In the news this month:
In Profile – Managing medical procedures in space
– As we get closer to sending people to Mars – how will medical emergencies be managed?
– Positive news from two vaccine trials
–The NHS launches an online rehabilitation programme
Medical history news
– Scientists discover that Vikings carried smallpox
Medical research news
– Interesting information about goosebumps!
– Research raises questions over the reuse of face masks in hospital environments
– Antiviral wipes and effective face masks available to buy today
News in profile
Managing medical needs in space
We are always on the lookout for quirky and interesting medical news stories and a recent feature from the Independent online caught our eye.
Whilst we continue to grapple with the ongoing medical crisis on earth, scientists still have their sights set on human space travel and this raises a number of important questions about how medical needs and emergencies can be managed in space.
A recent emergency on the international space station involved an astronaut with a potentially life threatening blood clot and highlighted that health problems can emerge in even the healthiest and fittest of individuals. Fortunately on this occasion, the condition was treated using medical advice from earth.
Compared to Mars (33.9 million miles away) the international space station is in orbit just 248 miles above us so the current procedure for any astronaut who becomes ill is to stabilise him/her and then arrange for transport back to earth.
But what would happen if humans did embark on a very long space journey to Mars and something similar happened? Just being in space creates a number of additional health challenges including excess radiation, microgravity and the literal pressures of existing in a pressurised environment.
Space travel also puts increased strain on cells and bones leading to a higher probability of illness and infections. Astronauts are screened to be fit but any individual could still suffer injury or develop a common condition like appendicitis which would require surgery.
Surgery has already been completed experimentally on animals in space which has helped scientists to develop enhanced procedures and equipment including magnetic surgical tools. Even with specialist adjustments, the lack of atmosphere would still lead to the very real possibility that organs like intestines would float around during a surgical procedure. This means that keyhole surgery would be preferable if at all possible.
Fluids, including blood, behave very differently in space making them more difficult to control. Floating fluids could create an infection risk so scientists have also worked on prototype specialist surgical space enclosures.
If humans settled on Mars, an established ‘traumapod’ would be required which would need its own air supply, surgical robots and dedicated computing power for diagnosing illnesses. This would potentially require lots of specialist equipment which would be difficult to transport to the red planet alongside other vital supplies.
Scientists believe that 3D printers may be the answer as they can be used to create the required surgical instruments only when they are needed. Experimental tools have already been manufactured and tested using this method. They were found to be just as effective as real medical instruments.
In past blogs we have looked at the developing field of robotic surgery which allows surgeons to remotely manage operations so this would be a potential option. The current time lag in communications between Earth and Mars would make this difficult at the moment but this is likely to improve in the future.
Let’s hope that space scientists can solve these issues soon – so that one day we will all be able to experience safe and healthy trips into space!
Two promising new vaccines for COVID-19
Medical news today has reported on very promising results for two new vaccines which are currently being developed to help the world cope with COVID-19.
The Oxford University team lead by Professor Sarah Gilbert has adapted a chimp adenovirus which is known to be harmless to humans. The Lancet has just published the first official results of their trial which involved 1077 participants of whom half were given the vaccine. The results showed that all of the recipients developed neutralising antibodies within two weeks.
Although it is early days, the fact that the vaccine causes an immune response is very encouraging. More trials will confirm if the response is robust enough to create immunity from the disease.
Another vaccine trial has been carried out in China by the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology and their initial results were also published in The Lancet. Their Ad-5 vectored vaccine (which was created from a human adenovirus) was found to be safe and also to trigger an immune response. However, it was found to be less effective in older participants of the trial.
Further trials are needed but it is heartening to hear of such positive initial results.
The NHS launches online COVID-19 rehab
Many people who contract the coronavirus continue to experience health problems after the initial critical stage of the disease has run its course.
The NHS has launched an online on-demand service to provide advice and practical support for people recovering from COVID-19.
Called ‘Your COVID recovery’ the programme will offer face to face help and advice on how to deal with medical problems as well as online exercise tutorials, peer support and mental health support from a range of medical professionals.
The aim is to help those recovering from the virus to have instant access to the best possible resources.
Medical history news
The Vikings spread smallpox
An interesting article on the Science Daily website has highlighted the earliest evidence of smallpox in humans.
Researchers from St John’s College at the University of Cambridge have discovered extinct strains of the smallpox virus in the teeth of Vikings. Smallpox has been eradicated since 1980 but prior to that it was one of the world’s most feared illnesses, killing around a third of the people who contracted it and leaving many more scarred or blind.
Scientists have extracted the virus from Viking skeletons found across northern Europe and sequenced its genomes.
This virus was believed to have been in circulation 1400 years ago and had a genetic structure that was very different to the modern version that still existed in the 20th century. Studying the evolution of different virus types (smallpox is a variola virus) helps virologists to understand how they develop and mutate over time and provides pointers on how to manage and treat them. The Viking strain is genetically closer to animal pox viruses such as camelpox and like COVID-19 it is believed to have emerged from animals.
Scientists have theorised that smallpox may have affected humans for as many as 10,000 years, but until now there was no physical proof of the disease before the 17th century.
These skeletons from Denmark, Norway, Russia and the UK are providing very useful information to help us understand more about how viruses change over time – an area of research that is particularly important during the current pandemic.
Medical research news
Interesting news about goosebumps!
In another quirky story from Science Daily, scientists from Harvard University in the US have been investigating goosebumps! They have discovered that the muscle cells beneath the skin which contract to create goosebumps have an important relationship with the skin stem cells which cause hair follicles to create new hair.
The skin is particularly interesting to medical scientists because it contains different stem cells which are surrounded by a variety of other cells – making the interaction between different cell types easier to observe.
Goosebumps emerge on the skin when the cold triggers sympathetic neurons which send a nerve signal to the necessary muscle which then contracts to make the hairs stand up. This research project established that these muscles form a direct bridge between the nerves on the skin and the hair follicle stem cells.
This arrangement has developed during evolution to offer immediate short term relief from the cold by creating goosebumps but it also means that over time, prolonged exposure to the cold will also simulate increased hair growth for more permanent cold protection.
This conclusion also has wider connotations for helping us to understand how stem cells react to the external environment and how humans have genetically adapted to the world around us.
Research raises questions over the reuse of face masks in hospital environments
The wearing of face masks for both medical and non medical requirements is at the forefront of concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Following shortages at the height of the pandemic, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in America and other public health bodies around the world have allowed the reuse of N95 respirators and face masks after suitable sterilisation has been carried out.
An article from Medical Life Sciences has looked at the work of Sergey Grinshpun, a researcher at the University of Cincinnati Centre for Health Related Aerosol Studies in the US, who has carried out experimental research on a selection of respirators and face masks.
Face masks and respirators were tested in an autoclave, which is a machine used by medical facilities to sterilise equipment with steam, heat and pressure. The masks were also tested by soaking them in a 70% ethanol treatment before being dried and reused.
Published in the Journal of Hospital Infection (with co authors Michael Yermakov, MD, senior research associate in the UC Department of Environmental and Public Health Sciences, and Marat Khodoun, PhD, research associate professor in the UC Department of Internal Medicine) the findings were worrying.
Although the items looked visually intact after the sterilisation process, they had actually been damaged.
After treatment in the autoclave the 3M 8210 N95 respirator showed disintegration of the soft material around the nose clip, loss of elasticity to the strap and damage to fibres. This deterioration had caused the masks to drop below the 95% certification rate required to be deemed fully protective.
These results highlight the need to look for other methods to sterilise reusable PPE items which don’t affect the integrity of mask construction e.g. by using UV rays which are unlikely to cause the same physical damage.
COVID-combating medical supplies
Newtons Medical Supplies stocks a range of highly effective products which have been sourced to help our customers manage health and hygiene during the global pandemic.
Take a look at our recent blog about our full hand and surface antiviral wipes selection.
This includes our highly popular and effective Sanisafe 4c wipes available in packs of 100 in our online shop.
We also have a wide range of face masks available including our washable Medical Grade ISO13485 face masks which you can purchase in the following colours:
Do you need high quality medical supplies?
Take a look at the consumable section of our online shop for our full range of products including hand sanitisers, hand wipes, disinfectants and related products.
Please get in touch with us if you have any questions about our product or stock.