Thursday, 19 January 2017

New Irish Cardiac Device

Irish researchers have developed a soft robotic device that fits around a heart and helps it to beat. The invention raises the future possibility of a new form of treatment for patients suffering from heart failure.

The device takes the form of a sleeve that wraps around the outside of the heart and squeezes and twists it in synch with the natural heart beat.
The big advantage of the new device is that unlike other forms of treatment, it doesn't come in contact with blood, reducing the risk of clotting, stroke and the need for the patient to take blood thinning drugs.

The invention raises the future possibility of a new form of treatment for patients suffering from heart failure
The invention raises the future possibility of a new form
of treatment for patients suffering from heart failure

It is attached to the heart using a gel, sutures and a suction device. It is then connected to an external pump, and this powers the soft actuators.
The device was developed by NUI Galway and Harvard post-doctoral researcher, Dr Ellen Roche, along with Professor Conor Walsh, an Irish engineer based at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at the Boston based university.
The current treatments for heart failure are medical management, transplant or use of ventricular assist devices or VADs.
These pump blood from the ventricles of the heart to the aorta, but because they come in direct contact with the blood they can cause dangerous side effects, including stroke and clots.
"The novelty of this device is that it doesn't contact the blood," said Dr Roche.
"Additionally we can actuate different parts of it independently so we can tailor the movement of the device to the patient's needs."
"We can transfer both a compression motion and a twisting motion to the heart which mimics the way the heart beats itself."

Trinity College Dublin graduate, Professor Walsh established Harvard's bio-design laboratory where he and colleagues are developing a range of other soft robotics which have the potential to help people with disabilities.
According to the Irish Heart Foundation, 90,000 people in Ireland are suffering from heart failure with 10,000 new cases reported every year.
The condition also affects 41 million people worldwide.

The new device has been trialled in the lab and in animals, with excellent proof of concept results.
However, it is likely to be between three and five years before it has been refined, tested and approved for use in humans.
Dr Roche said she expects refinements will include trying to make it wireless.
It's hoped that the device could become a bridge to transplants or could be worn by a patient suffering from heart failure for the rest of their life.
"This research is really significant at the moment because more and more people are surviving heart attacks and ending up with heart failure," said Dr Roche.
"Soft robotic devices are ideally suited to interact with soft tissue and give assistance that can help augmentation of function and potentially even healing and recovery."
The research, a collaboration between Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Wyss Institute and Boston Children's Hospital, is published in the journal - Science Translational Medicine.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Progress with Parkinson's!

A naturally-occurring compound has been found to block the molecular process thought to lie behind Parkinson's Disease and could form the basis of a possible treatment, scientists have said.

The preliminary findings suggest the compound, called squalamine, also suppresses the toxic products associated with the process, researchers at Cambridge University have found.
Academics stressed further research is needed, and that findings are based on cell cultures developed in the lab and testing in nematode worms.

A trial in Parkinson's Disease patients is now being planned by one of the researchers involved in the study

But the compound has been used in clinical trials for cancer and eye conditions in America, and a trial in Parkinson's Disease patients is now being planned by one of the researchers involved in the study.
The study was led by academics from the Centre for Misfolding Diseases based at Cambridge University and Georgetown University and the National Institutes of Health in the United States.

It is not yet clear whether squalamine can reach the specific regions of the brain where the main molecular processes determining Parkinson's Disease take place, or what form any resulting drug might take.
Squalamine is a steroid which was discovered in the 1990s in dogfish sharks, although the form now used by scientists is a safer, synthetic analogue.
To date, it has been extensively investigated as a potential anti-infective and anti-cancer therapy.
In the new study, researchers found squalamine inhibits the early formation of toxic aggregates of the protein alpha-synuclein - a process thought to start a chain reaction of molecular events eventually leading to Parkinson's Disease - and can suppress the toxicity of these poisonous particles.
Co-author Michele Vendruscolo, of Cambridge University, said: "This is an encouraging step forward in our efforts to discover potential drugs against Parkinson's Disease."
Researchers said it would be interesting to investigate the efficacy of squalamine as a means to alleviate certain symptoms, including severe constipation and symptoms concerning the peripheral nervous system.
The findings are published in Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences (PNAS).

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Toxicity of Diesel Fumes!

A campaign led by medical professionals is calling for all diesel cars to be banned from London.
Doctors Against Diesel claim 9,400 Londoners a year die prematurely from breathing in toxic fumes from diesel engines.

Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have committed to a ban on diesel vehicles by 2025.
Opponents to the campaign have called the proposals "impractical" and warned a blanket ban could "backfire".

Diesel engine exhaust pipe
Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have
committed to a ban on diesel vehicles by 2025

Doctors Against Diesel - comprising doctors, nurses and health professionals - are calling for Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, to commit to phasing out diesel vehicles from London.
Mr Khan has already said he wants to get rid of diesel buses by 2018.
A spokesman for the mayor said he has no legal powers to ban cars in London, and is calling on the government "to face its responsibility and implement a national diesel scrappage scheme now".
"The mayor has more than doubled air quality funding and is doing everything in his power to tackle London's toxic air and rid the city of the most polluting vehicles, but he cannot do this alone" the spokesman added.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Hepatitis C - Irish Success!

The Irish Haemophilia Society has announced the effective eradication of Hepatitis C in people with haemophilia in Ireland.

All people with haemophilia who required treatment for Hepatitis C have now been offered treatment, with excellent success rates. A small number of people in the country decided not to take treatment because of their age or for other reasons.
From the 1970s to 1991, a total of 240 people with haemophilia were infected with Hepatitis C by blood products, used for the treatment of haemophilia.
Of these individuals 105 were also infected with HIV.
To date, 112 people have died of either HIV or Hepatitis C.

"This was the largest medical disaster in the history of the State and it devastated the entire haemophilia community", said Brian O'Mahony, Chief Executive of the Irish Haemophilia Society.
He said that thousands of people in the country still suffer from the disease and there is a plan to eradicate Hepatitis C in the country over the next number of years.

Over a 20-year period, 240 people with haemophilia in Ireland were infected with Hepatitis C by blood products

This led to the establishment of the Lindsay Tribunal of Inquiry in 2001.
People with haemophilia who were infected with Hepatitis C were supported by the society, as they sought and underwent treatment over the past number of years.
Treatment uptake among people with haemophilia was strong, despite the harsh side effects and long duration of previous treatments.
By 2015, all but 37 people had successfully cleared the virus through treatment.
The availability of the new generation of direct acting antivirals in 2015 provided an opportunity for successfully treating the virus with a less harsh regime and a much shorter duration of treatment.
The society advocated strongly for the availability of these treatments for people with haemophilia and in July 2015.
It received an assurance from the Department of Health that all State infected patients, including people with haemophilia, would be treated no later than the end of 2017. That target has now been exceeded.
All people with haemophilia have now been offered treatment.
The majority have now completed treatment with a small number currently undergoing treatment.
The success rates to date have been in excess of 90%.
For those who have cleared this virus, their future risk of serious liver disease or liver cancer has been very significantly reduced.

New MS drug a 'landmark development'
Doctors and charities have described a new drug to treat multiple sclerosis as a "landmark development".
The European Medicines Agency and the US Food and Drug Administration are reviewing whether to licence the drug, Ocrelizumab.
The results of three trials involving more than 2,000 people, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, show it slows both the primary progressive and relapsing-remitting forms of the disease.
Support groups said the findings offer a lot of hope to patients.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Cork Clinical Trial - Results!

Around 30 patients suffering from advanced melanoma cancer are being enrolled in a clinical trial in Cork, with early results indicating improved survival rates.

The trial involves a combination of two existing treatments.
Doctors are being encouraged to refer suitable patients for inclusion in the clinical trial which is being offered by Cork Cancer Research Centre at Cork University Hospital.
Scientists believe that by delivering an electrical impulse or shock directly to the tumour along with an immunotherapy drug called IPI and low dose chemotherapy survival rates will improve for advanced melanoma patients.
Doctors involved in the clinical trial believe the new treatment will be widely adopted and have described it as one of the first of it's kind in the world.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Health Service and Superbugs

Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest challenges facing health services around the world, numerous reports have told us over the past year.
Currently, 700,000 people a year die because their conditions are resistant to the antibiotics traditionally administered to tackle them, and this figure will rise to 10 million within decades unless a solution is found.
Studies suggest CPE kills about 40 per cent of those who become infected, especially older, frail patients. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Studies suggest CPE kills about 40 per cent of those
who become infected, especially older, frail patients.
In Ireland, progress has been made in reducing the level of infections caused by organisms that were a significant concern a decade ago. Superbugs such as MRSA haven’t gone away, but the number of patients infected during hospital stays has declined steadily.
However, the ground on which the battle against antibiotic resistance is fought constantly changes, and so new organisms have emerged to create problems in the overcrowded, overstretched Irish health system.
Worryingly, the threat they pose is ever greater, because many of them are resistant to all but the most potent antibiotics and they are difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate.
Of particular concern is the emergence of what is termed carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae (CPE), which results in some cases of bacteria being resistant to all conventionally-used antibiotics. The carbapenemases are enzymes that work by inactivating antibiotics.

Friday, 9 December 2016

New Anatomy / Physiology, App

An Irish developed app has been listed by Apple as one of the 16 most innovative apps and games for 2016

Complete Anatomy, designed by Dublin-based 3D4Medical, beat competition from two million other apps that were published in Apple's App Store this year.
The app gives people learning anatomy or physiology a 3D view of the body, layer by layer, and allows the user to zoom, rotate, cut through structures and see behind layers.
Recordings can also be made for educational purposes, and content can be shared via the cloud.
The App Store Best of 2016 shortlist was picked by Apple's Editorial Team.

A screenshot of the 3D4Medical app from Apple iTunes Store
A screenshot of the 3D4Medical app from Apple

Last year Complete Anatomy received the Apple Design Award for its technical excellence and outstanding design and innovation, and was also featured on stage by Apple during a high-profile iPad product launch.
The app has reached the top of the app store medical charts in 148 countries, and the overall charts in the online shop in 52 states.
At the start of this year, 3D4Medical announced it was taking on 70 new staff as it bolstered its product development line and grew sales overseas.

Medical Research - Limerick

Medical technology company Becton Dickinson and Company is to establish a new research and development centre in Limerick, which will bring an additional 100 jobs.

Becton Dickinson and Company, or BD as it is known, employs 600 people in Ireland at sites in DĂșn Laoghaire and Drogheda, and 100 employees already in Limerick.
It is a global company involved in medical technology, diagnostics, medical research and health care management.

BD is establishing a new Research and Development centre of excellence in Limerick

A new Research and Development centre of excellence is being established by the company in Limerick as part of a €21 million investment which will drive its international growth.

It will concentrate on product and software development, clinical research instrumentation, and prototype development primarily for its life sciences business.
The company said this will require significant hiring of R&D staff, collaboration with local universities and the development of new technical capabilities.
An extensive renovation of the former Unigolf premises at Plassy technological park at Castletroy in Limerick will be required which will house its current 100 employees in Limerick, and a further 100 workers as a result of today's expansion announcement.

Medical Ethics - Cryonics

Freezing a body immediately following death so that one day, through the miracle of science, it might be resurrected seems outlandish, bordering on delusional.
Yet to some, it’s what keeps them strong.
Unnerved by the thought of death, of burial, of being cremated, it offers a glimmer of hope that perhaps one day, their life could resume. Finality would no longer be, well, final.
One might even argue that it is an alternative to religion, for those who like the idea of, but do not believe in an afterlife.

Except in the case of cryonics, there are many ethical, moral and scientific dilemmas apparent in the current life, which must be dealt with in the here and now.
Issues which have been thrown into the spotlight by the recent tragic case of a 14-year-old girl in Britain.
“JS”, as she is known, sought High Court help in ensuring her mother had the sole right to decide to send her body to cryonic storage following her death from cancer – in line with her wishes.
Rather than being a case about the right to use cryonic services, in fact the case was effectively a family law issue.

Issues around cryonis have been thrown into the spotlight by the recent tragic case of a 14-year-old British girl

The court was simply asked to mediate in a dispute between JS’s mother and her estranged husband, who was concerned about JS’s wish to be frozen in time.
Inevitably, however, the media attention and public interest surrounding the court action has focused less on the actual issue in the case, and instead spawned a debate about the use of cryonics.
It should, of course, be remembered that cryonics isn’t new.
The first human to be cryo-preserved was Californian psychology professor James Bedford, who was frozen following his death in 1967.
However, the theory and discussion underpinning it dates back decades earlier.
Indeed, it might come as a surprise to many people that a whole industry has now built up around the process, with several companies in the US and Russia offering cryonic services for as little as $25,000.
And while the numbers aren't huge, people are using the service - including some in Ireland according to one US provider.
But while the process and access to such services has developed, the fundamental ethical and moral questions remain the same.
First, and most fundamentally, apart from hope, what exactly are people buying?
Right now, scientists can’t even cryopreserve healthy organs and bring them back to life again properly for transplantation, let alone seriously diseased or worn ones.
So to project ahead to a time when it is possible to freeze a healthy or even damaged dead body and then successfully thaw it back into life is something of a giant leap.

And even then, bringing back a body is one thing, but bringing back a functioning brain with a fully conscious mind is quite another.
Perhaps as machine learning, artificial intelligence and neurological monitoring technology progresses, it might in time become feasible to download and then upload the contents of a brain.
But that won’t happen today, or tomorrow.
Aside from the practicalities of it all, there are also many questions around ethics.
For starters, informed consent is the key to any medical procedure.
But if you don’t know much about what you are consenting to, how can you give that informed consent?
For example, anyone signing up for cryopreservation doesn’t know how long they will be frozen for.
Nor do they know under what circumstances they will come back to life.
And as for who will make that decision in hundreds of years’ time – well that is anyone’s guess.
Is it right to sell a dream to someone, when you have no inkling whatsoever about how the reality will turn out?
Who will be there when they are woken up? What kind of state will they and the world around them be in?

Will there even be someone to wake them up?
One early cryonics attempt at Chatsworth in the US failed when those behind it ran out of money and left the bodies to decompose, for example.
There’s also the even more sinister danger of cryonics potentially being used as a means of prematurely euthanising someone.
Of course science has an on-going uncanny ability to confound our expectations, upend our understanding of what is normal.
After all, if it didn’t, then what would be the point of research?
But what’s clear is that right now, cryonics poses many threats and challenges and offers few definitive answers.
The need for regulation is, therefore, growing so that people can’t be exploited, expectations can’t be falsely raised and scientific fact can’t be undermined.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Excessive Drug Pricing - UK

Drug firms Pfizer and Flynn Pharma have been fined nearly £90 million (€105.6m) for "excessive and unfair" pricing to the NHS after hiking the cost of an anti-epilepsy drug by up to 2,600% overnight.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said drug maker Pfizer and distributor Flynn Pharma broke competition law when they increased the cost of a medicine used by around 48,000 patients in the UK.
The watchdog said their moves saw the cost to the NHS of phenytoin sodium capsules rocket from around £2 million a year in 2012 to about £50 million in 2013 - far more than Pfizer was charging in any other European country.

Pfizer was fined a record £84.2m

Pfizer was handed a record £84.2 million fine, while Flynn Pharma was fined £5.2 million.
The CMA has also ordered both firms to reduce their prices for the anti-epilepsy drug.