Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Free Healthcare Data; Stop the Chatter

"This is the information age," US Senator Lamar Alexander has informed the luddites in the executive branch.

Not through a text or a tweet, but in an old-fashioned letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Alexander questions how come some of the centers under her stewardship are more hip to this reality than others (ahem, FDA?). "Individuals should have direct access to personal health information, and federal policies should clearly support that goal," he wrote.

Alexander points out that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services earlier this year issued a final rule in which it amends the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 so that labs regulated under these rules may provide patients with copies of their test reports upon request. This rule is in "direct conflict," according to Alexander, with FDA's decision to regulate 23andMe because the agency doesn't "trust individuals with test results." The senator goes on to ask Sebelius to account for this inconsistency in healthcare policy.

As far as the FDA is concerned, the agency's regulation of 23andMe falls squarely within its congressional mandate to protect and promote the public health through the regulation of food, drugs, and devices. Moreover, the agency has not restricted companies from selling people reports that contain their DNA readouts. The FDA has, to date, asked 23andMe to establish that it is accurately interpreting what those raw test results means in terms of people's health.

In a recent interview with PGx Reporter, FDA officials explained the agency's stance on public access to healthcare data … once again. But this being the Information Age and all, a lot gets lost in the chatter. And if there is one thing Alexander can't stand, it's chatter.

During last year's politically hostile legislative environment, the conservative from Tennessee found comity with democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein in co-sponsoring a bill that would ban verbal cell phone conversations on airplanes. According to a statement from Alexander, while the Commercial Flight Courtesy Act would still permit texting, it would restrict fellow passengers from "babbling" on their phones about their "love life [and] bathroom plans." Even in the information age, that's TMI.

The Scan

Machine Learning Helps ID Molecular Mechanisms of Pancreatic Islet Beta Cell Subtypes in Type 2 Diabetes

The approach helps overcome limitations of previous studies that had investigated the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic islet beta cells, the authors write in their Nature Genetics paper.

Culture-Based Methods, Shotgun Sequencing Reveal Transmission of Bifidobacterium Strains From Mothers to Infants

In a Nature Communications study, culture-based approaches along with shotgun sequencing give a better picture of the microbial strains transmitted from mothers to infants.

Microbial Communities Can Help Trees Adapt to Changing Climates

Tree seedlings that were inoculated with microbes from dry, warm, or cold sites could better survive drought, heat, and cold stress, according to a study in Science.

A Combination of Genetics and Environment Causes Cleft Lip

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers investigate what combination of genetic and environmental factors come into play to cause cleft lip/palate.