Health Watch - May


Variations in taste genes have been found in children with picky eating tendencies. The two genes studied are related to bitterness sensitivity, and one of them is also linked to struggles for control at mealtimes. However, Professor Soo-Yeun Lee, of Illinois University, where the work was done, is considering more factors and wants wider analyses. “You can’t blame genetics for everything,” he said.


A needle of human hair thickness has been developed to deliver drugs to brain sites of only a cubic millimetre, without injuring or interacting with other areas – a danger posed by present procedures. Dose control was achieved with follow-up saline injections to clear drug residue. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who performed successful tests on rats, say their efforts could produce new treatments and improvements in present risky methods. Professor Robert Langer said: “We believe this microfabricated device could have a tremendous impact in understanding brain diseases.”


Diet and lifestyle improvements are being considered as prostate cancer preventives. Dr Ruth Travis at Oxford University is investigating how metabolites, blood molecules reflecting food consumption and habits, relate like a fingerprint to prostate cancer risks. Dr Travis, who is funded by the World Cancer Research Fund, said: “This will help us achieve our ultimate aim of fully understanding how diet and lifestyle can help prevent prostate cancer. If more risk factors... are uncovered, this could help us prevent many more cases.”


Treatments to prevent and halt potentially fatal post-childbirth bleeding are being researched in a project involving nearly 40,000 women in 40 UK hospitals. The study, financed with £1.8m of government funds, will consider particularly which drug to recommend – oxytocin, which contracts the uterus, induces labour and strengthens contractions; or carboprost, which controls blood pressure and contractions. Dr Dimitrios Siassokos, of the North Bristol NHS Trust, called the project an “exciting new study”.


The results of an investigation into using Chinese medicine in NHS menopause treatment are expected to be tested in a formal trial. Westminster University researchers recorded “significant improvement” in patients given acupuncture, herbal medicine and dietary and lifestyle advice for seven years, but they decided a more comprehensive project was needed. They are seeking funding for a randomised controlled trial.


High levels of seven gut bacteria have been found in patients with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). The discovery of the bacteria, in samples from 50 ME patients compared against samples from 50 controls, could lead to better diagnosis and treatments, said Professor Ian Lipkin, who led the research at Columbia University, New York City.


A protein is now suspected as the trigger for multiple sclerosis. Specialists at Exeter University and Alberta University, Canada, found the protein Rab32 is abundant in MS patients’ brain cells but scarce in healthy brains. The protein was seen to cause malfunction of the mitochondria, the power- generating part of cells. The team could not discover why Rab32 crowded into the cells but believed the resulting defective mechanism damaged the nerve fibres’ myelin. They are considering treatments targeting Rab32 and will watch for other possible rogue proteins.


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