Issue 37: Saudi Arabia forces Saudi patients to leave Canada, clean meat, RNAi treatment gets FDA approval, junk DNA, Amazon builds primary care clinics, and salt

Saudi Arabia forbids citizens from getting healthcare in Canada after Canada tweets 

This is a weird the Ottawa Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, sent a tweet criticizing Saudi Arabia for detaining several human rights activists. The tweet pissed off Saudi officials and they responded by cutting all diplomatic ties with Canada. Now this includes telling all Saudi patients who are in hospitals in Canada that they MUST LEAVE and transfer to a hospital outside of Canada. It's also forcing all Saudi medical residents to leave the country regardless of where they are in their training. This is bad news for Canada since close to 800 of their medical residents are from Saudi Arabia. Careful what you might just lead to an international crisis. 

Clean Meat Tech

Image from Impossible Foods

Have you ever heard of the Impossible Burger? It's a burger with meat made entirely of plant based ingredients and soy leghemoglobin, which gives the burger a more distinct red-meat like taste and texture. The lab grown meat contains no hormones or antibiotics. What's more is that it is apparently pretty tasty. The company behind Impossible Burger was started by a medical doctor turned geneticist who previously invented the DNA microarray and started the online research journal PLOS. Because the burgers are  grown in labs they are way better for the environment. Last year Impossible Foods released a sustainability report detailing how their lab grown patties are better for the environment than traditional beef patties from cows. Impossible burger meat uses 75% less water, produces 87% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and requires 95% less land. The company is now producing 500,000 lbs of the lab grown meat per month compared to the 4,000 lbs per month that they were producing last March. Interestingly you can now also get the Impossible meat at such fine food restaurants as White Castle and Applebees.

First Gene Silencing Drug finally gets FDA approval. 

hATTR symptoms. Image from

After two decades of trial and error and billions of investment dollars, scientists have finally been able to bring the Nobel prize winning discovery of gene silencing to patients. The FDA announced this week that they had approved a drug called Onpattro made by the RNAi pharmaceutical company Alnylam. Onpattro is intended to treat polyneuropathy in a rare form of amyloidosis called hATTR (hereditary transthyretin-mediated amyloidosis). hATTR occurs when there is a genetic mutation that results in the misfolding of the protein transthyretin. The malformed proteins clump together and build up in different organ systems in the body including the nervous system and heart which leads to symptoms. It's though to afflict 50,000 people worldwide and 3,000 in the US. Alynylam is planning on selling it's treatment for a sky high price of $450,000/year. Also we should mention that the drug is not a cure it just slows down the progression of neurological symptoms.

Junk DNA might actually be useful 

Image Illustration by Lindsey Kernodle 

You know how they say that most of our DNA is complete junk? Well, turns out that some of that junk is actually pretty important! Long intergenic noncoding RNAs (lincRNAs) transcribed from this so-called junk DNA may play a role in aiding the process of fat metabolism. These lincRNAs were observed by the thousands in fat tissues obtained from 25 people, and many were specific to humans and not found in mice. One lincRNA in particular—lincADAL—is thought to influence the development and storage of fat cells. This discovery may one day prove to be very useful in treating metabolic disorders and obesity.

Amazon Primary Care Clinics

Dr. Atul Gawande. Image from NPR

Amazon has been making waves in healthcare all year long and now there's news that the company plans to open up its own primary care clinics in Seattle for its employees. To recap just in the past few months Amazon has bought online pharmacy PillPack, formed a healthcare partnership with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway to decrease healthcare costs, and hired best selling author and surgeon Atul Gawande. Amazon has also hired seasoned primary care talent from Iora Health and One Medical to join its staff. Amazon is probably the most innovative company on the planet and hopefully they can innovate enough to bring down the skyrocketing costs of our healthcare system.

Scientists cannot make up their damn mind about salt 


A recent paper in the prestigious Lancet has the scientific world caught up in a fierce debate about how much salt we should eat. The WHO (not the band) states that populations should consume less than 2 g/day of sodium as a preventive measure against cardiovascular disease, however this target has never been achieved on a population level. The Lancet paper basically said the WHO is wrong AF and that a little bit of salt is not a bad thing. In fact having too little salt can lead to cardiovascular complications. Instead they argue that populations should reduce their sodium consumption to below 5 g/day. And countries like China that have much higher sodium consumption (secondary to soy sauce) should cut back on the salt.