HHS nomination, Big Data, and smarts

All things politics . . .
Earlier this week as we all came back to work from Turkey day, President-elect Trump announced his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Representative Tom Price. HHS, with a budget of over $1 trillion, includes the NIH, FDA, CMS, CDC and administering the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Proponents of decreasing government involvement in healthcare and the dismantling of the ACA have found a champion in this appointment, as Rep. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, has proposed on multiple occasions an alternative to the ACA called Empowering Patients First Act. Opponents of this selection point to the millions of people who will lose coverage through the ACA. In other political news, Democrats and Republicans are in the “final” negotiations for the 21st Century Cures bill, about $6.3 billion to fund the Precision Medicine Initiative, the Cancer Moonshot, and other research programs. The bill will speed FDA approval of new therapies; specifically regenerative or stem cell therapies could be approved via “real world” evidence versus clinical trial results. Lastly, NIH Director Francis Collins has suggested that if he is not asked to stay on by Trump, he will resign effective January 20, 2017 and return to the lab.
As noted above, the programs to be funded by the 21st Century Cures bill are data intensive programs: Precision Medicine, Cancer Moonshot, the BRAIN Initiative (neural circuit mapping) and the Human Cell Atlas. Every one of those programs will potentially generate Exabyte’s of data running the spectrum from basic biomedical research, through clinical trials, and into post-FDA effectiveness. Has the biomedical research community been able to make sense of all of that data? Richard Harris of NPR investigated, and the answer appears to be: no. Some of it isn’t “trustworthy”, some is not easily compatible with other databases, and, perhaps more importantly, most researchers aren’t trained in studying this quantity of data. Sounds like the future looks bright for bioinformatics careers. Tomorrow, the NIH’s Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) will hold their Open Data Science Symposium: How Open Data and Open Science are Transforming Biomedical Research in Bethesda, MD, and you should attend or watch via webcast.
On to some cool stem cell news, the Allen Stem Cell Institute announced a collection of five iPS cell lines available that have been modified to fluoresce as they differentiate. The fluorescent protein tags were inserted using CRISPR, and the first five constructs targeted are in the cell nucleus. The Allen Institute intends to release 15 more lines, and they are being distributed through the Coriell Institute for $600 per vial.

Belgian researchers recently discovered that a bacterium may help us avoid obesity and diabetes. This bacteria, Akkermansia muciniphila, resides in the intestinal lining and has shown to regulate the metabolism in mice with obesity. Initial human studies were successful as well, and additional studies are planned for the next few years.

Are you smarter than an 8th grade biology student? The National Center for Education Statistics notes that while 8th grader knowledge of science is up over the last nine years, on the whole, most are still below proficient. You should take the test, although considering the makeup of High Fidelity’s readers, we fully expect 100% pass rate.