In the news this month:
In Profile – The genetics of eczema
– Scientists identify the gene mutations which cause the common skin condition
– The NHS launches ‘COVID friendly’ cancer treatments
– Scientists believe that more people have had COVID-19 than official figures show
– Researchers investigate ‘lucid dreaming’
– Scientists develop a new ‘bacteria grabber’
– A great range of face masks in different pack sizes
News in Profile
Positive news for eczema sufferers
Scientists are carrying out research to develop a better understanding of the genetic causes of eczema.
Eczema is a common skin disease which is believed to affect up to 20% of the population at some point in their lives. As many people know, it can cause real misery with intense itchiness and dry, red and inflamed skin which can be difficult to treat.
In addition to being extremely uncomfortable, eczema can lead to infections in the skin and is also associated with other allergic conditions such as asthma.
As reported in Medical Express Online, scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Centre for Advancing Translational Sciences in the US, have now established that two relatively common variations in the gene KIF3A can affect the skin’s natural barrier and make it prone to losing water. The resulting dryness leads to ‘atopic dermatitis’ also known as eczema.
Researchers established that some KIF3A genes were found to have variations called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). These variants caused skin to naturally produce fewer proteins and experience a higher rate of water loss. The scientists used this information to carry out further studies on mice which backed their findings.
This research is part of the ongoing scientific effort to understand genetics and the impact that our genes have on our overall health.
It is hoped that over the longer term a better understanding of the genetic mutations that cause medical problems can lead to screening and treatment, so conditions like eczema could become a thing of the past.
In the meantime, understanding how eczema is caused by moisture loss from the skin will help doctors to identify the right topical treatments to help prevent skin from becoming too dry.
The NHS rolls-out ‘COVID-friendly’ cancer services
Everyone is aware of the huge effort that was required in early 2020 to prepare the NHS to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure that hospitals were in a good position to manage an influx of patients.
An unfortunate negative side effect of this successful programme has been a delay to some treatments for other conditions, including cancer treatments.
The NHS has now announced the expansion of a programme to offer more ‘COVID friendly’ cancer treatments.
Physicians will be provided with a wider selection of drugs which don’t compromise the immune system and are therefore safer to take during the pandemic. The programme also offers more treatments that do not require a trip to hospital.
The NHS has worked with a number of major pharmaceutical companies on deals for these specific treatments with 50 new options already providing benefits for patients.
Two of the new drugs on offer include Venetoclax, an oral drug which is an alternative to traditional chemotherapy for the treatment of acute myeloid Leukaemia and also Atezolizumab, a first-line immunotherapy treatment for bladder cancer which can also be used instead of chemotherapy.
The NHS has also introduced further initiatives to manage medical care during the pandemic, including 111First to provide medical advice, remote consultations for hospital and GP appointments and the establishment of a series of COVID-secure cancer hubs around the country.
Scientists believe that more people have had COVID-19 than official figures suggest
A new research study has found that the COVID-19 infection may have been far more prevalent than originally thought.
Official statistics say that 313,798 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Britain, including 270,291 in England, reflecting 0.5% of the population.
Imperial College in London has undertaken an antibody research programme to estimate how many people have actually had the disease. 100,000 people were tested and it was extrapolated that 6% of the population already had the antibodies. This would in reality mean that 3.4 million people had experienced the virus – a far higher number than currently recorded.
The study showed the greatest prevalence of the disease in London and amongst healthcare workers. The research also indicated that people from minority ethnic groups were two to three times more likely to have had the disease when compared to white people.
Although useful to know, researchers have warned that current COVID-19 antibody tests have not yet been proven to be completely reliable, plus it is also not clear if the presence of antibodies ensures immunity from the disease.
‘Lucid dreaming’ research
Do you remember your dreams? A recent study has been undertaken to develop a better understanding of ‘lucid dreaming’. ‘Lucid dreaming’ occurs when the sleeper is aware that s/he is asleep and dreaming whilst the dream is actually happening. Some people find that they can control the content of their dreams and direct what happens.
The researcher Denholm Aspy (visiting fellow at the School of Psychology at the University of Adelaide in Australia) has carried out research into lucid dreaming which was published in Frontiers in Psychology. The objective was to investigate different methods of lucid dreaming.
The study began with over 1600 participants who completed a questionnaire about their dreaming. This cohort was then narrowed down to just over 350 people with a mixture of genders and ages from 18 to 84. Of these participants, 54.9% had tried lucid dreaming techniques in the past.
The study looked at the following methods to induce lucid dreaming:
- ‘Reality testing’ – participants were asked to examine the reality of the things around them every day so that this process became an ingrained habit that could be repeated whilst dreaming
- ‘Wake and go back to bed’ – participants woke themselves up 5 hours after going to sleep and then went straight back to sleep to try and create REM in order to make dreaming easier
- ‘Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams’ (MILD) – the same process as waking and going back to sleep but with the repetition of particular phrases to encourage lucid dreaming e.g ‘The next time I am dreaming I will remember I am dreaming’
- ‘Senses initiating lucid dreaming’ (SILD) – the same method as above but with concentration on the senses; sight, sound and touch before going back to sleep
MILD and SILD were found to be the most effective ways of inducing lucid dreaming. It was also noted that some people are naturally better than others at lucid dreaming and that the amount of time spent asleep, as well as factors like diet can play a part in this.
Scientists are interested in how and why we dream as a way of learning about how our brains work.
Lucid dreaming can also be helpful to allow people to experience emotionally satisfying or enjoyable experiences that would otherwise be difficult, due to medical factors or other modern problems like self isolation.
Scientists develop a ‘bacteria grabber’
In the past we have looked at a number of different stories about gut bacteria as medical researchers continue to develop their understanding of how the balance of bacteria in our gut can affect our overall health.
Scientists are also increasingly understanding that a small sample of gut bacteria (as would normally be taken during an endoscopy investigation) does not provide a complete picture when it comes to analysing the full range and scope of gut bacteria in an intestinal tract.
Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana in the US have created a new tool which can take samples from different parts of the gut. Scientists have been able to use a similar method to take pictures before but never to gather samples.
Published in RSC Advances, a journal by the Royal Society of Chemistry the initial experiment used a prototype ‘bacteria grabber’ that looks similar to a pill.
As it passes through the digestive system, certain gut bacteria causes the biodegradable section of the pill to dissolve and a hydrogel expands to capture the sample, which is then pressure sealed into the capsule.
The pill passes right through the digestive system and out the other end along with waste products, where it can be analysed.
Scientists believe this method will be particularly useful for monitoring general gut health, as well as for identifying specific bacteria that causes illness like E-coli.
This study was is a proof of concept and more testing is required over time.
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