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Brainstorm Health: Brain Stimulation, GSK HIV Drug, Telemedicine and Antibiotics

April 8, 2019, 9:34 PM UTC

Happy Monday, readers—I hope you had a wonderful weekend.

Alzheimer’s and dementia researchers have had to endure a cascade of heartbreaking drug development failures in recent years. Traditional pharmaceutical treatments based on the “beta amyloid” theory have failed… and failed… and failed yet again.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that some scientists are hitching their wagons to radically different approaches. A team of Boston University researchers claim that a form of electrical brain stimulation has produced surprising (if very, very early) results in boosting cognitive skills.

It’s important to take these kinds of preliminary results with a grain (or ten) of salt. After all, more conventional Alzheimer’s drug hopefuls have shown early promise only to face humiliating defeats down the line.

But the research is undeniably interesting. Neuroscientists found that electrically (but harmlessly) zapping the regions of the brain related to what’s called “working memory”—i.e., short-term memories critical to conducting certain immediate tasks—can temporarily improve this sort of memory in older people. In fact, the electrical bridging of the prefrontal and temporal regions of the brain reportedly helped improve working memory function in older adults to similar levels as people who were significantly younger.

Still, this wasn’t a randomized clinical trial, and it certainly wasn’t a robust one. When it comes to dementia treatment, past experience suggests a cautious outlook.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Does telemedicine carry an antibiotic risk? A new study suggests a correlation between use of telemedicine and increased antibiotic prescriptions, according to the Associated Press. In fact, the University of Pittsburgh researchers found that telemedicine visits weren't just associated with far more antibiotic use by children—they were linked to prescriptions that didn't follow common guidelines for such therapies. (Associated Press)


FDA approves Glaxo's two-drug HIV regimen. The Food and Drug Administraiton (FDA) on Monday approved British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline's pioneering two-drug combo therapy to treat a form of HIV. “Currently, the standard of care for patients who have never been treated is a three-drug regimen. With this approval, patients who have never been treated have the option of taking a two-drug regimen in a single tablet while eliminating additional toxicity and potential drug interactions from a third drug,” explained the FDA's Dr. Debra Birnkrant, who heads the antiviral products arm of the agency. Fewer treatments in a drug regimen generally corresponds with fewer side effects and can be cheaper. The GSK drug is called Dovato. (FDA)

Regeneron strikes $800 million Alnylam deal. Regeneron is putting its money where its mouth is on gene therapies, striking an $800 million deal (in straight up cash and equity) with the "gene silencing" biotech Alnylam. Alnylam is focused RNA interference treatments, a method of turning disrupting gene communication that's used to make certain proteins (which may be associated with certain diseases).


Measles cases continue to rise. There have now been 465 reported cases of measles in the U.S. this year, a 78-case increase from just last week that threatens to match 2014's all-time record, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports. (CNN)


Why 'Move Fast and Break Things' Is Outby Adam Lashinsky

Do Violent Videos Radicalize People? by Robert Hackett

How to Make Your Smartphone a Tool—And Not a Temptationby Erika Fry

The Short Sellers Are Coming for Lyftby Lucinda Shen

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
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