Aspirin, the common household treatment for issues ranging from headaches to heart disease, is made from a relatively simple process, one that year 13 students are capable of replicating. Aspirin remains one of the most studied drugs in the world, admired by many scientists and being used from as early as 1890s in its acid form and even earlier in the form of leaves.
I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at King’s College London with the Chemistry department led by Dr Helen Coulshed. After being given the iconic scientists blue coats and goggles we were given a hand-out of what we had to do. There were four procedures that we needed to carry out and each once lasted around 30 to 40 minutes, we used ingredients green oil, ethanol, hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acid. I found the stages very interesting as well as the filtering processes and the equipment we used. King’s College has particularly advanced equipment which aided our process as did their helpful ambassadors who were able to offer assistance. Furthermore I enjoyed the process of crystallisation with the use of filtration, especially having to use the vacuum to help with the process. It was also great to use spectroscopy, something that I had been accustomed to on paper and it was great to see King’s College equipment help bring it to real life
Overall the experience reaffirmed my ambitions to study at university especially due the lab environment as it was essential in preparing me for university. It was surprising to see that a drug such as aspirin was relatively easy to make and it was a unique opportunity that was given to me in order to do so. To improve I would write down my notes in a more professional manner.
Dementia is a collective name for brain diseases that cause a long-term and gradual decrease in memory and the ability to think. However, as many people do not know, dementia does not just affect memory. It includes problems with language, understanding, mood, judgement, movement, day-to-day activities, etc. Dementia has become very common, with one in fourteen people over 65 developing dementia and one in six people over 80 affected.
The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s diseases. There are more than 520,000 people in the UK with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s affects the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain which has a major role in daily memory. Although the exact cause is unknown, researchers know that ‘plaques’ (which are formed by protein amyloid) and ‘tangles’ (which are formed by protein tau) occur in the brain. Amyloid comes from within us and it is natural, it creates beta amyloid which is toxic to brain cells. This results in a plaque forming which consists of dead cells and the protein amyloid. Tau is also naturally occurring and helps brain cells communicate with one another; however, it can clump together which leads to the death of brain cells affected. This ultimately leads to the loss of connections between nerve cells. As it is a progressive disease, the symptoms are not as bad to start with but get worse over time. The most common early symptom is one having difficulty recalling recent events and learning, but memory for events that happened a long time ago are not usually affected in the early stages.
Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia. This affects roughly 150,000 people in the UK. Symptoms start to arise when the brain is damaged due to problems with the supply of blood to the brain because of diseased blood vessels. A constant supply of blood is needed to allow oxygen and nutrients to enter brain cells, this is delivered to the brain by the vascular system. However, if the vascular system gets damaged, blood vessels may leak or get blocked and so the blood cannot reach the brain cells. This results in the brain cells eventually dying. This therefore results in problems with memory and thinking. The most common symptoms in the early stages are problems with organising and making decisions, slower thought speed, problems concentrating, etc. Some people may also have problems with visuospatial skills which is problems understand 3D objects. Age plays a major role in risk factors, those over 65 are more likely to develop this disease, but someone who has had a stroke or diabetes or heart disease is roughly twice as likely to develop vascular dementia.
Around ten percent of people with dementia experience mixed dementia, which is where they have more than one type at the same time. The most common is a mixture between Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. The symptoms of mixed dementia will be a mixture of the symptoms of the two types.
With the improvement of health standards over the years, the levels of birth defects have been lowered considerably and in England and Wales just over 690,000 births were given in the year of 2016. Ultrasound scanning has become more and more common as a way of monitoring the progress of an unborn child, often the scan at 8-14 weeks could indicate potential problems but the second scan which takes place at 18-21 weeks is known as the anomaly scan due it being the one that checks for defects or anomalies in the baby. Figures estimate that around 1 in every 50 births result in a defect, despite this most of the conditions are mild and can be treated quite easily. However these defects can also be serious and life threatening, affecting multiple parts of the body. The reasons to these defects rely on multiple factors, and recent research has suggested a fever early on in pregnancy may result in birth defects.
The study carried out by Duke University was focused on answering the question of whether the fever caused the defect or the underlying cause. Duke University led by Eric Benner of the paediatrics department, created a method to test this theory. By using a magnet based device, they were able to close and open certain pathways inside embryos. By altering the temperature of the embryos using proteins they found that the cells were affected in their functioning in a negative manner. The researchers used an approach to stimulate the fever conditions on the cells without affecting the rest of the organism- also known as a remote radiofrequency approach. They discovered that it was the fever itself and not its source that interfered with the development of the heart and jaw in the early first trimester of pregnancy. The result was with animal embryos developing facial deformities and heart defects when heated. The facial deformities also included clefts, which is a known birth defect.
Scientists saw that the animal models suggest that some defects such as cleft lip or palate could be prevented by using paracetamol or acetaminophen. Drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen were not recommended due to their strong nature, furthermore measures to prevent illness could be prevented via implementing strict hand washing measures and vaccinations against flu. The occurrence of fevers during pregnancy is not uncommon and the actions taken to counteract this are what impacts the health of the developing baby. The study will prove to be important as scientists can now work to figure out the severity of the fever in pregnancy and the duration for how it impacts fetal development.
In a recent breakthrough in the treatment of HIV, scientists developed an antibody that attacks an astounding 99 percent of HIV strains. The potential of this breakthrough could lead to effective treatment of HIV or prevention of it being transmitted. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus affects over 35 million worldwide and can lead to Autoimmune Disease (AIDS) a very severe stage of disease.
This antibody was tested on monkeys, who have shown successful results and human trials have could be scheduled to commence as early as 2018. The ability to apply the antibodies success in humans will be vital in the fight against HIV, a disease that has been notoriously difficult to treat due to its variation. The mutations and changes in its appearance overwhelms the body when it attempts to defend against this virus. The strains and the number of them is what defeats the immune system. The antibody has been engineered to attack three parts of the virus which makes it harder for the HIV to evade the antibody.
Fact File - HIV
How many suffer from it?
Around 35 million people worldwide. In 2013, more than 100,000 people in the UK were living with this condition.
What is it?
HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus - it targets the immune system and weakens it by infecting it. It can lead to AIDS, which is the last stage of the diseases
Is there a cure?
There is no cure for HIV, but treatments can prevent AIDS being developed and allow the sufferer to live a healthy life.
How does it spread?
Most common way is via unprotected sex. It can also spread via contaminated needles, blood and breast milk.
These antibodies which have been dubbed as “super-antibodies” due to fact that three antibodies are combined to make a “tri-specific antibody”. These antibodies are able to attack HIV and kill large numbers of the strain. The experiments conducted on the monkeys, of the 24 injected with the tri-specific antibody, none of them developed an infection when later injected with HIV. The work carried out by Harvard Medical School, The Scripps Research Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gives a lot of hope for future clinical trials on humans.
Doctors in Africa are looking for clinical trials to be started as soon as possible due to the severe problems that HIV and AIDS have caused in Africa, a continent that is home to 19 million people with HIV, with just 56% aware of their condition. With 1.1 million dying in 2015, there is an urgency in dealing with HIV, that has somewhat been inspired by the results shown by these trials.
With editing embryos the general consensus has been puzzled,but a major step forward was taken with CRISPR CAS9 technology. For the first time, scientists were able edit embryos and successfully remove the DNA that cause the heart disease hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This condition, which is known to affect one in every 500, can be harmful and ultimately lead to death by causing the heart to stop beating. CRISPR is very much a diamond with rough edges, however its ease of use and cheap cost has made it a promising technology, it has been used previously experimentally in monkey embryos with success. The future application of this technology is very important as it could help remove genetic disorders caused by faulty DNA as such hypertrophic cardiomyopathy was the disease focused on by the Oregon Health and Science University, the Salk Institute and the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is caused by an error in a single gene and there is a 50% chance of the disease being passed onto the offspring.
The scientists used sperm from a patient who had the heart condition and his sperm was injected into healthy donated eggs,the process of the repair was mainly carried out during the conception phase. The results showed that 72% of the embryos were free of disease-causing mutations. These results were an improvement, in 2015 the technology was used by scientists in China to correct DNA that lead to the blood disorder hemophilia, their results showed that not all the cells had been corrected and that the embryo had a mix of healthy and diseased cells. Thus the results of this latest trial shows promise.
The future of this technology is still limited, the safety concerns on the embryo themselves is a major issue, furthermore the issue of designer babies is an ethical and moral issue to many people. The technology also currently relies on another healthy version of the gene via the unaffected mother/father and there is noise wanting CRISPR to work by inserting an engineered piece of DNA rather than remove the faulty DNA. It can still be said that more research on the safety of this technology and what the effects of editing the embryos are, whilst it is a flawed technology, there is room for improvement.
The Human Immuno deficiency has long been incurable and scientists have been tasked with the goal of curing HIV and AIDS, this until now has been far from their reach. The epidemic has been prominent in Western Europe in particular with an increase in the number of diagnoses year on year, worldwide an estimated 36.7 million people are living with HIV. It is vital that a cure is found in order prevent it from benefiting with the increasing population.
In South Africa, an infected nine year old who had been infected with HIV at birth, has survived so far without the need for treatment, something which doctors see a lot of potential in. AIDS is the latter stage of HIV and the progress that the child is making so far opens up doors to a potential vaccination for HIV. In order for the child to make the progress, a short period after birth involved with treatment being given. From there on the child has not been given any treatment and their immune system is in stable condition, not under danger from developing AIDS. The treatment known as antiretroviral therapy was given to the child from nine weeks old, not the norm at the time, and the treatment allowed for the virus to become effectively undetectable. However this is not the first time that this instance has occurred, with the case of the “Mississippi Baby” who was given similar treatment at birth and went for 27 months untreated before HIV had returned in her blood. Furthermore a patient in France has gone more than 11 years without treatment, and some scientists are stating that this “supposed” state of remission is possible due to genetic or immune system related reasons. The head of paediatric research at the Perinal HIV Research Unit in Johannesburg, Dr Avy Violari said “We don’t believe antiretroviral therapy alone can lead to remission”. This somewhat dampens the potential of this therapy, however it also increases determination to replicate the therapy for future application for other viruses, note that around 53% worldwide receive antiretroviral therapy.
The child still has the virus in their immune system, but they are not active, rather latent – in a state of hiding. This poses a question of if the child is need for treatment in the future, a point at which HIV could become active.
Babies have interestingly shown to prefer looking at faces more than objects, for reasons that have been a mystery to many scientists. However an interesting study was published on the 8th of June in which research concluded that the fetus develops this ability, preferring to look at faces rather than objects. Ultrasound technology was used to track the fetal behaviour, the scientists projected a stimuli in two orientations (“upright” and “inverted”), and the light was projected into the maternal abdomen. Using the 4D ultrasound scanner, they tracked the movement of the head of the fetus. The fetus was in the third trimester of pregnancy, 34 weeks into pregnancy, and the period in which the human fetus can process perceptual information. The studies showed that the fetuses were more likely to move their heads to follow the stimuli that appeared as face like shapes.
The study carried out by Vincent M.Reid of the Lancaster University in England, used the three dots that were in an inverted triangle in order to appear as the top two dots were the eyes and the bottom one for the mouth or nose. This essentially was the face down to its very minimum. The researchers carried out the study on 39 fetuses and displayed each type of triangle a total of five times on all fetuses. They concluded that of the 195 times the face like triangle was projected, a total of 40 head turns were made. In comparison when non-face like triangles were projected, only 14 head turns were counted. This lead to conclusion that fetuses were more likely to identify the face like shapes to the non-face like shapes.
Figure B was the image that was close to a face-like visual stimuli.
Some scientists have claimed that it is a too early to suggest that fetuses are that advanced at the stage. The use of triangle projections means that the image is different to what an actual face looks like, lacking the head shaped borders. Despite this, the study is opening doors for a very interesting theory on how facial perception is in fact encoded into the human sensory system. Among this, the ability to project images onto the womb and track the reaction of the fetus is an exciting prospect.
For many years the use of deep brain stimulation otherwise known as: DBS, has been used to treat those who have had Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer's and other neurological disorders. Parkinson’s disease is a condition where parts of the brain become damaged over a period of time. Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that affect memory of the brain and its functions.
Starting in 1997 a most complex surgery of where thin wired electrodes are implanted. This can also be known as a brain’s pacemakers - helping it send nerve impulses to the subthalamic part of the brain. The subthalamic nucleus found in the brain performs its functions as part of the Basal Ganglia system - it contains many neurons that connect and run through the brain. This surgery is done by drilling through the skull of the patient and the wired electrodes are passed through.
Now after some long periods of research conducted they have been now able to invasive methods of looking at nerve patterns and stimulate impulses from outside of the brain. This new technique is known as the: Temporal Interference. Conducted by Boyden and Nir Grossman they were able to activate neurons in the brain by using electrical fields. Our brain cells will not react to any type of high frequencies but will only react to low frequencies. They had suggested a hypothesis that if they send 2 high frequency signals that only differ by a small amount - then they would interfere causing a much lower frequency which activates neurones.
They had first done computer models and then moved onto testing on mice. They had placed electrical nodes in the hippocampus of the brain. They monitored the activity of the brain in the ice by using a clamping patch. A gene found in the brain known as the: c-Fos had actively triggered neurons at a fast rate that were responding to the frequencies being sent. After testing on dead mice they then moved onto testing on real mice - they use fluorescent pigments to help monitor the alive brain cell and also differentiate them from the dead.
Caffeine is a common stimulant drug that is consumed by everyone. It is most commonly known as a central nervous stimulant drug as it increases the body's activity. These stimulant drugs keep you awake and active for a long period of time. It has a bitter taste and has a white crystalline structure. It is most commonly consumed by everyone through coffee, energy drink, coke and etc. There are many possible benefits with health effects from the use of caffeine: Help treat bronchopulmonary dysplasia. Bronchopulmonary dysplasia is a chronic disease that most occurs in infants and children which is commonly associated with the lungs.
Health Risks from Caffeine
However consuming too much caffeine can lead to many health risks that can occur. There has been a recent death of a 16 year old teenager who has died from consuming so much caffeine in the space of 2 hours. He had drunk a cup of mcdonald's latte and a bottle of Mountain Dew which was tested to show there was a huge consumption of caffeine. Similarly in 2015 university students had died as it was said that they have consumed the equivalent of 300 cups of coffee. It is further said that caffeine can act for around 3-4 hours within our body.
But the question is what are the dangers of consuming too much caffeine?
Caffeine can cause problems sleeping, restlessness and irritations. This is due to the properties of a stimulant drug, As it triggers more faster neurological responses and faster brain activity.
Heart Abnormalities - It can faster heartbeats, meaning your heart can beat faster than usual. This can result in a high blood pressure and then heart attacks. This can also cause flutter and palpitations - which is when you have an extra heart beat or when you miss a heartbeat. Again this is due to the stimulant properties that caffeine has.
Refluxes - Caffeine can cause the muscles around the esophagus to relax and loosen, This can contribute to gastroesophageal reflux and heart burns. This can cause stomach acid to travel back up the esophagus causes burns and pain.
Diuresis - Caffeine can cause more blood flows through the kidneys which produces more urine and waste. As more urine is passed out through the body this can cause dehydration and hence disrupt the water balance.
Insomnia - Caffeine can act as an inhibitor for adenosine. This a transmitter that is released by our brain which helps you to fall asleep when tired. By inhibiting adenosine it will make you restless and hence you won’t be able to go to sleep.
It is recommended by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority that the minimum about of caffeine consumption is around 400mg per day. For pregnant women is important that their caffeine intake is cut down to 200mg due the development of the embryo in the womb.
Research has shown that ¼ of the British adult population has been regularly taken by the population for the last five years. However recent research has shown that taking a common kind of painkiller such as ibuprofen can lead to an increased risk of heart failure, at times up to 100% increment. Heart failure or myocardial infarction is common in the UK with over 190,000 people a year going to hospital due to heart attacks. The five nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have shown that they could have an impact in one week of usage, which could potentially lead to a higher risk of heart attack. Studies showed that the percentage chance of a heart attack varied depending on the individual and in some circumstances the heart attack was around about 50% greater at times. The study that took place was observational and the cause and effect are yet to be established, the study carried out research on 10 million users mainly from Europe and compared them to those who did not take the drugs. This study builds on from previous studies that have suggested NSAIDs could increase the risk of heart disease.
BMJ published the research and its results suggested that the risk of heart attack associated with NSAID use was greatest with higher doses and during the first month of use. Over a longer period, the treatment did not increase the risk; the researchers have advised that the use of NSAIDs is used as short as possible. Of the NSAIDs, they found that rofecoxib increased the risk by more than 100% and both ibuprofen and naproxen increased risk by 75%, the time period at which the risk increases is unknown. The researchers have urged for there to be more public awareness around the subject and that people must be advised of other alternative treatments. The study itself however failed to exclude external influencing factors, and that the findings are still relatively a small risk. Due to the fact that NSAIDs are effective in offering short-term relief from pain, and that the decision to prescribe them should be done based on a patient’s individual circumstances and medical history, thus reducing the risk itself. Despite this it is still an area that requires more research and the safety and implications of NSAIDs need to be identified.
This question has been asked over and over, whether consuming such substances are proven to be perfectly healthy, without having effect of your physical/mental health, or that they should be forbidden in the face of society for its hidden properties that slowly ruin our physical perception without having the consciousness to know so. With different beliefs coming from different opinions, there has been research; science has finally provided an answer for society to realise the reality how soft drinks really affect our brain cognition. The research suggests that excess sugar (especially the fructose in sugary drinks) might damage your brain. Researchers ( that have utilised data from the Framingham Heart Study) found that people who drank soft drinks consistently are more likely to have poorer memory, a smaller overall brain volume, and a significantly smaller hippocampus (an area of the brain important for learning and memory).
Researchers examined the data, including MRI scans and cognitive testing results, from about 4,000 people enrolled in the FHS. The researchers looked at people who consumed more than two sugary drinks a day of any type: any type of soft drink, fruit juices, and other carbonated beverages, or more than three per week of soda alone. Among the individuals in the ‘high intake’ group, they found multiple indications of accelerated brain aging, including smaller overall brain volume, poorer episodic memory (the memory of autobiographical events; times, places, and associated emotions), and a shrunken hippocampus, all risk factors for early-stage Alzheimer's disease. Researchers also found that higher intake of diet soda, at least one per day, was associated with smaller brain volume.
The researchers took age, smoking, diet quality, and other factors into consideration, however they could not completely control for pre-existing conditions like diabetes, which may have developed over the course of the study and is a known risk factor for dementia. Diabetics generally drink more diet soda on average, as a way to limit their sugar consumption, and some of the correlation between diet soda intake and dementia may be due to diabetes as well as other cardiovascular risk factors. However, these pre-existing conditions cannot wholly explain the new findings.
Scientists have potentially found a drug to stop neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer's. In 2013, a U.K Medical Research Council team stopped brain cells dying in a animal for the first time, creating headline news around the world. However, the compound used was unsuitable for people as it caused organ damage.
However, now two drugs have been prepared which have been found to have the same protective effect on the brain and are already safely used in people. Professor Giovanna Mallucci, who was the lead scientists from the MRC Toxicology Unit in Leicester described the compound as “really exciting”.
Human trials are expected to take place on dementia patients soon and expects to know whether the drugs work within two or three years. The approach is focused on the neutral defence mechanisms built into brain cells. These cells respond by shutting down nearly all protein production in order to halt the virus’s spread. Many neurodegenerative diseases involve the production of faulty proteins that activate the same defences. When the brain cells shut down production for so long, they eventually starve themselves to death, therefore the process can destroy movement, memory or even kill, depending on the disease.
In the initial study, the researchers used a compound that prevented the defence mechanism kicking in. It halted the progress of prion disease in mice - which was the first time any neurodegenerative disease had been halted in any animal. The findings were described as a turning point for the field even though the compound was toxic to the pancreas.
Since 2013, the research group has tested more than 1000 ready made drugs on nematode worms, human cells in a dish and mice. The best known drug of the pair is trazodone, which is already taken by patients with depression. The other, DBM, is being tested in cancer patients. However, results from the clinical and human trials must be presented before the drugs can be utilised. Dr Doug Brown from the Alzheimer's Society said “We’re excited by the potential of these findings” and Dr David Dexter from the Parkinson’s UK said “This is a very robust and important study”.
Phones have been contested since their arrival. A man who utilised his cell phone for 6 hours a day over the course of 12 years, used the phone due to work related purposes, but he ended up suffering from a benign tumour – this tumour is not as dangerous as malignant, but it can become life threatening. Benign tumours do not spread to other parts of the body, whereas malignant tumours can grow and spread to other parts of the body, therefore making them more dangerous.
The debate over the safety of mobile phones has been an issue that has raged on for the past decade, and whilst there has been no concrete evidence that has proved that mobile phones are dangerous. Already people have counter argued the proposition presented by the victim, in that he used his phone to call clients for 6 hours a day, much more than the average person. In a similar fashion, Robert Romero also used his phone for an estimated 3 hours a day for 15 years, and in 2010 he was diagnosed with a benign tumour. Note that the former case also saw that the victim’s ear would go red, and he would suffer from a headache. The case of Robert Romero lead o the Italian Supreme court ruling that there was a link between mobile phones and cancer. Studies have shown that there is no clear link between phone usage and cancer, in 2013 a study did report a link between acoustic neuromas and phones.
Phones emit low levels of radiation, nowhere as dangerous as high energy radiation. In 2011 the World Health Organization, declared mobile phones possibly carcinogenic, note that this is the same category as lead and coffee. In this day and age, phone usage has become increasingly common, and yet there has been no significant increase in the number of incidents similar to that of Robert Romeo. Thankfully acoustic neuromas is very rare, and the initial risk of contraction itself is low, so even if mobile phones double the risk (which there is no proof that they do), the overall risk of contraction will still be very low.
Smart bandages, which tell doctors how a wound is healing, are starting to be used in trials within the next year, according to researchers. Developers of the smart bandage are using a multi-technology approach, including nanotechnology, 5G infrastructure and 3D printing, creating an effective product while attempting to keep manufacturing costs down, for economies of scale.
The dressing would be an intelligent approach to treatment, which would allow doctors and medical staff to assess and keep up to date about the patient's progress. It would use micro sensors to detect issues such as infection, alerting the doctor if a problem were to arise. The bandage, which was created by Swansea University, is designed to detect any issues in between appointments with wound healing.
Prof Marc Clement, chairman of Life Sciences at Swansea University said “5G is an opportunity to produce resilient, robust bandwidth that is always there for the purpose of healthcare”.
In addition to this, the dressing would be cable to connect to the patient's smartphone, which could help monitor and track physical activity levels and impact recovery speed. Traditional medicine is where a clinician will see a patient and then prescribe medicine before seeing the patient again months later. What the future holds is where there is the ability to vary the treatment to the individual, the lifestyle and the pattern of life.
The method could be of great interest to the NHS, as although it would increase the costs as the raw materials and technology would cost significantly more than a piece of bandage, it would allow patients to know whether to come and visit a doctor or not, rather than immediately visiting the hospital when they think something is wrong, which is increasing the pressure on the NHS currently.
However, this isn't the first time smart bandage will be used to help prevent infection. Last year, British scientists developed a bandage which turned yellow when the wound became infected. Trials for this bandage are also currently ongoing. What is left to say is that this is a huge stepping stone in the biomedical world, and with further research, trials and funding, we may be seeing many of these smart bandages at our local pharmacies, GP’s and hospitals in the forthcoming future.
It weighs less than a pound (450g) yet it is so important and beats around 115,200 times a day over and over again throughout your lifetime. This is the heart. Our blood vessels (arteries, veins and capillaries) which make up a system, are alone 60,000 miles long; which means that they can go around the world more than twice. The heart has a major role in the human body (as we all know); without the heart, our bodies can stop working very quickly. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the Western world.
The heart is a muscle and connected to it is many blood vessels which help the heart to carry and pump blood and necessities to other various parts of the body and to supply what the organs need. The brain is in constant need of oxygen from blood and without the heart, the brain would not be able to function as it would not get its supply of oxygen. Also, muscles constantly need nutrients, for example: oxygen, glucose and amino acids, as well as sodium, calcium and potassium in order to contract normally; so without the heart, we would not be able to respire to produce energy. If the heart was to fail, the entire body would shut down in a matter of minutes.
The heart has another function apart from carry needed blood and nutrients to the rest of the body, it is also a source of disposal of waste in the body. As the heart pumps blood around the body, it takes up carbon dioxide that your body produces as a result of aerobic respiration (which your muscles undergo constantly) and other waste products. As the heart does its cycle, the blood will eventually be transported back to the heart. The blood becomes rid of all chemicals such as carbon dioxide, these chemicals are sent to the lungs to be breathed out of our body. Blood also takes waste products to the liver and kidneys to be rid of via urine. Without the heart, we would be full of harmful chemicals and substances and we would all soon die.
So the heart is also known as a double circulatory system. This is because it has two pumps: the right side of our hearts receive blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs; and the left side of our hearts does the exact opposite (receives blood from the lungs and pumps it out to the body). This type of system allows the heart to have its advantages – higher blood pressure and so it prevents backflow of blood and it allows a greater flow of blood to the tissues.
Recently at the University of Queensland, Australia have had a major advancement in cardiac disease research by creating a ‘beating’ human heart muscle from stem cells. The scientists at UQ collaborated with German researchers to create models of the human heart tissue in the laboratory so that they could study the heart and its diseases ‘in a dish’. This will then provide scientists functioning human heart muscle to screen new drugs and to investigate heart repair.
This week, I had the opportunity to watch “Starfish”, a British independent film which tells the story of Tom Ray, and the challenges him and his family faced after he contracted sepsis. When his dentist accidentally scratched his gums, it resulted in blood poisoning and Tom was left with cold hands and feet, headaches and stomach pains a few days later. After nine months in a hospital, Tom had gone through a coma and several operations. He came home as a quadruple amputee, both arms and legs, with his face disfigured; narrowly escaping death.
Sepsis is potentially a fatal condition, when the body goes into overdrive when responding to infection, caused by (most commonly) bacteria, viruses or fungi. This may have started anywhere in the body. It can also be contracted following a chest or water infection, and even from the simplest skin injuries like a cut. The immune system then damages its own tissues and results in organ failures, which is life-threatening- meaning it should be treated urgently.
In the US state of Virginia, Dr. Paul Marik claims to have an improvised cure for sepsis. One woman, aged 48, had contracted the condition but was perfectly healthy before. She walked into the hospital with her kidneys and lungs not functioning properly. Marik stated that in cases like these, it is likely that it results in death. However, the patient was well enough to leave the hospital two days after.
Influenced by research carried out at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Dr Marik injected the patient with a mix of vitamin C, steroids and thiamine as a last resort. Ever since first using it in January 2016, Dr Marik has used the treatment on 150 patients and only one has died from sepsis. Despite this, small-scale studies usually do not show the same effectiveness when in large populations. It is also unknown exactly which chemical or component in the mixture is successful in curing sepsis. Therefore, further testing is needed on the efficacy of the treatment.
Alternatively, some experts have recently stated that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can possibly treat sepsis. Initially, researchers had known that NSAIDs block an enzyme called cyclooxygenase. However, recent studies show that a subgroup inhibits the caspase enzyme, which, if triggered, can lead to to sepsis. Bacteria can initiate cell death and cause inflammation, resulting in the condition. Through studying worms, the drugs proved to be effective in blocking caspase and delaying the death of cells. Nevertheless, there are some side effects that arise from using these drugs, including an increased risk of heart attacks. So researchers are unsure whether they are the right treatment to be used.
In the UK alone, there are 150,000 cases of sepsis, and 44,000 of those cases result in death. It causes more deaths than breast, prostate and bowel cancer combined. Those with severe cases of sepsis are five times more likely to die than those with a stroke or heart attack. Antibiotics and fluids have been proven to treat sepsis. Nonetheless, medical attention should be given within an hour of it being suspected.
Lyme disease, an infection spread through ticks, currently it is the most common disease in the Northern Hemisphere. The history of the disease is relatively young, having been diagnosed as a separate condition in 1975, and its bacterium was first identified in 1981. Its biggest threat? It has no vaccine, and many specialists have tipped 2018 to be the year in which the number of people affected will peak. Lyme disease is difficult to be detected, and it science has shown that if Lyme disease is left untreated, it can lead to chronic complications such as memory problems, and arthritis. Due to the increasing issues created by climate change, higher temperatures are leading to a higher number of mice reproducing. Mice are the source for the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease, and the carriers of tick.
2016 was a year in which the mouse population increased, dubbed the “mouse plague” and the number of mice increase the rate of Lyme disease spreading. The ticks grasp onto the mice, and the when they feed on the blood of the mice, which contains the bacteria aforementioned, the bacteria move into the tick’s gut. The tick then attaches onto a human and the bacteria passes into the human’s blood.
Rick Ostfeld, was able to predict the possible outbreak of Lyme disease, by identifying the acorns littered in a forest in New York. The acorns, indicate the population of mice, and the population of infected ticks are predicted with the number of mice. Another threat of Lyme disease, is that in areas where the disease is scarce – outside the Lyme zones, the public is generally unaware of the precautions you need to take in order to avoid contracting Lyme disease.
The vaccine, Lymerix, developed by GSK, was withdrawn after 4 years, due to the link between Lymerix and chronic arthritis. Many anti-vaccination groups and the media, caused public support for the vaccine to decline. The vaccine for animal’s works to neutralise the B. burgdoferi and this is what the human version is currently being developed to do.
It is important that a vaccine is developed, in order to combat the ticking time bomb, which Lyme disease is, an outbreak of the disease can lead to many chronic problems in people. Public awareness for Lyme disease should also increase, and the precautions you should take in order to avoid contracting Lyme disease.
Birth asphyxia (specifically known as perinatal asphyxia) is a medical condition that arises when there is a lack of oxygen to a new-born infant that lasts long enough during the birth process to cause physical harm, usually to the brain. Hypoxic (a region of the body that is deprived of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level) damage can occur to most of the infant's organs (heart, lungs, liver, gut, kidneys), but brain damage is of most concern and perhaps the least likely to quickly or completely heal. One million babies die every year suffering from brain asphyxia, however this figure will soon decline dramatically due to the new introduction to the treatments available include cooling, which was thought of after 15 years of medical research.
Neonatal encephalopathy is the state the baby is in when abnormal neurological function in the first few days of life as an infant (commonly caused by birth asphyxia) show up with signs such as reduced level of consciousness, seizures, difficulty initiating and maintaining respiration, depression of tone and reflexes. During the 1950s, a system known as SARNAT staging was used to measure the level of consciousness of the a patient (in this instance, a baby) to determine whether the baby was showing signs of neonatal encephalopathy. Today, we use an EEG (an electroencephalogram) which provides health professionals a very accurate representation (in comparison to the SARNAT) of the activity in the brain so that it is clearer for them to come up with a solution to relieve the symptoms as soon as it arises to decrease the amount of potential damage to the brain.
By cooling the baby by 3℃ for 6 hours for 3 consecutive days, it has proven to:
Gases such as Xenon and Argon have been proven to be neuroprotective agents to protect the brain while acting on the mitochondria of the cells to reduce the metabolic rate and reducing cell death while the baby is healing from the damage caused from a lack of oxygen to the brain. These gases are inhaled by the baby along with other gases while being treated. However, Argon is much better as an agent than Xenon as it is seen as too expensive and too toxic if too much has been inhaled. Along with this, health professionals inject a hormone called erythropoietin (after the use of the noble gases) into the baby’s veins as it increases the rate of production of red blood cells in response to falling levels of oxygen in the tissues.
On March 2nd 2016, the biomedical world took a giant leap forward in the progress of embryonic stem cells, with a group of scientists successfully producing an artificial embryo of a mouse, purely from embryonic stem cells. This is the first time in history that a full scale embryo has been made from stem cells, opening doors for scientists to go and discover more potential benefits of the cells.
The process involved the transformation of a fertilised egg into a tiny living embryo, ranking among nature’s most impressive feats. The cells, grown outside the body in a blob of gel, were shown to morph into embryos that replicated the internal structure that emerge during normal development inside a womb. The scientists let the artificial embryo culture in the lab for seven days and by this point the cells had organised two anatomical sections that would normally go on to form the placenta and the mouse.
‘Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz’, the development biologist who led the work at the University of Cambridge, described the process as a “miracle of nature”. The team to do aim to stop from here after however, with the goal not growing artificial babies; instead learning more about embryo development prior to implantation.
The cells were placed in a semi-solid gel which allowed the structure to grow in three dimensions. After five days, the cells had multiplied and self organised themselves into distinct cell populations. The embryonic cells had also begin to organise themselves into two populations: one division, the mesoderm, would give rise to the heart, muscles and bones. The other cluster contained the cells that would go on to become skin, eyes and the brain.
The team used cells from embryos rather than starting from a fertilised egg, which could potentially overcome the shortage of human embryos available for research. Currently, these eggs are donated through IVF (in vitro fertilisation) clinics, while the supply for embryonic stem cells is limitless.
While the artificial embryo closely resembled the real thing, the research team said it is unlikely to develop further into a healthy foetus, as it would require the addition of the yolk sac, which provides the embryo nourishment and within which a network of blood vessels would develop. However, the promising the development gives hopes to scientists all over the world.
Electrical Conduction of the heart
The heart is an organ that pumps blood around the body that delivers oxygen to vital cells that undergo respiration. It is split into 4 chambers: Left Atria, Right Atria Left ventricle and right ventricle. When looking at diagrams the wall of the left ventricle is much thicker as the heart has to pump with more pressure to deliver blood around the body.
The rhythm of the heart is controlled by nerve impulse - Electrical excitation. Pacemaker cells are involved in controlling the rhythm of contraction. These are patches of specialised cells that control the contraction of the heart, consisting of SAN - (Sinoatrial Node) and AVN - (Atrioventricular Node). The Cardiac muscles that are found are known a: Myogenic meaning that they can contract on its own. Pacemakers SAN and AVN helps with the initiation and coordination of the heart.
Heart’s Electrical Conduction System
There is a short delay between SN and AVN which ensures that the atria has fully contracted and all the blood has gone to the ventricles. Otherwise if Atria and ventricles contract at the same time then blood will keep flowing up and down and won't leave the heart. However when pacemaker cells don’t work then we can have artificial pacemakers that can help with initiation and coordination with the heart.
The movements or the Electrical Activity can be monitored by doctors using an Electrocardiogram (ECG). Doctors can also check for any abnormalities in the rhythm of the heart beat.
Beijing is currently under an epidemic, with an outbreak of H7N9 “bird flu”. As of the 18th of February, health officials have stated that eight deaths and 77 diagnosed cases in this month alone. The emergence of this viral disease has alarmed many, with officials claiming it to be one of the largest pandemic threats in the last 100 years. The toll of a modern pandemic could result in a very large toll unless the threat is isolated and reacted. Society is much denser than it was before, and despite the advances in technology and health, a repeat of the Spanish flu fears many. The Spanish flu was a deadly pandemic that began in the year 1918, and infected roughly 500 million people across the world, and caused the death of around 50 million at the lowest. Which at the time was around 3% of the world’s population. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.
Behind the virus, the strain, H7N9 is an avian influenza virus, that has the potency to infect people who come into close contact with newly killed birds, or infected birds. The China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission banned sales of live poultry in most areas across eastern,southern and southwestern China. The eastern province of Zhejiang demanded all live-poultry markets to be closed. Scientists are very concerned that the virus could eventually mutate into one that passes between people, at the moment, almost all confirmed infections have come from direct contact with birds.
H7N9 has a history, in China, reported to have spread in 2013. Many cases spiked each winter and spring, however this year’s spike was the deadliest in four years. In 2003, the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS, caused many officials to hide the epidemic from the public. This lead to a public distrust that has been created due to the 336 people that died in China from the outbreak. At the moment many experts have claimed that the number of H7N9 cases will only increase, as it is too late to contain the virus in the poultry. WHO, has stated that the biggest risk is the disease spreading outside of the borders of China.
Scientists are appealing for more people to donate their brains for research, after they have died. This is due to the fact that they are lacking the brains of people with disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. The shortage of brains results from a lack of awareness that such conditions are due to changes in brain wiring, hence why the scientists are in need of more brains for research and study.
More than 3000 brains are stored at the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Centre, just outside Boston, making it one of the largest brain banks in the world. The researchers aim to develop new treatments for mental and neurological disorders such as depression, Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer's Disease.
The human brain is a very complex organ, which dictates the way we control our body and ultimately the way we live. Its wirings change and grow as we do. In recent years, researchers have made links between the shape of the brain and mental/neurological disorders. Most if the specimen brains used in research are from people with mental or neurological disorders.
However there is a problem. Scientists do not have enough specimens for the research community. New treatments for mental and neurological diseases are within the grasp of the research community, however the lack of brain tissue if halting the development. Once you die, you can get family consent for organs to be donated for research or transplant. Generally, many people object this due to the body having to be cut open, disturbing the soul of the human. Whilst there is a lack of brains that are being donated, there are many athletes that are donating their brains for research. This will allow scientists to advance in research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTP) - a neurodegenerative disease that has been associated with head injuries. Frank Gifford and Ken Stabler were diagnosed with CTE after their deaths. Many neurodegenerative diseases have been troubling top scientists into finding a cure.
With the possibility of the biomedical world to make conclusions about these diseases and disorders, it would seem logical to donate your brain and other organs to help make a stop to somebody else from suffering and possibly save their life.
Barium is a chemical element found in the periodic table which has an atomic number of 56. It is found in group 2 of the periodic table and hence it is an alkaline metal. Barium is most commonly used in Hospitals under Radiology. Radiology is the study of X-rays and Ultrasounds. A radiographer or a radiologist is a person who specialises in dealing in this field of medicine. Hospitals use Barium in the form of liquid to conducts X-rays on the esophagus and the stomach to view soft tissues.
What are X-rays
An X-ray is part of an electromagnetic spectrum. It is a fast and painless procedure that takes various images of your body. It will only capture hard bones that are found in the body. X-rays are passed through the body anything that is dense; Bone it will be absorbed, and it will show as a white area on the image. However it will become much more difficult to visualise soft tissues on an X-ray. This is where Barium is used.
Barium swallows are a white coloured liquid form of Barium that is taken by patients before having an x-ray of the Esophagus or the stomach. Barium swallow will also contain small amounts of Barium Sulphate this will align the edges of the esophagus and the stomach, X-rays can’t pass through Barium as it is Dense. So it will show up as white on the image and radiographers can then be able to see the stomach and Esophagus.
Barium can also be used for Barium Meals, this is also used in Radiology. This is when again Barium is used in a liquid form to look for any problems that could be found in the stomach. The patient then sits down to allows the liquid to cover the whole of the digestive system. After taking the Barium you also take some Citric acid and and bicarbonate soda. The gases produced will help open the esophagus and the stomach much larger. This allows the radiologist to clearly see the insides.
The benefits to Radiologists of using barium meals and swallows outweighs all the risks from using Barium Swallow. Hence why Barium plays an important role in hospitals
People don’t know what happens when they eat overcooked and burnt foods. As result eating burnt food can lead to the intake of chemicals that can then eventually lead to cancer. Scientists and experts say that bread, chips and many other food should be cooked brown instead of them being burnt. It has been listed by FSA that this is classified as a ‘DANGER FOODS’
Breads, chips and other carbohydrates will contain starch. When this is cooked, fried or heated to high temperatures will produce Acrylamide. Its chemical name is known as: Prop-2-enamide which has a formula of C₃H₅NO. The main uses of Acrylamide is to make: paper, dyes and plastics. The buildings blocks or monomers of Acrylamide is Asparagine. During the heating of food a Maillard reaction takes place. A maillard reaction is when an amino acid and reducing sugars react together which gives food a brow colour and its taste. Alongside this reaction acrylamide can also be formed. Once this chemical is consumed it can enter the body and interact with the DNA causing harmful mutations which can lead to tumours. It is known to be a carcinogen. Acrylamide can also be used a neurotoxin in the body. Neurotoxins are toxins that can cause complete or partial destruction to nerve tissues.
However in some cases when digested acrylamide there is a P450 enzyme that can detoxify it by removing the toxic substances. Research and experiments have been conducted in laboratories on animals and humans to show the effects of acrylamide. However the effects in humans is still not clear and fully understood as of yet.For this reason food experts have set aside some tips of how to reduce the intake of acrylamide.
GO for gold - When frying, cooking or toasting food always cook them to a yellow or golden colour. This is when the production of acrylamide is less. Try and have a balanced and a healthier diet.
Always follow the cooking instructions on the packaging - There will also be advice on how to properly cook the meals to ensure that it prevents the formation of acrylamide.
Finally, never store potatoes in the fridge - Storing Potatoes in the fridges increases the sugar content by forming more sugars - Cold Sweetening. As a result when cooking it more acrylamide can be formed.
So next time when preparing foods you can understand why it is important to process them properly and not cause any problems like this.
Researchers at Åbo Akademi University situated in Finland have collaborated with scientists in the US to improve the overall mood of an individual facing minor to major cases of depression and anxiety. Their groundbreaking discovery revealed new molecular information on how the brain regulates depression and anxiety. In doing so, they identified a new molecule that alleviates anxiety and depressive behaviour in rodents. Depression and anxiety are highly prevalent disorders and represent one of the largest causes of disability worldwide. These experiments, research and results are highly regarded and important as many patients do not respond to current treatments in way that alleviates their condition significantly and it has long been recognised that a new understanding of these disorders would be necessary in order to identify drugs for treatment resistant depression.
From their extensive research, the researchers in Finland and the United States have found a protein called JNK, and when activated, it represses the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus (an area of the brain that controls emotions and learning). Researchers at the university used virus tools to find out where the JNK inhibitor was located within the brain that acted to improve mood. They found out that the molecule acts to alleviate anxiety and depression by controlling newly born nerve cells in the hippocampus. The image, taken at the Cell Imaging Core, shows these new born cells in the hippocampus, the region of the brain that controls emotions. By constraining the JNK protein solely in newly-generated nerve cells in the hippocampus, the researchers were able to mitigate anxiety and depressive behaviour in mice. From this breakthrough, this previously unknown mechanism brings fresh insight on how the brain works to regulate mood and indicates that inhibitors of JNK, (such as the one used in this particular experiment), can provide a new avenue for antidepressant and anxiolytic drug development.
This research was funded by the EU-funded Marie Curie Initial Training Network r'BIRTH, by the Academy of Finland, Turku Network in Molecular Biosciences and the National Institute on Aging (US). The results are published in the Nature Publishing Group journal Molecular Psychiatry.