A revolutionary new wearable sensor, which tracks tumors in real time, could provide invaluable insights into how cancer cells respond to treatments. The new device can report in real time how a tumor is growing or shrinking. The results are sent wirelessly to a smartphone for analysis, enabling physicians to more closely monitor patients' progress. So far, the device has been used and proven itself in animal studies. “Our technology is the first bioelectronic device to monitor tumor regression, and the first technology to monitor tumors in real time,” said Alex Abramson, PhD, assistant professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech and a co-author of a new study focusing the device. At present, the most common ways to measure tumors are calipers or bioluminescence imaging (BLI). While these methods are useful and, indeed, accurate, they are only typically performed every few days or weeks. With the new wearable sensor, tumor information is captured every 5 minutes, allowing changes to be recorded in a more timely fashion. Furthermore, the new sensor can also detect extremely small changes that calipers and BLI can’t. Our sensor will allow us to better understand the short-term effects of drugs on tumors and allow scientists and health care professionals a more streamlined method to screen drugs that could become therapies in the future,” Abramson added. *Image by Darko Stojanovic from Pixabay
People who are at risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD) can now monitor their kidney health from the comfort of their own homes thanks to a new smartphone-enabled test. Healthy.io’s Minuteful Kidney™ test, as it is known, uses a smartphone’s camera to look for the protein albumin in the individual’s urine. By monitoring their own kidney health, people can not only benefit from problems being detected early, but also need to take fewer trips to their doctor’s office or clinical laboratory. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the Minuteful Kidney test 510(k) clearance this month, enabling millions of Americans to potentially take advantage of it. Andrea Somerville, from Boston, is one such American who is already using the new test after her health insurer ordered it for her. whose doctor is monitoring her kidney function, received a Minuteful Kidney test kit in the mail after her health insurer ordered one for her. “It was easy to do and really easy to upload everything to my phone so that the results could go to me and to my doctor,” she said. “The other piece that’s nice,” she added, “is that you find out the results right then and there, and it’s done in the privacy of your own home.” *image courtesy of healthy.io
As counterintuitive as it sounds, walking may actually help with knee pain associated with osteoarthritis, new research shows. The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a condition that affects more than 32 million American adults. It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears down over time. The study, the results of which are published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, found that walking regularly helped stave off knee pain in osteoarthritis sufferers. “In individuals > 50 years old with knee osteoarthritis, walking for exercise was associated with less development of frequent knee pain,” the authors wrote. “These findings support that walking for exercise should be encouraged for people with knee osteoarthritis.” For the study, more than 1,000 people aged 50 and over with osteoarthritis were asked to report on their levels of exercise, osteoarthritis symptoms, and pain levels. After four years, more than a third (37%) who didn’t walk for exercise experienced frequent pain, while just 26% of those who walked experienced the same pain. “Everyone’s always looking for some kind of drug. This highlights the importance and likelihood that interventions for osteoarthritis might be something different, including good old exercise,” Grace Hsiao-Wei Lo, MD, an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the lead author on the study, told The New York Times. *Image by Susanne Pälmer from Pixabay
They are known to be able to sniff out illegal drugs and even cancer, but now a new study suggests sniffer dogs can also detect COVID-19 among airline passengers. Perhaps even more remarkable is the study, conducted by researchers in Finland, also found that once trained, dogs are as acuurate at sniffing out COVID-19 as a PCR nose and throat swab test. "Our preliminary observations suggest that dogs primed with one virus type can in a few hours be retrained to detect its variants," added Anu Kantele, a professor of infectious diseases at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and colleagues. For the study, the researchers took four dogs previously trained to detect illegal drugs, dangerous goods and cancers, and trained them to recognise SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19. To do so, the study team used swab samples from 114 people who had tested positive for the virus on a PCR swab test, including 28 with no symptoms, and from 306 negative tests. Remarkably, the dogs were able to successfully detect 92% of infected people and 91% of uninfected people. The dogs' noses were then put to the test in a live environment at Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport in Finland between September 2020 and April 2021. The dogs correctly identified 296 (99%) of 300 passengers with negative PCR results. Read the full release at BMJ Global Health. *Image: Sniffer dogs at Melbourne Airport doing a demonstration, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Millions of people around the world suffer with migraines on a regular basis. These debilitating headaches can last for days at a time and, in severe cases, prevent people from going about their daily lives, including working and studying. While there are drugs to treat migraine headaches and others to prevent their onset, the cause of migraines remains unknown. The leading theory is that migraines are a neurovascular condition that involves an interaction between the blood vessels in the head and the brain itself. Now, the largest study of migraines to date has uncovered 123 genetic regions, or loci, that are associated with the condition — 86 of which were previously unknown. The research, which involved analyzing the genomes of 102,084 people with migraine and those of 771,257 controls who do not have the condition, has trebled the known genetic risk factors for the condition. “In addition to implicating tens of new regions of the genome for more targeted investigation, our study provides the first meaningful opportunity to evaluate shared and distinct genetic components in the two main migraine subtypes,” says first author Heidi Hautakangas, Ph.D., from the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland at the University of Helsinki. The study is published in Nature Genetics. *Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
A new malaria drug that can cure a certain type of the disease has been approved in Australia for kids and teens. Announcing the approval on Monday 14 March, the non-profit organization Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) said a single dose of tafenoquine (Kozenis) for use in combination with the traditional malaria drug chloroquine. This is the first time the drug has been authorized for use in children and will likely lead to more such approvals worldwide. Tafenoquine, which was developed by MMV and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), can cure a type of malaria caused by Plasmodium vivax, most common in South and Southeast Asia, South America and the Horn of Africa. It is estimated that P. vivax causes up to 5 million malaria infections every year, with children aged 2 to 6 four times more likely than adults to contract it, according to MMV. "We are proud to have worked with GSK to develop this child-friendly treatment and are thrilled by today's announcement. P. vivax malaria is particularly dangerous for young children for whom repeated relapses can lead to cumulative severe anemia and, in some cases, be fatal. Today, we have a tool to put a stop to the relentless relapse both for adults and children – we are one step closer to defeating this disease," Dr. David Reddy, CEO of MMV, said in a statement. The drug will be submitted for approval in nine countries, as well as to the World Health Organization, George Jagoe, an executive vice president with MMV, told The New York Times. *Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay
A new study has, worryingly, revealed that one in five people who have hypertension (high blood pressure) take medication that actually increases blood pressure. This revelation is particularly pertinent considering that nearly half of US adults have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Medical advice says people's blood presasure should, ideally, be under 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Now, researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, United States, a Harvard-affiliated teaching hospital, have discovered that a significant proportion of people with hypertension are actually taking medication that may raise blood pressure. Indeed, according to the team's research, which looked at data relating to some 27,599 US adults, nearly one in five with hypertension were on medication that could raise their blood pressure. In fact, the authors found that a total of 15% of all adults were on these medications. While it was expected that some of the individuals would be taking prescription medications that could raise blood pressure, the researchers were surprised to find that there were so many. Speaking to Medical News Today, letter co-author, Dr. Timothy Anderson, said: “In some cases, these medications are appropriate, as they are treating an important issue without a better alternative. However, in many cases, I think the risk of raising blood pressure is simply overlooked, particularly for patients using these medications for many years.” The results of the study cited in this article appear in a research letter in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. *image courtesy of Image by Gerald Oswald from Pixabay
New Covid-19 treatments should be widely available in France before the end of the year, the head of the country's Scientific Council has predicted. According to a report in Le Parisien newspaper, Jean-François Delfraissy, an immunologist and president of the Conseil scientifique, which advises the government on medical matters, said monoclonal and polyclonal antibody treatments would be made more widely available in the coming months. Monoclonal antibody treatments are made using Covid-19 survivors’ own antibodies and are designed to fight infection just as the natural immune system would. Former US President Donald Trump received monoclonal antibody drugs when he was hospitalised with Covid-19 in 2020. At the beginning of August, French health authorities authorised the use of monoclonal antibody treatments for immuno-compromised patients who cannot be vaccinated against the virus because of their conditions. The treatments are set to be rolled out for use as required by doctors among the wider population before the end of the year. A number of pharmaceutical companies are in the process of applying for medical authorisation. They would be “effective for high-risk patients, and should reduce the number of hospitalisations”, Le Parisien reported, but would only be available under medical supervision. The drugs are intended for use in patients who are already severely ill with Covid. They do not prevent people developing the illness in the first place. *Image by Klaus Hausmann from Pixabay
For stroke patients, receiving treatment as soon as possible is vital. The shorter time between the stroke and treatment, the less chance there is of serious damage to the patient’s brain. That’s why fast diagnosis of a stroke is so important for the patient’s overall prognosis. But vascular neurologists, the clinicians most called upon to check stroke patients, are often in short supply and high demand. As a result, they cannot always see every suspected stroke patient as quickly as perhaps liked. The answer has been to utilise telemedicine and this is something neurologists have been doing for more than three decades. By taking advantage of audio-visual platforms, neurologists can assess suspected stroke patients quickly. If the patient is displaying signs of a stroke, they can be given life-saving treatment, consisting of administering tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), a clot-dissolving drug first developed for treating heart attacks, which was then fine-tuned for strokes in the early 1990s. The success of tPA, however, lies in administering it as quickly as possible, to counter the effect of blood loss to the brain. A 2016 study highlights the impact of telehealth for stroke patients. According to Kaiser Permanente’s study, involving more than 2,500 patients treated for stroke symptoms between 2013 and 2015 in its 14-hospital network in southern California, a 75% increase was witnessed in the timely use of tPA after a telehealth consult. Patients receiving a telehealth consult were given a diagnostic imaging test 12 minutes sooner than those who didn’t, and tPA was administered 11 minutes sooner. Overall, the door-to-needle time was reduced to less than an hour. *Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated digital transformation across the entire healthcare industry. That’s one of the key findings from new Google Cloud research. According to the survey of 300 US physicians, nine in 10 (90%) currently use telehealth (vs. just 32% pre-pandemic). Moreover, more than half (62%) of physicians said the pandemic forced their healthcare organization to make tech upgrades that would normally have taken several years to implement. Just under half (48%) of physicians said they would like to have access to telehealth capabilities in the next five years. However, most physicians agreed that the healthcare industry lacks behind others when it comes to digital adoption. Indeed, 64% of physicians said digital adoption was more advanced in the gaming industry, while 56% and 53%, respectively, said the telecommunications industry and financial services industry were more digitally advanced. Nevertheless, the healthcare industry’s digital adoption has improved, closing the gap on the retail, hospitality and travel, and public sectors. Google Cloud CEO, Thomas Kurian, said during a recent HIMSS21 Global Conference Digital Session: “The more efficient you can make the healthcare system, the more that healthcare system can invest back in patient care, new forms of treatment, new forms of drug discovery, et cetera.” *Image by Tumisu from Pixabay
Hospitals in France are using virtual reality (VR) glasses to help patients relax and reduce their stress and pain during operations. Rouen and Strasbourg hospitals have both embraced the VR technology, which was launched last year by French start-up HypnoVR. The glasses can be worn by patients before, during and after surgery, helping them relax more, which can result in local anaesthesia being used instead of general during their procedure. The glasses can also help patients better manage post-surgery pain. They are said to be particularly effective for chemotherapy patients. Patients can choose from a range of virtual scenes, including a tropical beach, walking in the woods and even a journey into space. A calming voice accompanies the visuals and there are breathing exercises and a choice of music, too. While patients still have to receive anaesthesia, the amount required is often less while wearing the VR glasses. HypnoVR president Denis Graff, a medical anaesthetist and hypnotherapist, said: “We are trying to fight against the over-consumption of drugs, and we are trying to treat pain with a non-medicinal method in order to reduce the consumption of potentially dangerous drugs that can have severe side-effects.” *Image by Florian Pircher from Pixabay
Germany, France, Italy and Spain have joined the list of countries to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. The countries took the decision after reports have arisen of dangerous blood clots in some recipients. Meanwhile, AstraZeneca and European regulators have said there is no evidence the vaccine is to blame. The AstraZeneca shot is one of three vaccines currently in use in Europe. Nevertheless, the blood clot concerns and subsequent cessation of its use represents another setback for the EU’s vaccination drive – which has already been slow off the mark compared to similar campaigns in the United Kingdom and the United States. The EU’s drug regulatory agency has called a meeting for this week to review experts’ findings on the AstraZeneca vaccine and decide how to proceed. All this comes as much of Europe tightens restrictions on schools and businesses as Covid-19 cases surge. In Germany, the decision to halt the use of the Astrazeneca vaccine was taken following advice from the country’s vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute. It called for further investigation after blood clots were found in the brains of seven people who had been vaccinated. In response to the situation, Astrazeneca published a press release offering ‘reassurance on the safety of its COVID-19 vaccine based on clear scientific evidence’.
British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca’s large-scale human COVID-19 vaccine trial has been paused after one of the participants developed an unexplained illness. A spokesperson for AstraZeneca said the pause is “routine” and occurred when the firm’s standard review process was triggered. An independent committee will now review safety data pertaining to the trial. AstraZeneca stressed that an adverse reaction was only witnessed in one study participant, and that pausing trials was a common part of the vaccine development process. No details have been released about the nature of the participant’s illness, but it has been reported that the individual is expected to recover. Right now, all trials of the joint AstraZeneca-University of Oxford developed vaccine, AZD1222, have been halted worldwide, including in the United States, UK, Brazil, South Africa, and India. AZD1222 is one of three COVID-19 vaccines in late-stage Phase 3 trials in the United States. AstraZeneca and eight other drug makers have said they will not seek approval from US government regulators for any vaccine until all data showed it was safe and effective. All of the companies, which include Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co, GlaxoSmithKline, Novavax Inc, Sanofi and BioNTech, said “the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals” was their top priority.
Experts in the UK say a cost effective and widely available drug can help save the lives of seriously ill COVID-19 patients. The drug, dexamethasone, a steroid, has been around since the early 1960s, and is usually given in low doses to patients with severe asthma, allergies and painful/swollen joints. It is also used to treat autoimmune conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. Dexamethasone’s effect on inflammation and our immune systems is what is believed to make it useful in treating patients with severe COVID-19 infections. The drug is part of the RECOVERY Trial, the largest clinical trial to date aiming to identify treatments that may be beneficial for COVID-19 patients. As part of the trial, researchers studied the effect of dexamethasone in 2,000 patients and compared that to the outcomes in 4,000 patients who did not receive it. Dexamethasone was found to cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth. This equates to one life saved for every eight on ventilators and every 20-25 treated with oxygen. One of the biggest benefits of dexamethasone is that it is not cost prohibitive, meaning it could be pivotal for treating COVID-19 in poorer countries. [Related reading: What does it mean for a vaccine if the new coronavirus mutates?]
There have been numerous reports recently about how both the European Union and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have now approved certain COVID-19 antibody tests. But what are these tests for and are they useful in the overall fight against the pandemic? An antibody test basically checks your blood for antibodies. These are made when your body fights an infection, like if you had COVID-19. The test isn’t actually looking for the infection itself, rather signs that your body has built a defense against it i.e. you had the infection and your body responded accordingly. One of the valuable outcomes of antibody tests is that they help us ascertain just how many people have potentially had the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). This helps build a fuller picture of the virus’ spread, as well as calculate how many people there are out there who could still potentially get it. Such information could help in the development of strategies to safeguard communities and possibly allow for more freedom of movement. Antibody tests could also help identify individuals who have had COVID-19 and whose blood could be used to help those fighting the disease. [Related reading: Losing sleep over the COVID-19 outbreak? These 5 tips will help]
As we continue to tackle the virus outbreak and take steps to reduce its momentum, widespread sharing of health advice has become commonplace. But if there is one thing the current coronavirus pandemic has highlighted, it is that there is so much misinformation out there. Let’s look at a few examples and see why they aren’t just false, but also potentially dangerous: Bogus health claim 1: Drinking alcohol kills coronavirus While alcohol-based hand gels and sprays can remove the new coronavirus from hands, drinking alcohol (any kind) will have no positive impact, and could actually cause serious damage to your health. Whenever you hear any advice about alcohol and coronavirus, it is referring to the kind that helps clean your hands. Bogus health claim 2: There are licensed drugs for treating COVID-19 Just because President Trump has spoken on several occasions about hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19, it doesn’t make it a licensed or even recommended treatment. In fact, there is still no proof that hydroxychloroquine helps prevent or cure COVID-19, and misusing it could cause serious side effects. Bogus health claim 3: You can check if you have COVID-19 by holding your breath The only way to determine if you have COVID-19 is to undergo a laboratory test. Being able to hold your breath for 10 seconds or more without coughing or feeling discomfort will not prove anything. You can read about more coronavirus myths on the World Health Organization website.
With more evidence emerging that COVID-19 can cause dangerous blood clots in some patients, new research shows that blood thinners could help improve survival rates. According to the study by a team from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, which looked at nearly 2,800 COVID-19 patients admitted to five hospitals across the Mount Sinai Health System, blood thinners were seen to have a positive impact on patient outcomes. The blood thinners were found to be especially helpful for patients who were put on ventilators to help them breathe. The study found that 63% of patients on ventilators who were not given blood thinners died, compared to 23% of patients on ventilators who were given blood thinners. Furthermore, of the patients who died, those who were given anticoagulants did so after spending an average of 21 days in the hospital. In contrasts, those who didn't receive anticoagulants died after an average of just 14 days in the hospital. Finally, the study also revealed that patients who were given blood thinners were not significantly more likely to develop bleeding problems -- one of the risks of taking such drugs. Speaking about the findings of the research, study senior author Dr. Valentin Fuster, director of Mount Sinai Heart and physician-in-chief at the Mount Sinai Hospital, said: “Using anticoagulants should be considered when patients get admitted to the ER and have tested positive for COVID-19, to possibly improve outcomes.” [Related reading: World leaders pledge billions to help develop coronavirus vaccine]
A government adviser in the UK is calling for the term ‘painkiller’ to be dropped as it is inaccurate and can lead to people have unrealistic expectations about the drugs the medications they take. According to Professor Jamie Coleman, who is part of a working group analysing the use of opioid medication for the government in England, the term ‘painkiller’ should be replaced by the term ‘pain reliever’. Professor Coleman said he is also in favour of ending the over-the-counter sale of low-dose codeine drugs in pharmacies, which he says can lead to people becoming dependent on prescription drugs, even addicted. He said even in low doses, such medication can cause serious side effects, including vomiting and nausea. Meanwhile, research suggests that just one in 10 people taking strong painkillers for long-term pain actually experience any benefits. Professor Coleman says the key to combatting people misusing opioid medication, such as codeine and morphine, is to make it prescription-only, as well as encourage a cultural shift away from GPs prescribing such drugs for long-term pain control. A report released last year by Public Health England (PHE) warned that people were getting hooked on opioids, anti-depressants and sleeping tablets. The same research revealed that more than 5 million people are given opioids every year, with 1.2 million taking them for at least 12 months. The bottom line, according to Professor Coleman, is that there is no such thing as ‘painkillers’ and that opioids just mask symptoms.
Scientists believe they have discovered the reason why stress can make hair turn white. They’ve also found a potential way of preventing it from happening which doesn’t involve hair dye. In a chance finding while studying mice, the scientists noticed that dark-furred mice turned completely white within weeks after experiencing stress. The reason for this, the scientists say, is because the stress damaged stem cells that control hair and skin colour. The US and Brazilian researchers say their discovery is significant as it could lead to new treatments being developed that can protect hair colour from the effects of stress and ageing. Publishing their findings in the journal Nature, the researchers Universities of Sao Paulo and Harvard say the effects are linked to melanocyte stem cells, which produce melanin and are responsible for hair and skin colour. In a separate experiment, the researchers found they could prevent stress from affecting hair colour by giving the mice an anti-hypertensive, which treats high blood pressure. They were also able to identify the specific protein that causes damage to the stem cells. When this protein, cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK), was suppressed, mice that were subjected to stress did not experience the same fur colour change. It’s a breakthrough that could lead to drugs being developed which suppress CDK and delay the onset of grey/white hair.
A British woman has become the first in the world to receive a revolutionary new cancer therapy which involves injecting a high dose of chemotherapy directly into cancer cells. Karen Childs, from north-west London, is the first patient on the clinical trial for acoustic cluster therapy to treat cancer that has spread to her liver. During the therapy, clusters of microdroplets and microbubbles are injected into the patient at the same time as chemotherapy, which experts say will enhance its delivery. Ultrasound scans are then used to ensure the clusters “pump” the drug directly into the tumour, which should result in substantially more chemotherapy reaching cancer cells. Experts hope the technique will mean fewer doses of chemotherapy for cancer patients going forward, which should reduce side-effects. The new treatment is being trialled by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London. Ms Childs, who was diagnosed with cancer in November 2013, said: “I’m not sure it’s sunk in yet that I’m the very first patient in the world to be receiving this new treatment. This trial is an exciting step for the hospital and a huge step for patients like me.” The aim of the clinical trial at this stage is to establish if the new therapy is safe and to provide data on its effectiveness. Eventually, it is hoped the treatment could be used to reduce the size of tumours prior to surgery, making them easier to remove and potentially offering more patients a cure.
The hormone oestrogen fuels the growth of many different types of breast cancer. And to reduce a woman’s risk of developing the disease, a drug called anastrozole is often used to block oestrogen production in post-menopausal ladies. But now new research has revealed that anastrozole actually continues to work long after a woman has stopped taking it. According to the research by a team at the Queen Mary University of London, the findings of which are published in The Lancet, anastrozole continues to reduce a woman’s cancer risk by 49% even seven years after they stop taking it. This is in addition to it halving a woman’s risk during the five years they take the drug. In other words, the benefits of taking anastrozole continue after treatment has stopped. Trials are now focussing on whether anastrozole can be used to prevent the onslaught of breast cancer and not just used once a woman has developed the disease. Speaking about the findings of the research, Prof Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: “Up until now we only knew that tamoxifen has long-lasting benefits, so it's reassuring that this study looking specifically at anastrozole, which has fewer long-term side-effects, gives better protection to women years after they stopped taking the drug.” Anastrozole is currently available on the NHS in England, but only about 10% of women who should be taking the drug actually are.
Penicillin was discovered by chance in 1928 when Alexander Fleming noticed it had powerful antibacterial properties. Fast forward to the 1940s and penicillin was being commonly used in the fight against deadly infections. But penicillin is not for everyone and some people are allergic to the popular antibiotic. If someone has ever had a reaction to the drug, their medical records usually contain a note of this “fact”. However, new research suggests that many people who believe they are allergic to penicillin may have outgrown their allergy, or they may not have been allergic in the first place. In fact, the research shows that as many as nine in 10 people who think they are allergic to penicillin may not be. Speaking at the ACAAI Annual Scientific Meeting 2019 in Houston, TX, the researchers added that some patient’s penicillin allergies remain on their medical records even if they test negative later in life. “Our study found that of the 52 patients who tested negative to penicillin and were interviewed, 98% understood they were not allergic to penicillin,” said lead author, Dr. Sonam Sani, an allergist, immunologist, and fellow of the ACAAI. “Of those, 29% still had a penicillin allergy label in their electronic medical record, and 24% still carried the label in their pharmacy records,” she added. The research is important because it highlights just how easy it is for someone to assume they have a penicillin allergy when, in fact, they don’t. Many penicillin alternatives are more expensive, have lower efficacy, and risk boosting antibiotic resistance.
A cost effective and widely available drug could help save hundreds of thousands of lives each year if it was given to patients brought into hospitals with head injuries, a new study has found. The drug, tranexamic acid, helps stop bleeding in and around the brain, arresting damage that can occur post-trauma. It’s already approved for clinical use and is routinely taken to prevent internal bleeding in other parts of the body following trauma, as well as women with dangerous bleeding after childbirth. According to the study published in The Lancet, if given early enough, tranexamic acid can improve patient survival rates. While it cannot reverse trauma damage, it can prevent a small bleed becoming worse. The team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) tested tranexamic acid on almost 13,000 patients. They found that if given within three hours of a head trauma, the number of fatalities was reduced by as much as 20%. Furthermore, tranexamic acid is a cost effective treatment, with a course in the UK costing around £6.20 (7.09 euros) per patient. Speaking about the findings of the trial, one of the lead investigators, Prof Haleema Shakur, from the LSHTM, said: “The results are just amazing. It's the first trial to ever show that a [medical] treatment can reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury patients dying. “This is the first time that we have seen a beneficial effect. It will have huge implications worldwide. “It's a widely available drug, it's relatively cheap and it's really simple to give.”
A new tumour-agnostic drug has been approved for use in Europe. The revolutionary drug, experts say, has the potential to cure more cancer patients and reduce side-effects. Called larotrectinib, the new drug does not care where the cancer is growing in the body and instead looks for a specific genetic abnormality, which means it can be used to treat a wide range of tumours. Doctors in the UK have said the new drug is “a really exciting thing” and marks a move away from having ‘drugs that treat breast cancer’, ‘drugs that treat bowel cancer’ and ‘drugs that treat lung cancer’, to having drugs that target the genetic make-up of each patient’s tumour. However, the decision by European regulators does not mean that any cancer patient can take advantage of larotrectinib right away. Its approval for use right now only applies to patients with solid tumours that have been caused by a genetic abnormality known as an NTRK gene fusion. This rare abnormality happens when part of an individual’s DNA accidentally merges with another, leading to an alteration in the body’s blueprint that allows cancer to grow. Speaking about the drug development, Dr Julia Chisholm, a children's cancer consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, said: “It is a really exciting thing, as is it works across a range of cancers. It's not confined to one.”
A team of international scientists has discovered that a drug usually used to treat enlarged prostates may be beneficial in the fight against Parkinson’s disease. The drug, Terazosin, helps ease the discomfort associated with an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH) by relaxing muscles in the prostate and part of the bladder. This helps relieve symptoms like difficulty in beginning to urinate and needing to urinate frequently or urgently. Now, researchers believe it may also help slow the progression of Parkinson’s by protecting brain cells from being damaged – something that is not possible at present. For the research, the team of scientists studied thousands of patients with both BPH and Parkinson's disease. They found that Terazosin boosted energy production in brain cells and slow neurodegeneration. It does this by activating an enzyme called PGK1. Publishing their findings online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the scientists said that while it was too premature to talk about a cure for Parkinson’s, their research was ‘exciting’ and could have the potential to change the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease going forward. Because Terazosin is already approved for use in patients with enlarged prostates, getting it repurposed as a Parkinson’s drug also shouldn’t be a problem.
A pill that contains four different medicines and is designed to be taken daily could dramatically reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes, a new study has found. The polypill – which is the generic term used to describe a medication that contains multiple active pharmaceutical ingredients – contains aspirin, a cholesterol-lowering statin and two drugs to reduce blood pressure. For the study, researchers from Iran and the UK studied around 6,800 people from more than 100 villages in Iran. Half were given the polypill and advice on how to improve their health through lifestyle changes and the other half were just given the lifestyle changes advice. After five years, the group taking the polypill had experienced 202 cardiovascular events, while the group that had just been given the advice had experienced 301 cardiovascular events. In other words, the group taking the polypill had experienced around a third less cardiovascular events. The researchers say the pill costs just pennies a day, but could have a huge impact, especially in poorer countries where doctors have fewer options available to them. Stroke and coronary heart disease are the top two causes of death worldwide, killing more than 15 million people each year. Obesity, smoking and doing little exercise are all risk factors associated with an unhealthy heart. Based on the findings of the study, if 35 people were all given the polypill daily, it would prevent one of them developing a major heart problem within 5 years. “Given the polypill's affordability, there is considerable potential to improve cardiovascular health and to prevent the world's leading cause of death,” said Dr Nizal Sarrafzadegan, of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Iran. The findings of the research are published in The Lancet.
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bone quality and density to decline over time. As a result, people with osteoporosis are at greater risk of fracturing bones. And it’s often not until a fracture occurs that an individual realises they have osteoporosis. That’s because the disease affects bones silently and progressively, with few symptoms. Following a fracture, osteoporosis patients are often prescribed medication to help support their bone health. Common osteoporosis drugs include etidronate and nitrogen bisphosphonates (usually alendronate and risedronate). Now, new research has revealed just how effective these drugs are. According to two different studies conducted by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Darlinghurst, Australia, osteoporosis drugs not only reduce the risk of further fractures, but also decrease a person’s risk of premature death. In the first study, the research team analysed data relating to over 6,000 osteoporosis patients aged 50 and over. They found that people taking alendronate had a 34% lower risk of premature death. For the second study, the researchers looked specifically at how nitrogen bisphosphonates impact bone loss and mortality risk in women aged 50 and over. They found that patients who took nitrogen bisphosphonates had both a lower rate of bone loss and a lower mortality risk. However, the studies also revealed that many osteoporosis patients do not follow their drug prescriptions and neglect to take the necessary drugs. Speaking about the findings of the two trials, lead author Dana Bliuc, Ph.D. said: “For many individuals with osteoporosis, bone health isn't front-of-mind. We hope our study results will encourage people with osteoporosis or at risk of a fracture to seek treatment — and commit to taking it.” So the advice is clear: if you have been prescribed osteoporosis drugs, make sure you take them as directed.
Most people feel nervous ahead of surgery, even if the procedure they’re about to undergo is straightforward. To calm these nerves, patients are often given medication. But a new study suggests that music could be just as effective. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, a special song written to reduce anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate performed as well as a sedative for calming patients ahead of surgery. For the trial, 157 surgery patients were either given the drug midazolam or play the so-called “world’s most relaxing song”, Weightless by UK band Marconi Union, while they were being given an anaesthetic to numb a part of their body. Patient anxiety was equally reduced in both groups, suggesting the music was an effective alternative to the drugs. The great news about this is the music medicine is both free and completely safe, whereas the drugs cost money and can have side effects. Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr Veena Graff, assistant professor of anaesthesiology and critical care at the University Of Pennsylvania Perelman School Of Medicine, said: “Music lights up the emotional area of the brain, the reward system and the pleasure pathways. “It means patients can be in their own world, they can be comfortable and have full control.” Intrigued what the world’s most relaxing song sounds like? Listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JNM-xPZXgI
New research shows that some drugs commonly prescribed for treating depression, epilepsy and other conditions may increase a person’s risk of dementia. The drugs, which belong to a family of medicines called anticholinergics, have previously been lined to short-term problems with thinking. According to the new study of patients in the UK, the findings of which are published in Jama Internal Medicine, using such drugs could lead to possible long-term brain side effects. However, experts are stressing that the study findings do not prove there is a direct risk and that patients already taking these drugs – literally millions of people in the UK - should not stop doing so. Anticholinergic drugs block the action of a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) in the brain which controls signals around the body. They are used to treat a variety of conditions, including depression, epilepsy, psychosis, overactive bladder, Parkinson’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and some allergies. For the study, researchers looked at nearly 300,000 patients (58,000 with dementia) and their use of medication going back more than 20 years. They found a strong link between the use of certain anticholinergic drugs – namely ones used to treat depression, Parkinson’s, psychosis, bladder conditions and epilepsy - and an increased risk of dementia in individuals aged 55 and over. Anticholinergic drugs used to treat asthma, muscle problems, heart rhythm issues and gastrointestinal problems were not found to pose a dementia risk. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Jana Voigt, from Alzheimer's Research UK, said: “There is a growing body of evidence that suggests certain anticholinergic drugs are linked to an increased dementia risk. “While finding a link between certain strong anticholinergic drugs and an increased risk of dementia, it doesn’t tell us if these drugs cause the condition.”
A British teenager has become the first person in the world to have a drug-resistant bacterial infection treated by genetically engineered viruses. Isabelle Holdaway, 17, was given just a 1% chance of survival after a double lung transplant to treat her cystic fibrosis left her with an intractable bacterial infection that could not be treated with antibiotics. Her arms, legs and buttocks had numerous big, black, festering lesions where the bacteria were pushing up through her skin. She finally ended up in intensive care after her liver began to fail. Every previous patient in Isabelle’s situation died – some within a year, despite aggressive treatment. Desperate for a solution, Isabelle’s mother researched alternative treatments online and came across phage therapy. It’s not new; doctors have been using it for nearly a century, but its use has been eclipsed by antibiotics because they are much easier to use. Isabelle’s care team at Great Ormond Street Hospital contacted Prof Graham Hatfull at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, in the US, who had the world's largest collection of phages (approximately 15,000). Hatfull and his team identified three potential phages that would be effective in tackling Isabelle’s bacterial infection and genetically modified two of them to make them more effective. Isabelle was injected with the cocktail of phages twice daily and they were also applied to the lesions on her skin. Within just six weeks, a liver scan showed that the infection had essentially disappeared. Phage therapy involves injecting bacteria-killing viruses into a patient’s body which track down, infect and ultimately kill bacteria. The phages hijack the bacterial cell and turn it into a phage factory until the viruses burst out of the bacteria killing it in the process. While Isabelle’s fatal infection has not been completely cured, it is under control and she is beginning to lead a normal life. She still has two infusions of phages every day and is currently waiting for a fourth phage to be added to the mix, which will hopefully clear the infection completely.
Scientists have dismantled cancer piece-by-piece and revealed its weaknesses in the hope that new treatments can be developed. The team of scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, England, disabled every genetic instruction, one at a time, inside 30 different types of cancer. Their work revealed 600 new cancer vulnerabilities, each of which could be the target of a drug. The study is being praised in particular not only for its sheer scale, but also because it could open the doors to more personalised medicines being developed. Right now, much cancer treatment involves chemotherapy, which is far from ideal due to the damage it causes throughout a patient’s body. One gene that was identified as being essential for the survival of some of the most genetically unstable cancers is "Werner syndrome RecQ helicase" also known more simply as WRN. It plays a vital role in around 28% of stomach cancers and 15% of colon cancers, yet there are no drugs that currently target it. The ultimate goal is to create a “Cancer Dependency Map”, which could be used to highlight every cancer vulnerability. Medical professionals would then be able to prescribe a cocktail of precision drugs to kill a patient’s cancerous cells. Speaking about the research, prominent UK-based cancer charity, Cancer Research UK, said that what makes the research so powerful is its sheer scale.
Previous claims that one or two alcoholic drinks a day doesn’t do any harm and could actually be protective are now in significant jeopardy following the publication of a large genetic study in The Lancet. According to the UK and Chinese researchers who followed 500,000 Chinese people over a 10-year period, the findings of the study are the best evidence yet on the direct effects of alcohol. While the negative health implications of heavy drinking are understood, the impact of consuming small amounts of alcohol on a regular basis has remained unclear. The researchers, from the University of Oxford, Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, found that: drinking one to two alcoholic drinks every day increased stroke risk by 10-15% drinking four alcoholic drinks every day increased stroke risk by 35% For the purposes of the study, one drink was defined as either: a small glass of wine a bottle of beer a single measure of spirits In other words, even light-to-moderate drinking can increase blood pressure and a person’s chances of having a stroke. Prof David Spiegelhalter, from the University of Cambridge, said drinking alcohol on a daily basis gives the “opposite effect of taking a statin” (drugs that are used to lower cholesterol levels). The bottom line, according to Prof Richard Peto, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Oxford, is the “claims that wine and beer have magical protective effects is not borne out”.
A new cholesterol-lowering drug could offer hope for both people who are unable to take statins due to the side effects and for people who statins are ineffective. An international study suggests the drug, called bempedoic acid, helps lower cholesterol in people who continue to have high levels despite taking statins. It is thought that it can also be used for people who are unable to take statins because of the associated side-effects. Publishing their research in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers say they have asked UK and US drug regulators to consider approving the pill for widespread use. Bempedoic acid works by blocking an enzyme in the body that is used to produce cholesterol. For the study, over 1,000 people with cardiovascular disease or a genetic cholesterol condition were given bempedoic acid in addition to their usual cholesterol-lowering medication. About 700 other study participants were given a placebo. After just three months, the group taking bempedoic acid had 17% less bad cholesterol than the group receiving the dummy medication. Speaking about the findings of the research, Prof Kausik Ray, from Imperial College London, said: “Bempedoic acid could be another addition to the arsenal of cholesterol lowering treatments available to patients. “What we have is a new class of drug that could be given to patients who are already taking statins and could help them further reduce their cholesterol levels and thus potentially cut their risk of heart attacks and strokes.” Bad cholesterol remains one of the main risk factors for heart attacks and strokes across the world.
A radical new Parkinson’s treatment that reawakens brain cells damaged by the condition has been tested in people. Patients in the trial were either given the new drug or a placebo. Those who received the drug had it administered via a “port” in the side of their heads which allows it to be delivered directly to their brains. The authors of the study say they saw visual evidence of improvements to the affected areas of the patients’ brains that were given the real drug, glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), suggesting that it might help regenerate dying brain cells. After an initial safety study, 35 patients took part in the main trial. Half received monthly infusions of GDNF, while the other half received a placebo. Interestingly, both groups of patients showed improved symptoms at the end of the trial, although the group that received GDNF were the only ones who showed actual brain tissue improvements. Speaking about the findings of the trial, Dr Alan Whone, principal investigator, said: “We've shown with the Pet [positron emission tomography] scans that, having arrived, the drug then engages with its target, dopamine nerve endings, and appears to help damaged cells regenerate or have a biological response.” More research is now needed to see if it was actually GDNF that triggered the patients’ improvements and not a so-called placebo effect, where individuals feel better despite them taking medication with no active ingredient.
Inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics is commonplace in the United States, a new study has found. According to the analysis of prescription data for 19.2 million people by researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago, IL; the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA, 23.2% of all antibiotic prescriptions written in 2016 were inappropriate. The findings of the research published in the British Medical Journal reveal that colds, coughs, and chest infections – all of which are usually caused by viruses - were the top conditions that antibiotics were inappropriately prescribed. Antibiotics are only effective when used to fight illnesses caused by bacteria, not viruses. The problem with taking antibiotics inappropriately is that it can lead to antibiotic resistance. This is where bacteria are able to survive drugs that once killed them. Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approx. 2 million people in the US every year acquire antibiotic resistant infections. As a result, more than 23,000 die. Speaking about the findings of the research, lead author Kao-Ping Chua, M.D., Ph.D., said “Antibiotic overuse is still rampant and affects an enormous number of patients. “Despite decades of quality improvement and educational initiatives, providers are still writing antibiotic prescriptions for illnesses that would get better on their own.”
We recently wrote about how an exotic fish could help heal human hearts. Now, new research suggests that a rainforest vine compound is highly effective at killing treatment-resistant pancreatic cancer cells. Known for their ability to survive even the most inhospitable conditions, pancreatic cancer cells are notoriously difficult to kill. It’s one of the reasons why pancreatic cancer is so hard to treat and why the condition usually has a poor outlook. Indeed, the American Cancer Society (ACS) says the 5-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients is just 12-24 percent. However, researchers from the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg in Germany and the Institute of Natural Medicine at the University of Toyama in Japan have discovered that a compound found in a Congolese rainforest plant can make pancreatic cancer cells susceptible to nutrient starvation. The compound, ancistrolikokine E3, has anti-austerity properties and inhibits the Akt/mTOR pathway of pancreatic cancer cells. It’s this pathway that enables these cancer cells to thrive even under conditions of low nutrients and oxygen – an ability in the cancer field known as ‘austerity.’ While more research is needed, the compound is seen as promising for the development of future anticancer drugs.
We are often told that being overweight increases our risk of cancer. In fact, in the UK, obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking, according to Cancer Research UK. But why does being overweight increase a person’s likelihood of developing cancer? A group of scientists say they now know. The team from Trinity College Dublin say the reason overweight people are at greater risk of developing cancer is because a certain cell in the body that’s used to destroy cancer gets clogged with fat and stops working as a result. Publishing their findings in the Nature Immunology journal, the team said they were able to show that the body’s natural cancer-fighting cells get clogged by fat. They are hopeful that new drug treatments can be developed that will reverse the effects and restore the cancer-killing ability of said cells. Until then, though, the best advice remains to stay a healthy weight, stop smoking and cut down on alcohol. Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr Leo Carlin, from the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, said: “Although we know that obesity increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer, we still don't fully understand the mechanisms underlying the link. “This study reveals how fat molecules prevent immune cells from properly positioning their tumour-killing machinery, and provides new avenues to investigate treatments.” [Related reading: Major study finds eating processed meat raises risk of breast cancer]
Children are more prone to catching colds than adults. In fact, kids get around six to eight colds a year – that’s twice as many as adults. But what are the best remedies for youngsters with a common cold? Well, according to a review of over-the-counter treatments published in The BMJ, there’s little evidence that any of them work, and some, like decongestants, could actually do more harm than good. That’s because decongestants and combination drugs that contain decongestants can cause drowsiness, headaches, insomnia and upset stomach. Furthermore, if they are given to children under the age of 2, they can cause serious complications such as convulsions and rapid heart rate. In reality, there is no cure for the common cold. While it can cause irritating and uncomfortable symptoms, including a sore throat, cough, congestion, sneezing and a raised temperature, after a week or so, they usually go away on their own. So what’s the answer? Saline nasal washes, says Dr Rahul Chodhari, consultant paediatrician and spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. They can be applied several times a day, with zero side effects, and help to clear mucus from the nasal cavity, reducing congestion. Dr Chodhari advises that cough syrups are not recommended for children because they stop them coughing up mucus and getting rid of it. Also, because antibiotics only work to combat bacterial infections, they do nothing to relieve colds.
Some of the warning signs often associated with type-2 diabetes can be detected years before the disease is actually diagnosed, researchers say. A study found factors such as insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar levels were seen in people years prior to them developing pre-diabetes – a typical pre-cursor to the type-2 form of the disease. The authors of the Japanese study say their findings suggest that diabetes treatment should begin much earlier in life. For the study, conducted over an 11-year period, the researchers followed a group of 27,000 people who were not diabetic and aged between 30 and 50. The individuals were tracked until they either (a) got diagnosed with type-2 diabetes; (b) got diagnosed with pre-diabetes; or (c) the end of 2016 was reached. During the study, 1,067 new cases of type-2 diabetes were diagnosed. The interesting part is that these people showed warning signs, such as insulin resistance and higher fasting blood sugar levels, up to 10 years prior. Similar warning signs were also seen in those that went on to develop pre-diabetes. So, this suggests that type-2 diabetes could actually be detected up to 20 years before a diagnosis occurs. This is because people who develop type-2 diabetes usually get pre-diabetes first. Dr Hiroyuki Sagesaka, from Aizawa Hospital in Matsumoto, Japan, who led the research, said: “Because trials of prevention in people with pre-diabetes seem to be less successful over long-term follow-up, we may need to intervene much earlier than the pre-diabetes stage to prevent progression to full blown diabetes. “A much earlier intervention trail, either drug or lifestyle-related, is warranted.” [Related reading: Diabetes is actually five diseases, not two]
Coughs can be extremely unpleasant and leave many people in search of fast relief. But newly proposed guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Public Health England (PHE) in the UK say honey and over-the-counter medicines should always be the first port of call. In fact, the new guidelines go as far as to say antibiotics should only be prescribed by doctors on rare occasions, as they actually do little to alleviate symptoms. Most of the time, within two to three weeks, a cough will clear up on its own. The new recommendations for doctors are designed to tackle the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, which is making some infections harder to treat and leading to the emergence of drug-resistant superbugs. Patients are being advised to have hot drinks with honey and ginger, as well as cough medicines containing pelargonium, guaifenesin or dextromethorphan and wait and see if their symptoms improve before going to see their doctor. The bottom line is most coughs are caused by viruses, so antibiotics actually have little to no effect whatsoever. Dr Susan Hopkins, a deputy director at PHE, said: “Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem, and we need to take action now to reduce antibiotic use... “These new guidelines will support GPs to reduce antibiotic prescriptions and we encourage patients to take their GP's advice about self-care.” [Related reading: New Superbug-killing antibiotics found in soil]