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Brainstorm Health: Growing an Ear in an Arm, Pot and Pregnant Women, Health App Effectiveness

Good afternoon, readers! This is Sy.

A service member named Shamika Burrage suffered a near-fatal car crash in which she lost an ear. But rather than using a partial transplant or prosthetic, doctors at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center grew one for the soldier under her forearm in what the Army says is a first-of-its-kind procedure.

“The whole goal is by the time she’s done with all this, it looks good, it’s sensate, and in five years if somebody doesn’t know her they won’t notice,” Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the center, said in a statement. “As a young active-duty soldier, they deserve the best reconstruction they can get.”

The complex, year-long “total ear construction” performed on Burrage involved taking cartilage from her ribs to design a new ear—which was then allowed to grow underneath her forearm skin. That process allowed new blood vessels to grow, which in turn will give rise to fresh veins, arteries, and even nerves once the soldier’s rehabilitation process is complete, according to her doctors. Her hearing in that ear will be preserved, too.

One striking, and thought provoking, statement from the Army’s release? “The whole field of plastic surgery has its roots in battlefield trauma,” according to Johnson. “Every major advance in plastic surgery has happened with war. This was trauma related.”

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


We still don’t really know just how well health apps work. A study published in Nature‘s new digital health-focused publication raises important questions about the still-fledgling yet ever-growing digital health app field—the key one being, do these things actually work? Here’s what the authors had to say about that: “We found only a small fraction of the available mHealth apps had been tested and the body of evidence was of very low quality. Our recommendations for improving the quality of evidence, and reducing research waste and potential harm in this nascent field include encouraging app effectiveness testing prior to release, designing less biased trials, and conducting better reviews with robust risk of bias assessments.” Without such supporting trials, prescribing these mHealth apps on a large scale may continue to be a challenge. (Nature)


Novartis’ $1.2 million payment to Cohen was nothing to it. As Cliff explored yesterday, Novartis’ $1.2 million payment to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s firm raises plenty of questions about the firm’s decision-making process. But while $1.2 million seems like a pretty huge sunk cost to the average Joe, it’s not really even a drop in the bucket for Novartis, which raked in more than $49 billion in net 2017 sales and $7 billion in net income. (Fortune)

Eli Lilly snatches up biotech to boost cancer pipeline. Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly is buying ARMO Biosciences, a cancer immunotherapy-focused biotech, in a deal valued at $1.6 billion. ARMO stock shot up 67% on the news; for Lilly, the acquisition is fueled by a desire to get in on a red-hot space in the cancer treatment world that other, bigger rivals like Merck have already been involved in for years. (Wall Street Journal)


Marijuana dispensaries may be recommending weed to pregnant women. A new study suggests that nearly 70% of marijuana dispensaries recommend pot for pregnant women—despite the fact that doctors have cautioned against weed use in expecting moms, even to treat conditions like morning sickness. Research into marijuana’s long-term health effects for different populations is still new, but here’s what we know about it so far. (Reuters)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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