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Brainstorm Health Daily: February 23, 2017

Kitten lovers got a reprieve yesterday. A research team led by Francesca Solmi at University College London analyzed thousands of records from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children and found no association between having a cat during pregnancy (or in a home with young children) and later psychotic episodes in adolescents (13-year-olds) and young adults (age 18). The study was published Wednesday in the journal Psychological Medicine.

Previous research had suggested that because house cats are the primary hosts of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii—and that parasite has, in turn, been linked with several neurological, mood, and psychiatric disorders—living with a cat would increase the risk of developing the latter. Solmi’s large study suggests that isn’t the case. (Pregnant women, though, still shouldn’t handle dirty kitty litter, where T. Gondii often lurks, because of the risk of toxoplasmosis.)

Indeed, it’s been boom times for non-associations. Last month, a study in the British Medical Journal found that having a high body mass index (BMI) measure in pregnancy does not necessarily lead to having obese children. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report concluding that marijuana does not cause lung cancer.

An earlier Italian study (ahem) clears eating pasta of any link to obesity. UCSF researcher Shalini Dixit and colleagues found that drinking coffee doesn’t lead to an irregular heartbeat. Another study found that letting an infant cry herself to sleep isn’t going to cause harm. (It did not address whether the parents themselves will descend into a deep chasm of irredeemable guilt.) And finally, a decade-long study of nearly 720,000 UK women concluded that happiness does “not appear to have any direct effect on mortality.”

So what about cigarette smoking? “Smoking has been found to harm nearly every bodily organ and organ system in the body and diminishes a person’s overall health.” For God’s sake, quit.

More news below.

Clifton Leaf


Doctors used an Apple Watch app to figure out what triggers epileptic seizures. Johns Hopkins researchers will present preliminary findings from a 10-month study of epilepsy patients with the help of an Apple Watch app. The app, called EpiWatch, was created via Apple’s ResearchKit platform. The nearly 600 study participants were asked to open up the application when they felt a seizure “aura” coming; it would then record the user’s movements and track heart rates for 10 minutes while asking them to complete certain tasks to record responsiveness. Then, once the epileptic episode was over, the participants would answer various questions about the seizure, including possible triggers. The results? Stress was by far the most commonly listed seizure trigger (37%), followed by lack of sleep (18%). Menstruation and overexertion clocked in at 12% and 11%, respectively. “The data collected will help researchers better understand epilepsy, while helping people with epilepsy keep a more complete history of their seizures,” said Johns Hopkins’ Dr. Gregory Krauss, the study’s lead author. “The app also provides helpful tracking of seizures, prescription medication use and drug side effects – activities that are important in helping people manage their condition.” (MacRumors)

Do wearable fitness devices actually make you more fit? The Upshot’s Aaron Carroll – a regular debunker of public health conventional wisdom – has turned his aim on fitness trackers. After noting that a number of preliminary studies on wearable devices’ effect on weight loss weren’t robustly designed, Carroll pointed to a University of Pittsburgh study called the IDEA trial which was thorough enough to produce significant data. And its findings were striking. “At the end of the two years, which is pretty long for a weight loss study, those without access to the wearable technology lost an average of 13 pounds. Those with the wearable tech lost an average of 7.7 pounds,” writes Carroll. That’s right – people who used activity trackers actually lost significantly less weight than those who didn’t. And the differences in overall physical activity were negligible, too. (New York Times)

A new blood collection device causes minimal pain. The FDA has approved 7SBio’s microneedle-fueled blood collection device – a product which is “virtually painless” when it comes to drawing blood. The push-button collection technology employs microneedles that create tiny little skin punctures and then uses pressure differences in order to suck up the blood like a vacuum. It’s currently cleared to test diabetes patients’ HbA1c levels, but the company plans to pursue other tests in the future. “The needles are so small and are deployed and retracted so rapidly so patients don’t actually feel them compared to venipuncture,” said 7SBio CEO Howard Weisman in a statement. “No one likes getting blood drawn, but blood is the single-most important source of medical information in healthcare today, with about 90 percent of all diagnostic information coming from blood and its components.” (FierceBiotech)


A conversation with Allergan CEO Brent Saunders. Allergan chief Brent Saunders, who seems determined to single handedly buy up half of biotech and has been one of big pharma’s more outspoken leaders on drug pricing and President Trump’s proposed policies, swung by the Fortune offices yesterday for a wide-ranging conversation. We discussed everything from the shifting model of drug R&D to which Allergan pipeline products get Saunders the most excited (and, of course, FDA reform and drug pricing). Stay tuned for my in-depth piece on the interview.

Big pharma chiefs among those pushing for a border tax. The CEOs of Celgene, Pfizer, Merck, and Eli Lilly joined 12 other major U.S. company executives in signing a letter to Congressional leaders urging corporate tax reform and endorsing a controversial border tax on imports. “A critical element of the House blueprint is the provision that ensures goods and services produced abroad face the same tax burden as those produced in the United States,” wrote the CEOs, who call themselves members of the “American Made Coalition.” The chief executives are also pushing for repatriation policies that could make M&As in the U.S. more palatable. In the blueprint legislation, the border tax would amount to a 20% tariff on imported goods. President Trump has asked the biopharma industry to bring manufacturing and production back to the United States.


U.S. life expectancy is expected to keep lagging behind other countries. A new study published in the Lancet has some sobering projections for Americans’ longevity. I.e., U.S. life expectancy is expected to continue lagging significantly behind that of other developed nations in 2030. According to the analysis, which is based on various socioeconomic and epidemiological factors, the lack of a robust medical safety net and universal health care coverage in the U.S. relative to other countries, high obesity rates, and an outsize number of murders will continue to dog Americans. In fact, people in the U.S. are projected to live, on average, six fewer years than people in South Korea (the nation which tops the 2030 life expectancy list). (Fortune)


China’s Astounding Ambition Threatens Tech Giantsby Robert Hackett

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Hopes to Get “Very Significant” Tax Reform Done By the Summerby Reuters

Apple Speaks Out Against President Trump’s Rollback of Transgender Student Protectionsby Madeline Farber

Microsoft and Airbus Just Got Drone Feverby Jonathan Vanian

Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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