Issue 34: Hackers steal medical records, mitochondria transplants, Pain med shortage, Importing Drugs, Early Dinner

Hackers Steal 1.5 Million Medical Records...

HACKED: PM Loon taking a selife w/ PM Modi

A group of black hat hackers have stolen the medical records of close to 1.5 million people in Singapore including the Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loon. The data was stolen from the SingHealth database which is Singapore's largest group of healthcare providers. The data stolen includes names, addresses, gender, identification numbers, ethnicity, and date of birth. The only upside is that no medical diagnoses were accessed in the breach - but I mean they basically took all their identification numbers. The CSA - Cybersecurity Agency of Singapore is currently investigating the hack and at this time no suspects have been identified.

Mitochondria Transplants

The Powerhouse of the cell

No matter how much you may have hated your science classes growing up, chances are you still remember one important lesson: mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. Recently, doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital have been putting that lesson to good use. Dr. Sitaram Emani, a pediatric heart surgeon, performs many operations to repair congenital heart defects in newborns. However, these newborns’ hearts often sustain permanent damage due to temporary loss of blood (and therefore lack of oxygen) during surgery. That’s where the powerhouse comes in. Since 2015, Dr. Emani has performed 11 experimental mitochondrial transplant procedures, in which he injects roughly a billion mitochondria (taken from another one of the baby’s muscles) either directly into damaged heart muscle or into blood vessels supplying the heart. The results have been impressive, with a majority of those babies regaining normal heart function. Dr. James McCully at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has been performing similar mitochondrial transplants in animal studies, with promising results showing the revival of oxygen-deprived heart, lung, and kidney tissue. This work has major implications in adult patients, with potential to improve recovery from heart attack and stroke, and plans for a clinical trial are already underway.   

Shortage of Pain Medication at US Hospitals 

Tool Album

Doctors around the country still don’t have enough injectable opioids to adequately treat all of their patients. But how did we manage to end up with both an opioid overdose crisis and an opioid shortage crisis? To deal with the staggering rates of opioid addiction, the federal government’s genius idea was to strictly limit production of the drugs. But instead, this ended up making it more difficult for doctors to prescribe them to patients who are really in pain. And maybe it would’ve been feasible to limit opioid production if there were at least a dependable source of it for hospitals to use. But last year, the FDA found sterility issues with a Pfizer factory in Kansas, thus forcing many hospitals to ration their opioid supply for months. Unfortunately, Pfizer happens to make 60% of our injectable opioids, and there are only three other small companies that make the other 40%. Until we find a better way to balance fighting the addiction epidemic while maintaining enough drug supplies in hospitals, doctors will continue to worry about being able to provide their patients with the care they need. In fact in an informal survey of nearly 2,500 anesthesiologists conducted by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, 98 percent of respondents said they "regularly experience drug shortages at their institutions." More than 95 percent say those shortages impact the way they treat their patients". Thousands of doctors, dozens of hospitals, and 16 US senators have written to the FDA to help out with the shortage, however, the FDA basically said there's nothing they can do. Valerie Thompson, the associate director of the FDA's Drug Shortages department said "One thing to remember is [the] FDA doesn't control how much manufacturers make and can't order a manufacturer to make any product. So it's really up to the market."  

Import Drugs

Pharma Bro just for a cameo  Image: NEPA Scene

Before getting into why the Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are working to import certain drugs, let's remember Pharma Bro, Martin Shkreli. The badboy legend was ethically wrong but not morally wrong; he basically raised prices by 50 times on a drug that treats a rare parasite infection (rare in the U.S.).  This is just one downside of a free market and there's many more that take advantage of the system. Now, the FDA and HHS are looking into importing drugs from abroad that are facing shortage in the supply chain. Their goal is to maintain the supply of drugs, except for those that are patent-protected. So what we have here is the government ensuring some drugs are available and immune to future Pharma Bros' bullying. At the same time, too much involvement will discourage pharmaceutical companies from investing in their own research and development.

Asbestos in Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder

A White Lie.  Image: JeepersMedia

It's a household name. The blue Johnson & Johnson lettering in script and its baby powder scent is something we all grew up with. But it turns out there was more to the white powder than we thought. More than 9,000 women have sued the company for links to ovarian cancer, and asbestos and talc fibers were found in their ovarian tissues. Talc is the primary ingredient in the product, and court documents revealed that there was asbestos mixed with talc. To make matters worse, Johnson & Johnson knew about this but did not warn the consumers. Last week, the St. Louis jury ordered the company to pay nearly $4.7 billion to 22 women and their families for damages.  Now they're paying for it. It smelled bad anyways. Trash it.

Eating Dinner Early Might Lower Your Cancer Risk

In-N-Out Burger 

Yea, some big headline stating some new, big idea. A new study in Spain looked into people with prostate and breast cancer, as well as their dinner time. It turns out people who eat before 9pm or at least 2 hours before bedtime have about a 26 percent less chance of developing prostate cancer and 16 percent less for breast cancer, as opposed to 10pm or sleeping right after a meal. Apparently, prostate and breast cancer are linked to circadian rhythms; weakened immune system and obesity can predispose one to higher risk of cancer. That sounded very cliche, and it could be. The study was met with challenges as they relied on self-report and that the proposed 9pm is a predetermined time natural to Spain.  Stretching it little more, the patients who eat early might follow preventative guidelines to begin with, and they might be less stressed at night since they are not rushed. So is it the diligent, stress-free lifestyle that prevents cancer, or what time I eat my McDonald's?