Brainstorm Health: Changing Blood Types, Exact Sciences Pfizer Deal, Israel Bans Juul

August 22, 2018, 8:30 PM UTC

Happy hump day, readers—This is Sy.

Every now and then—including, and even especially, around times of catastrophic medical emergencies—the nation’s hospitals undergo a blood shortage. Our bodies’ very life fuel may not be available for those who need it most, whether because of a horrific accident, act of terror, or natural disaster.

But what if we could create the most universal form of blood through a little tweak of biology that employs the micro-critters residing in our own guts?

That’s the tantalizing question raised by a new study presented this week at the American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in Boston. Led by University of British Columbia (UBC) scientists, the researchers say that certain bacteria in the human gut could potentially be used to transform blood types A and B into the more universal form of blood type O. “We have been particularly interested in enzymes that allow us to remove the A or B antigens from red blood cells,” said UBC biochemist Stephen Withers in a statement on the study. “If you can remove those antigens, which are just simple sugars, then you can convert A or B to O blood.”

(At this juncture, it’s important to note that the research is quite preliminary, and needs to be thoroughly tested on a wider scale before coming to any overhyped conclusions.)

But if it’s a sustainable technique, the implications are multifold—especially given the nature of the technique itself, which involves lopping off certain antigens (which are, in essence, simple sugars) from particular red blood cells. The question is whether it can be used on a wide-scale in a safe and efficient manner to create larger blood supplies in times of need.

Read on for the day’s news.


Fitbit's CEO on why the smartwatch market is so critical. A few months back, Fitbit CEO James Park sat down with my colleague Andrew Nusca to explain why it was so critical for the company—which, as Park has personally told me, aims to move from a place of "cool" products to one of "must-have" products—to grind into the smartphone (rather than just the "wearables" market). “We’re trying to integrate more deeply with the healthcare system, and help people manage more serious health conditions, like diabetes, hypertension, et cetera,” he said. “To do that, you need much more functionality than is typically available in a traditional tracker. We needed a bigger screen, more advanced sensors, different form factors. That’s really why we entered the smart watch category.” Check out the rest of the interview here(Fortune)


Exact Sciences stock soars on Pfizer deal. Shares of molecular diagnostics firm Exact Sciences closed up more than 30% in Wednesday trading after the company announced a partnership with drug giant Pfizer. The firms will be co-marketing Cologuard, a genomic screening test for colorectal cancer, through 2021. (MarketWatch)


Israel just banned Juul. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dealt a blow to Juul, the 400-pound gorilla in the e-cigarette space, by signing a bill that would ban the import and sale of the products. While Juul has consistently claimed that its devices provide a safer alternative to tobacco for adults, the products' potency and popularity among teens has galvanized a slew of critics who say they're an overall detriment to public health. Juul emphatically pushed back on the Israeli government's decision, saying it was disappointed in the outcome. (Reuters)

Opioid addiction skyrocketed among pregnant women. A new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report finds that opioid addiction soared among pregnant women between 1999 and 2014. In that 15 year period, says the agency, the rate of opioid use among pregnant women in labor and delivery more than quadrupled, adding to the deluge of concerning data about the opioid addiction crisis. (Fortune)


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