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Health Watch January 2020


Health Watch January 2020

Brian Collett reports on the latest clinical news...




An examination of the causes of ear infections in children has begun at Newcastle University. Researchers are using state-of-the-art technology to understand the immunity defects in children with recurring or long-term ear infections.

Their eventual aim is new treatments for inflamed tissues so that infections do not become permanent. Present treatments are antibiotics courses, which can result in resistance if prolonged, and surgery, which carries other risks, especially under general anaesthesia. 


A drug that blunts immune system over-reaction has shown promise in preventing the often fatal peanut allergy response. Scientists at Stanford University, California, treated patients with etokimab, which targets IL-33, a protein that can drive immune cells into over-activity, causing severe allergy symptoms.

Most patients in a small treated group tolerated peanuts many days after etokimab injections. When the study expands the team will search for biomarkers showing patients most likely to benefit. They hope etokimab will eventually block many food allergies. Scientists at the Oxford Medical Research Council centre had similar success using etokimab for eczema, but their more recent trial recorded poor results.   


Gut bacteria may determine why some people lose more weight than others on the same exercise and diet programmes. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota found those losing less had more of the bacterium Dialister.

This or other bacteria could be releasing enzymes promoting the metabolism of weight-building carbohydrates. Subjects who shed weight were observed to have higher levels of Phascolarctobacterium. Further work is needed as the activities of the bacteria influencing metabolism and energy use are little understood.

Dr Purna Kashyap said: “We now have an important direction to pursue … potentially providing more individualised strategies for people who struggle with obesity.” 


Over-active immunity has been shown for the first time to increase the risk of developing myalgic encephalomyelitis. When discovered it can identify potential victims.

Researchers, led by Dr Alice Russell at King’s College London, found some hepatitis C patients had a strong immune response during interferon-alpha treatment, followed by persistent ME-like fatigue.

More significantly, those patients had high interleukin-10 levels before treatment, suggesting their immune systems were primed to cause ME symptoms. Despite these alerts, the researchers advised more investigation because excess immunity activation markers disappeared after the ME onset.


Treatments are needed to recognise and eliminate the L form that some bacteria assume to escape detection, say researchers tackling antibiotic resistance.

A team at Newcastle University, New South Wales, established for the first time that the L form can survive, enabling the bacteria to continue growing.

Dr Katarzyna Mickiewicz hopes the findings will help to produce new antibiotics that combine with existing versions to remove “these sneaky bacteria.”


A flavonoid in fruit and vegetables has been observed to clear damaged cells that are untouched by the immune system in older people so that dementia and other age-related conditions develop.

Minnesota University researchers discovered fisetin was the most successful of ten tested compounds at removing senescent cells in elderly mice. Consequently, age-related disease biomarkers were reduced and lifespan was extended. Clinical trials follow.











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