Susana Machado • October 20, 2017

The Friday Roundup is a collection of five stories that you need to know about each week. From policy to innovations, look to us to keep you up to date on what’s happening in the healthcare industry.

Four Genes Linked to OCD

By searching through three sets of DNA (one human, one canine, and one mouse), researchers have found four genes with the strongest link to OCD ever established.

In the dog and mouse genomes, researchers looked for any gene tied to compulsive behavior. In humans, they focused on genes previously thought to be linked to OCD or Autism, which shares some traits with the disorder.

They found four genes of interest that are active in the cortical-striatal loop in the brain, an area that is hyperactive in those with OCD. The researchers believe that the mutations may be preventing neurons from communicating and a stop mechanism from firing, causing a person to repeat their action, like washing their hands multiple times.

Gilead’s CAR-T Gets FDA Approval

Yescarta, a drug used to treat large B-cell lymphoma in adults, is the second CAR-T drug to be approved, following Novartis’ Kymriah which targets leukemia and was approved in August.

Gilead’s CAR-T will cost only $373,000, over $100,000 less than Kymriah. However, Novartis did indicate that if the treatment is not effective within a month, Medicaid will cover the cost. Both companies argue the price is warranted because of the novel benefits of the drug.

The treatments have varied effectiveness, likely due to the fact that they target different forms of lymphoma, with 83 percent of patients given Kymriah becoming cancer free compared to a 51 percent remission rate for Yescarta.

Creating Accessible Mental Health Treatment

Mental health has long been a public health issues, nearly 20 percent of adults in the United States have a mental illness but due to stigma and access, not all can receive treatment. As a result, some in the tech industry have taken to developing alternatives.

Take Woebot for example. A Facebook Messenger plugin, Woebot was developed at Stanford and acts as a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist by using AI. Woebot checks in on its “patients” daily, and offers them strategies to manage depression, a huge problem for college students (over 50 percent suffer from anxiety or depression), the bot’s main audience.

Just a bit to the south, Gale Lucas, a psychologist at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, studied the use of a virtual therapist to conduct the Post-Deployment Health Assessment for veterans. Her research suggests that veterans are more likely to share symptoms of PTSD with virtual interviewer.

“We don’t want to replace therapists,” Lucas said to Wired. “We want to get more therapists to the people who need them.”

No, You Can’t CRISPR an Athlete

The World Doping Agency has extended its 2003 “gene doping” ban and updated the definition to include “gene editing agents designed to alter genome sequences and/or the transcriptional or epigenetic regulation of gene expression.”

Here’s the problem: How will they actually be able to tell? Despite the fact that gene doping was outlawed years ago, the World Doping Agency just started testing athletes – and it’s only for one type of gene therapy. Considering the rate of development of such therapies, the agency has a lot to figure out in terms of regulation.

Emergency Care Visits on the Rise

A study in the Journal of Health Services revealed an interested fact about healthcare in the US – nearly half of medical care occurs in Emergency Rooms. Approximately 47.7 percent of care can be attributed to ERs, highlighting just how important they are in the healthcare delivery system.

Over the 14-year study, they found visits to the emergency rose over 40 percent. They also found that vulnerable groups such as women or African Americans account for more visits, which the research notes could be because of the structure of America’s healthcare system.

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