saif Hossain
Items summarized by: Cora Bainum, Gillian Feinglass, Lexy Campbell, Harleigh Markowitz, Caroline Hansen, Saif Hossain