Issue 45: Supplement scandal, record VC funding, color changing contacts, and genome hackers

Dietary Supplements are laced with drugs. FDA finds out and does nothing about it. Typical.

Penis made of viagra pills

Suspicious supplement companies that promise to give you a rock hard erection are actually lacing their "natural herbal" supplements with viagra. According to a shocking expose in Scientific American, more than 750 supplements over the last decade have been laced with some type of prescription drug. Supplements are unique in that they don't need to be approved by the FDA before sale, however, selling a medical drug on the market does require FDA approval. 86% of the supplements were marketed for sexual enhancement or weight loss and 12% were marketed for body building. Fewer than half were recalled after being discovered by the FDA to be tainted. But even after being recalled these nefarious supplement companies continued to sell their products in stores. When a company continues to sell recalled products, the FDA has a number of tools to enforce the law: it can either send a warning letter, visit the factory to conduct a formal inspection, or issue a mandatory recall. Maybe not surprisingly the FDA rarely enforces the law. Out of 146 companies selling tainted supplements, only 7 of them received a letter and THATS IT. No other action was taken. That means the FDA knew that some supplement companies were selling products illegally laced with prescription drugs and did absolutely nothing to prevent these companies from continuing to peddle their unsafe products to the public. A 2015 study found that more than 20,000 ER visits and 2,000 hospitalizations were due to taking supplements. Clearly the FDA's inaction is leading to people getting hurt. Hopefully after the public health investigation published today gets picked up by the mainstream media, the FDA will be pushed to do their actual freaking job!

Venture Capital Spent $23billion on Healthcare 

Healthcare funding continues to skyrocket. Image Credit: WSJ

People with capital to invest are constantly looking for new opportunities, and it looks like healthcare is the new cow to milk. More than $23 billion of venture capital funds have been spent on U.S. healthcare companies as of September, which makes up 28% of total U.S. venture capital funding, and already surpassed entire 2017 dollars. More than half of that money is going into pharma and biotech, while devices are looking stable. Another trend is that venture capital funding is focusing more on bigger size, 'mega-rounds' of over $100million often driven by unicorns (startups >$1billion) than smaller early-stage companies. Is this a sound strategy of pouring money into fewer millennial startup founders to do whatever they want, or is it a proven investment strategy ? We will only find out over time.

Hospital Therapy Good Boys Spreading Infection


We love seeing children's cancer center advertisements with therapy dogs and all smiles. A new study, however, found out that these therapy dogs are f****** nasty, and end up spreading germs to pediatric cancer patients who are most vulnerable to infections. This is old news, but a new study focused on the pediatric cancer population basically came up with the same message: clean the damn golden retriever before and after. Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus (MRSA) species is the most concerning because these are kind of like superbugs that can cause skin infections and is stubborn to most antibiotics. They found that kids who had dog therapy had 6 times more chance of getting an infection. The good news is they saw a huge drop in infection rate after the dogs were cleaned. Play fetch, but don't catch the MRSA.

Adverse Childhood Experience on Mental Health

Drake. Image from the Ringer.

Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) is another one of those terms to blame if your kids grow up to be messed up. If you haven't realized, being traumatized physically or emotionally as a child can increase your chances of developing a mental health condition or addiction. So if you have children in the house, watch what you say, when you shoot heroin, or smoke weed. Kids apparently can feel unsafe and become stressed in these environments. And toxic stress leads to higher level of steroids in the body and this has many implications on one's growth and mental health; one study revealed that kids in adverse environments without parental care are at more than twice the risk of developing heart disease and cancer and live 20 years less. Be a good example, even if you want your kids to grow up one day to rap about how they came from the bottom.  

Contacts that chance color after taking a drug

A Kardashian wearing colored contacts

Color-changing contacts are apparently a thing now! To be honest, I actually thought these would serve more of a fashion purpose rather than a medical one so I was kinda disappointed to know I wouldn’t be wearing these any time soon. And the color only changes in response to drugs being released in the eye. But I *guess* these are still pretty cool! Contact lenses were originally investigated as a potential source of administering drugs to the eye, since eye drops and ointments really only deliver 5% of the drug to the target area. But even if lenses were used, doctors had no way of knowing how much of the drugs were released until this new development. Using molecular imprinting, researchers were able to load lenses with timolol (used to treat glaucoma) and apply them to a model of the eye, which resulted in the irises visibly changing color as the drug made its way out of the lenses. Aside from providing an amazing new therapeutic benefit, I’m sure they look pretty cool too!

Hold my beer while I hack your genome

From an article on medium 

Did you know that it's LEGAL to obtain DNA from someone without their consent and then post their results on the internet in most US states? Yes that's true! We're living in an age where DNA information has never been more accessible and as time goes on hackers are finding out that the information is incredibly easy to hack. With the rise of companies like 23&me and ancestry we now have more than 12 million human genomes sequenced. These results are stored in large genetic databases. Recently an article published in WIRED revealed that hackers could analyze DNA in databases to pinpoint your identity and location even if you haven't submitted a sample. Let me give you an example. Let's say you're married and live with your partner. You don't get your genome sequenced but your partner does. Their data is anonymized and stored in a database. Now let's say your partner has a relative that also has had their DNA sequenced and they decided to publish their information on a public genealogy website, which have info that can be used to construct elaborate family trees. These public databases have grown so large that "more than 60 percent of Americans with European ancestry can be identified through their DNA using open genetic genealogy databases, regardless of whether they’ve ever sent in a spit kit". So a hacker could find your partner's anonymized DNA if they have access to the database, then compare it to public data to see her relatives and then with a little bit of time find her identity and location using information already on the internet. Then they can find your information as well. This is NOT theoretical. People are actually doing this now. In fact, it's how they caught the Golden State Killer. As more of us continue to have our genomes sequenced the databases will become bigger and easier to hack.