Embryos to be screened for cancer
Scientists have been granted permission to screen test tube
embryos for an inherited form of cancer. The Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Authority (HFEA) approved the screening following a
request from couples seeking IVF treatment. The watchdog said there
was a strong chance of the genetic bowel cancer being passed from
parent to child.
Scientists in London hope using the
controversial technique could help to wipe out this type of cancer.
A spokeswoman for the authority said: "We can confirm that we have
issued a pre-implantation genetic diagnosis licence for that
A team at University College London
has been granted the licence to screen embryos for the gene that
causes familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). If a parent is a
carrier of the gene there is normally a 50% chance it will be passed
on to their children. The gene can lead to the development of rectal
or colon cancer in early teenage years. Embryos created using IVF
can be screened using the pre-implantation genetic diagnosis
process. Then only embryos free of the gene will be implanted.
copyright BBC Health News Monday 1st November 2004
Natural protein can starve cancer
A protein present in normal body tissue can prevent further
growth in tumours, researchers have found. A tumour can grow only if
its blood supply also expands to provide it with essential
nutrients. The protein, discovered by Bristol University
researchers, appears to block the growth of blood vessels past a
certain size. The researchers hope their work, published in Cancer
Research, will lead to new cancer treatments.
protein is one of a group known as vascular endothelial growth
factors (VEGF). Most forms of VEGF stimulate blood vessel growth,
including the new vessels formed as a tumour begins to develop.
However, the Bristol team have identified a form called VEGF 165b,
which appears to have the opposite effect by inhibiting the growth
of new blood vessels required for tumours to grow above one
millimetre in size. The researchers have also found that this form
of VEGF is generally found in many normal parts of the body,
including the prostate, but not in prostate cancer. They hope it may
eventually be possible to use VEGF 165b to prevent tumour growth by
effectively starving it of nutrients. The Bristol team believe that
the fact that the protein is produced naturally by the body could
make it more effective than other anti-cancer agents.
new cancer therapies are based on starving the tumour of nutrients
by attacking the tumour blood supply rather than the cancer cells.
Blocking VEGF using antibodies has recently been shown to be
effective in large-scale trials in colorectal cancer in the US. New
blood vessel growth is also necessary for many normal body
functions. These include the development of the embryo and, in
adults, wound healing, the development of the placenta in pregnancy
and of muscles during physical training programmes.
it is thought that adults can live healthily without blood vessel
growth for extended periods of time. This blood vessel growth is
controlled by many factors, but VEGF is the most powerful factor.
copyright BBC Health News Monday 1st November 2004
Cost of temporary nurses 'soars'
The cost of temporary NHS nursing staff has trebled in six years
to more than £600 million, according to a report.
College of Nursing warns 30,000 nurses leave the profession yearly,
and it faces a fragile future.
Efforts to cut agency costs
with the creation of an internal NHS temporary nursing pool have had
"disappointing" results, it says.
But England's Chief
Nursing Officer Chris Beasley said the temporary pool had made a
She added that a new deal offering more
pay and flexible hours would help the NHS retain staff.
News Online 1/11/04
Vaccine against cervical cancer
A vaccine that prevents infections known to cause cervical cancer
could be available to women within three years, UK experts believe.
By guarding against human papilloma virus, it could save thousands
of lives and may end the need for smears tests. The vaccine would be
given to girls before they are sexually active.
Trials have shown a jab can offer 100% protection
against strains of HPV linked to about 70% of cervical cancers. Some
forms of the HPV virus only cause genital warts, but others cause
cervical cancer. It is estimated up to half of the young women in
Britain have been infected with a high-risk strain of HPV by the
time they are 30. 'High risk' HPV types, strains 16, 18 and 31 and
33, have been found to be present in close to 100% of all cervical
cancers, according to the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes.
Since cervical cancer is the second most common
cause of cancer death in women worldwide, preventing HPV would save
many lives. Both GlaxoSmithKline and Merck Sharp & Dohme have
developed a vaccine against HPV and are in a race to get their
products approved. The two vaccines are being tested in thousands of
women around the world, including the UK. These will seek to confirm
the vaccines' effectiveness and safely.©BBC Health News Friday 29th
Children's teeth 'best for years'
Tooth decay among children is at its lowest recorded level since
1983, figures show. The biggest fall was among 15-year-olds, with
only 13% suffering from decay compared with 42% in 1983 the Office
for National Statistics found. But the survey discovered variations
across the UK, with Northern Ireland having the highest level of
tooth decay among children. The lowest levels were found in England,
followed by Wales.
The survey looked at the dental health of
10,381 children aged five, eight, 12 and 15. The inequalities
appeared to be partly linked to the type of school a child attended
as well as where they lived in the UK. The survey found 78% of
eight-year-olds from "deprived" schools had plaque compared with 70%
of "non-deprived" schools. But three-quarters of children in all age
groups reported brushing their teeth twice daily, with many using
electric toothbrushes. Almost half of 15-year-olds are using
mouthwash and sugar-free chewing gum.
Despite the apparent
fall in levels of decay in permanent teeth, more children had plaque
and gum disease - particularly the boys. About 68% of 15-year-old
boys had some plaque, compared to 57% of 15-year-old girls, and 56%
of 15-year-old boys had some gingivitis, compared to 48% of girls.
And more children are now having fillings. Among eight-year-olds,
52% of obviously decayed permanent teeth had been filled, compared
to only 37% 10 years earlier.
The survey found that most
parents would prefer their children's decayed permanent teeth to be
filled. But the majority of parents would prefer their children's
"milk teeth" to be removed rather than filled. Among children aged
five, over half had evidence of some early damage to their teeth. ©
BBC Health News Friday 29th October 2004
'Stethoscope' hears kidney stones
Scientists have developed a "smart stethoscope" that can hear
when a kidney stone has been successfully broken down by treatment.
The device listens to echoes created by shock wave therapy
(lithotripsy) to let the doctor know if therapy has worked. Trials
at Guy's Hospital in London have showed promising results, saving
patients unnecessary repeat therapy and x-ray monitoring. The device
was developed along with scientists from Southampton University.
Lithotripsy works by focusing thousands of shock waves onto
the kidney stones in an effort to break them into pieces small
enough to urinate out of the body or be dissolved by drugs. But
there is no way of monitoring how the process is getting on.
Doctors can take an x-ray before and after treatment to see
if there is any change in the appearance of the stone. But it is
often difficult to tell from these pictures and is more a case of
trial and error - if the symptoms return then the patient will need
more shock wave therapy.
Professor Tim Leighton and
colleagues at the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research at
Southampton University, along with kidney experts at Guy's, decided
to see whether the echoes produced by the shock waves could be
interpreted in some way. Prof Leighton said: "It's a bit like the
man on the railway who walks along the length of the train, hitting
the metal wheels with a hammer to find out if any are cracked. If
the wheel is cracked it gives a duller sound. What we are looking
for is a stone to go from being intact at the start of treatment to
fragmented at the end of the treatment."
stethoscope is a small probe, similar to those used to trace heart
patterns using an ECG, which is taped to the flank of the patient.
Just like a normal stethoscope, it picks up sound. From here, the
sounds are transmitted to a box the size of a packet of biscuits
which amplifies and changes the frequency of the sounds so the
doctor can hear them. When the stone is intact the sound given off
is a 'tick'. When it has been shattered into small pieces the sound
changes to a 'tock'.
Prof Leighton said the device could
also be wired up to a computer that would analyse the sounds and
display the results using a traffic light system - red for no
success, amber for some success and green for fully successful
treatment. So far, they have used the device to monitor treatment in
50 patients with kidney stones.
With funding from the
Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, the researchers
have developed a prototype they say works extremely well. Prof
Leighton said: "It's been superbly successful. I have been astounded
by how effective it is as a monitor. Plus, it's completely
non-invasive. It does not expose you to any radiation." He said it
would reduce rather than replace the need for x-rays, which would
still be used to locate the stone within the kidney. © BBC Health
News Saturday 30th October 2004
Complex cause for brittle bones
A mix of bad genes and poor conditions in the womb and early life
may be responsible for some cases of brittle bone disease, research
suggests. A team from Southampton University has pinpointed a
genetic mutation that increases the risk of osteoporosis. However,
the gene is more likely to result in disease if the carrier also
lacks nutrients before birth, and in their early years. Details
appear in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
The Southampton team say their work provides a graphic
illustration of the fact that disease is often the result of an
interaction between genes and environmental factors, rather than
each acting in isolation. They identified a gene which regulates the
amount of growth hormone produced by the body, and therefore plays a
key role in how well bones develop and grow. However, they also
found that the function of the gene appears to be modulated in part
by environmental factors in early life.
Carrying the wrong
mutation only seemed significantly to increase the risk of
osteoporosis if the carrier also had to endure harsh environmental
conditions - such as poor nutrition - in the womb, and during the
early years of life. The researchers analysed data on a group of 300
Hertfordshire men and women who were born during the 1920s and 30s.
Many are still living locally, giving researchers a unique insight
into the health of a group of people who are also representative of
the population as a whole.
Researcher Professor Cyrus Cooper
said: "This has altered our understanding of the complex
relationship between genes and the early environment. We have known
for a long time that genetic and environmental influences contribute
to who we are and our health prospects. This is the first time
research has shown the extent to which these early environmental
factors (such as maternal nutrition, smoking and exercise) impact on
the function of genes which have a key role to play in the
development of a healthy skeleton. Although there is a strong
genetic contribution to skeletal growth, our work also suggests that
the impact of an adverse genetic make-up might be minimised by
improving the environment in the womb."
Prof Cooper said the
next challenge was to try to pinpoint the best diet and lifestyle
that mothers could follow in order to reduce the risk of their
children developing brittle bones. © BBC Health News Saturday 30th
EU plans 'risk patients' safety'
Patients could be put at risk by new proposals from the European
Union, doctors' leaders have warned. The British Medical Association
has warned against a lowering of doctors' standards in the UK. The
BMA's Dr Edwin Borman said: "Patients in the UK have different
expectations from patients in Germany."
The draft directive
- unlikely to come into effect for some two years - aims to create a
common internal EU market in various services. There are also
concerns the proposed EU Services Directive could bring an
excessively business-oriented approach to healthcare. It is designed
to ensure free movement of doctors and other providers of services
around the EU.
The BMA is lobbying for healthcare to be
excluded from the measure as it fears the UK would then not be able
to ensure doctors are of the highest standard. It says safeguards
must be guaranteed before the plans are approved. Dr Borman, head of
the BMA's international committee, said the proposals undermined a
country's ability to decide what was in the best interests of
patients. "In the UK, clinical guidelines, referral schemes, licence
to practice procedures and many other safeguards could all be
removed if this directive is adopted," he said. Our concerns must be
met if patient safety is to be guaranteed and standards assured
across the NHS."
Doctors in Germany, France and Poland say
they share UK doctors' fears, although the European Commission
denies it is trying to tell individual countries how to run their
At present, each EU member state regulates
its own healthcare system - setting the standards, clinical
guidelines and rules on qualifications for doctors working within
its borders. Under the directive, a member state would have to
justify any rules under market requirements, proving them to be
"non-discriminatory, necessary or proportional". In addition, a
doctor working in the UK who had qualified in another EU country
would effectively be regulated by their home country.
present, anyone working as a doctor in the UK is regulated by the
General Medical Council (GMC). The GMC said it was studying the
directive's implications and working with the commission to ensure
safeguards were in place. © BBC Health News Saturday 30th October
Bowel cancer trials 'offer hope'
A treatment breakthrough should mean many more people with bowel
cancer can be cured, say experts. When caught early and treated,
there is already a good chance of survival, but in some patients the
cancer can return. In trials, surgery combined with a new mix of
chemotherapy drugs completely cured as many as one in 10 patients -
more than with standard chemotherapy. The data was presented by its
Paris-based author at a European Society for Medical Oncology
meeting in Vienna.
Bowel cancer affects about 38,000 people
in the UK each year - mainly over 60s - killing about 14,000. While
it is obvious that picking up the disease and treating it as early
as possible is the best way to ensure a cure, the success rates have
not been high enough.
Dr Rob Glynne-Jones, Macmillan lead
clinician at the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Middlesex, said:
"This is the first time for years that we have had a major advance
where patients are actually going to be cured." He said for about 50
years there had been only one chemotherapy treatment available to
treat bowel cancer, which was based on a drug called 5-FU. Giving
this treatment after surgery to remove the tumour reduces the risk
of the cancer coming back by about 30%, he said.
trials on 2,246 patients with colon cancer, adding another drug,
called oxaliplatin, reduced the risk by a further 25%. Dr
Glynne-Jones explained: "I know that may not sound very much, but
when you think there are 38,000 patients getting colon cancer a year
and probably 10 or 15,000 of them having chemotherapy afterwards,
you are going to save quite a lot of lives. For the 30% of those who
would have relapsed you are going to reduce that by a quarter.
That's quite a big issue," he said. He said adding in the extra drug
did make the chemotherapy side-effects worse, but he said patients
tended to accept that as a trade off for the increased likelihood of
In particular, the treatment can cause numbness or
tingling in hands by affecting the nerve endings. Oxaliplatin
chemotherapy is available in some places in the UK. The National
Institute for Clinical Excellence is looking at its availability and
is expected to make recommendations in May 2006.
patients in the study all had stage three bowel cancer, which means
the tumour is confined to the bowel and has not spread.
Author of the research, Dr Aimery de Gramont, from the St
Antoine Hospital in Paris, told the Vienna conference the findings
confirmed the importance of treating early with chemotherapy and
surgery. © BBC Health News Friday 29th October 2004
'Do not rush into cosmetic surgery'
Plastic surgery aimed at making people look more beautiful could
end up leaving them scarred and deformed, unless they do their
homework properly, surgeons are warning. The British Association of
Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) has produced a series of
guidelines warning people contemplating cosmetic surgery to take
their time and go to reputable and approved surgeons.
Withey, consultant plastic surgeon, and member of BAAPS, said he is
regularly called upon to try to repair botched surgery. "Every day
we will see people who have had problems from operations. In some
cases you can do revisional surgery, but in some cases they are
scarred for life." Someone I saw went to a clinic in Eastern Europe.
She wanted an operation on her eyelid to tighten it up. She chose
her surgeon very carefully and got a professor of ocular surgery.
But when I saw her she had a scar halfway up the lid and cheek. It
brought the lower lid down and the whites of her eyes were showing.
It was hideous. Her eyelid will not close properly and she is at
risk of scarring to the eye. She can't afford to have the
restoration work done privately, so I am having to do it on the
Mr Withey said another patient had liposuction on her
legs in South Africa. Her surgery was so radical that her legs were
left badly dimpled and in need of more fat to fill them out. She has
already had two operations, but her legs will never be right again,"
he said. Another had a UK operation on her nose, but Mr Withey said
she suffered great skin loss and her nose had been left badly
deformed. We can always improve it, but it will never be anywhere as
nice as her original nose. It will always be scarred."
Withey, a member of the London Plastic Surgery Association, said
patients must ensure they are fully aware of the risks of surgery
before agreeing to it. "Most of us who care for our patients will
spend two or three sessions of 45 minutes each time going through
what their expectations are. Those people going abroad do not get
that. They meet a sales person in the UK telling them how much it
will cost and how long they will be in South Africa etc, but they do
not get anyone talking to them about the risk. Plastic surgery is
not formulaic, every patient is different." He said it was in the
plastic surgeon's interest, as well as the patient's, to ensure they
were fully aware of any potential problems. It is relatively low
risk. You are not going to offer high-risk surgery for something
which is going to make you more beautiful, but if you choose your
patient badly or combine your treatments badly, you can have a
He said some patients, such as heavy smokers,
were often not suitable for surgery as it affected the way their
scars healed and that any reputable surgeon would take this into
account before agreeing to operate. Mr Withey said surgeons must be
prepared to spend time with their patients before and after the
operations to ensure they are happy and that they would not agree to
operate on patients without an agreed "cool-off period". Most of us
are very wary about operating on the wrong people, such as those in
a fragile state of mind. These guidelines are a way of saying to
people that this is the way that surgeons should behave."
The guidelines advise researching the background and
experience of a chosen surgeon, being aware of any risks and
possible side-effects and having a realistic idea of what can and
cannot be achieved. © Jane Elliott, BBC News Health Reporter Friday
29th October 2004
Pylons 'double child cancer risk'
Children living under high-voltage power lines could run double
the risk of getting cancer, new research reportedly suggests. Those
living within 100 metres of the cables are more likely to suffer
from leukaemia, the study indicates. The Childhood Cancer Research
Group at Oxford University studied 70,000 children under 15 for the
Department of Health report, half of whom had cancer. The seven-year
study is reported in the Times and the Independent newspapers.
The research looked at the prevalence of high-voltage power
cables near children's homes. Children born or living near the power
lines were 1.7 times more likely to contract leukaemia than those in
the control group, the research found. Some studies have already
shown an association between some types of electromagnetic fields
and increased childhood leukaemia.
Research author Dr Gerald
Draper said other research suggested power lines might account for
20 to 30 of 500 cases of childhood leukaemia each year. But, he
said, his work indicated a far smaller number of cases were
affected. The findings were "surprising" and prompted further
research, he added. The Department of Health said it would not
comment on the findings until Dr Draper submitted his final report.
© BBC Health News Saturday 30th October 2004
Molecule offers Alzheimer's hope
The development of a molecule which appears to stop a protein
forming into clumps could lead to new treatments for Alzheimer's
disease, scientists say. The onset of the disease has been linked to
plaques which form when fragments of the protein, amyloid-beta,
gather into clumps in the brain. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute
and Stanford University researchers say lab tests show the molecule
stops this. They told the journal Science they hope to begin tests
on animals next year.
Despite 30 years of research,
scientists have made little progress in developing drugs that
inhibit interactions between proteins. This is, in part, because the
drug molecules are many times smaller than the proteins, so even if
they can attach themselves to the larger molecules they are too
small to prevent other proteins binding elsewhere.
latest study got round this problem by creating a molecule that was
able to attach itself to another protein found in the brain cells.
Thus the molecule was effectively able to increase its size 15-fold
before binding to the amyloid-beta protein fragments - greatly
reducing the ability of other fragments to gain a foothold. As a
result, the molecule proved effective at reducing protein clumping
at concentrations 100 times lower than other blocking agents that
have been tested. It also seemed to reduce the toxicity of the rogue
protein to nerve cells.
Researcher Dr Isabella Graef told
BBC News it was possible that the molecule could be modified to
attach itself to even larger 'chaperone' proteins, so that its bulk
would be increased 50-fold. At present the work has only been
carried out in the lab, but Dr Graef said the team hoped animal
tests would start in a year. She said: "We hope that our work will
contribute to the development of therapeutic agents that will
eventually prevent Alzheimer's, or delay its onset. What we have
developed is a completely new way of designing drugs to inhibit
protein to protein interactions, not only in neurodegenerative
diseases, but also potentially in other diseases, such as HIV and
Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's
Research Trust, called the research "striking and original".
However, she stressed there was no way yet of telling whether the
molecule would work in a human brain, or whether interfering with
chaperone proteins would produce side effects. There is clearly much
work still to be done, and it will be necessary to investigate this
drug further in animals such as mice before this potentially
valuable method can be tried in patients. This is the first,
exciting step in what could be a long path towards a new treatment
for Alzheimer's disease."
Professor Clive Ballard, research
director of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "There are many exciting
approaches currently being investigated to target the accumulation
of amyloid, some of which are already being investigate in clinical
trials." © BBC Health News Friday 29th October 2004
Smaller pill packs 'cut suicides'
Selling painkillers in smaller pack sizes has slashed rates of
suicides involving overdoses, research suggests. Legislation,
introduced in 1998, cut pack sizes and the number of tablets
retailers and pharmacies could sell. Oxford University researchers
looked at suicides involving painkillers in the UK between 1993 and
2003. Almost 25% fewer people took fatal aspirin and paracetamol
overdoses in the three years after 1998 than before, they told the
British Medical Journal.
The Oxford team also found that
numbers of tablets taken in non-fatal overdoses of aspirin and
paracetamol fell significantly after the legislation. As a result,
admissions to liver units for paracetamol poisoning and numbers of
related liver transplants also dropped heavily - down by nearly a
third (30%) in the four years after the laws came into force.
PAINKILLER SALE RESTRICTIONS Before September 1998:
Pharmacies: unrestricted Other retail outlets: max of 24 tablets
After September 1998: Pharmacies: max of 32 tablets Other retail
outlets: max of 16 tablets Researchers analysed rates of suicides
and non-fatal overdoses from paracetamol, salicylates (aspirin) and
ibuprofen across the UK between 1993 and 2003.
overdosing from paracetamol and salicylates - both covered by the
new laws - decreased, patterns of overdosing from ibuprofen, which
was not targeted in the legislation, remained roughly the same. The
researchers argue that although smaller pack sizes do not prevent
someone from buying multiple packs from various retailers, many of
those who overdose do so impulsively - using tablets to hand in the
home. They say their research provides a strong argument for
reducing pack sizes still further. Â©BBC Health News Thursday 28th
Prozac use 'risky for children'
Using the anti-depressant Prozac at an early age could lead to
emotional problems later in life, US scientists have told the
journal Science. Researchers also said pregnant women may also be
risking the mental health of their unborn child by using Prozac. A
team at Columbia University in New York found young mice given the
drug grew up anxious and appeared depressed in tests on their
emotional state. But Prozac's makers said care should be taken when
interpreting rodent studies. The age of the mice were the equivalent
of the last three months of pregnancy to children aged eight.
Prozac is the only anti-depressant which doctors can
prescribe to under 18s in the UK. However, doctors have been
reluctant to prescribe it to young children, tending to refer
children with depression to child psychologists instead. Pregnant
women are advised to use the drug with caution.
the US Food and Drug Administration ordered drug manufacturers to
put strong labels on anti-depressants such as Prozac after they
found they increased the risk of suicide. Columbia University Mark
Ansorge, who led the research, said: "Increasingly, these drugs are
used to treat emotional disorders in children and pregnant women.
However, the long-term effects of these medications on brain
development are largely unknown." But he added his study showed that
using drugs such as Prozac during the early years of life and late
pregnancy "may entail unexpected risks for affective function later
During the study, the scientists injected the
mice, which were between four and 21 days old, with Prozac. Nine
weeks after their last injection the mice were given tests to reveal
their emotional state. They showed a reduced inclination to explore
when put in a maze, took longer to start eating when placed in a
novel setting and were slower to try escaping from a part of their
cage that delivered mild electric shocks. All these behaviours are
regarded as signs of anxiety and depression, the team said.
A spokesman for Eli Lilly, the makers of Prozac, said:
"Great care should always be taken when trying to interpret mice and
rodent studies." And he added the company does not promote the use
of Prozac by children. ©BBC Health News Friday 29th October 2004
Surgical training 'cut by half'
Junior doctors who want to become a surgeon will be fast-tracked
through the NHS under a new curriculum. Consultants of the future
could be in their early 30s thanks to a halving of the current
minimum 12 years that it takes to train after medical school.
The Royal College of Surgeons said its scheme, to be
introduced in 2007, would recognise excellence rather than reward
time-serving. It denied that the move, hoped to boost staff numbers,
was a 'dumbing down'. Mr Hugh Phillips, president of the college
said: "Not every surgeon needs to be trained to be a
super-specialist doing the most complex surgery in their chosen
field. This is not a dumbing down. At present, arrangements for
training surgeons are unsatisfactory and we need to make surgical
training very much more effective."
Currently, doctors who
have graduated from medical schools spend one year as a house
officer and then a minimum of two years as a senior house officer
(SHO). In practice, the average SHO takes five-and-a-half years to
reach the next stage in the surgical career, a specialist registrar
job, and only 50% of applicants are successful. Mr Phillips said
this was too long and meant many talented surgeons-in-training were
stuck at the SHO grade. "Not only is it wasteful of human resources,
but it makes for an insecure and difficult time at a crucial stage
in the surgeon's career," he said.
On graduation from
medical school, the trainee will in the future undertake a two-year
foundation programme after which he or she will enter specialist
training. The college anticipates it would take most young surgeons
only six years to be trained to nationally agreed standards across
nine surgical specialties. It has placed a maximum of eight years on
the training time.
THE NINE SPECIALTIES SURGEONS WOULD TRAIN
IN General surgery Cardiothoracic surgery Neurosurgery
Otolaryngology Paediatric surgery Plastic surgery Trauma and
orthopaedic surgery Urology Oral and maxillofacial surgery
Restrictions in doctors' working hours as a consequence of
the European Working Time Directive means surgical training is
seriously compromised, according to the college. Mr Phillip said:
"There is still a serious shortfall in the number of consultant
surgeons in the UK and yet we need these hard-pressed consultants to
train their future colleagues and successors. The new scheme will
recognise excellence rather than reward time-serving."
spokesman from the Department of Health said: "We are working with
the Royal College of Surgeons to modernise medical training. The
purpose is to make it more focused and contemporary. Patient safety
will be at the heart of any changes we make to this training."
Mr Simon Eccles, chair of the British Medical Association's
Junior Doctors Committee, said: "Seven years may be enough time for
a particularly talented doctor to qualify as a consultant surgeon,
but only if the quality of their training is exceptionally high.
With recent legal cuts in junior doctors' hours, the NHS and the
Royal Colleges need to make sure that the best use is made of the
limited training time available. What matters most is that we
produce doctors capable of delivering the highest possible standards
of care to patients." © BBC Health News Thursday 28th October
Abortion row fears over eye cure
US scientists have successfully restored a woman's vision using
eye cells taken from aborted foetuses. But while hailing their
results as a triumph, the University of Louisville researchers are
worried critics will say they are promoting abortion. The UK has
clear guidelines to ensure people cannot conceive and terminate a
baby to treat another person, but similar rules do not exist in the
US. The findings appear in New Scientist magazine.
Bryant's sight was restored by a transplant of retinal cells taken
from the eyes of aborted foetuses. The transformation appears not to
have been a short-term effect, as the team who carried out the
operation had feared. Before the experimental surgery on her left
eye, Elisabeth, who was 63 at the time, could barely see anything
with it. "Now I can see people's eyes, noses and mouths when they're
sitting across the room from me," she told New Scientist.
far, six patients with degenerative diseases of the eye - either
advanced retinitis pigmentosa or another disease called macular
degeneration - have received similar transplants in the US. Dr
Robert Aramant, who developed the technique at the University of
Louisville, said: "We have shown the way. It is possible to reverse
these incurable diseases." But his colleague Mr Norman Radtke, the
surgeon who carried out the transplants, said: "People are going to
claim that we are promoting abortion." The team has been given the
go-ahead by the US Food and Drug Administration to carry out more
transplants on people with less advanced disease.
this week, Canadian researchers from the University of Toronto
announced that they had shown that retinal stem cells taken from
adults were capable of forming the cells needed to repair damaged
eyes. Although this method has only been tested in animals, the
scientists are hopeful that it could be used to treat humans.
David Wong, chairman of the scientific committee of the
Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said: "As ophthalmologists, we
welcome research into stem cells as indeed it offers hope for
patients suffering from degenerative conditions such as retinitis
pigmentosa and macular degeneration. Particularly exciting is the
fact that the Toronto group could harvest stem cells from adult
human eyes," he said, which would overcome some of the ethical
A spokesman from Comment on Reproductive Ethics
said using tissues from aborted foetuses was totally unnecessary.
"Why bother doing something that's ethically difficult or
unacceptable when you can take stem cells from adults?" he said. ©
BBC Health News Wednesday 27th October 2004
Asthma risk 'fixed before birth'
The chances of a child developing asthma or other allergies may
largely be fixed by the time they are born, a study suggests.
Researchers found babies with high levels of antibodies in their
umbilical cord blood were more at risk. Antibodies are a sign that
the immune system has begun to respond to the irritants that cause
allergies. The research, by the David Hide Asthma and Allergy Centre
in Isle of Wight, is published in Thorax.
analysed data on cord blood serum samples taken from more than 1,300
children born between 1989 and 1990. Each sample was measured for
levels of a chemical called IgE, which is produced by the immune
system in response to the presence of allergens, such as pet waste,
house dust mites and grass pollen. The children were also assessed
at the ages of one, two, four and 10 years of age to find out if
they had developed allergies and/or asthma. By the age of four, one
in five children had become sensitised to allergens, and by the age
of 10 more than one in four (27%) had done so.
had high umbilical cord blood levels of IgE at birth were around
twice as likely to have become sensitised. One in 10 of the children
had been diagnosed with asthma by the time they were one to two
years old, and by the age of four, one in seven (15.2%) of the
children had asthma. Almost 13% of the children had asthma by the
time they were 10.
High IgE cord blood levels were not
associated with the development of asthma up to the age of four. But
children with high IgE levels in their umbilical cord blood were
around 66% more likely to have a diagnosis of asthma by the age of
The researchers also found that children who showed no
signs at all of an increased sensitivity to allergens in their early
years were three times more likely to develop asthma if they had
high levels of the antibodies in their umbilical cord blood. This
apparent paradox can occur because in some cases of asthma the
immune system triggers airway inflammation without any specific
reaction to a known allergen.
The researchers say dramatic
changes in the immune system occur during pregnancy - and the immune
response of the foetus - to make IgE antibodies - can start as early
as the 11th week. This can be influenced by the mother's environment
as the same factors that impact on her may reach the baby via the
placenta. They suggest their findings indicate that foetal immune
system programming could be more important than what happens after
birth in influencing the development of childhood allergies.
Lead researcher Dr Hasan Arshad told BBC News Online: "Over
the last 10-15 years a lot of research has focussed on the early
life influences that may contribute to the development of asthma in
a child, but it may be that we have to go back even further and look
at the pregnant woman's environment."
However, Dr Seif
Shaheen, of King's College London and Asthma UK Research Fellow,
said it would be wrong to overlook the impact of exposure to
allergens following birth. "Whilst there is an increasing body of
evidence that the environment in the womb may influence the
development of atopy (allergy) and asthma, it is also likely that
the environment once the child is born plays an important role too.
We are all born, to a lesser or greater extent, with our immune
system skewed towards an allergic type response. Environmental
exposures after birth are likely to determine whether this allergic
tendency carries on through childhood or disappears."
Professor Andrew Peacock, of the British Thoracic Society,
said: "This research indicates that umbilical cord blood may hold
valuable clues as to why one in five children in the UK have asthma
and one in three adults are developing an allergy. More research
needs to be done in this area if we are to have any chance of
turning round the four fold increase in allergic conditions that we
have seen take place in the UK over the last 20 years." © BBC Health
News Wednesday 27th October 2004
People with psoriasis 'shunned'
People with psoriasis are being treated as social outcasts,
survey findings show. Telephone interviews with more than 5,000
European people revealed half would not kiss, swim with or eat food
prepared by someone with psoriasis. This was despite most realising
this skin condition is not contagious. Friday 29 October is the
first world psoriasis day, aimed at increasing awareness and
breaking down prejudices about this common skin disease.
Taylor Nelson Sofres surveyed 5,029 people from France,
German, Italy, Spain and the UK. Most knew that it was a type of
skin disease but, less than a third of those questioned knew that
psoriasis was a common disorder, affecting one in every 50 people.
Nearly two in 10 people thought poor hygiene was the root cause of
psoriasis, even though three-quarters correctly knew that the
condition is partly inherited and partly down to environmental
factors. Many would not want to have close physical contact, such as
hugging, with someone who had psoriasis, men more so than women.
Michele Corvest, founder of APLCP - Association for the
Fight Against Psoriasis - said: "I was shocked to see that half of
the people surveyed would refuse to kiss or hug me or eat a sandwich
from my hand." Lars Ettarp, president of the International
Federation of Psoriasis Foundations behind World Psoriasis Day,
said: "For the 125million people worldwide who suffer from
psoriasis, life can be extremely difficult and we are still
discriminated against due to the unsightly appearance of our skin.
We want a better standard of care for people with psoriasis." © BBC
Health News Thursday 28th October 2004
School meals 'must be healthier'
Ministers must do more to protect pupils from primary school
dinners high in fat and salt, a report says. The Soil Association,
which promotes organic farming, said it had analysed five typical
lunches. Children eating such meals every day would consume 40% more
salt, 28% more saturated fat and 20% more sugar than recommended, it
said. The Department of Education said it had started a monitoring
exercise to check the quality of food served in primary schools. The
warning comes amid widespread concern over childhood obesity. A
"typical" school meal including cheese fritters, roast potatoes,
peas and flapjacks would only provide 80% of the amount of iron and
70% of the amount of zinc needed, the Soil Association said.
Education Secretary Charles Clarke recently announced he
would review the standard of dinners served in secondary schools.
But the Soil Association, said it wanted him to act on primary
schools too. Peter Melchett, the group's policy director, said: "It
is well known that most school dinners in primary schools do not
provide the correct level of nutrients and give children too much
fat, sugar and salt. But still Charles Clarke refuses to act to
protect children at their most crucial stage of development. If
children are encouraged to eat healthily in primary school, they are
likely to demand good quality food as they get older." A Department
for Education and Skills spokeswoman said work was already under way
to improve the quality of school meals. She added: "We are also
undertaking a specific monitoring and evaluation exercise on the
quality of primary school meals. We are determined to ensure young
people are inspired to eat and live healthily." Â© BBC Health News
Thursday 28th October 2004
Bid to cut sudden epilepsy deaths
Guidelines have been issued to try to make unexpected deaths from
epilepsy will be a thing of the past. Epilepsy affects more than
300,000 people living in the UK, and official figures suggest about
1,000 die every year as a result of the condition. The National
Institute for Clinical Excellence aims to ensure people with
epilepsy are being given proper advice to help them manage their
condition. It is advising doctors on how best to care for their
epileptic patients. A government-funded report in 2002 concluded
that more than 40% of deaths from epilepsy were probably avoidable.
According to experts, most people with epilepsy can be free of
seizures with the right drug treatment. But research suggests up to
a quarter of cases are misdiagnosed, meaning patients don't get the
treatment they need. The report found failures in the provision of
care all through the system. This included problems of timely access
to expert specialists and a lack of structured and effective review
at primary and secondary care. The report concluded that poor
epilepsy management resulted in a substantial number of potentially
avoidable deaths. NICE believes its guidance on the diagnosis and
management of epilepsy in children and adults should address these
issues. Andrea Sutcliffe, executive lead for the guideline, said:
"The guideline covers issues of real concern to people with
epilepsy, such as accurate and timely diagnosis, appropriate
communication and the need for regular reviews of medication." Key
recommendations include ensuring precise and early diagnosis,
tailored drug therapy and regular structured reviews of care, at
least annually, for each patient. It says patients should be
actively involved in treatment decisions, something that has not
been happening, according to the National Society for Epilepsy. The
guideline also emphasises the importance of appropriate advice to
women with epilepsy who are of childbearing age. There have been
concerns that some epilepsy drugs harm unborn children, but
uncontrolled epilepsy can also be damaging. Dr Helen Cross, epilepsy
expert at Great Ormond Street Hospital and member of the guideline
development group said: "This guideline is comprehensive in both its
scope and coverage and will contribute toward the development of an
optimal standard of epilepsy care across the NHS." Â© BBC Health
News Wednesday 27th October 2004
Patient tagging 'first in world'
Patients at a Birmingham hospital are to be electronically tagged
in a bid to prevent medical mistakes in what has been described as a
"world first". Heartlands Hospital is piloting the system which will
track the movements of people undergoing surgery through a wireless
network. Their records are then brought up on screens for use by
staff at key points. Developers believe the system will reduce the
risk of human errors and improve medical efficiency.
photographs are taken of patients who are then tagged on arrival and
the information is synchronised with their electronic records. David
Morgan, a consultant ENT surgeon at the hospital who helped devise
the process, said the patients location could then be tracked to
within yards and their details fed to visual display units in
theatres, anaesthetic rooms and waiting areas. Mr Morgan added he
could make changes to the digital operating list while on his rounds
using a pocket PC instead of working with typed copies. "This is the
only system of its kind in the world," said Mr Morgan. It saves time
for doctors because we don't have to go round wards changing typed
lists and it enhances security as patients know they are going to
have the right operation at the right time and with the right
person." He added: "It allows better use of resources so you don't
have wasted time in theatre, so it actually saves money in the long
The system was developed by Intelligent Medical
Microsystems and cost Â£25,000 to install in one ward and two
theatres. Â© BBC Health News Wednesday 27th October 2004
Cancer services 'need shake-up'
Cancer services in England are disjointed and need to be
reformed, according to a parliamentary report. The All-Party
Parliamentary Group on Cancer said the new funding system was
"exacerbating" the postcode lottery. It claimed GPs were not
referring those needing urgent treatment quickly enough and said
primary care trusts (PCTs) should not be responsible for funding. It
comes as the government announces a national screening programme for
bowel cancer, aimed at cutting deaths by 15%.
The first such
scheme in Europe, the government would be spending Â£37.5m on it
over the next two years, Health Secretary John Reid told the BBC
Breakfast programme. Bowel - or colorectal - cancer is the third
most common cancer in men and the second most common in women in the
UK. Each year, there are over 18,700 new cases of the disease in
men, and over 16,800 cases in women. Dr Reid said thousands of lives
would be saved by the screening.
Answering the cross-party
report's criticism of cancer funding, Dr Reid said there had been a
12% reduction in the number of cancer deaths since 1997. "We will
listen, but I am yet to be persuaded that it is better than what we
are doing," he said. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and
the results speak for themselves."
The report called for the
control of cancer budgets to be handed to the country's 34 cancer
networks. The networks are non-statutory alliances between primary
care trusts, hospitals, councils and the voluntary sector, which
support and plan services on a regional level. It said many of the
country's 302 PCTs, which commission health services and have
responsibility for spending three quarters of the NHS budget, were
"struggling". As a result, it said, there were "worrying
implications for the provision of all NHS services but particularly
for national priority areas like cancer". The report also
recommended GPs go on cancer education programmes to help them
recognise which patients need urgent treatment.
main recommendations Strip PCTs of funding powers Hand budgets to
cancer network Send GPs on cancer education courses Set up cancer
Witnesses told the inquiry, which took
evidence from the Department of Health, PCTs and patient groups,
that PCTs lacked experience - and in many cases expertise - in
commissioning cancer services. Ian Gibson, chair of the All Party
Parliamentary Group, said: "The inquiry has exposed a serious
problem. PCTs are struggling to cope and lack experience in
commissioning cancer services. The budget for cancer services must
therefore go directly to cancer networks to allow them to plan for
sustained improvements in cancer care."
Joanne Rule, chief
executive of CancerBACUP, a cancer information charity which
co-authored the report, said cancer services needed specialist
commissioning. "If not, access to cancer drugs, equipment and
services will continue to vary widely from one part of the country
to another," she said. Cancer patients deserve more."
report also suggested data be collected at both national and local
levels on the prescribing of cancer treatments recommended by the
National Institute for Clinical Excellence. Mayur Lakhani,
chair-elect of the Royal College of GPs, denied family doctors were
at fault. GPs don't have a problem referring patients for cancer
screening - the issue is the availability of scans and tests."
Professor John Toy, medical director at Cancer Research UK,
said cancer treatment was improving but that it was unacceptable
that quality of care was still being "determined by a person's
address". Â© BBC Health News Wednesday 27th October 2004
Lungs 'best in late afternoon'
Lung function dips and rises on a 24-hour cycle, reaching a peak
for most people in late afternoon, researchers have found.
Researchers from Long Island Jewish Medical Center say their work
suggests this might be the best time of day to take exercise. It
might also be the time when respiratory medications are likely to
have the most effect. The study was presented at an American College
of Chest Physicians meeting.
Many of the body's processes
are governed by circadian rhythms which repeat in 24-hour cycles.
The new study, which only focused on the hours between 8am and 5pm,
suggests that lung function may be controlled by the same pattern. A
five-year analysis of 4,835 patients found lung function was at its
least effective around midday, rising to a peak between 4pm and 5pm.
Researcher Dr Boris Medarov said: "Circadian rhythms
regulate our biological cycles for sleep, activity level,
metabolism, and many other processes through our body's exposure to
sunlight and darkness. Our study finds that lung function has its
own rhythm that may govern how much energy we exert throughout the
day and the best times to engage in certain activities. We often
associate the end of the work day with being tired and less
motivated for physical exertion; however, lung function seems to be
at its best during this time. As a result, exercising or engaging in
other physical activities in the late afternoon may help us to
achieve optimal performance."
Dr Medarov said circadian
rhythms of lung function may also have implications for the
administration of asthma medications and the timing of medical
procedures. Many patients with asthma and chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease administer bronchodilators around the clock, when
they actually may need less treatments and a different regimen that
includes administering the medication at midday when their lung
function is at its lowest. It also may be better to extubate (remove
tubes) patients in the late afternoon when their lung function is at
its best and breathing on their own is easier." Dr Medarov said it
might be possible to use relaxation techniques and other types of
therapy to modify lung function circadian rhythms.
Britton, chairman of British Lung Foundation, said that it was well
known that people with asthma showed signs of a circadian rhythm in
their lung function. However, he said they tended to reach a low in
the small hours of the morning, and to reach a peak in early
afternoon. Dr Britton said it would be advisable to administer
preventative medication at a time when the lungs were working most
effectively, and this would enable it to penetrate as far as
possible into the respiratory tissues. However, he said many people
with lung disease often required therapy at the point when their
lungs were at their least effective. He said the goal of medication
was to try to ensure that any circadian rhythm was flattened out, so
the lungs worked steadily all the time. He said this was now much
more achievable with the advent of longer-lasting treatments. Â© BBC
Health News Tuesday 26th October 2004
Cancer risk 'encourages sobriety'
A majority of women would be willing to cut their alcohol
consumption if they thought it would reduce their risk of breast
cancer, research suggests. However, a poll by Breakthrough Breast
Cancer found only 7% of women surveyed were aware of any link.
Alcohol consumption is known to present a small but significant
increase in breast cancer risk. Drinking more than the recommended
daily alcohol limit is an increasing trend in women of all ages.
The Office of National Statistics figures show that the
trend is most marked in young women aged 16-25. In this group
drinking above the recommended limit has more than doubled from 15%
in 1988/89 to 33% in 2002/03. The Breakthrough survey found that 12%
of women would stop drinking completely, 27% would limit their
drinking to one unit a day and 14% would try to reduce their alcohol
intake to reduce their breast cancer risk.
Morgan, chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "We
don't yet know all the causes of breast cancer but we do know that
alcohol, HRT, the contraceptive pill, early periods, late menopause
and not having children can all increase risk. Unfortunately, most
of the established breast cancer risk factors are things which are
outside of our control. However, drinking less alcohol is one of the
few things women can do to reduce their risk. It's encouraging that
so many women, especially young women, are willing to consider this
Dame Gill Oliver, of the charity Macmillan Cancer
Relief, said: "It is heartening to hear that young women aged would
cut down their drinking to reduce their risk of getting breast
cancer in later life. However, a survey by Macmillan Cancer Relief
found that one woman in five never checks her breasts for signs of
breast cancer and only 42% of women aged 55 and over checked their
breasts at least once a month despite being the age group most at
risk. I think this shows that the messages are getting through to
younger women, but we still have a long way to go in terms of
educating older women about breast cancer and how to be breast
aware." Â© BBC Health News Tuesday 26th October 2004
Website on tobacco giant launched
A website has been launched detailing the inner workings of
leading tobacco firm British American Tobacco. The site includes 1m
pages of memos, research and reports, which BAT was forced to make
public by a US court. The researchers compiled the site by scanning
documents from BAT's depository in Guildford, Surrey. The website,
which will be added to, is a joint project by the London School of
Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of California in
The current information relates to company practice
from the 1950s to 1995. It contains information on marketing
strategies, sports sponsorship, political influence and pricing.
When it is completed in 2006 it will contain more than 8m pages of
information on the company.
BAT was forced to release the
information in 1998 after litigation brought by the State of
Minnesota and Minnesota Blue Cross Shield. The project, known as the
Guildford Archiving Project, was set up in 2001 as the depository is
set to close in 2009. Jeff Collin, a lecturer from the London School
of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it was the first time the
public would have "real access" to the documents as the Surrey
depository had remained largely inaccessible because of limited
opening hours and indexing. He claimed: "The website gives us a
unique insight into how BAT has prevented the spread of anti-smoking
strategies. And this in turn will help the community to develop more
In the past, BAT has been accused of
obstructing the researchers, who also analysed documents stored at
offices in Minnesota in the US - although these are thought not to
be as detailed as the papers kept in Surrey. But BAT, which is
behind brands such as Lucky Strike, Kent, Dunhill and Pall Mall,
said it was not concerned that the website had gone live. A
spokeswoman said: "We have known that they have been doing this for
some time. Many researchers and journalists have trawled through the
documents. If there was anything to be found, it would have been
found. There is nothing there that overly concerns us." But she
refused to comment on the specific allegation that the company had
stopped the spread of anti-smoking strategies across the world,
saying BAT was "working with organisations to combat youth smoking".
Brown and Williamson, a subsidiary of BAT, has been accused
of lying about the effects of smoking along with other leading
tobacco firms in an ongoing $280bn lawsuit in the US. Â© BBC Health
News Tuesday 26th October 2004
Asthma risk 'greater for smokers'
People who smoke are 33% more likely to develop asthma than those
who do not, researchers from the Finnish Institute of Occupational
Health have said. The team told the European Respiratory Journal the
30-month study of 1,444 people gave the strongest evidence yet that
smoking caused asthma.
Smoking has long been thought to
aggravate the condition but whether it caused it has been disputed.
Anti-smoking groups said the study gave more weight to calls for
workplace bans. Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 substances -
many of which irritate the airways.
One of the standing
complaints about studies into the effect of smoking is that they
usually only cover a fixed population group at certain moments in
time. This makes it possible to identify apparent links between
smoking and disease - but not to prove that the habit is directly to
blame. The Finnish team tackled this problem by only including
people in the study who initially showed no signs of asthma or lung
disease, and only developed symptoms during the study.
521 participants who started to show signs of developing asthma were
then monitored over two-and-a-half years, and compared to 923 people
with no signs of the allergy. The study found that current smokers
were 33% more likely to develop asthma but that people who had given
up smoking had an even greater risk - 49% higher than those who
never smoked. The risk of asthma was proportional to the number of
cigarettes smoked each day - and the total number smoked during a
lifetime so far.
However, the finding did not apply to heavy
smokers, who smoked more than 15 cigarettes a day, or who had smoked
a lot of cigarettes during their life. The researchers believe this
finding, which they found surprising, might be explained by heavy
smokers giving up or cutting down as soon as they have any breathing
problems, before they have had a chance to be diagnosed with asthma.
They also stress that individual susceptibility to tobacco damage
varies hugely from one person to another. It may be that people who
smoke heavily are more tolerant of the irritants in tobacco.
The study also found that female smokers seem to be at a
greater risk of developing asthma than their male counterparts.
Female smokers and ex-smokers had an increased risk of developing
asthma of between 138% and 143%. Lead researcher Dr Ritva Piipari
said: "The heavier toll that smoking takes on women could be the
result of a greater vulnerability to the ill-effects of smoke. In
fact, we have noted that even non-smoking women have an increased
risk (57%) of developing a new asthma compared to their male
Professor Martyn Partridge, chief medical
adviser to Asthma UK, said it had previously been difficult to show
that smoking causes asthma as it only needed a few patients with
lung disease to be wrongly classified as having asthma to skew the
results. He said: "This new study has tried very hard to exclude the
previous problems with misdiagnosis, and it does suggest a
possibility that smoking may be amongst the numerous lifestyle
changes that may have enhanced the risk of adults developing
asthma." Â© BBC Health News Monday 25th October 2004
Stem cells 'could restore vision'
Stem cells taken from the back of the eye could eventually be
used to restore normal vision in people with sight problems,
researchers have said. Human retinal stem cells regenerated when
they were transplanted into the eyes of mice and chicks, scientists
at the University of Toronto found. They now plan to see if the same
happens in diseased eyes in the hope of eventually treating humans.
The findings appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of
The retina sits at the back of the eye and is
where light rays are turned into images. It acts like the film in a
camera to capture images, transform them into electrical signals,
and send these signals to the brain. The retina contains millions of
cells called photoreceptors (divided into rods and cones), which
contain visual pigments. When light strikes these pigments, they
briefly lose their colour. This bleaching process triggers nerve
impulses, which are transmitted to your brain.
researchers took retinal stem cells from human cadavers and
transplanted them into the eyes of one-day-old mice and chicks. The
transplanted cells developed into photoreceptor cells. Lead
researcher Brenda Coles said: "When their eyes fully developed, the
human cells survived, migrated into the sensory part of the eye and
formed the correct cells."
The are now exploring whether the
retinal stem cells from these healthy mice will continue to develop
when transplanted to mice with diseased eyes. This will help them
find out whether retinal stem cells can be used to treat
degenerative diseases of the retina such as retinitis pigmentosa and
macular degeneration, which are among the most common forms of
blindness in developed countries. These diseases affect rods and
cones, the photoreceptor cells at the back of the retina, but the
nerve cells in front of them usually remain intact.
said: "We're starting with mice to see if they can overcome the
genetics involved in disease. The eye itself is telling the stem
cells what to do, so when we go to a disease model, it is important
to know what those signals from the eye are so we can inhibit them
or protect the cells."
Dr Stephen Minger, director of the
stem cell biology laboratory at King's College, London, said: "As a
first step, I think this paper is superb. Being able to show that
they can take a small number of cells from the human eye and expand
them to relatively large numbers to implant them and get what
appears to be site-specific differentiation into a wide variety of
retinal cells is very encouraging." He said it would be important to
prove that the implanted cells functioned normally and that they
also worked in disease states. Also, it has yet to be determined
whether enough of the required number of cells could be generated to
repair damage in humans, he said. Â© BBC Health News Monday 25th
Cup of tea may help boost memory
Drinking regular cups of tea could help improve your memory,
research suggests. A team from Newcastle University found green and
black tea inhibit the activity of key enzymes in the brain
associated with memory. The researchers hope their findings,
published in Phytotherapy Research, may lead to the development of a
new treatment for Alzheimer's Disease. They say tea appears to have
the same effect as drugs specifically designed to combat the
Alzheimer's disease is associated with a reduced
level of a chemical called acetylcholine in the brain. In lab tests,
the Newcastle team found that both green and black tea inhibited the
activity of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE), which breaks
down this key chemical. They also found both teas inhibited the
activity of a second enzyme butyrylcholinesterase (BuChE), which has
been discovered in protein deposits found in the brain of patients
Green tea went one step further in that it
obstructed the activity of beta-secretase, which plays a role in the
production of protein deposits in the brain which are associated
with Alzheimer's disease. The scientists also found that it
continued to have its inhibitive effect for a week, whereas black
tea's enzyme-inhibiting properties lasted for only one day.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's but it is possible to slow
the development of the disease. Drugs currently on the market hinder
the activity of AChE, and others are being developed which
scientists hope will inhibit the activity of BuChE and
beta-secretase. However, many of the drugs currently available, such
as donepezil, have unpleasant side effects and the medical
profession is keen to find alternatives.
University researchers are now seeking funding to carry out further
tests on green tea, which they hope will include clinical trials.
Their aim is to work towards the development of a medicinal tea
which is specifically aimed at Alzheimer's sufferers. The next step
is to find out exactly which components of green tea inhibit the
activity of the enzymes AChE, BuChE and beta-secretase.
researcher Dr Ed Okello said: "Although there is no cure for
Alzheimer's, tea could potentially be another weapon in the armoury
which is used to treat this disease and slow down its development.
It would be wonderful if our work could help improve the quality of
life for millions of sufferers and their carers. Our findings are
particularly exciting as tea is already a very popular drink, it is
inexpensive, and there do not seem to be any adverse side effects
when it is consumed. Still, we expect it will be several years until
we are able to produce anything marketable."
Ballard, director of research, Alzheimer's Society, said: "This
interesting research builds on previous evidence that suggests that
green tea may be beneficial due to anti-oxidant properties.
Certainly the effect on the cholinesterase enzyme (the target of
current anti-dementia drugs such as Aricept) and beta-secretase (an
enzyme which is important in the build up of plaques) is very
exciting and requires further investigation."
Black tea -
traditional English breakfast tea - is derived from the same plant
as green tea, Camellia sinensis, but has a different taste and
appearance because it is fermented. Â© BBC Health News Monday 25th
Stress 'bad for exam performance'
Pre-exam stress makes it more difficult for candidates to solve
complex problems, a US report suggests. Researchers at Ohio State
University looked at 19 first year students' performances two days
before and a week after a classroom test. They found the ability to
deal with complex, open-ended questions improved markedly as stress
subsided. However, the students did better at simpler tasks, such as
memorising numbers, while under more pressure.
stress the body releases a compound called norepinephrine. Also
known as "fight or flight" compound, it allows people to react
quickly to an immediate threat. Previous studies have shown it
improves some types of mental activity, such as short-term memory.
But David Beversdorf, co-author of the report, said: "Even though
norepinephrine may help a student recall memorised facts, it could
hinder his ability to think flexibly."
For the short-term
memory test, students were asked to write down a sequence of nine
numbers they had just heard. Another simple test involved thinking
of a single word that linked to three others. For example, given
"way", "ground" and "weather", they had to add the prefix "fair" to
create "fairway", "fairground" and "fair-weather".
more complicated problem-solving test, students were shown a grid
which contained a series of shapes and symbols. They were asked to
choose a shape or symbol which fitted in best with the others. The
overall performance here was far better after the classroom exam
than before it.
Prof Beversdorf said: "There was a clear
relationship between cognitive function and stress levels. The
students don't think flexibly right before their exam, typically a
time of great stress."
The findings are being presented at
the annual Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego,
California. Â© BBC Health News Monday 25th October 2004
Human tissue use control rejected
Plans to limit the use of tissues taken from living patients have
been defeated in the House of Lords. The government believes tissue
could be removed and retained without consent in the interest of
research, but not for education and training. Opposition peers voted
against the latter restrictions in the Human Tissue Bill by 148
votes to 112. But front bencher Lord Warner said the amendments were
unacceptable and the government would seek to reverse them.
The Human Tissue Bill was set out to prevent future organ
retention scandals such as those seen at Alder Hey Children's
Hospital in Liverpool. Liberal Democrat and Conservative peers
argued that it would be difficult for medical staff to distinguish
between tissue intended for "research" and tissue intended for
"education and training" in research methods.
amendment will mean scientists can assume tissue taken from living
patients can be used for research, education or training. Patients
who do not want their tissue used in this way will have to make
their feelings explicit, or else consent can be presumed. It is
estimated that 150 million tissue samples are taken each year during
medical operations and procedures. Scientists had previously
expressed concern that the Bill could lead to a shortage of tissue,
and stymie efforts to develop new ways to tackle disease.
The Bill will still require consent from a patient's will or
their family for tissues and whole organs to be removed and retained
after they die. Dr Vivian Nathanson from the British Medical
Association said: "There's been immense good will in trying to get
amendments that would allow proper research, education and training
to go ahead because those are essential in treating patients today,
and training the staff who will treat patients tomorrow." Â© BBC
Health News Monday 25th October 2004
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