A health care fix and tough times for vaccine proponents

This week, we’ve got an argument for transforming health care into “Right Care” as well as some troubling developments for vaccine proponents south of the border. We also look down the road, to a future where skin cells could become sperm, and our teeth could heal themselves.

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Not too much, not too little 

It’s a paradox of health care delivery: Some procedures and treatments are used too often, causing more harm than good, while other cheap and effective interventions aren’t used enough, leading to unnecessary suffering.

This week, a group of international scientists blamed the problem on “greed, competing interests, and poor information”. In a series published in The Lancet called Right Care, researchers looked at evidence of over and underuse of health care around the world. And they argue that in an era of cash-strapped medical systems and aging populations, finding the right balance is more important than ever. So what’s the fix? It’s complicated of course, but the authors say a better-informed, more engaged citizenry is essential.

Vaccine proponents vexed

It’s been a tough time for vaccine proponents in the U.S. First, it was a column posted on a Cleveland news website, in which a prominent doctor at the renowned Cleveland Clinic raised questions about vaccine safety. The column was quickly rebuked by health experts and the doctor, who heads up the hospital’s Wellness Institute, was forced to apologize.

USA-TRUMP/Kennedy Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. met with Donald Trump on Tuesday. Kennedy has written about a link between vaccines and autism, a link that has been widely debunked. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Then news broke that Donald Trump was sitting down with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has written about a link between vaccines and autism in the past. Of course, that link has been widely debunked. Kennedy, a nephew of assassinated president John F. Kennedy, told reporters that Trump — who has also linked vaccines to autism — asked him to head a commission looking into vaccine safety. A Trump spokeswoman later said the president-elect hadn’t made a decision.

It’s worth noting that the U.S. president can’t change vaccine recommendations, but can use the position to question vaccine safety, or appoint health officials who doubt vaccines.

Not so fast

Imagine taking a skin or hair cell and turning it into a sperm or egg.

It’s called “in vitro gametogenesis” and the technique is already being used in mice. Now a trio of scholars have argued we’d better figure out the legal and ethical implications before it’s possible in humans, too.

In a commentary in Science Translational Medicine, they write the technique would be a game-changer for treating infertility and for some currently untreatable diseases.

But they warn the potentially huge supply of sperm and egg cells could also lead to embryo farming “on a scale currently unimagined,” or exacerbate concerns about creating so-called designer babies. They also suggest “unauthorized” use of people’s cells could be a problem, giving the example of someone else’s skin cells being used to produce sperm or egg cells without their knowledge.

The authors acknowledge that scenario is probably a long way away, but write that “the rapid transformation of reproductive and regenerative medicine may surprise us.”

Stealthy sweets

Dextrose, glucose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate — they’re all code names for sugars that are added to our processed food and drinks, but how often?

Chocolate

Of course chocolate has lots of added sugars, but you might be surprised at what other foods do, too. (Koichi Kamoshida/Getty )

Researchers tested more than 40,000 products sold by one Canadian grocery retailer, and found that a whopping two-thirds contained added sugars. Along with the usual suspects like candy and chocolate were some foods often marketed as healthy options, such as breakfast cereals, granola bars, and fruit juices.

And nearly half of all infant formulas and baby food studied included added sugars, too. But there’s some bad news if you want to check the label for added sugars: You’ll have to learn the more than 150 ways to say sugar. Last month, Health Canada announced that new labels won’t list added sugars separately, which health professionals and others had wanted.

Marketing meds

​How do doctors learn about new medications? Often it’s from drug companies themselves.

prescription drugs

CBC’s fifth estate investigated the high cost of pharmaceuticals in Canada. (iStock)

Our colleagues at the fifth estate wanted to find out what that was like, so they asked a doctor to wear a hidden camera to an annual conference for family physicians held in Vancouver last November.

What they found was sales reps who failed to mention side-effects or medical risks, and even promoted non-approved uses for their drugs. Critics say drug companies shouldn’t be in the business of educating doctors about new drugs — a practice that can lead doctors to prescribe more expensive, newer drugs when cheaper alternatives exist.

Do-it-yourself dentistry

First there were metal fillings. Now, ceramics are becoming more common. But what if we didn’t need fillings at all? 

Amalgam filling

Artificial fillings like these might one day be a thing of the past. (Shutterstock)

Preliminary research out of King’s College in London suggests that our teeth might one day be able to regenerate themselves — and an experimental Alzheimer’s drug called Tideglusib could make it happen. The researchers soaked biodegradable collagen sponges in the drug and inserted them into cavities in mice teeth. When they checked back in a few weeks, the sponges had dissolved and been replaced by dentin. It appears the drug was able to activate stem cells in the soft pulp of the tooth to stimulate the regrowth. Researchers hope to test it in humans soon.

We recommend…

Here are a few other stories we found interesting this week:

  • Gluten-free baby: When parents ignore science | Maclean’s

  • ​A supplement maker tried to silence this Harvard doctor — and put academic freedom on trial | STAT

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