Archive for Medical

Mammography screening’s benefits for breast cancer mortality questioned

From Oncology Practice, 5 December 2017:

Twenty-four years’ worth of data from the Netherlands’ mammography screening program suggest that it has achieved only a marginal impact on breast cancer mortality, according to a paper published online Dec. 5 in the British Medical Journal.

Researchers used data on the stage-specific incidence of breast cancer in the Netherlands during 1989-2012 and estimated the mortality effect of a nationwide, population-based mammography breast cancer screening program, which was introduced in 1988 and targeted women aged 50-75 years. Read more.

Age discrimination: older Australian workers viewed as slow to learn

From The Guardian, 20 April 2017:

The trope of the older worker thrust back into the hurly-burly of working life made for great comedy in the 2015 film The Intern. But in reality this scenario isn’t always such a laughing matter.

Older workers face unique hardships. Hampered by unfair stereotypes about their abilities, their role in society and their responsibilities, they are regularly overlooked for interviews, jobs, promotions and recognition.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2016 report Willing to Work found 27% of people over the age of 50 reported experiencing age discrimination at work, a third of the most recent episodes occurring when applying for a job. One-third of those gave up looking for work.

Age discrimination was particularly acute among older women, who were more likely to be viewed as having outdated skills, being slow to learn, or as being likely to do an unsatisfactory job. Seniors with disabilities face an even steeper uphill battle for jobs and recognition. Read more.

The past, present and future of food

From BBC Future, 8 November 2016:

You look amazing – are you banting?”

In the 1860s there was only one diet, and it was the Banting. Conceived of by a corpulent English undertaker and coffin-maker called William Banting – who was clearly well positioned to observe the consequences of over-indulgence – it became the first popular diet.

Banting advocated reduced consumption of starchy and sugary carbohydrates and up to six ounces of meat a day – but no pork, as it was thought to contain carbs – all washed down with two or three glasses of good claret.

Since Banting’s time, the number of popular diets has skyrocketed. There have been any number of miracle foods, weight-loss tricks and single-ingredient solutions but how many of these have actually changed the way we eat? This is one of the questions that will be addressed at the BBC Future’s World Changing Ideas Summit in Sydney in November. Read more.

Gene mutation drives compulsion to eat fatty foods

From ABC Science, 5 October 2016:

Can’t resist a chicken korma but pass up on a sweet dessert? A study, published today in Nature Communications, looked at the effect on human dietary preferences of a mutation in the gene for the melanocortin-4-receptor (MC4R).

The MC4R is found on nerves in the brain, and influences what we like to eat and how much we eat. Defects in the MC4R gene are found in around 1–5 per cent of obese individuals, resulting in severe obesity with an early age of onset.Earlier studies in mice have shown that disrupting the action of this receptor makes the mice eat more food but specifically high-fat food rather than sweet food.

In this study, the researchers presented a group of 14 people — some lean, some obese, and some with a genetic variant of the MC4R gene — with an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring low, medium and high-fat versions of the same chicken korma dish.

After first giving everyone a taste-test of each dish and getting them to score their liking of each, the team let the group eat as much as they wanted from whatever dish.

While the liking scores for the low, medium and high-fat meals were similar across all the participants, those with the defective MC4R ate almost double the amount of the high-fat meal compared to the lean participants, and 65 per cent more than the obese individuals without the defective receptor. Read more.

Your Facebook status can reveal hidden signals about you

From BBC Future, 25 October 2016:

“What’s on your mind?” This is how Facebook greets its 1.7 billion active users every day. It’s also a question that countless psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors have asked their clients at the start of a session; a question we instinctively ask of a friend or family member looking troubled.
Our social media activity can give extraordinary – and often unintentional – insights into our mental wellbeing. Little wonder that professionals whose job it is to look after our emotional health are now exploring how they can use these signals to take the ‘emotional pulse’ of individuals, communities, nations and even the entire species. Read more.

All you need to know about the ‘antibiotic apocalypse’

From BBC Future, 11 October 2016:

Antibiotic resistance was around long before we started using antibiotics with a frequency and enthusiasm that borders on addiction. The same genes that modern bacteria are currently loading up on to protect themselves against antibiotics have been found in ancient bacteria frozen in Arctic permafrost for over 30,000 years.
These genes – which would have imbued those ancient bacteria with resistance to some of our top-line antibiotics – didn’t confer much of an advantage when our ancestors were busy trying to pick woolly mammoth out of their teeth.
But since we started slinging antibiotics at every real or imagined pathogenic threat, we created the perfect conditions to make resistance genes the hottest accessory for every bacterium around.
Even the godfather of antibiotics Sir Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin, warned of the risk of spreading resistance back in 1946, arguing the public demand would mean that drugs were over-used until the bacteria evolved better defences. “The thoughtless person playing with penicillin treatment is morally responsible for the death of the man who finally succumbs to infection with the penicillin-resistant organism,” he told readers of the New York Times. “I hope the evil can be averted.” Read more.

Could animal testing ever be phased out?

From ABC Health and Wellbeing, 19 August 2016:

There’s an uncomfortable truth to modern medicine.

That drug you take for your high blood pressure, the vaccine to prevent infectious disease, the pill to avoid pregnancy, the medical ointment for your skin condition, or even the pacemaker keeping your arrhythmia in check — all of those and more have, at one time, been tested on a live animal.

Between the testing of a new chemical compound on cell cultures in a laboratory and the first time that compound is given to a live human, it will almost certainly be administered to mice, rats, rabbits and perhaps even a non-human primate.

These animals could be said to be the unsung heroes of modern medicine — although they aren’t volunteers.

In recent years there has been an increasing focus on problems of using animals in medical research, and what — if any — alternatives exist or could be developed to replace them. Read more.

Human embryos cultured in lab for record time a ‘major step forward’ that opens ethical debate

From ABC News in Science, 5 May 2016:

For the first time, scientists have kept human embryos alive in the laboratory for six days beyond the point at which it would normally implant into the uterus.

Two separate groups of scientists today report in Nature and Nature Cell Biology their successful development of human embryos in a petri dish for up to 13 days after fertilisation.

The research teams said the advance shines a light into an unexplored period of early embryonic development.

Meanwhile others said the development could open up discussion about the ’14-day rule’; a globally-agreed developmental cut-off beyond which scientific research is not permitted on human embryos. Read more.


Forever young

From Australian Geographic, May/June edition:

IT’S BARELY 8AM ON A spring morning in Sydney’s inner south-west. Already the indoor ice rink is alive with lithe figures swooping and twirling in the cool internal air. These world-class figure skating hopefuls have been here for hours, practising their gravity-defying leaps, forcing themselves to their feet after each brutal tumble.

At age 74, with a bald head and white beard, Richard Lynch seems out of place – until he gets on the ice. His coach watches from the sidelines as Richard glides, spins and jumps to the passionate strains of Khachaturian’s Spartacus. At one point he stumbles and falls onto the glistening white ice…and my heart stops. A fall in a typical 74-year-old could mean a hip fracture, hospitalisation, joint replacement or immobility. In some 74-year olds, even a knock against a piece of furniture would be enough.

Richard sits on the ice for a moment, and then pushes himself to his feet and skates on. “I’ve done enough of that in my day,” he says later. “I’ve had injuries and surgery, and so on, and back problems from falling.” Does it worry him? “No, it doesn’t. I really don’t think about it actually,” he says.

Richard could be at home, reading a large-print book, contemplating a slow morning during which the most strenuous activity would be getting up out of an overstuffed chair to put on the kettle. Instead, he’s training at the Canterbury Olympic Ice Rink four mornings each week. He has the Australian national championships coming up. He’s also working towards reclaiming his number-one title at an international figure skating competition in Germany later this year.

And it’s clear the agile Richard is not only equipped with skill, but also a sense of humour: during training he dons his favourite T-shirt – a tight black number with ‘NOT DEAD YET’ emblazoned across the front. Read more in the print or online edition (paywall).

The tough question we all need to think about: what type of death do you want?

From ABC Health and Wellbeing, 21 March 2016:

We can talk about good deaths and bad deaths, cheating death or embracing it, but the one thing that we all seem to reach for is this: when we die, we want to do it our way.

Tony Smith (not his real name) says his mother and father were lucky, if such a word can be used for death.

For while they both experienced long-running, debilitating, and often traumatic health problems in the years before each of them died, when the time came, they died the way they wanted to.

Mr Smith’s father died suddenly in bed from a massive heart attack. His mother chose to be kept comfortable in her final days and hours, no heroic measures undertaken to prolong her life, no resuscitation to bring her back from the brink. She was surrounded by her family as she exited this world at age 78, which was, as Tony says, “on her terms”. Read more.