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Huntington’s breakthrough hailed, may stop disease

11/12/2017

A pioneering breakthrough in the treatment of Huntington’s disease has seen the defect that causes it corrected for the first time. According to the research team from University College London, there is a real possibility that the deadly neurodegenerative disease could be stopped going forward. The team of scientists injected an experimental drug into spinal fluid which reduced the levels of toxic proteins in the brain. Experts are hailing the groundbreaking procedure as the potentially the biggest breakthrough in neurodegenerative diseases for 50 years. Huntington’s disease is a particularly devastating illness that is passed down through families. Some sufferers have likened it to having Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and motor neurone disease all at the same time. A genetic error causes the protein huntingtin – which is vital for brain development – to instead kill brain cells. The unstoppable degradation of brain cells in Huntington's patients leaves them in permanent decline and affects their movement, behaviour, memory and ability to think clearly. Huntington’s blights families and generally hits people while they are in their prime – 30s and 40s. Patients tend to die around 10-20 years after symptoms first appear. The revolutionary drug therapy works by effectively silencing the effects of the mutant huntingtin gene and preventing the harmful protein from ever being built. Professor Sarah Tabrizi, the lead researcher and director of University College London’s Huntington’s Disease Centre, said: “For the first time a drug has lowered the level of the toxic disease-causing protein in the nervous system, and the drug was safe and well-tolerated. This is probably the most significant moment in the history of Huntington’s since the gene [was isolated].”  

Weight loss can lead to type 2 diabetes reversal

06/12/2017

A “watershed” trial involving almost 300 people has seen nearly half the participants reverse their type 2 diabetes in just five months. Trial participants followed a low-calorie diet of soups and shakes for up to five months, which led to massive weight loss. One participant, Isobel Murray, 65, who had weighed 15 stone, lost over four stone (25kg) and now no longer needs diabetes pills. "I've got my life back," she says. Prior to the trial, Isobel’s blood sugar levels were too high and her diabetes medication was being increased on a regular basis. So, she went on to the all-liquid diet for 17 weeks and gave up both cooking and shopping. She didn’t even eat meals with her husband during the trial. Following the trial, 46% of participants were in remission a year later and 86% who lost 15kg (2st 5lb) or more put their type 2 diabetes into remission. Just 4% went into remission with the other best treatments currently used. Speaking about the results of the trial, Prof Mike Lean, from Glasgow University, said: "It's hugely exciting. We now have clear evidence that weight loss of 10-15kg is enough to turn this disease (diabetes) around.” The charity Diabetes UK says the trial is a landmark and has the potential to help millions of patients. The findings of the trial, which was conducted by the universities of Newcastle and Glasgow in the UK, were published in The Lancet and presented at the International Diabetes Federation.

Slimming pills bought online can cause serious health problems, says medicines watchdog

05/12/2017

People who are overweight or obese will often do anything to help them lose weight and that includes taking food supplements, slimming teas and other so-called weight loss drugs. But now the UK’s medicines watchdog has issued a warning against the use of slimming pills bought online as they can cause serious health problems. A survey of 1,800 slimmers by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Slimming World found that one in three had bought weight loss pills online and two-thirds had experienced side-effects. When quizzed about why they had purchased such drugs online, 40% said it was because they had not wanted to speak to a GP or pharmacist. Some of the side-effects associated with slimming bills bought online include heart problems, blurred vision and diarrhoea. Some even contain banned ingredients. The MHRS has stressed that people should always go to their GPs for advice in the first instance. As part of its #FakeMeds campaign, the agency has also warned that buying from websites also increases the risk of being ripped off or having their identity stolen. MHRA senior policy manager Lynda Scammell said: "Quick fixes for losing weight may have serious health consequences in the short or long term, including organ failure and death. "It's essential you know what you're buying online and what the risks are. "If you don't, your weight could end up being the least of your worries."

Over a third of mothers experience mental health issues

30/11/2017

More than a third of mothers have experienced a mental health issue related to parenthood, an online survey has found. According to the YouGov poll of 1,800 British parents, in comparison, just 17% of fathers had experienced similar parenthood-related issues. Of the mothers who experienced a mental health issue, more than two-thirds sought professional help as a result. Their conditions included acute stress, severe anxiety and postpartum depression. One of the biggest factors that weighs on the minds of new mums is criticism. Of those surveyed, 26% said their parents were the most critical of their parenting skills, followed by 24% who cited their spouse/partner and 18% other family members. Quite shockingly, 14% said they had been criticised by complete strangers. In comparison, 5% of the 800 fathers said the same. Trouble at work is also not uncommon for new parents. About 30% of mothers who responded said they had felt discriminated against at work because they were a parent, compared with 14% of working fathers. In terms of emotional support, 60% of women said they had received it from their friends, 56% from their partner and 18% went online. However, 15% of mothers and 25% of fathers say they didn't receive any emotional support at all. If nothing else, the survey highlights the struggles many mothers and fathers go through following the birth of a child. Support is crucial in helping these parents get through such difficult times. 

NHS to employ 'good guy' hackers to help boost cyber defences

28/11/2017

In a world where insufficient digital defences can see your business defamed, robbed, taken offline or even held to ransom, organisations absolutely must ensure their IT security is up to scratch. And, when it comes to cyber security, few businesses have as much to lose as healthcare providers. Not only could poor cyber security lead to patients’ records being compromised, but it could also jeopardise their care if certain systems were impacted. It’s no surprise then that the health service in England, the NHS, is looking to bolster its cyber defences in light of the numerous high-profile cyber-attacks that have occurred in recent time. However, the way in which the health service plans on doing it might come as a surprise. That’s because the NHS is looking to spend £20 million setting up a security operations centre and will also employ so-called ethical hackers to help proactively identify weaknesses in its security systems. Earlier this year, in May, one-third of UK health trusts were hit by the WannaCry worm, which demanded a ransom be paid to unlock infected PCs. In a statement, Dan Taylor, head of the data security centre at NHS Digital, said the NHS would be covered by a “near-real-time monitoring and alerting service that covers the whole health and care system”. The security operations centre would also help the NHS improve its “ability to anticipate future vulnerabilities while supporting health and care in remediating current known threats”, he said.

Breast cancer screening should be more frequent for overweight women

22/11/2017

Overweight or obese women may not detect cancerous breast lumps until they are much larger and more difficult to treat, a Swedish study has found. Researchers from the Karolinksa Institute studied more than 2,000 women who developed breast cancer between 2001 and 2008, all of who had been receiving mammograms every 18 months to two years, as is standard in Sweden. They found that women with higher body mass indexes (BMIs) were more likely to have a larger tumour when detected than women who were slimmer. Lead author of the study, Fredrik Strand, said this was either because the tumours were harder to detect because overweight women have larger breasts or because their tumours grew faster. Women who are overweight are already at greater risk of developing breast cancer and, unfortunately, larger tumours carry a worse prognosis. Therefore, these women may need more frequent mammograms to help spot tumours early, say the researchers. Women who are judged to be at greater risk of developing breast cancer – such as those with a family history – are already offered more frequent screening. Speaking about the findings of the study, Strand said: “Our study suggests that when a clinician presents the pros and cons of breast cancer screening to the patient, having high BMI should be an important 'pro' argument”.

Risk of stillbirth is double in women who sleep on their backs

21/11/2017

A study of more than 1,000 women in the UK has found the risk of having a stillbirth is doubled if expectant mothers sleep on their backs during the third trimester of their pregnancies. For the study, the researchers analysed 291 pregnancies that ended in stillbirth and 735 that resulted in a live birth. Their findings were published Monday in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Echoing findings from smaller studies conducted in New Zealand and Australia, the recent study found that women sleeping on their backs had 2.3 times the risk of stillbirth. Interestingly, according to the researchers, the position women fall asleep in is most important and pregnant mothers should not worry if they are on their backs when they awake. Approximately one in 225 pregnancies in the UK ends in stillbirth. The study authors estimate that about 130 babies' lives a year could be saved if women followed the advice to sleep on their sides instead of their backs. Prof. Alexander Heazell, clinical director at the Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester, who led the research, said women in the third trimester of their pregnancies should sleep on their side for any episode of sleep, including daytime naps. While researchers can’t say for certain why the risk of stillbirth is increased when women go to sleep on their backs, there is a lot of data that suggests it’s due to the combined weight of the baby and womb putting pressure on blood vessels. This can lead to blood and oxygen being restricted to the baby.

Indulgent grandparents could be damaging their grandchildren's health

16/11/2017

It’s natural for grandparents to dote on their grandchildren and give them sweet treats whenever they see them. But new research suggests this and other influences could have a negative impact on their grandchildren’s health. For the research, the team from the University of Glasgow analysed 56 different studies which included data from 18 countries, including the UK, US, China and Japan. They focused on the influence of grandparents who were significant in their grandchildren’s lives, but who weren’t necessarily primary caregivers. Three areas of influence were considered: diet and weight, physical activity and smoking. When it came to their grandchildren’s diet and weight, grandparents were found to have an adverse impact, with many studies highlighting how they feed their grandchildren high-sugar or high-fat foods - often in the guise of a treat. The researchers also found that grandchildren were perceived to get too little exercise while under the supervision of their grandparents. However, this did depend on whether the grandparents were physically active themselves or not. Furthermore, smoking around grandchildren became an area of conflict between parents and grandparents, with the latter often smoking while their grandchildren were present, even though they had been asked not to. Talking about the findings of the study, lead researcher Dr Stephanie Chambers said: "While the results of this review are clear that behaviour such as exposure to smoking and regularly treating children increases cancer risks as children grow into adulthood, it is also clear from the evidence that these risks are unintentional. "Given that many parents now rely on grandparents for care, the mixed messages about health that children might be getting is perhaps an important discussion that needs to be had."

Daytime wounds heal more quickly than night-time ones

14/11/2017

Wounds that occur during daylight hours heal faster than wounds that occur after dark, a new study has found. The research discovered that burns sustained at night took, on average, 28 days to heal, while burns that occurred during the day only took 17 days. In fact, the team from the UK's MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, which carried out the research, said the healing difference between daytime burns and night time burns was astounding. Publishing the findings of their research in Science Translational Medicine, the team of scientists said the difference in healing times was down to the way the human body clock ticks inside nearly every human cell over a 24-hour period. Specifically, fibroblasts, which are the body’s first responders that immediately head to a wound, are primed and ready to go during the daytime. However, at night, they lose this ability. It’s thought the research could lead to improvements in surgical procedures in the future. For example, drugs that reset a patient’s body clock could provide additional benefits during night-time procedures. Dr John O'Neill, one of the researchers, likened the way in which fibroblasts work to a running race: "It is like the 100m. The sprinter down on the blocks, poised and ready to go, is always going to beat the guy going from a standing start,” he said.

Malaria breath test could provide cheaper, non-invasive diagnoses

09/11/2017

A breath test that can detect whether someone has malaria is showing signs of promise in parts of Africa where it’s being trialled. The crude prototype picks up on distinctive “breath prints” that people with the mosquito-borne disease have. During a trial involving children in Malawi, in south-eastern Africa, the breath test had a success rate of 83%. While that’s not high enough for the test to be routinely used at present, it is very promising and suggests the test could be developed further into an off-the-shelf product. According to the team of scientists at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo, who developed the breath test, individuals with malaria have six unique compounds in their breath. These compounds are what the breath test looks out for. Once refined and able to detect malaria with greater accuracy, the breath test could provide a cheaper, non-invasive method for determining whether someone has the disease. Talking about the promising signs displayed by the breath test, Prof James Logan from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: "The rapid detection of asymptomatic malaria is a challenge for malaria control and will be essential as we move towards achieving the goal of malaria elimination. A new diagnostic tool, based on the detection of volatiles associated with malaria infection is exciting." According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 212 million cases of malaria were reported worldwide in 2015 and about 429,000 people died, many of them children.

Pancreatic cancer: would you know the warning signs?

07/11/2017

A leading UK-based cancer charity has warned that many people could be missing the symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer and not receiving treatment that could extend their lives as a result. Pancreatic Cancer UK says that as many as one in three adults could ignore the warning signs and symptoms of potential pancreatic cancer, simply because they don’t know what to look for. Indigestion, stomach ache, unexplained weight loss and faeces that float rather than sink in the toilet are all signs of the potentially deadly disease. At present, just one person in 10 survives longer than five years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Early detection and treatment are vital for saving lives. The charity’s survey of 4,000 people suggests many people take the symptoms for granted, with 35% of respondents saying they would not be anxious if they were suffering from a few of the signs of the disease. Speaking about the results of the survey, Pancreatic Cancer UK chief executive Alex Ford said: ““We must all be aware of the possible signs of pancreatic cancer, and of the devastating impact this disease can have, because 93% of people diagnosed will not live beyond five years”. Common symptoms of pancreatic cancer include: stomach and back ache unexplained weight loss indigestion changes to bowel habits, including floating faeces Other symptoms include: loss of appetite jaundice (yellow skin or eyes) itchy skin feeling and being sick difficulty swallowing recently diagnosed diabetes

Just a few nights of bad sleep can impact your mental health

02/11/2017

The benefits of a full night’s sleep are well known. Insomniacs across the world will tell you what sleep deprivation can do to your mind and body. But now it seems that just a few nights of bad sleep could impact your mental health too. A team of scientists from the University of Oxford in the UK ran a small experiment using four volunteers who normally sleep just fine. The volunteers were fitted with monitors to track their sleep. For the first three nights of the study, they were allowed to sleep normally. For the next three nights, their sleep was restricted to just four hours per night. Each day of the study, the volunteers filled out questionnaires about how they were feeling and kept video diaries. Three out of the four volunteers said the experience was unpleasant, while one said he was largely unaffected. However, tests showed that his mood was significantly impacted, with positive emotions falling and negative emotions rising. Doctoral student Sarah Reeve, one of the scientists who ran the experiment, was surprised by how quickly the volunteers’ moods changed. "There were increases in anxiety, depression and stress, also increases in paranoia and feelings of mistrust about other people", she said. "Given that this happened after only three nights of sleep deprivation, that is pretty impressive."

Long-term aspirin use associated with significant reduction in colorectal cancer risk

31/10/2017

A new large-scale study has found that using aspirin long-term could slash the chances of developing gastrointestinal cancer. Of all the gastrointestinal cancers, which include pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, oesophageal cancer, stomach (or gastric) cancer and small intestine cancer, colorectal cancer is the most common in the western world. While there are a number of lifestyle changes people can make to reduce their risk of developing cancer, including avoiding tobacco, limiting their alcohol consumption, eating healthier and exercising more, an increasing number of studies suggest the use of aspiring could also help. For this latest study, Prof. Kelvin Tsoi, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and his team set out to investigate the effect of aspirin use on gastrointestinal cancers. Over a 10-year period, the team of scientists examined over 600,000 participants and analysed how aspirin use affected their chances of developing gastrointestinal cancer. They found that aspirin users were 47% less likely to have liver and oesophageal cancer, 38% less likely to have stomach cancer, 34% less likely to have pancreatic cancer and 24% less likely to have colorectal cancer. In addition, aspirin use also significantly reduced the risk of leukaemia, lung cancer and prostate cancer.

Rest not antibiotics, say health officials

26/10/2017

According to health officials at Public Health England, more patients should be advised to go home and get some rest, rather than be prescribed antibiotics. In fact, the health body says that up to a fifth of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary and many conditions get better on their own. Overusing antibiotics runs the risk of bugs developing an immunity to certain drugs and developing into so-called superbugs in the future, which cannot be treated with current medicines. While antibiotics are, of course, vital for treating sepsis, pneumonia, bacterial meningitis and other severe infections, they are not essential for every illness. For example, common coughs and bronchitis can take up to three weeks to clear on their own and antibiotics only reduce that timeframe by literally a few days. Prof Paul Cosford, medical director at PHE, told the BBC: "We don't often need antibiotics for common conditions. "The majority of us will get infections from time to time and will recover because of our own immunity." He said patients should not go to their doctor "expecting an antibiotic". So don’t be surprised if your doctor isn’t quick to prescribe you antibiotics the next time you’ve got a cough or a cold. They will actually be doing you a favour in the long-run and helping to prevent the rise of drug-resistant superbugs that we all should be concerned about.

NHS England looking to crack down on health tourism

24/10/2017

In a step designed to help save the NHS in England money, providers of treatment are now required to make sure patients are eligible for free care before they receive it. If they aren’t, healthcare providers will ask them to pay upfront. It is hoped the measures, which will only apply to planned, non-emergency care, will contribute to £22bn of savings needed in the NHS. Accident and emergency (A&E), general practice and infectious disease treatment will remain free to all. Once the new measures are in place, patients will be asked where they have lived over the past six months. If they have lived abroad, they will be required to prove they are eligible for free treatment on the NHS, by showing a non-UK European Health Insurance Card or similar. Speaking about the proposed changes, Health Minister Lord O'Shaughnessy said: “We have no problem with overseas visitors using our NHS as long as they make a fair financial contribution, just as the British taxpayer does. “The new regulations simply require NHS bodies to make enquiries about, and then charge, those who aren't entitled to free NHS care.” However, the British Medical Association has warned that the changes could prevent vulnerable individuals from getting treatment they need. 

Less than 2 hours of walking per week may ‘considerably prolong life’

19/10/2017

We all know that regular exercise should be a part of our weekly routine, but finding the time and motivation is often difficult. But what if just a little bit of walking had the ability to considerably prolong your life? Would you make time then? A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that even as little as two hours of walking a week, compared with no physical activity at all, correlated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality. In other words, even levels of walking that do not meet government-issued guidelines still provide significant benefits and lower the risk of premature death by a considerable amount. Moreover, the study also found that going beyond government exercise guidelines was linked with a 20% decrease in mortality risk. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr. Alpa V. Patel, Ph.D., strategic director of the Cancer Prevention Study-3 for the American Cancer Society (ACS), said: “Walking," she continued, "has been described as the 'perfect exercise' because it is simple, free, convenient, doesn't require any special equipment or training, and can be done at any age.” So, the next time you have a short journey to make and providing the weather is good and you’re feeling up to it, why not walk?

Super-sized chocolate bars to be banned in UK hospitals

17/10/2017

We recently reported that childhood obesity rates are 10 times higher today than they were in 1975. This worrying trend is only set to continue unless more is done to tackle obesity in children. So-called “sugar taxes” on soft drinks in various countries around the world and France’s decision to ban unlimited fizzy drinks in restaurants, fast food-chains, schools and holiday camps, are definitely steps in the right direction. Now, hospitals in England have laid out plans to ban the sale of any sweets or chocolate that contain more than 250 calories. Going forward, super-sized chocolate bars will become a thing of the past in hospital vending machines and canteens. In addition, pre-packed sandwiches with more than 450 calories and/or 5g of saturated fat per 100g will also be banned. Hospitals will be given a cash boost to help them facilitate the changes. The decision to ban fattening and sugary food products in hospitals is actually win-win for the National Health Service (NHS). These foods are major contributors to obesity and many other conditions/diseases, such as preventable diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease and cancer – all of which put enormous strain on the health service. Public Health England says hospitals have an "important role" in tackling obesity and not just dealing with the consequences.

Childhood obesity rates now 10 times higher than they were in 1975

12/10/2017

A new report by Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), reveals that obesity in children is 10 times higher today than it was in 1975. Even more startling is the report’s prediction that within five years, more children will be obese than underweight. For the research, lead author Prof. Majid Ezzati, of the School of Public Health at ICL, and his team of over 1,000 researchers examined the body mass index (BMI) of almost 130 million people living in 200 countries, including 31.5 million individuals between 5 and 19 years old – making this study the largest of its kind. They found that total childhood obesity rates have risen globally by more than 10-fold in the past forty years. More specifically, in 1975, there were 5 million obese girls. In 2016, this number had risen to 50 million. A similar trend was found for boys, with 6 million obese in 1975 compared to 74 million in 2016. The researchers say that if the trend continues, there will be more obese children in the world than underweight ones by the end of 2020. Commenting on the findings, Prof. Ezzati said: “The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and also malnourished. We need ways to make healthy, nutritious food more available at home and school, especially in poor families and communities, and regulations and taxes to protect children from unhealthy foods.” The findings of the study were published in The Lancet.

Low calcium levels may raise heart attack risk

10/10/2017

Calcium is well-known for its role in promoting healthy bones, but a new study suggests it could also be beneficial for heart health too. Cardiac arrest, or heart attack, is one of the leading causes of death in the United States today. In fact, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), approximately 350,000 out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests (SCAs) occur in America every year. Furthermore, almost 90% of people who experience SCA die as a result. The primary cause of SCA is coronary heart disease. However, around 50% of women and 70% of men who die from SCA have no medical history of heart disease, suggesting other significant risk factors are at play. For the study, researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, CA, analysed data from the Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study. They found that the risk of SCA was increased by 2.3-fold for people who had the lowest blood calcium levels (under 8.95 milligrams per deciliter). More importantly, this risk remained after confounding factors, including demographics, cardiovascular risk factors and medication use, were accounted for. Dr. Hon-Chi Lee, of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, said: “This is the first report to show that low serum calcium levels measured close in time to the index event are independently associated with an increased risk of SCA in the general population”.

Over-65s not doing enough strength training, finds study

05/10/2017

It’s a natural reaction to want to lend a helping hand when you see an older individual carrying something that looks heavy. And while it’s absolutely the right gesture and something many of us will continue do without thinking, research suggests that strength exercises are actually highly beneficial for older people. According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), nearly a quarter of over-65s don’t do any strength exercises. As a result, they are putting themselves at risk of falls and other forms of ill health. Simple, yet important tasks, like gardening, vacuuming and carrying the shopping can help older people live healthier, longer lives. Current NHS guidelines advise that people should do at least two strengthening sessions per week. However, a survey carried out on behalf of the CSP found that nearly a quarter of over-65s are doing none whatsoever. Almost one in five people said they didn't know how to strength train, while a similar number said they simply didn't want to. Prof Karen Middleton, chief executive of the CSP, says that not everyone has to become weaker and frailer as they get older. "Research shows getting stronger brings a whole host of health benefits so it is incredibly important that people don't overlook strengthening when being active." So the next time you offer to carry an older person’s shopping and they insist that they’d rather do it themselves, remember, you could be helping them live a longer and healthier life.

Even one hour of exercise per week could prevent depression

03/10/2017

Depression affects around 6.7% of US adults every year. On a global level, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 300 million people are currently living with the disorder. When it comes to treatment, medication, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy or a combination of these approaches is usually used. But new research adds weight to the argument for regular exercise as a depression treatment. Australia-based non-profit group Black Dog Institute conducted an analysis of data collected from 33,908 Norwegian adults who were followed over an 11-year period. Publishing their results in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the team, led by Prof. Samuel Harvey from the Black Dog Institute, found that not only does a little exercise bring substantial benefits, but a lack of exercise actually contributes to depression. Individuals who didn’t undertake any physical activity were found to be 44% more likely to develop depression than those who did just 1 or 2 hours per week. As a result, the authors concluded that approximately 12% of depression cases could have been prevented if the individual did at least 1 hour of exercise per week. "We've known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression, but this is the first time we have been able to quantify the preventive potential of physical activity in terms of reducing future levels of depression,” said Prof. Harvey.

New test can instantly detect heart attacks

28/09/2017

A sudden chest pain often leads to people fearing the worst, which is why many, quite rightly, seek medical help right away. But two-thirds of the time, patients with chest pains will not actually have experienced a heart attack. Nevertheless, these patients still need to be assessed and given the all-clear before being sent home. Then there are the patients who have actually had a heart attack. While a heart trace, called an ECG, can quickly identify major heart attacks, it is not that good at highlighting smaller ones, which can also be life-threatening. At present, patients with a clear ECG and chest pain are then given a heart-attack blood test, called troponin. However, this needs to be repeated three hours later to check for signs of heart muscle damage. Now, a new instant blood test could change the way suspected heart attack patients are treated. The cMyC test can rule out or confirm a heart attack in less than 20 minutes, meaning well patients can be sent home quicker, while heart attack victims can get the treatment they need faster. Troponin and cMyC blood tests were carried out on nearly 2,000 people admitted to hospitals in Switzerland, Italy and Spain with acute chest pain. The cMyC test was found to be better at giving patients the all-clear within the first three hours of presenting with chest pain. According a team from King's College London, the cMyC test could be rolled out on the NHS within five years. Dr Tom Kaier, one of the lead researchers at St Thomas' Hospital, London, said: "Our research shows that the new test has the potential to reassure many thousands more patients with a single test, improving their experience and freeing up valuable hospital beds in A&E departments and wards across the country." [Related reading: What is Coronary Angioplasty?]

Major HIV breakthrough: New antibody attacks 99% of strains

26/09/2017

Scientists have developed a new antibody that can kill 99% of HIV strains and even prevent infections in primates. It works by attacking three different parts of the virus, making it difficult for HIV to resist its effects. The antibody, which has been engineered by scientists at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in conjunction with pharmaceutical firm Sanofi, has been hailed as an “exciting breakthrough” by the International Aids Society. The human body struggles to fight HIV because of the virus’s incredible ability to mutate and change. As a result, the immune system finds itself combatting multiple strains all at once – a task that is insurmountable. Human trials will now commence in 2018 to see whether the antibody can prevent and treat infections. Dr Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at Sanofi and one of the report authors, said the new antibody is “more potent” and has “greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that's been discovered”. Until now, the best naturally occurring antibodies target 90% of HIV strains. At 99%, the new antibody is significantly more powerful. The findings of the study were published in the journal Science.

What is Coronary Angioplasty?

21/09/2017

Coronary arteries are the main blood vessels that supply the heart. Sometimes, these arteries can become narrowed or blocked, which can lead to the flow of blood to the heart becoming restricted. A coronary angioplasty is a surgical procedure used to widen blocked or narrowed coronary arteries. You may be surprised to learn that it is carried out using local anaesthetic and did you know that it involves a tiny balloon? The surgeon makes a tiny incision in your groin, arm or wrist and inserts a catheter. This is then guided to your affected coronary artery using an X-ray video. A tiny balloon is then inserted into the artery via the catheter. The balloon is then inflated to squash any fatty deposits against the wall of the artery widening it once more. This allows blood to flow freely again after the balloon is removed. A stent is sometimes also added and enters the artery at the same time as the balloon. It remains in place after the balloon has been deflated and removed to ensure the artery remains in the best possible shape to allow blood to flow freely going forward. The entire procedure only takes around 30 minutes to two hours and most patients are allowed to go home after just one or two days.

Could a simple skin patch effectively eliminate ‘love handles’?

19/09/2017

Whether you call them love handles or muffin tops, the areas of built up fat that can appear above your waistline are something that many people would love to be able to easily get rid of. A new patch developed by scientists in the US could provide the easy fix people have been looking for. The novel patch delivers fat-browning drugs directly into the areas of fat and converts "bad" white fat into "good" brown fat - not only reducing the amount of excess fat, but also lowering fasting blood glucose levels. Having too much white fat - particularly around the abdominal region - can raise the risk of several health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. So far, the patches have only been trialled on mice, but it’s hoped that they can be developed for human use in the future. Study co-leader Li Qiang, Ph.D., from the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said the patches could offer a great alternative to existing drugs that promote fat browning. Their non-invasive nature can reduce side effects. "The nanoparticles were designed to effectively hold the drug and then gradually collapse, releasing it into nearby tissue in a sustained way instead of spreading the drug throughout the body quickly," says study co-leader Zhen Gu, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Child organ donor saves record eight people after death

14/09/2017

A girl from the UK, who unfortunately died from a brain aneurism, has helped a record eight people, including five other children, through organ donation. Jemima Layzell, from the southwest of England, who died in 2012, donated her heart, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, small bowel and liver. Her parents said Jemima was a very clever, compassionate and creative girl, who would have been “very proud of her legacy”. According to NHS Blood and Transplant, no other donor has ever helped so many people. Normally, an organ donation results in, on average, 2.6 transplants – a fact that highlights just how unusual Jemima’s situation is. Her heart, small bowel and pancreas were transplanted into three different people. Two people received her kidneys, while her liver was split and transplanted into a further two people. Both of her lungs were transplanted into another patient. NHS Blood and Transplant said that too many people die unnecessarily while awaiting a transplant because too many parents do not agree to donate their children’s organs. Last year, 457 people died waiting for a transplant, including 14 children. At present, there are 6,414 people on the transplant waiting list in the UK, including 176 children. Jemima’s story will hopefully encourage more people to become organ donors and help save lives after they die.

Revolutionary pen detects cancer in just 10 seconds

12/09/2017

When it comes to diagnosing cancer, speed has always been of the essence. But now a new handheld device, which looks very much like a pen, can identify cancerous tissue in just 10 seconds. Its inventors say that tests have shown it to be accurate 96% of the time. According to scientists at the University of Texas, the device could make surgery to remove tumours faster, safer and more precise. Furthermore, they say the pen would significantly reduce the chances of leaving any cancerous tissue behind, avoiding the “heartbreak” that such a situation brings. The internal chemistry of cancer cells is very different to that of healthy tissue. That’s because their unique metabolism makes them strive to grow and spread furiously, and that’s what the MasSpec Pen, as it’s known, uses to identify them. When touched onto a piece of tissue, the pen releases a tiny droplet of water. Chemicals inside the living cells pass into the water droplet, which is then sucked back up inside the pen for analysis. Within seconds, doctors know whether they are looking at healthy or cancerous tissue. It’s thought the pen will greatly help surgeons find the border between healthy and cancerous tissue, allowing them to remove all of the cancer. Dr James Suliburk, head of endocrine surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and one of the researchers, said: "Any time we can offer the patient a more precise surgery, a quicker surgery or a safer surgery, that's something we want to do. "This technology does all three." 

Zika virus could be used to treat aggressive brain cancers, say US scientists

07/09/2017

The harmful Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitoes and causes devastating brain damage in babies, could be used to treat aggressive brain cancer in adults, according to US scientists. Up until now, Zika has only been seen as a major global health threat, but the new research could see it become a remedy. The scientists say the virus can be used to selectively infect and destroy hard-to-treat cancerous cells in adult brains. In mice studies, the Zika virus was seen to successfully shrink aggressive tumours, yet left other brain cells unscathed. While human trials are still quite a way off, laboratory tests show that the virus works on human cells, and experts believe the Zika virus holds a huge amount of potential. They say it could be injected into a human brain at the same time as surgery to remove life-threatening tumours. Some brain cancers are fast growing and spread quickly through the brain. This makes it very difficult to see where the tumour finishes and healthy tissue begins. As an extra precaution, the team from Washington University School of Medicine and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have already begun modifying the Zika virus to make it less potent than the regular strain. Researcher Dr Michael Diamond said: "It looks like there's a silver lining to Zika. This virus that targets cells that are very important for brain growth in babies, we could use that now to target growing tumours."

One in 10 men aged 50 have the heart of a 60-year-old

05/09/2017

A study by Public Health England looking at the heart health of the nation has found that thousands of men face early death at the hands of a heart attack or stroke. In fact, according to the analysis of 1.2 million people, one in 10 British men has a heart age that’s a decade older than their actual age. Heart disease is the main cause of death among men and the second among women. Public Health England says that 7,400 people will die from heart disease or stroke this month alone. However, most of these deaths are preventable and Public Health England says that just a few small lifestyle changes can have a positive impact. One of the suggestions made was for over 50s to get their blood pressure regularly checked as high blood pressure can be an early sign of a potentially life-threatening condition. Public Health England’s head of cardiovascular disease, Jamie Waterall, urged people not to only start considering their heart health later in life. "Addressing our risk of heart disease and stroke should not be left until we are older", he said. How to improve your heart health: Give up smoking Get active Manage your weight Eat more fibre Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day Cut down on saturated fat Cut down on salt Drink less alcohol

New test could speed up meningitis diagnoses, save lives

31/08/2017

A new meningitis test that can provide results within 60 minutes, expediting diagnoses and saving more lives, has started to be used by an A&E department in a hospital in Northern Ireland. Researchers say that the new test will allow doctors at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children to treat patients fast and accurately, rather than "just in case". A positive meningitis diagnosis can take up to two days, yet infections can overwhelm a person’s body and kill in just hours, which is why fast treatment is so crucial. Furthermore, symptoms may not be obvious until it is too late. Doctors currently have to rely on clinical judging to decide whether antibiotics should be urgently administered and tend to err on the side caution, meaning some patients receive drugs that they don’t necessarily need. The rapid LAMP (Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification) test on blood, spinal fluid or nasal swab samples will be trialled over a two-year period at the hospital and used to help doctors see if their clinical hunches are correct.  Antibiotics will also still be used during the pilot as an extra precaution when doctors determine they are needed. Researcher Dr Tom Waterfield from Queen's University, Belfast, said the LAMP test could also help spot less obvious cases that might otherwise slip through the net. "With the best will in the world you can still miss cases if a child looks quite well and you think it is viral rather than bacterial. "The test could also provide reassurance earlier to anxious parents that their sick child is getting the right treatment. Two days is a long time to wait for a confirmed diagnosis".

Heart attacks and strokes: new drug could be better than statins

29/08/2017

A trial involving an anti-inflammatory drug could represent the biggest breakthrough in the treatment of heart attacks and strokes since statins were introduced to help lower cholesterol, its authors say. The study of 10,000 patients found that anti-inflammatory drug canakinumab reduced the risk of a patient who had already had a heart attack having another one in the future. The four-year trial saw patients receive high doses of statins as well as either canakinumab or a placebo. Those who received canakinumab were found to be 15% less likely to suffer from a cardiovascular event than their counterparts who received the placebo. Furthermore, cancer deaths were also halved in patients who received canakinumab. The results, which have been referred to as “exciting” by the British Heart Foundation, are thought to be down to the effect of the anti-inflammatory drug on unchecked inflammation within the heart’s arteries. Presenting their results at the European Society of Cardiology meeting, held in Barcelona, Spain, the research team from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, led by the study's lead author Dr Paul Ridker, said the study represented "a milestone in a long journey". "For the first time, we've been able to definitively show that lowering inflammation independent of cholesterol reduces cardiovascular risk. "This has far-reaching implications." It is thought the trial could now lead to new types of treatment for heart attacks and strokes being developed.

Breakthrough peanut allergy treatment still effective after four years

25/08/2017

When it comes to food allergies, peanut allergies are one of the most deadly. But hope may be on the horizon for people who are allergic to peanuts after a new study has revealed how a particular oral treatment can be effective for up to four years after it is administered. For the study, children were given a probiotic with a peanut protein every day for 18 months. One month later, the children were tested to see whether they could tolerate peanuts without displaying any allergic symptoms – 80% could. Then, after four years, the children were tested again. This time 70% were still able to eat peanuts without showing any allergic symptoms. Lead researcher Prof Mimi Tang, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, said: "The importance of this finding is that these children were able to eat peanuts like children who don't have peanut allergy and still maintain their tolerant state, protected against reactions to peanuts”. She added that this is the first time a peanut allergy treatment has proved effective for this long. The Australian research team now wants to determine whether the treatment has improved the children’s quality of life. More than 250 million people worldwide are thought to have peanut allergies – a figure that has more than trebled in the last 20 years alone.

'Fat but fit' still face higher risk of heart disease

17/08/2017

People who are overweight or obese, despite appearing medically healthy, are still at increased risk of heart disease, experts warn. The notion that people can be ‘fat but fit’ is being challenged by research published in the European Heart Journal. According to the researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge, who studied health data relating to more than half a million people in 10 European countries, weight is still a heart disease risk factor even if someone has normal blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. The study found that people who appeared healthy, with healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar readings, were still 28% more likely to develop heart disease than individuals with health bodyweights. Even more at risk were people who were overweight or obese and had high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Dr Ioanna Tzoulaki, from Imperial's School of Public Health, said: "I think there is no longer this concept of healthy obese. "If anything, our study shows that people with excess weight who might be classed as 'healthy' haven't yet developed an unhealthy metabolic profile. "That comes later in the timeline, then they have an event, such as a heart attack”. So the advice if you want to maintain a healthy heart is to watch your weight, even if you think you are fit.

Study reveals that anger and hatred can make people feel happier

15/08/2017

An international study has found that people are happier when they are able to feel the emotions they desire, even if those emotions are anger and hatred. The study suggests that happiness is much "more than simply feeling pleasure and avoiding pain". For the research, participants were asked what emotions they desired and felt. Their answers were then compared to how they rated their overall happiness or life satisfaction. It was discovered that while people generally wanted to experience pleasant emotions, they felt happiest when they were able to feel the emotions they desired. The bottom line, according to lead researcher Dr Maya Tamir, from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is "If you feel emotions you want to feel, even if they're unpleasant, then you're better off". Dr Tamir went on to say that "Someone who feels no anger when reading about child abuse might think they should be angrier about the plight of abused children, so want to feel more anger than they actually do in that moment”. Interestingly, the study also found that 11% of people wanted to feel less positive emotions, such as love and empathy, while 10% of people wanted to feel more negative emotions, such as hatred and anger.

Loneliness, social isolation bigger killers than obesity, finds study

10/08/2017

While it’s commonly accepted that obesity is a major public health concern in the United States, new research has uncovered two bigger threats to people’s lives: loneliness and social isolation. Presenting the findings of their two meta-analyses of studies at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C., study co-author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University (BYU), and colleagues revealed that loneliness and social isolation have the potential to increase people’s risk of premature death by as much as 50%. In fact, the researchers found that the risk of premature death associated with loneliness and social isolation was equal to or greater than for obesity. While people often think loneliness and social isolation are the same, there are actually notable differences between them. Social isolation, for example, is defined as a lack of contact with other people. Loneliness, on the other hand, is the feeling that a person is emotionally disconnected from other people. The bottom line being that a person can be in regular contact with other people, but still feel lonely. A 2016 Harris Poll of US adults found that 72% have felt lonely at some point in their lives, while just under a third said they feel lonely at least once a week. Prof. Holt-Lunstad said more needs to be done at a community level to tackle the loneliness epidemic being faced. 

Children's online time should be regulated by parents like ‘junk food’ consumption

08/08/2017

Parents should be proactive in preventing their children from bingeing on the internet during the summer holidays. That’s the plea from the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, as she launches a campaign to help parents regulate their children’s internet use. With web usage at an all-time high among children, Longfield has criticised the methods used by social media giants to draw children into spending more time staring at tablets and smartphones. She said: "It's something that every parent will talk about especially during school holidays; that children are in danger of seeing social media like sweeties, and their online time like junk food. "None of us as parents would want our children to eat junk food all the time. "For those same reasons we shouldn't want our children to do the same with their online time." According to industry watchdog Ofcom, last year, the internet overtook television as the most popular media pastime for children in the UK, with kids aged five to 15 spending 15 hours a week online. Longfield added that when smartphones, games and social media make us feel worried, stressed and out of control, it means we haven’t got the balance right.

Speed boosts pancreatic cancer surgery success rates

03/08/2017

A pilot scheme in the UK has shown that speeding up access to surgery for pancreatic cancer patients diagnosed early enough boosted success rates by a third. The team from the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust that conducted the trial reduced the time to surgery for 32 patients from two months to just over two weeks. All but one had their tumours successfully removed. However, it will be two years before anyone knows if operating sooner extends lives. Nevertheless, the team said it had saved the NHS £3,200 per patient and could help hundreds of patients all over the UK. Very little progress has been made in treating pancreatic cancer since the early 1970s. Around 9,600 people in the UK are diagnosed with it each year, of which just 7% will live beyond five years.  At present, only 8% of pancreatic cancer patients in the UK undergo surgery to remove their tumours. That’s because the majority are diagnosed too late and surgery is no longer an option. Keith Roberts, who led the team from Birmingham, said: “We have shown that it is possible to create a much faster path to surgery for pancreatic cancer patients within the NHS, which could have a significant impact on survival. “We carried out surgery earlier, avoided unpleasant and costly pre-surgery treatment, and yet there was no significant increase in complications post-surgery.”

Antibiotics: do you really need to take the complete course?

01/08/2017

An opinion piece that was recently published in the BMJ has triggered a debate about whether the guidelines for antibiotics should be updated. Advice from doctors has always been that people should continue taking a course of antibiotics until they are all gone, even if they started feeling better a few days in. But now, writing in the BMJ, a team of researchers from across England argues there is not enough evidence to support the idea that stopping a course of antibiotics early encourages antibiotic resistance. In fact, they say that using antibiotics for longer than necessary could increase the chances of antibiotic resistance occurring. Prof Martin Llewelyn, from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, together with colleagues, says that more research is needed so that antibiotic prescriptions can be given that are tailored to the infection and the person. However, many experts have come out urging people not to change their attitudes towards antibiotics in light of one study. Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, leader of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said that just because a person’s symptoms had improved it did not necessarily mean the infection had been completely eradicated. "It's important that patients have clear messages, and the mantra to always take the full course of antibiotics is well known - changing this will simply confuse people."

Sperm counts in western men have dropped by more than 50% in last 40 years

27/07/2017

Between 1973 and 2011, sperm counts among western men have more than halved, according to research, but the reason for the decline remains unclear. Researchers analysing nearly 200 studies involving men from North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand found that sperm concentration has decreased 52.4% in less than 40 years, while total sperm count has decreased by 59.3% over the same period. Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist and lead author of the study from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said: “The results are quite shocking.” While there are now various infertility treatments that can help to address such a decline, little has been done to identify the root cause. Low sperm counts, for example, could be associated with lifestyle choices and indicate poorer health among men in general. “This is a classic under the radar huge public health problem that is really neglected,” said Levine. The most worrying part of all, he said, is that if the trend continues as it has done, humans would eventually become extinct. Interestingly, no significant decline was witnessed in South America, Asia and Africa, but then far fewer studies have been conducted in these places, so there is much less data to analyse. The findings of the study were published on July 25 in the journal Human Reproduction Update.

Increasing number of millenials undergoing cosmetic surgery to create dimples

25/07/2017

While cosmetic surgery is nothing new, a new craze among millenials is definitely garnering some attention at the moment. It’s called dimpleplasty and it basically involves having facial surgery to create dimples. Okay, so most people would agree that dimples are attractive, but isn’t having them artificially created going one step too far? The procedure, which costs as little as $800 and takes just half an hour to perform, has grown in popularity over the past few years. According to Wright Jones, a plastic surgeon from Atlanta, the main reason dimpleplasty is so popular is because of the “little downtime, enhancement of facial aesthetics, and lack of need for general anaesthesia”. Surgeons create a defect in the patient’s cheek muscle which is then reattached to the under surface of the skin. When the patient smiles, they miraculously have dimples. But the surgery isn’t permanent. It last for one to two months – is that long enough to justify the swelling and soreness that accompanies it?

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