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Research shines potential light on why women are at greater risk of Alzheimer's

18/07/2019

Alzheimer’s disease disproportionately affects more women than men. And while the exact reasons for this have always been unclear, it has been suggested that this is because women tend to live longer. In the UK alone, there are approximately 500,000 women with Alzheimer’s, compared to 350,000 men. But now new research presented at an international conference suggests that differences in brain connectivity and sex-specific genes could explain why women are at greater risk of Alzheimer’s than men. Presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Los Angeles, the two separate pieces of research – one from Vanderbilt University Medical Centre and the other from the University of Miami – could lead The Vanderbilt University Medical Centre study looked at proteins called tau and amyloid in the brain, which can cause brain cells to die. It found that women’s brains had better connectivity between the regions where tau protein builds up and this can lead to faster cognitive decline. The University of Miami study found that genetics could play a part, with genes found only in women presenting a specific dementia risk. Speaking about the University of Miami research, Dr Jana Voigt, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: “We don't yet know why certain genes are linked with Alzheimer's risk in one sex and not the other - but unravelling this could provide some answers as to why more women are living with dementia than men.”

You’re never too old to benefit from exercise

16/07/2019

Even if you’ve been pretty physically inactive for much of your life, exercising more in your later years can still afford benefits and lower your risk of premature death, a new study has found. According to research by the University of Cambridge - which studied 15,000 Brits - by doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, physically inactive individuals can reduce their risk of early death by 24%. However, it’s people who are already physically active who can benefit the most from more exercise. That’s because the study found that individuals who were already doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week could reduce their risk of early death by as much as 42%. Finally, all older adults involved in the study saw a “substantial” boost to their life expectancy by being more active – regardless of their activity levels previously. So, the simple message is clear: the more exercise, the better. And it’s never too late to make a difference in your life. Speaking about the findings of the study, the results of which are published in the British Medical Journal, Huw Edwards, from health body UKactive, said: “This  provides further evidence against the outdated idea that people should do less as they age or while managing a long-term illness. “The time has come for a total rethink of how we approach our later years.”

Giving up alcohol can provide a mental health boost for women

11/07/2019

Even though it’s widely accepted that moderate alcohol consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle, a new study suggests that people who abstain from drinking have the highest levels of wellbeing. And it’s women who stand to benefit the most from giving up the booze. According to the study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), men and women who have abstained from drinking alcohol their whole lives had the highest levels of mental wellbeing at the start of the 5-year study. And for females who moderately consumed alcohol (fewer than seven alcoholic drinks per week), quitting was linked with a boost in mental health. Speaking about the findings of the study, Co-author Dr Michael Ni, a brain scientist at the University of Hong Kong, said: “Global alcohol consumption is expected to continue to increase unless effective strategies are employed. Our findings suggest caution in recommendations that moderate drinking could improve health-related quality of life. “Instead, quitting drinking may be associated with a more favourable change in mental wellbeing, approaching the level of lifetime abstainers.”

Cancer-killing cold virus could offer new hope in the fight against bladder cancer

09/07/2019

A small study in the UK has found an unlikely ally in a strain of the common cold virus in the fight against bladder cancer. For the study, the findings of which appear in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, 15 patients with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer were intravenously given coxsackievirus (CVA21) ahead of scheduled surgery to remove their tumours. Post-surgery, when tissue samples were examined, there were signs the virus had targeted and killed cancer cells in the bladder. Furthermore, after the cancer cells had been killed, the virus reproduced and targeted other cancer cells. All other healthy cells were left intact. “The virus gets inside cancer cells and kills them by triggering an immune protein - and that leads to signalling of other immune cells to come and join the party,” said study leader Prof Hardev Pandha, from the University of Surrey and Royal Surrey County Hospital. The researchers from the University of Sussex who carried out the study said their findings could “help revolutionise treatment” for bladder cancer and reduce the risk of it recurring. Non-muscle invasive bladder cancer is the 10th most common cancer in the UK and affects around 10,000 new people every year. At present, treatments are either invasive, or cause toxic side effects. Moreover, constant, costly monitoring is required to ensure the cancer has not returned. Bladder cancer costs the NHS more per patient than any other cancer because of its high rate of recurrence.

Obesity now accounts for more cases of four common cancers than smoking

04/07/2019

A leading UK cancer charity has warned that obesity now causes more cases of four common cancers than smoking. According to Cancer Research UK, bowel, kidney, ovarian and liver cancers are more likely to be caused by being overweight than by smoking tobacco. The warning is particularly concerning as obese people outnumber smokers by two to one in the UK, which means millions of people are at risk of developing any of these cancers simply because they are overweight. Despite the fact that smoking remains the number one preventable cause of cancer in the UK and causes more cases of cancer than being overweight each year (54,300 vs. 22,800), for the four cancers previously mentioned, obesity causes more. However, Cancer Research UK’s latest billboard campaign highlighting the risks associated with being overweight has been accused of fat-shaming. And it’s not the first time the charity has been picked up for this either. Nevertheless, the charity remains adamant that outlining the risks of being overweight when it comes to cancer is an important step. Speaking about the Cancer Research UK warning, the British Medical Association said: “While we are very much aware of the health risks associated with smoking, less effort has been thrown behind tackling obesity, which is now a major cause of cancer.”

Fat legs are better than a fat stomach for older women

02/07/2019

Postmenopausal women who have more fat on their legs and thighs have less risk of stroke or heart disease than their peers who carry fat around their stomach, a new study has found. As a result of the research, the findings of which appear in the European Heart Journal, scientists say women should aim to be more “pear-shaped” than “apple-shaped”. For the research, scientists followed 2,600 women with BMIs of between 187 and 25 for 18 years. The scientists found that the women who were apple-shaped i.e. had fat around their stomachs were more than three times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than the women who were pear-shaped i.e. had fat on their legs and thighs. It’s already known that fat stored in the visceral region (around the abdominal organs) can increase a person’s chances of developing type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems, but the exact reasons why remain unknown. Further research is needed. The advice for women (and men) is to reduce the amount of fat they have stored around their stomachs. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This study uncovers an interesting link between where fat is stored and your risk of heart attack and stroke, but can't tell us why it exists. “Future research to uncover how the distribution of body fat is related to these diseases could reveal important new ways to prevent and treat the world's biggest killer.”

Not all types of sitting are equally unhealthy when it comes to heart risk

27/06/2019

We are frequently warned about the health consequences of leading a sedentary lifestyle. But new research reveals that not all types of sitting are equally unhealthy. The study by researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons found that sitting in front of a TV (known as ‘leisure-time sitting’) was associated with a greater risk of heart disease and death. In fact, study participants who watched four or more hours of TV a day were found to have a 50% greater risk of cardiovascular events and death compared to those who watched less than two hours a day. However, the study also found that participants who sat for long periods at work had the same level of risk as those who sat the least, suggesting the type of sitting really does have an impact. Furthermore, the study also revealed that even the most avid TV watchers could reverse the effects of their longer sedentary periods with moderate to rigorous exercise. For example, individuals who watched TV for four hours or more each day, and undertook 150 minutes or more exercise a week, had no increased risk of stroke, heart attack or death. Speaking about the findings of the study, Keith M. Diaz, Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioural medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said: “It may be that most people tend to watch television for hours without moving, while most workers get up from their desk frequently. The combination of eating a large meal such as dinner and then sitting for hours could also be particularly harmful.”

Anticholinergic drugs linked to increased risk of dementia

25/06/2019

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.”

Could garden snails hold the answer when it comes to fighting deadly bacteria?

20/06/2019

The humble garden snail could provide us with some ammunition in the fight against aggressive bacteria, according to two researchers from the United Kingdom. Intrigued how garden snails spend their lives sliding over dirt and coming into contact with deadly bacteria, yet don’t seem affected, Sarah Pitt, Ph.D. and Alan Gunn set out to discover why. It seems the answer lies in the mucus snails excrete. After analysing snail mucus, Pitt, principal lecturer in the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Science at the University of Brighton, and Gunn, subject lead for biosciences in the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, discovered four new previously unknown proteins. What’s more exciting is that two of these proteins appear to have strong antibacterial properties – especially against aggressive strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that causes dangerous lung infections in people who have cystic fibrosis. Speaking about the findings of their research, which appears in the British Journal of Biomedical Science, Pitt said: “In previous work, we found that the mucus consistently and convincingly inhibited the growth of one species of bacterium P. aeruginosa, a tough bacterium that can cause disease, but it did not seem to work against other bacteria. “So, in this study,we tried all the control strains of P. aeruginosa we had available in the lab here at the university as well as five strains taken from patients with [cystic fibrosis] who had lung infections with this bacterium.” The new discoveries could open up new possibilities in the fight against bacterial infections.

Children whose parents divorce are more likely to be fat

18/06/2019

Children whose parents divorce are more likely to get fat than their peers whose parents stay together, new research has revealed. According to the study by researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science, children whose parents divorce before they are six are particularly impacted. For the study, the researchers analysed data collected by the UK Millennium Cohort Study on 7,574 children born between 2000 and 2002. Of the children involved, 1,573 (around one in five) had witnessed their parents divorce by the time they were 11. These kids gained more weight in the 24-month period following their parents’ divorce than their peers whose parents remained together. Furthermore, the kids whose parents had divorced were also more likely to become overweight or obese within 36 months of their parents separating. The authors of the paper say their findings underline how much of an impact a divorce can have on children and that parental separation is “a process with potentially long-lasting consequences”. As a result, the authors are calling for more health help and support to be given to families going through a break-up. The paper also offers some reasons why children put on weight following a divorce, namely: There’s often less money in separated households for fresh fruit and vegetables Parents having to work longer hours, so there’s less time to prepare nutritious food There’s often less money for extra-curricular activities, including sport Parents with less time and energy to promote healthy eating habits in their children Emotional problems leading to parents overfeeding their children and kids eating too much sugary and fatty food

New MRI scan being trialled for prostate cancer screening

13/06/2019

Hundreds of men in the UK are trialling a new prostate cancer screening scan to see if it could eventually be offered on the NHS. Right now, there is no routine prostate cancer screening performed in the UK. Blood tests and biopsies are the most reliable ways to determine if a man has prostate cancer. The new test involves a non-invasive MRI scan that checks the inside of the body for any abnormal growths. It will be a few years yet before we know if the new scan is better than the current blood tests, scientists say, but NHS England is, nevertheless, hailing the breakthrough as a “potentially exciting development”. In the UK alone, prostate cancer claims the lives of around 11,800 men every year. It usually develops slowly, so there are often no associated signs or symptoms for many years. Prostate cancer treatment depends on its development. Doctors may suggest to monitor the situation first, while surgery and radiotherapy will be advised for others. Speaking about the new test, Karen Stalbow, from Prostate Cancer UK, said: “This trial could provide an exciting step towards our ambition for a national screening programme that enables men to get the early prostate cancer diagnosis that can save more lives.”

More than one million new STI cases every day - WHO

11/06/2019

There are more than 376 million new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis among people aged 15-49 every year, according to figures recently released by the World Health Organization (WHO). That equates to over one million new cases of these sexually transmitted infections (STIs) every single day. It’s a reality, the WHO says, that should serve as a wake-up call – especially as such diseases can cause serious and chronic health effects like infertility, stillbirths, ectopic pregnancy, and increased risk of HIV. In 2016 alone, syphilis caused an estimated 200,000 stillbirths and newborn deaths globally. The figures show that one in 25 people, on average, has at least one of these STIs. However, many continue to live with multiple infections simultaneously. Sexually transmitted infections are predominantly spread through unprotected sexual contact, but chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth. The number one way to prevent STIs is to practise safe sex, which includes wearing a condom and having an understanding of sexual health education. People who are sexually active should also undergo regular STI screening to pick up any infections they might be carrying – sometimes completely obliviously. There is a wide variety of medications that can cure bacterial STIs. Speaking about the figures, Dr Peter Salama, Executive Director for Universal Health Coverage and the Life-Course at WHO, said: “This is a wake-up call for a concerted effort to ensure everyone, everywhere can access the services they need to prevent and treat these debilitating diseases.”  

‘Pumping’ heart patches could repair damage caused by heart attacks

06/06/2019

Scientists have developed a heart patch from millions of living, beating stem cells that could help heal heart attack damage. Grown in a lab from a sample of a patient’s own stem cells, the patches are sewn on to the heart and subsequently turn into healthy, working muscle. After three days, the patches start to beat, and after one month, they mimic mature heart tissue. They also release chemicals that stimulate the repair and regeneration of existing heart cells. Tests involving rabbits showed that the patches appear safe and led to an improvement in the function of the heart following a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when a clogged artery leads to the flow of oxygen blood to the heart muscle being disrupted. This causes the heart to be starved of oxygen and vital nutrients, resulting in its pumping power being damaged. The British Heart Foundation (BHF) said the patches could one day provide an off-the-shelf treatment for patients who have experienced a heart attack. Clinical trials involving humans are set to begin within two years. Speaking about the patches, Researcher Dr Richard Jabbour said: “One day, we hope to add heart patches to the treatments that doctors can routinely offer people after a heart attack. “We could prescribe one of these patches alongside medicines for someone with heart failure, which you could take from a shelf and implant straight in to a person.”

GM Fungus Shows Huge Promise In Fight Against Malaria

04/06/2019

A fungus that has been genetically modified (GM) to produce spider toxin can rapidly kill 99% of mosquitoes that carry and spread malaria. Following trials of the fungus – known as Metarhizium pingshaense – in Burkina Faso, 99% of malaria mosquito populations were wiped out in just 45 days. Metarhizium pingshaense was used because it naturally infects Anopheles mosquitoes (the ones that carry and spread malaria). Scientists then enhanced it using genetic engineering so the fungus would start creating its own version of a venom found in a species of funnel-web spider. For the trials, scientists built a fully-enclosed ‘mosquitosphere’ that mimicked a small village community. They introduced 1,500 mosquitoes. When the insects were left alone, their numbers soared, but when the fungus was introduced, just 13 mosquitoes remained after 45 days. The researchers say their aim is not to destroy all mosquitoes, simply to cull the spread of malaria – a disease that kills more than 400,000 people every year (mostly children). Speaking about the trials, Dr Tony Nolan, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: “These results are encouraging. “We need new and complementary tools to augment existing control methods, which are being affected by the development of insecticide-resistance.” The results of the GM fungus trials are published in the journal Science.

Can weighing yourself every day prevent weight gain?

30/05/2019

With more than 37% of American adults living with obesity, and more than 32% overweight, any strategies for curbing weight gain should be closely examined to see if they could help the situation. Now, new research suggests that weighing ourselves every day could effectively prevent weight gain – especially over the usually over-indulgent holiday period. Published in the journal Obesity, the research was led by Jamie Cooper, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Georgia in Athens. For the study, Cooper and colleagues recruited 111 adults aged between 18 and 65. Each participant was told to try and maintain their starting weight during the holiday season, but wasn’t given any advice on how to do this. Instead, the participants were all told to weigh themselves – some daily and others less frequently. At the end of the 14-week trial, the participants who weighed themselves every day either maintained their starting weight or actually lost weight. In contrast, the participants who did not weigh themselves every day all gained weight. The researchers suggest that by weighing themselves every day and being able to exercise more/eat less to combat small weight increases, those participants were able to maintain their starting weight or lose weight. Speaking about the findings of the research, Study co-author Michelle vanDellen, said: “People are really sensitive to discrepancies or differences between their current selves and their standard or goal. When they see that discrepancy, it tends to lead to behavioural change. Daily self-weighing ends up doing that for people in a really clear way.”

Rising number of mumps cases in England prompts vaccine call

28/05/2019

A significant rise in the number of mumps cases being confirmed in England in the first quarter of this year has led to calls for people to ensure they are vaccinated. In the first three months of 2019, there were 795 cases of mumps in England. This compares to 1,031 throughout the whole of 2018. Public Health England said that just one person missing their mumps vaccine was “too many”. Mumps is a contagious viral infection that used to be common before the MMR vaccine was introduced. It is perhaps best recognised by the swelling it causes on the side of a person’s face under their ears, resulting in the distinctive “hamster face” appearance. In rare circumstances, mumps can lead to viral meningitis and swelling in the ovaries or testicles. Most mumps cases are linked to teenagers going to university for the first time and the most prominent reason why it’s a problem right now is because many of the students who are attending university were born during the height of the MMR-autism scare. This has since been completely disproved, but it still caused a drop in vaccination rates at the time. Speaking about the situation, Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: “If you're going to university, now's the time to catch up if you missed out as a child.”

New heart scan could spot signs of sudden death risk

22/05/2019

Normally, in people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – a condition that causes portions of the heart to get bigger without any obvious cause – the only way to see the structural changes in the heart is after a person has died. The condition is the number one cause of sudden cardiac death in young individuals. But a new scan technique could pick up signs that a person is at risk of suddenly dying from a hidden heart condition while they are still alive. Researchers from Oxford University developed the new technique, which uses microscopic imaging, to check for muscle fibre disarray. This is when abnormal fibre patterns occur in the heart, not allowing heartbeats to spread evenly across its muscle fibres, which can lead to potentially deadly heart rhythms. For the study – the findings of which are published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology – the researchers scanned 50 patients with HCM and 30 healthy people. They were able to see disarray in the HCM patients’ muscle fibres – something that had never been witnessed before in living subjects. The scan technique, known as diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging, has, up until now, normally only been used on the brain, but scientific advances mean that it can now be used on the heart too. Dr Rina Ariga, study author and cardiologist at University of Oxford, said: “We're hopeful that this new scan will improve the way we identify high-risk patients, so that they can receive an implantable cardioverter defibrillator early to prevent sudden death.” Footballer Fabrice Muamba is one of the most famous people to be affected by HCM. He almost died after collapsing during a match in the UK. In fact, Muamba was technically dead for a staggering 78 minutes before regaining consciousness. At the time of the incident, Muamba was 23 years old and in his prime as an athlete.

How AI could boost the effectiveness of cancer screening

21/05/2019

A US study suggests that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is better than specialist doctors at identifying lung cancer. It’s a finding that could revolutionize cancer screening in the future, potentially allowing tumors to be found at an earlier stage and improving treatment outcomes. According to the study - which was conducted by researchers from Northwestern University in Illinois and the Google Health Research Group – Artificial Intelligence was able to outperform six specialist cancer doctors when it came to identifying cancer from a single CT scan. When multiple CT scans were used, the AI and the doctors were equally effective. Prior to the tests, the AI was trained with 42,290 CT lung scans from nearly 15,000 patients. It was not told what to look for in a CT scan, merely which patients went on to develop cancer and which didn’t. The results of the study, published in Nature Medicine, show that AI can not only boost cancer detection by 5%, but can also reduce false-positives by 11%. Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr Mozziyar Etemadi, from Northwestern University, said: “Not only can we better diagnose someone with cancer, we can also say if someone doesn't have cancer, potentially saving them from an invasive, costly, and risky lung biopsy.”

Why whales never develop cancer (and why we should care)

16/05/2019

Despite some species living for over 200 years and carrying an abundance of blubber for most of their life, whales - the world’s largest mammals – have incredibly low rates of cancer. The same also goes for elephants and porpoises. But why and could these animals’ resistance help us better understand the disease and how to combat it? Well, according to a new study by a team of researchers from Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff; the Arizona State University, in Tempe; and other collaborating institutions, the answer may lie in these aquatic mammals' genes. Publishing their findings in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, the researchers say certain genomic loci had evolved at a faster rate in whales than they had in other mammals. More importantly, these were loci containing genes that regulate the maintenance process of healthy cells. The team discovered this by analysing samples taken from Salt, a female humpback whale. Salt was the perfect research candidate because she has been being followed since the 1970s and scientists have a wealth of data about her. Speaking about the findings of the research, Marc Tollis, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Northern Arizona University and leader of the research team, said: “This suggests that whales are unique among mammals, in that in order to evolve their gigantic sizes, these important 'housekeeping' genes, that are evolutionarily conserved and normally prevent cancer, had to keep up in order to maintain the species' fitness. “We also found that despite these cancer-related parts of whale genomes evolving faster than [in] other mammals, on average, whales have accumulated far fewer DNA mutations in their genomes over time, compared to other mammals, which suggests they have slower mutation rates.”

Charcoal-based toothpastes could increase risk of tooth decay

14/05/2019

Charcoal-based toothpastes - which claim to help whiten teeth - could actually increase the risk of tooth decay and staining, a review published in the British Dental Journal has found. According to the review, charcoal-based toothpastes often contain little or no fluoride to help protect teeth and the claims they make about whitening are not supported by any evidence. Furthermore, excessive brushing with them can actually do more harm than good because they are often more abrasive than regular toothpastes and can cause damage to tooth enamel and gums. The authors of the paper say people should stick to brushing with a regular fluoride toothpaste and consult their dentist about teeth bleaching/whitening. Speaking about the review, Prof Damien Walmsley, from the British Dental Association, said: “Charcoal-based toothpastes offer no silver bullets for anyone seeking a perfect smile, and come with real risks attached. “So don't believe the hype. Anyone concerned about staining or discoloured teeth that can't be shifted by a change in diet, or improvements to their oral hygiene, should see their dentist.” The bottom line, according to study co-author Dr Joseph Greenwall-Cohen, from the University of Manchester Dental School, is that charcoal-based toothpastes do not provide “a low cost, quick-fix, tooth-whitening option.”

World-first phage therapy treats teenager with drug-resistant bacterial infection

09/05/2019

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.

Dementia is the ‘biggest health challenge of our time’

07/05/2019

In 1906, a German doctor called Alois Alzheimer performed an autopsy on a 55-year-old lady who had profound memory loss. What he discovered was that she had an abnormally shrunken brain, as well as abnormalities in and around her nerve cells. It was the first time that such brain abnormalities had been witnessed and led to the coining of the term “Alzheimer’s disease.” At the time of Alzheimer’s discovery, dementia was rare and something that wasn’t subsequently studied for decades. Fast-forward to today and someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every three seconds, making it the number one cause of dementia. In some wealthier nations today, Alzheimer’s is one of the biggest killers – mainly due to the fact that it’s completely untreatable. In England and Wales, one in eight death certificates nowadays lists dementia as the cause of death, while it is estimated that 50 million people globally are living with the condition. However, as populations in developing countries age, the number of people living with dementia globally is set to soar to 130 million by 2050. But why is dementia more common today? Simply because we are all living longer and age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. Speaking to the BBC recently, Hilary Evans, chief executive of the charity Alzheimer's Research UK, said: “Dementia certainly is the biggest health challenge of our time. It's the one that will continue to rise in terms of prevalence, unless we can do something to stop or cure this disease."

Being just slightly overweight doubles risk of type 2 diabetes - study

02/05/2019

A major study has found that the UK has a big obesity problem, and that there are severe health implications for people who are even just a little overweight. According to the research, which was funded by healthcare firm Novo Nordisk, individuals with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30-35 were 70% more likely to develop heart failure than their healthy weight peers (18.5-25 BMI). Furthermore, the study of 2.8 million adults also showed that people who were even slightly overweight were twice as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. The study, which is due to be presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, also revealed: The risk of Type 2 diabetes for people with a BMI of 35-40 was almost nine times higher People with severe obesity (BMI of 40-45) were 12 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes People with severe obesity also had triple the risk of heart failure, high blood pressure, and dyslipidaemia (elevated levels of total or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, or low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol) A BMI of 40-45 was also linked with a 50% higher risk of dying prematurely from any cause Speaking about the findings of the study, Public Health England said “sustained action” was needed to tackle obesity.

No sedentary screen time for under twos, WHO says

29/04/2019

For busy parents, occupying their children with a tablet or cell phone for short periods throughout the day provides some much-needed relaxation time. But while it’s often been said that young children shouldn’t spend too much time with their faces glued to screens, a little here and there doesn’t hurt, right? Well, actually, it might… That’s because the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently issued new guidelines that state children under two should have zero sedentary screen time (that includes TVs, tablets and video games). The limit for two- to four-year-olds, the WHO says, should be an hour a day, and less is always better. In light of the new WHO advice, UK health ministers have said they will not amend their own guidelines, which currently advise no screen time before bedtime, but do not set maximum time limits. The new WHO guidelines are designed to tackle the practice of giving young children screens for entertainment purposes e.g. handing them a cell phone or sitting them down in front of a TV. The reason for this is to combat childhood inactivity, which can lead to obesity-related ill health and is a leading risk factor for global mortality.

Landmark child malaria vaccine rolls out in three African countries

25/04/2019

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2017, there were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria in 87 countries, which resulted in 435,000 deaths – many of which were children. It remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of a child every two minutes. That’s why a new vaccine against the deadly mosquito-borne disease is being hailed as a landmark. The first vaccine of its kind, the RTS,S vaccine trains the body’s immune system to attack the malaria parasite. It is being given to children as part of a large scale pilot programme being conducted in Malawi. Previous, smaller trials showed that nearly 40% of 5-to-17-month olds who received the RTS,S vaccine were protected from malaria. The vaccine comes at a crucial time as malaria cases appear to be rising once more after decades of success in combatting the disease. Speaking about the pilot, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said: “Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given. The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death. “We know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases and reach children, including those who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes.” Malawi is the first of three countries, along with Ghana and Kenya, where the vaccine will be rolled out. The aim is to immunize 120,000 children aged two years and below. Malawi, Ghana and Kenya were chosen because despite operating large programmes to tackle malaria, including promoting the use of mosquito nets, they still have high numbers of cases. The RTS,S vaccine has been more than three decades in the making.

Substituting red meat for plant protein reduces heart disease risk

23/04/2019

We recently wrote about how just one rasher of bacon a day can increase bowel cancer risk. Now, new research has revealed that replacing red meat with plant protein can reduce heart disease risk. For the study, researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, and Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, conducted a meta-analysis of trials comparing the effects of meat vs. other diets on our health. The results are published in the journal Circulation. It was an approach that allowed the researchers to not only examine the health effects of red meat, but also see whether substituting red meat for other protein sources brought benefits. Analyzing data from 36 randomized controlled trials, the researchers looked at the blood pressure and blood concentrations of cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipoproteins of the participants. They then compared these levels with those of people who ate less red meat and more chicken, fish, legumes, soy, nuts, or carbohydrates. They found that while there wasn’t much difference in lipoproteins, blood pressure, or total cholesterol, diets high in red meat did cause an increase in triglyceride concentrations. In addition, diets rich in high-quality plant protein led to lower levels of bad cholesterol. Speaking about the findings of the research, Marta Guasch-Ferré, lead author of the study and research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said: “Previous findings from randomized controlled trials evaluating the effects of red meat on cardiovascular disease risk factors have been inconsistent. “But, our new study, which makes specific comparisons between diets high in red meat versus diets high in other types of foods, shows that substituting red meat with high-quality protein sources lead to more favorable changes in cardiovascular risk factors.”

Robotic angioplasty at Pasteur Clinic in Toulouse

19/04/2019

The Pasteur Clinic has achieved a 1st in Europe   The Pasteur Clinic of Toulouse announces having achieved a European first in the field of cardiology thanks to the robotic pathway. Dr. Jean Fajadet thus performed the first coronary angioplasty in Europe under the assistance of a robot.   In the case of narrowing or occlusion of the arteries, created by deposits of atheromatous plaques, the cardiologist may recommend coronary angioplasty. This procedure consists of positioning a small balloon in the artery at the level of the narrowing or occlusion and inflating it to dilate the stenosis and crush the atheromatous plaque and thus obtain a normal flow in the coronary artery. In general, the following is stent placement, a mini-spring, which prevents the artery to reseal. The Pasteur Clinic has been performing this intervention for more than 30 years in interventional cardiology, percutaneously under local anesthesia.     With the acquisition of the robot (CorPath GRX System® Corindus®), the cardiologist can perform his act via joysticks. The robot is guided from a control room. It allows a great precision of the gesture and the absence of X-ray exposure for the personnel.   The Pasteur Clinic has also invested in a 4th generation da Vinci xi surgical robot for several specialties (urology, gynecology, digestive, thoracic surgery, etc.).   Source: La Depeche 

Just one rasher of bacon a day can increase bowel cancer risk

18/04/2019

Consuming even small amounts of red and processed meat each day can increase a person’s risk of bowel cancer, a new study has found. According to the research led by Oxford University and funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK), just one rasher of bacon per day can increase the risk of bowel cancer. Eat three rashers per day (around 50g) and the risk of bowel cancer rises by 20%. While meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, the Department of Health in England advises that anyone who eats more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce their consumption to 70g, the average daily amount consumed in the UK. Processed meat, in particular, has previously been linked to a high likelihood of causing cancer. So foods like bacon, salami, hotdogs and some sausages should not be eaten too much on a daily basis. Also,  high temperature cooking, such as on a barbecue, is also thought to increase a person’s risk of cancer due to the carcinogenic chemicals that are created during the cooking process. For the research, the study team analysed health data from almost half a million people in the UK. Speaking about the findings of the research, Emma Shields, information manager at CRUK, said “This study shows the more meat you eat, the higher your risk of getting cancer and obviously the reverse is true - the less you eat the less likely you are to get bowel cancer.”

Eating vegetables is better than taking supplements, finds research

16/04/2019

Many people do not get all the nutrients they need from food and so take supplements to compensate. It’s something that’s worth an absolute fortune to the companies that produce them, with people spending around $30 billion per year on supplements in the United States alone. But new research shows that nutrients from supplements are not as good as those from food and that the latter is linked to a lower risk of all-cause mortality and cancer. According to the research paper, published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine, many people would be much better off spending money on fruit and vegetables instead of supplements. By analysing data from 27,725 participants in the Centers for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Medford, MA, found that supplements do not afford the same benefits as eating different foods. For example, getting enough vitamin K from leafy greens and magnesium from legumes, nuts and whole grains was associated with a lower mortality rate. However, consuming 1,000 milligrams a day of calcium in supplement form was associated with a higher cancer risk, while getting excess calcium from food wasn’t. Speaking about the findings of the research, Fang Fang Zhang of Tufts University and study senior author, said: “Our results support the idea that, while supplement use contributes to an increased level of total nutrient intake, there are beneficial associations with nutrients from foods that aren’t seen with supplements.” In other words, while supplements can help people who cannot get certain nutrients from foods due to allergies, they are not a silver bullet for health.

Scientists dismantle cancer to reveal its weak spots

11/04/2019

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.

Just one alcoholic drink a day increases stroke risk

09/04/2019

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”.  

Is your diet killing you?

04/04/2019

Our daily diets are bigger killers than smoking and account for one in five deaths around the world. In other words, the food you eat could be sending you to an early grave. But which diets are the worst? Well, according to an influential study in The Lancet, salt – whether it be in bread, processed meals or soy sauce – shortens the most lives. The Global Burden of Disease Study used estimates of different countries’ eating habits to determine which diets were shortening the most lives. Here are the three most dangerous diets: Too much salt - three million deaths Too few whole grains - three million deaths Too little fruit - two million deaths Low levels of seeds, nuts, vegetables, fibre and omega-3 from seafood were the other major killers. Speaking to the BBC, Prof Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said: “We find that diet is one of the dominant drivers of health around the world, it's really quite profound.” Salt is such a big problem because it significantly increases a person’s blood pressure, which in turn increases their chances of heart attacks and strokes. Around 10 million out of the 11 million diet-related deaths were because of cardiovascular disease, highlighting why diets containing too much salt are such a problem.

Just one hour of brisk walking a week can really benefit people with osteoarthritis

02/04/2019

We’ve only just written about how a low-carb diet may help relieve symptoms of knee osteoarthritis and now a new study has revealed that just one hour of brisk walking per week can significantly lower mobility-related disability in people with knee osteoarthritis. According to the research, the findings of which appear in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, just one hour of weekly exercise lowered the risk of mobility-related disability in seniors with knee osteoarthritis by 85% and that of daily living disability by nearly 45%. For the study, a team of researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago, IL, led by Dorothy Dunlop, Ph.D., analyzed data from more than 1,500 adults. All of the participants were living with osteoarthritis and experienced aches, pain, and stiffness in their lower extremities as a result. However, none of them had a disability prior to the study. Over a period of four years, the researchers monitored the participants’ levels of physical activity. They found that the seniors who got at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity each week had no trouble performing a range of daily tasks. However, in seniors who did not engage in this much physical activity, 24% could not walk across a street before the traffic lights changed, and 23% struggled to perform their daily morning tasks. Speaking about the findings of the research, Prof. Dunlop said: “We hope this new public health finding will motivate an intermediate physical activity goal. One hour a week is a stepping stone for people who are currently inactive. People can start to work toward that.”

A low-carb diet may help relieve symptoms of knee osteoarthritis

28/03/2019

If you or someone you know suffers with knee osteoarthritis, a new study may provide some hope. One of the most widespread forms of arthritis in the United States, osteoarthritis affects around 10% of men and 13% of women over the age of 60. Moreover, some estimates say it affects almost 40% of people over the age of 70. What’s worse is there is currently no cure, with doctors and medical professionals usually prescribing painkillers to help alleviate symptoms. Knee replacement surgery is also an option that’s considered. However, a new study led by Robert Sorge, Ph.D., who is the director of the PAIN Collective in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Psychology, has found that a diet low in carbohydrates could help relieve knee osteoarthritis symptoms. Having followed either a low-carb or low-fat diet for 12 weeks, the 21 adults aged 65–75 who had knee osteoarthritis and participated in the study were examined to see what the effect had been. The participants’ functional pain levels were analyzed, as well as their serum blood levels for oxidative stress, both at the beginning of the study and at the end. Participants that followed the low-carb diet had reduced functional pain levels and levels of self-reported pain. Furthermore, they also showed less oxidative stress in their serum blood levels. Speaking about the findings of the study, Sorge said: “Our work shows [that] people can reduce their pain with a change in diet.”

Study finds eating later in the day promotes obesity

26/03/2019

As obesity rates across the world continue to rise, understanding exactly why we put on weight has never been more important. That’s why the findings of a new study, which looked at whether there is an association between when we eat and how much weight we gain, could be very significant. Presenting their findings at the ENDO 2019 conference, which took place in New Orleans, the scientists from the University of Colorado in Denver said there is a link between eating later in the day and having a higher BMI, as well as more body fat. For the study, 31 adults who were either overweight or obese and had an average age of 36 years were closely monitored to assess their sleep, levels of activity, and diet. Interestingly, the study also showed that the participants who ate later in the day still had an average of 7 hours sleep each night, suggesting that lack of sleep may not promote obesity after all. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr. Adnin Zaman, lead author, said “These findings support our overall study, which will look at whether restricting the eating window to earlier on in the day will lower obesity risk.”

Just 10 minutes of gardening each week could lower your risk of death

21/03/2019

If you’re over 40, just 10 minutes of leisurely activity each week could lower your risk of death from multiple causes. That’s the key finding from a recently published study by researchers from China and the United States. According to the study involving 88,140 US adults, even low-level physical activity, such as gardening, can help people live longer lives. Publishing their findings in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the researchers said that even people who spend just a short time each week being physically active have a lower risk of death due to cancer, cardiovascular issues and all-cause mortality. However, participating in more vigorous types of exercise, including running and cycling, affords even greater health benefits. Unlike people who were physically inactive, those who undertook between 10 and 59 minutes of moderate, leisurely exercise each week had an 18% lower risk of death from all causes. Those who were physically active for a little longer (between 150 and 299 minutes per week) had a 31% lower risk of all-cause death. Undertaking over 1,500 minutes of physical activity on a weekly basis resulted in a 46% decrease in overall mortality risk. Furthermore, individuals who opted for more vigorous exercise instead of lighter physical activity had a much lower mortality risk still.

New cholesterol drug could be a game-changer for people who cannot use statins

18/03/2019

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.

Italy starts enforcing ‘no vaccine, no school’ policy

14/03/2019

Children in Italy have been told not to go to school unless they can prove they have been properly vaccinated. Any children under six who cannot show that they have received mandatory vaccines will be turned away from school, while parents of older kids (six to 16) risk being fined up to €500 ($566) if they send their unvaccinated children to school. The policy comes as a worrisome decline in vaccines has been seen across Italy and a measles outbreak was witnessed last year. Speaking about the new policy, Health Minister Giulia Grillo said the rules were now simple: “No vaccine, no school.” She added that parents have had adequate time to ensure all their children’s vaccines were up to date by now. Under Italy’s so-called Lorenzin law, children must receive a range of mandatory immunizations before attending school. These include vaccinations for chickenpox, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella. Italian officials say the compulsory vaccine law has led to inoculation rates for measles reaching the 95% population coverage rate recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) – the threshold for “herd immunity.” The deadline by which children had to be vaccinated was March 10 (after a previous delay). And despite calls for it to be extended, the Health Minister has stood firm on the issue.

The sleep disorder that puts people at ‘very high risk’ of Parkinson’s

12/03/2019

Parkinson’s disease is a condition that causes parts of a person’s brain to progressively deteriorate over many years, causing the most recognizable symptom: involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body. It is still not fully known what causes Parkinson’s, but researchers have identified several risk factors, including a person's age and sex, as well as some genetic factors. However, a team of researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Canada has potentially uncovered a new predictor of risk: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD). Most people, during the REM phase of sleep, enter a state of paralysis and cannot move, preventing them from physically acting out a dream they might be having. People with RBD, though, are able to act out dreams without knowing – which can lead to them injuring themselves or other people they share a bed with. Detailing their findings recently in Brain: A Journal of Neurology, the researchers say that 73.5% of the 1,280 people with REM sleep behavior disorder went on to develop Parkinson’s disease. As lead author Dr. Ron Postuma and colleagues explain, REM sleep behavior disorder could be a strong predictor of Parkinson’s, which may allow people with the sleeping disorder to be offered experimental Parkinson’s therapies in the future to prevent the disease developing. [Recommended reading: Long weekend lie-ins do not make up for sleep loss during the week – study]

Losing weight can reverse type-2 diabetes, study suggests

07/03/2019

Following a low-calorie diet – even for just a few months – can arrest type-2 diabetes for at least two years, new research suggests. The findings of the study highlight that type-2 diabetes might not necessarily be the life sentence we previously thought. Nearly 300 people with type-2 diabetes in Scotland and Tyneside (in the UK) participated in the study. Half were given standard diabetes care, while the other half were put on a structured weight management programme. After 12 months, 46% of those on the low-calorie programme had successfully reversed their type-2 diabetes. In comparison, just 4% of the study participants given the standard treatment had gone into remission. Two years later, 36% of the study participants on the structured weight management programme were still in remission. “People with type 2 diabetes and healthcare professionals have told us their top research priority is: ‘Can the condition be reversed or cured?’ We can now say, with respect to reversal, that yes it can. Now we must focus on helping people maintain their weight loss and stay in remission for life,” said Prof Mike Lean from Glasgow University, who led the study with Taylor. Type-2 diabetes causes blood sugar levels to rise and can lead to serious complications such as amputations, visual problems and heart disease. It is thought that one in 16 adults in the UK is currently living with type-2 diabetes, a condition that is fuelled by obesity. [Related reading: Why being overweight increases your risk of cancer]  

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