Because this is the FEHBlog, he wishes to call readers attention to Tammy Flanagan’s set of accurate but rather arcane Open Season related questions and answers. Open Season ends on Monday December 12.  

Also the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released the 2015 National Healthcare Expenditures study. Cost curve up.

Nothing frosts the FEHBlog’s cake more than the fact that taxpayers paid over $30 billion for government approved electronic health records systems that weren’t designed to communicate with each other. Health Data Management reports that the 21st Century Cures Act which likely will become law next week includes provisions intended to boost EHR interoperability.

Let’s wrap up for the week with a couple of innovations:

  • Telehealth vendor American Well announced yesterday “a new partnership [with Tyto Care] to combine video telehealth visits with comprehensive remote examinations. Together the companies will offer the tools needed to conduct the most complete virtual visit in telemedicine, significantly expanding the scope and safety of care delivered to consumers via telehealth.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that 

There are more than 120,000 people in the U.S. waiting for an organ transplant and not enough donors. The dire shortage has led some researchers to consider an unusual solution: They are breeding genetically modified pigs whose organs could be compatible for human transplant.

Researchers have been trying for decades to make animal-to-human transplants work, a process known as xenotransplantation. Pigs are a particularly promising source of organs. They produce big litters. Organs such as the kidney and liver are similar in size to those of humans. “Nobody has come up with a better animal,” says Joseph Tector, a professor of surgery who runs the xenotransplantation program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Then last year, a group led by George Church of Harvard University published a paper describing their use of a new gene-editing technology called Crispr-Cas9. Unlike previous gene-editing systems, Crispr allowed the researchers to make multiple changes simultaneously to inactivate viral remnants in the pigs’ genes.

Crispr has helped renew enthusiasm for xenotransplantation.

Luhan Yang, one of the authors of the paper and now president and chief scientific officer of EGenesis Bio, which she and Dr. Church co-founded, says the company has used Crispr to create pig embryos designed to keep human immune systems from rejecting them. They have also used Crispr to inactivate pig retroviruses. The researchers are gathering data and hope to have pigs next year whose organs can be tested in trials with animals.

Here’s another article on the use of this new gene editing technology in humans if your interest has been whetted.