skip to Main Content
A blue image of 5 people who are holding on their laps clipboards, printouts, laptops and a tablet, surmounted by a semi-opaque white box containing the words "Weekly Health Digest"

Carbon-free fuels could have a dark side

By Katherine Bourzac, Science

Green fuels – specifically burning ammonia or hydrogen gas – have been lauded as a high-energy, environmentally-friendly alternative to gas and coal. However, companies and industries using this type of energy will need to take significant precautions to make sure that their green energy stays green. Recent studies warn that incomplete combustion – when the starting material doesn’t burn all the way – produces amounts of nitrous oxide, a reactive nitrogen compound. One study suggested that just 0.4% incomplete combustion would cancel out the beneficial climate effects of using ammonia. Hydrogen leaks can also increase environmental levels of methane, a greenhouse gas. While the reaction itself isn’t difficult, scaling up hydrogen and ammonia for energy comes with decreased oversight, which researchers worry could increase real-world leak rates. While these green fuels may seem like the answer to decreasing carbon emissions, more research is still needed to know how to efficiently implement these energy sources.

by Katie Stachowicz

Send your name to space via NASA’s ‘Message in a Bottle’

By Erin Blakemore, The Washington Post

In October of 2024, NASA will launch a new spacecraft to Jupiter to explore its moon, Europa, and discover if it is capable of supporting life. The spacecraft will have a list of human names. NASA is launching a campaign for people to submit their names to be included on the list. Names submitted by the end of 2023 will be included on the spacecraft and enter Jupiter’s orbit in 2030, joining the 700,000 names that have been submitted so far. The initiative is called “message in a bottle” and will also carry the poem “In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa”  by U.S. poet laureate Ada Limón.

Scientists believe that Europa may have an energy source, water, and other chemicals necessary for life. It even possibly has an ocean below its icy surface. Since the sun cannot penetrate Europa’s surface, scientists think Jupiter’s radiation may be a potential energy source to replace it.

Astronomer Carl Sagan, who was chair of the committee responsible for NASA’s famous golden discs that went into space with the Voyager spacecraft in the 1970s said “The launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.” 

by Chaya Tong

Sickle-Cell Treatment Created with Gene Editing Wins U.K. Approval

By Gina Kolata, The New York Times

On November 16, Britain approved the first CRISPR treatment for sickle-cell disease. The treatment, called Casgevy, comes from Vertex Pharmaceuticals which is based in Boston, MA. The treatment is expected to be approved for sickle-cell patients in the United States in December. In Britain, patients must be over twelve years old and have experienced repeated episodes of extreme pain. They also must not be eligible for a stem cell transplant. Despite the promise that Casgevy holds, it still requires patients to first receive chemotherapy and then stay in the hospital for at least a month. The treatment also will require expertise that most hospitals lack. The cost per patient in the United States is expected to be millions of dollars. However, it is also important to consider that sickle cell disease currently costs the American health system about $3 billion a year. Despite the difficulties surrounding this new treatment, it has the potential to improve the lives of the approximately 100,000 individuals in America suffering from the disease.

by Ellie Purinton

Amazon launches Prime subscriptions for One Medical

By Tina Reed, Axios

Expanding its healthcare footprint, Amazon will start offering existing Prime members discounted subscriptions to One Medical, after acquiring the primary care provider for $3.9b earlier this year. With telehealth services, generic drug delivery through RxPass, and now One Medical, Amazon has shown that it intends to make healthcare a core offering. 

A One Medical annual membership costs $199 but Prime members can gain access by paying $9/month or $99/year on top of the Prime subscription. Membership includes 24/7 virtual services, online scheduling, and same-day and next-day appointments at more than 200 One Medical clinics spread across over 20 metro areas. 

Time will only tell whether a membership-based primary care model can scale. But if the success of direct-to-consumer healthcare companies such as His & Hers is any indication, we can expect Amazon’s retail rivals to feel the pressure. The announcement comes well-timed, as health insurance enrollment opens and cold and flu season ramps up.

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of medical costs and demand price transparency. So while there are other digital health players offering telehealth, pharmacy, and other services, they might all be too small to compete with Amazon. Should the e-commerce giant successfully scale membership to One Medical, employers will begin covering clinics in their health plans.

by Nolan Shah

Pain, fatigue, fuzzy thinking: How long COVID disrupts the brain

By Jon Hamilton, NPR

While the COVID pandemic may seem like it is behind us, there are still several individuals who continue to be affected by its consequences. Michelle Wilson is among this population of people who report persistent symptoms of long-covid years after diagnosis. Having noticed obvious signs of damage to the brain and nervous system (such as unreliable memory, fatigue, and body aches), Wilson was desperate for a solution. Unfortunately, Wilson’s search for treatment was challenging. There is little known about how long-covid affects a patient over long periods of time, so recovery resources are scarce. Part of the research efforts towards understanding the neurological impacts of a COVID-19 infection include studying how brains are affected among mouse models post-infection. It was found that, despite being infection-free, many of the mice maintained cognitive deficits due to the inflammation induced by COVID-19. There are not many drugs available that target this inflammation so those in similar circumstances as Wilson have limited treatment options. The COVID vaccine is a great preventative measure for long-COVID, but the demand for interventions that ensure recovery after developing long-covid has not been satisfied yet.

by Soma Sonawane

EU allows use of controversial weedkiller glyphosate for 10 more years

By Barbara Casassus, Nature

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) recently decided to continue to allow the use of glyphosate in agriculture. Glyphosate is the primary ingredient for a common weedkiller, RoundUp. The decision will permit this compound’s use for ten more years with some added restrictions and new conditions.

Many conflicting studies have raised questions about its safety for the public. Although it is agreed that without proper protective equipment, farmers could suffer from serious eye damage, the effect on consumers who eat glyphosate-treated produce is up for discussion. Some studies have linked glyphosate to being a potential carcinogen while others claim it is less potent than that.

Similarly, people’s feelings and responses to the recent decision on glyphosate are mixed. Some argue that maintaining glyphosate in agriculture will prevent the potential rise of even more toxic alternatives. Others are dismayed, arguing that the current data on the safety and health hazards of the compound should be enough to prevent its further use and that we should turn to more sustainable alternatives instead. 

by Jeeya Sharma

Why are so few people getting the latest Covid-19 vaccine?

By Dylan Scott, Vox

The excitement in the air felt palpable when the COVID-19 vaccines were originally released. Americans did whatever they could to get the vaccine as fast as possible, waiting in long lines to join the over 90 percent of adults who received at least one dose of the vaccine in 2020. However, just three years later, the excitement that once surrounded the vaccine has all but disappeared. Created in under a year, the COVID-19 vaccine was originally touted as one of the most impressive scientific feats in recent history. Now, just 14 percent of adults have gotten the new COVID-19 vaccine, but 28 percent have received the flu shot. Public health experts attribute this stark decline in vaccinations to reduced fear of the virus, the rampant politicization of the vaccine, and lackluster messaging to encourage the public to get the vaccine. As a result, this may lead to less production of the vaccine in the future. However, just because fewer people are taking the vaccine does not diminish the serious threat posed by COVID-19 to individuals and society as a whole. Experts are encouraging the public to continue taking the vaccine to protect themselves from the most serious complications associated with the virus and to their protect loved ones, especially the elderly and infants. 

by Gillian Feinglass

Items summarized by: Katie Stachowicz, Chaya Tong, Ellie Purinton, Nolan Shah, Soma Sonawane, Jeeya Sharma, Gillian Feinglass