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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]  

Long weekend lie-ins do not make up for sleep loss during the week - study

05/03/2019

We all know how important sleep is for our health. But did you know that sleeping poorly during the week and trying to make up for it at weekends does not reverse the damage chronic sleep loss does? According to new research, the findings of which appear in Current Biology, long weekend lie-ins are not enough to undo the damage that sleep loss during the week causes. As one of the study authors, Kenneth Wright, from the University of Colorado Boulder, points out: “The key take-home message from this study is that ad libitum weekend recovery or catch-up sleep does not appear to be an effective countermeasure strategy to reverse sleep-loss-induced disruptions of metabolism.” For the study, researchers recruited 36 young and healthy individuals. Said individuals were then split into three groups: one that got 5 hours' sleep per night both during the week and at weekends; one that got 5 hours' sleep per night during the week, followed by unrestricted sleep at the weekend and then another 2 nights of 5 hours' sleep; and a control group that got up to 9 hours’ sleep every night during both the week and the weekend. All study participants who had restricted sleep during the week gained weight because they tended to snack after dinner. Moreover, even after recharging over the weekend, individuals who went back to restricted sleep during the week continued their after-dinner snacking habit and gained weight. Furthermore, participants who had restricted sleep every night also had lower insulin sensitivity – a marker of poorer than average health. So if you’re in the habit of not sleeping much during the week and trying to make up for it at weekends, you could be detrimentally impacting your health.

Radical Parkinson’s treatment could restore brain cells

28/02/2019

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.

Your ability to do push-ups may predict your cardiovascular risk

26/02/2019

How many push-ups (also known as press-ups) can you do? Do you even know? Do you even care? Well maybe you should… That’s because a new study has found that a man’s ability to do push-ups may be a good indicator of their cardiovascular risk. The findings of the study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, may enable physicians to assess cardiovascular risk more easily and more cost effectively. Simply put, the more push-ups a man can do, the lower his cardiovascular risk and vice versa. Speaking about the findings of the study, first author Justin Yang, M.D. said: "Our findings provide evidence that push-up capacity could be an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting.” For the study, researchers measured both the push-up capacity and the submaximal treadmill exercise tolerance of each participant at the beginning. Yearly physical exams and medical questionnaires were then used to gather relevant data. The researchers found that participants who were able to complete over 40 push-ups to begin with had a 96% lower cardiovascular risk than those who could only complete 10 or fewer push-ups. It is still unknown whether the findings of the study also apply to women and men who are older, younger and/or less physically fit than the participants. That’s the study involved 1,104 active male fire fighters with a mean age of 39.6 and mean BMI of 28.7.

Experimental gene therapy used to halt most common cause of blindness in older people

21/02/2019

A woman from Oxford in the UK has become the first person in the world to have gene therapy in an attempt to halt the most common type of blindness in the West. Janet Osborne, aged 80, had a synthetic gene injected into the back of her eye in a bid to prevent more of her cells from dying. It is thought that Mrs Osborne is the first person to receive such treatment to combat age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects around 600,000 people in the UK alone. Carried out under local anaesthetic, the procedure was carried out at Oxford Eye Hospital by Robert MacLaren, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Oxford. Mrs Osborne is the first person of a 10-patient trial to receive the treatment, which is being conducted to check the safety of the procedure. All the trial participants have already lost some of their vision. If the trial proves successful, the aim going forward would be to use the gene therapy to halt AMD in its tracks before a person’s sight is impacted. Mrs Osborne and the rest of the trial participants will have their vision monitored to determine the effectiveness of the therapy. Speaking to the BBC, Mrs Osborne said: “I find it difficult to recognise faces with my left eye because my central vision is blurred - and if this treatment could stop that getting worse, it would be amazing.”

Replacement hips and knees last as long as 25 years - study

19/02/2019

Hip and knee replacements last much longer than previously thought, according to a large-scale study from the UK. It’s a reality that will help both patients and surgeons determine when it is the right time to perform surgery. The study conducted by the University of Bristol analysed 25 years’ worth of operations data involving more than 500,000 patients. It found that eight out of 10 knee replacements (80%) and six out of 10 hip replacements (60%) last as long as 25 years. Until now, little has been known about the true success and longevity of replacement hips and knees – despite them being two of the most common forms of surgery carried out on the NHS. Previously, doctors have been unable to provide accurate estimates as to how long a patient’s replacement hip or knee might last. Now, they are in a much better position to give confident answers when questioned. Speaking about the findings of the research, which were published in The Lancet, Dr Jonathan Evans, orthopaedic registrar, lead study author and research fellow at Bristol Medical School, said: “At best, the NHS has only been able to say how long replacements are designed to last, rather than referring to actual evidence from multiple patients' experiences of joint replacement surgery. “Given the improvement in technology and techniques in the last 25 years, we expect that hip or knee replacements put in today may last even longer.” Follow these links to find out more about minimally invasive hip replacement surgery and minimally invasive knee surgery in France.

Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day?

14/02/2019

Every year, on February 14, people all over the world celebrate Valentine’s Day by giving cards, flowers, chocolates and other special gifts to that special someone in their life. But where does Valentine’s Day have its origins and who was St Valentine? Valentine’s Day is thought to have its roots way back in the third century AD. According to popular belief, Roman Emperor Claudius II was adamant that single men made better soldiers, so he outlawed marriage. In defiance of the Emperor’s orders, a Roman Catholic priest named Valentine carried out secret marriage ceremonies for couples. When Claudius found out, Valentine was thrown into jail and condemned to die. While in jail, it is said that Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. On February 14, the day he was executed, Valentine sent a letter to the jailer’s daughter, which he signed “from your Valentine.” However, it wasn’t until a few hundred years later in around 496 AD that Valentine’s Day actually became a thing. At the time, the Romans held an annual festival in the middle of February known as Lupercalia. Part of the celebrations involved boys drawing the names of girls from a box. The couple would remain boyfriend and girlfriend for the rest of the festival and even get married sometimes. Lupercalia became a Christian celebration and its name was changed to Valentine’s Day to remember the priest (now a saint) who had died all those years before. Ever since, it has been celebrated on February 14 and become synonymous with people showing their feelings to those they love.

Does eating breakfast help or hinder weight loss?

12/02/2019

People all over the world routinely sit down to eat breakfast every day. And while menus and traditions vary depending on where you are, many people are in agreement that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day.” That’s because it provides the body with the energy and nutrients needed to start the day. But what bearing does eating breakfast each day have when you are trying to lose weight? Well, according to a new study – the findings of which were published in the BMJ - the answer is not a lot at all. In fact, not only did the study find no evidence that eating breakfast aids weight loss, it also found that skipping breakfast doesn’t have a negative effect and isn’t linked to people feeling hungrier. For the study, the team from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, analyzed 13 randomized controlled trials. They found that daily calorie intake was higher in individuals who ate breakfast than in those who didn’t. The authors concluded: “Although eating breakfast regularly could have other important effects, caution is needed when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults, as it may have the opposite effect.” In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Eating or skipping breakfast has different effects depending on the person’s unique metabolism.

The seven dementia risk factors: How many are you aware of?

07/02/2019

A new study has revealed that half of UK adults cannot name a single dementia risk factor. If asked, how many could you name? The study by Alzheimer's Research UK found that just 1% of UK adults could name the seven known dementia risk or protective factors. Heavy drinking, smoking, genetics, high blood pressure, depression and diabetes are the six dementia risk factors, while physical exercise is a protective factor. According to the study, more than half of UK adults know someone with dementia, yet only half also recognised that the disease is a cause of death. Furthermore, a fifth of people quizzed for the report incorrectly said that dementia is an inevitable part of getting old. Right now, there are more than 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia and that number is expected to top one million by 2025. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for around two-thirds of all cases. Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “It is a sad truth that more people are affected by dementia than ever before and half of us now know someone with the condition. Yet despite growing dementia awareness, we must work harder to improve understanding of the diseases that cause it.” You can read the full Alzheimer’s Research UK report here: https://www.dementiastatistics.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Dementia-Attitudes-Monitor-Wave-1-Report.pdf#zoom=100

Are we eating more or less meat nowadays?

05/02/2019

Cutting down on meat is something many people say they are striving to do nowadays. Initiatives like Veganuary and Meat-free Mondays are helping to drive the trend and highlight the benefits of consuming less meat. But what’s the reality? Has meat consumption gone up or down over the past 50 years? Well, according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization data, meat production today is nearly five times higher than it was in the 1960s. That is down to two main factors: first, there are more people to feed today. Second, people around the world have become richer, which is associated with a rise in meat consumption. In a nutshell, there are more people in the world and more of those people can afford to eat meat. This is highlighted when you consider the countries that eat the most meat. For example, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina all have annual meat consumption levels of more than 100kg per person. In fact, most countries in Western Europe have annual meat consumption levels of between 80kg and 90kg per person, while individuals in lower-income nations eat considerably less meat. For example, annual meat consumption levels in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nigerians are 7kg, 8kg and 9kg per person respectively. The bottom line is that meat is still a luxury in many countries today. So, despite the initiatives and the seeming shift to people consuming less meat, the reality is that meat consumption isn’t falling. One point that is worthy of note, however, is that meat eating habits are changing. For example, in the West, people are eating more poultry and less red meat (namely beef and pork). Have your meat eating habits changed in recent times? If they have, was it a conscious decision on your part? [Related reading: Major study finds eating processed meat raises risk of breast cancer]

Less sitting, more moving tied to longer life

31/01/2019

People who have sedentary jobs could significantly boost their lifespans by taking short, regular movement breaks, a new study has found. It’s no secret that individuals who spend a lot of time sitting down are more likely to develop certain adverse health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases, as well as having increased risk of osteoporosis, depression, anxiety, colon cancer and high blood pressure. However, just a small amount of exercise, the study suggests, could lower the risk of early death. According to the research – the findings of which are published in the Annals of Internal Medicine – individuals who sat for less than 30 minutes at a time had the lowest risk of early death. For example, workers who had a movement break (involving some low-intensity exercise) every 30 minutes had a 17% lower risk of death than their counterparts who did not have any breaks. Moreover, individuals who broke up periods of sitting every 30 minutes with moderate- to high-intensity exercise lowered their risk of early death by 35%. Speaking about the findings of the research, Keith Diaz, an assistant professor of behavioural medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City and study lead, said: “If you have a job or lifestyle that involves a lot of sitting, you can lower your risk of early death by moving more often, for as long as you want and as your ability allows — whether that means taking an hour-long high-intensity spin class or choosing lower-intensity activities, like walking.”

Study finds popular fitness trackers overestimate calories burned

29/01/2019

Do you use a fitness tracker to monitor your levels of physical activity and keep an eye on how many calories you’re burning from day to day? If you do, you could be relying on overestimated information, according to the findings of a new study. Researchers at Aberystwyth University in Wales found that many popular fitness trackers often overestimate the number of calories burned while walking by over 50%. In fact, all products tested by the research team ranging between £20 and £80 in price were inaccurate during walking and running tests. Surprisingly, some fitness trackers gave polarising results. For example, the Fitbit Charge 2, the best-selling fitness tracker on the market, scored very well when it came to estimating calories burned while running, underestimating by just 4%. However, when measuring walking, the same device overestimated calories burnt by more than 50%. Other less expensive devices, namely the Letscom HR and the Letsfit – significantly underestimated the number of calories burned while running by 33% and 40% respectively. However, both were more accurate than the Fitbit Charge 2 in estimating calories burned while walking, overestimating by 15.7% and just 2% respectively. One of the researchers, Dr Rhys Thatcher, said that while fitness trackers can be great as motivational tools, people need to be cautious in the data they provide. “If you want to know the exact number of calories that you are burning during an exercise session then it doesn't matter which device you use, you have to interpret the data with some caution,” he said.  

Stair-climbing ‘exercise snacks’ can boost cardiorespiratory health

24/01/2019

Most people understand the important role exercise plays in maintaining and boosting your health. But expensive gym memberships coupled with the busy lives many people lead mean that getting enough exercise is often a non-starter due to the associated expenses and/or a lack of time. The good news though is that new research shows stair climbing, at short intervals that last just a few minutes throughout the day, can improve cardiorespiratory health. For the study, researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, led by Martin Gibala, Ph.D., observed two groups of sedentary youngsters. One group climbed three flights of stairs three times a day and had recovery sessions of between one and four hours in between, while the other group did not exercise. At the end of the study period, the cardiorespiratory health of both groups was assessed. The group that performed the stair climbing each day had higher cardiorespiratory fitness than the group that did no exercise. Moreover, the stair climbers were also found to be stronger at the end of the intervention. Jonathan Little, Ph.D., an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of British Columbia in Okanagan, Canada, and study co-author, said: “We know that sprint interval training works, but we were a bit surprised to see that the stair snacking approach was also effective. “Vigorously climbing a few flights of stairs on your coffee or bathroom break during the day seems to be enough to boost fitness in people who are otherwise sedentary.” So there you have it. You can boost your cardiorespiratory health by simply adding ‘exercise snacks’ into your daily routine.

Blue Monday: What is it and how did it come about?

22/01/2019

The third Monday in January (yesterday) is widely referred to as Blue Monday; so-called because it’s when Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and general winter blues are thought to be at their peak. But despite catching the popular imagination, is there any scientific or medical proof to support Blue Monday being the most depressing day of the year? In a nutshell, no, there isn’t. Blue Monday was actually invented by psychologist Cliff Arnall in 2005. It is said that Arnall came up with the idea of Blue Monday as part of a marketing campaign for British travel company Sky Travel (now defunct). Arnall used a mathematical equation that took into account a variety of factors to determine which was the saddest day of the year. One factor included was Northern Hemisphere weather data and Sky Travel used Arnall’s findings to persuade people that the only way to beat the winter blues on Blue Monday was by heading south of the equator. So, Blue Monday is nothing more than an elaborate marketing tool really, designed to encourage people to go on holiday. But that hasn’t stopped it becoming a phenomenon that’s talked about every year mid-January. In an interview with The Telegraph back in 2010, Arnall said people should ignore the most depressing day of the year label and try to be cheerful. “I was originally asked to come up with what I thought was the best day to book a summer holiday, but when I started thinking about the motives for booking a holiday, reflecting on what thousands had told me during stress management or happiness workshops, there were these factors that pointed to the third Monday in January as being particularly depressing," said Arnall. How did you feel yesterday? Any bluer than usual?  

Inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics commonplace in US - study

17/01/2019

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.”

How much fiber should you be eating to prevent disease?

15/01/2019

The health benefits of eating fiber have long been hailed, but how much fiber should we all be eating to prevent chronic disease and premature death? A new study reveals just that… Commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), the research is the culmination of a meta-analysis of observational studies and clinical trials that took place over almost 40 years. The results appear in the journal The Lancet. One of the objectives of the research was to help in the development of new guidelines for dietary fiber consumption, as well as discover which carbs protect us the most against noncommunicable diseases. So how much fiber should we be eating? Well, the research found that a daily intake of 25–29 grams of fiber is ideal. People who consumed this amount of fiber each day were 15–30 percent less likely to die prematurely from any cause and had a 16–24 percent lower incidence of stroke, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer. The researchers also say that consuming more than 29 grams of fiber per day could lead to even more health benefits. Speaking about the findings of the study, Professor Jim Mann, of the University of Otago, in New Zealand, said: “The health benefits of fiber are supported by over 100 years of research into its chemistry, physical properties, physiology, and effects on metabolism. “Fiber-rich whole foods that require chewing and retain much of their structure in the gut increase satiety and help weight control and can favorably influence lipid and glucose levels. “The breakdown of fiber in the large bowel by the resident bacteria has additional wide-ranging effects including protection from colorectal cancer.” Fiber-rich foods include vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and pulses, such as beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas. Are you consuming enough fiber?

Dry January: What is it and what are some of the health benefits?

10/01/2019

The inevitable abundance of food and alcohol you consumed over the festive period has probably left you feeling as though you need to detox a little now the New Year is here. One of the simplest ways to do this is by choosing to not drink alcohol for the entire month of January. Started by UK-based charity Alcohol Change UK, Dry January, as it is known, has become something of a widespread phenomenon, with an estimated 4.2 million people in the UK alone expected to participate this year. Taking part is easy. All you have to do is not drink any alcoholic drinks throughout the month of January. If you’ve curbed your drinking already this month, well done! If you haven’t, it’s not too late to start. Here are some of the health benefits of quitting alcohol for at least a month: Save money (alcoholic drinks can be expensive) Improve your general health (you can potentially lower your blood pressure and cholesterol) Promote weight loss (alcoholic drinks contain plenty of calories) Sleep better (alcohol is not your best friend when you want a good night’s sleep) Improve your long-term relationship with alcohol (prove to yourself that you don’t need it and don’t have to rely on it going forward) Are you up for the Dry January challenge? It’s only for a month and the potential health benefits speak for themselves.

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