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Brainstorm Health Daily: April 28, 2017

If you’ve ever been at an office Christmas party with crayfish, then you already know this: Social crayfish get drunker faster than loner fish.

Such is the finding of Jens Herberholz and colleagues at the University of Maryland, College Park, who recently published a study on said crayfish in the venerable Journal of Experimental Biology (which, incidentally, dates back to 1923, the year Time magazine was founded).

Herberholz, who runs the UMD’s Laboratory of Crustacean Neurobiology & Behavior, and colleagues put some juvenile crayfish in tanks by themselves for up to 10 days, or until they were effectively isolated from a social standpoint. Other crayfish, meanwhile, were kept in communal tanks. Both sets were then exposed to 200-proof ethanol baths—and the research team then recorded the behavior for 180 minutes of research fun.

In follow-up experiments, the scientists also measured intracellular responses via tiny electrodes placed on the crayfish abdominal ganglia in order to assess how neurons were activated under the conditions of drunkenness and sobriety. But while that’s surely the kind of fancy science that peer-review committees tend to admire, perhaps more telling was simply the crayfish behavior—which could be observed through the not-so-fancy science of watching.

When Procambarus clarkii are three sheets to the wind they flip their tails (<<Must-see)—which is the crayfish equivalent of drunk-dialing your ex.

And, in this case, the social crayflies started-a-tail-flippin’ at significantly lower concentrations of alcohol than the socially left-out.

“Although somewhat speculative at this point,” wrote the study’s authors, “it is tempting to suggest that the reduced sensitivity to alcohol we observed in socially isolated crayfish underlies the increase in drinking behavior that has been widely reported in socially isolated mammalian species. If social isolation causes a suppression of the alcohol-induced acute neurobehavioral response, it would be reasonable to expect that humans and non-human animals increase drinking after social isolation (or ‘exclusion’) as a result of the lower sensitivity to the cellular effects of alcohol.”

Although Herberholz and team were reluctant to generalize about whether crayfish neural circuits and behavior are likely to apply to those of mammals, the UMD study is thought-provoking—particularly given how “elusive” the cellular mechanisms of alcohol intoxication are, they wrote. “While other drugs of abuse have specific receptors in the brain, alcohol does not, but instead exerts its effects by targeting multiple neurotransmitter systems.”

In any case, the paper reminded me of a 2014 study of zebra fish, demonstrating that not only do drunken fish swim faster and more erratically, but also—importantly—that sober fish tend to follow them.

It seems we humans not only “drink like a fish,” as the expression goes, but also socially support the drunken behavior of our fish friends. Not sure how to turn that into a popular expression, but open to suggestions.

Have a great weekend—and try to keep the tail-flipping to a minimum. Remember, somewhere out there there’s a scientist watching.

The news below.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE
@CliftonLeaf
clifton.leaf@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Health Datapalooza: HHS Secretary Tom Price says health IT a “burden” to doctors. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price made some waves at the annual Health Datapalooza conference in Washington, D.C. Thursday, where he delivered his first extensive public remarks about health IT. Price pounded on one of the main complaints doctors have about the digital transformation taking place in medicine: namely, interoperability. “True interoperability has always been the goal,” he said. But achieving that goal hasn’t exactly been easy, and many health systems still can’t communicate with each other effectively. One way to get there? Creating and enforcing a universal set of standards on health data. (Healthcare Dive)

Ransomware used in almost three in four health malware attacks in 2016. A new Verizon report finds that the overwhelming majority of health care-related malware attacks in 2016 were ransomware—72% of them, to be exact. And the only industry that has more of these kinds of cyberattacks launched at it is the financial services sector (15% of attacks versus 24% of attacks, respectively). “Healthcare has the unenviable task of balancing protection of large amounts of personal and medical data with the need for quick access to practitioners,” wrote the report authors. (Healthcare IT News)

INDICATIONS

Sarepta CEO to step down, shares spike on M&A speculation. Rare disease drug maker Sarepta’s shares spiked as much as 10% in Friday trading on speculation that pharma giant Sanofi may be interested in buying the firm. Some of the potential tea leaves? Current CEO Ed Kaye announced that he will be stepping down (while maintaining a board and director position), alongside Sarepta board member and Sanofi executive Dr. Jean-Paul Kresse.

Meet your latest drug price scandal: a $700,000 per year medicine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday approved BioMarin’s drug for a form of Batten disease, a rare and devastating genetic disorder. But the treatment will be priced at more than $700,000 per year before discounts and rebates, thus brining the drug pricing dilemma into the spotlight yet again. That price point makes the treatment, Brineura, the second most expensive drug in the world. (Fortune)

THE BIG PICTURE

President Trump won’t get his Obamacare vote in his first 100 days. House Republicans announced on Thursday that there won’t be a vote on their latest iteration of Obamacare legislation this week, even after several new proposed deals on health care reform reportedly won over the support of the hardline House Freedom Caucus. That means no government shutdown over Obamacare and no massive changes to U.S. health policy anytime soon (GOP leaders have said a vote might be held next week at the earliest). The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent has one theory about why it’s been so hard for Republicans to dismantle a law they voted to repeal in full dozens of times over the past seven years: for all of its problems, it’s legitimately helped millions of Americans—including many who live (and vote) in GOP districts. (Washington Post)

Scott Gottlieb cleared by FDA panel. President Trump’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) won the backing on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee—including from two Democratic Senators, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Michael Bennet of Colorado. The 14-9 green light suggests that Gottlieb will likely be confirmed by the full chamber. That’s a big relief for the industry, which has signaled that Gottlieb hits the sweet spot between advocating less bureaucratic red tape while not aiming to upend the entire FDA.

REQUIRED READING

The Activist Investor That Shook Up Microsoft Thinks KKR Stock Could Doubleby Jen Wieczner

This Startup Has a Natural Solution to the $2.6 Trillion Food Waste Problemby Beth Kowitt

U.S. Economic Growth Slips to Its Slowest in 3 Years on Weak Consumer Spendingby Associated Press

Apple Stops Paying iPhone Royalties, Escalating Feud With Qualcommby Aaron Pressman

Why the Healthiest Americans Spend the Least on Health Careby Marc Berk

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

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