Newtons Medical News – June 2020


In the news this month:


In Profile: The UK Government unveils major plan to boost antibiotic development

– Pharmaceutical companies will be encouraged to invest in research

COVID-19 news

– Trials of a new saliva test in Southampton
– Dexamethasone is hailed as a life saving treatment for COVID-19

NHS news

– New online tools for diabetes

Medical technology news

– Robotic support during the pandemic

Health news

– 20th anniversary of mapping the human genome
– Understanding the spread of measles

Newtons news

– NEW product catalogue available online
– Sanisafe 4c wipes are back in stock



News in Profile

The UK government is launching a world-leading programme to support antibiotic development

In past blogs we have looked at a number of news stories about infection management and the growing list of medical conditions that are becoming resistant to antibiotic treatments.

The Independent online has recently reported on a new world-leading UK government scheme which has been designed to encourage pharmaceutical companies to invest in antibiotic research.


The UK government wants to encourage more research into antibiotics


To incentivise the research, companies will be offered payments upfront before they start work and these will be based on the value of each new antibiotic rather than the quantities which will be used in the future.

Traditionally, companies have not invested in antibiotic development because the process is expensive and the resulting drugs are less likely to yield high returns than other types of pharmaceutical products.


The research and development process for new drugs requires a huge amount of investment


This situation has endured since the 1980s and an increasing number of conditions including some forms of sepsis, TB, pneumonia and a range of hospital acquired infections have developed a resistance to antibiotics on a worldwide basis.

Under the scheme, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) will select two potential drugs to be assessed in 2021 and set payment levels so companies will know how much profit they will generate.

It is hoped that the new drugs will be developed quickly and available for use by 2022.


COVID-19 News

A new saliva test for COVID-19

It is often reported in the media that one of the most effective strategies to control the spread of COVID-19 is regular and accurate testing for the disease.


A new method of testing for COVID-19 uses saliva


The current method of testing is a deep nasal and throat swab which is uncomfortable and can be difficult to do by a non-expert. This can lead to false negative results.

As reported by the Huff Post, the Department of Health & Social Care is hailing a new test which involves spitting into a pot. A trial is currently underway in Southampton and is being overseen by Southampton City Council, the University of Southampton and the NHS. It is focused on people working in frontline roles including medical professionals.

This form of test will be much easier to do at home, so it could boost the number of tests that can be carried out. If the trial is successful, production will be scaled up and ultimately rolled out throughout the country.

Dexamethasone: An effective drug to manage the worst effects of COVID-19

There has been lots of media focus this month on a drug called Dexamethasone.

This existing drug has been hailed as a game changer for people who become seriously ill and require hospital treatment for COVID-19.

Some people suffer extreme medical problems when they contract COVID-19


Dexamethasone is already in common usage for illnesses which cause inflammation like severe asthma or autoimmune conditions like lupus. It is a steroid which is able to mimic the body’s own anti inflammatory hormones.

Scientists aren’t entirely sure why some people have such an extreme response to COVID-19 but they do know that when this happens it is caused by individuals’ immune systems going into overdrive leading to inflammation.

Dexamethasone is only used for the most seriously ill who require oxygen or ventilation, because reducing the effectiveness of the body’s immune system before that point could be counterproductive.


Dexamethasone is only appropriate as part of hospital based treatment


Trials have indicated that this treatment could prevent one in three deaths of patients on ventilators and one in five of those on oxygen.

The drug also has the benefit of being readily available and inexpensive because it is no longer under patent so can be mass produced. A ten day treatment costs just over £5 per day.


NHS news

Online support for diabetes

The NHS has launched a major new online initiative to support people who live with diabetes. The objective is to help them manage their conditions with online resources and to reduce the need for face to face appointments.


Online advice and support for people who live with diabetes


The following resources are aimed at people who have Type 1 diabetes:

Digibete: A website for children and young people with a range of educational and support content.

MyType1Diabetes: An online resource for adults to educate and help them manage their diabetes.

Support for Type 2 diabetes includes:

Healthy Living Platform: Skills and knowledge related to Type 2 diabetes including wellbeing, health and exercise advice.

Online appointments and a dedicated helpline: To allow remote access to experts under the current difficult conditions.

Diabetes is known to be a complicating factor for people who contract COVID-19, so efficient management of the condition is particularly important during the current pandemic.


Medical technology news

Robotic support during the pandemic

We are always interested in the latest developments in medical technology and we have recently read an article on the Technology Org website about the use of robotics and automated technological processes during the pandemic.

With the worldwide spread of COVID-19, some forms of technology have proved particularly helpful. As more humans need to self isolate and avoid contact with each other, the need for technological solutions has increased.

Hospitals in China (where the outbreak began) have implemented automated processes for a number of tasks including measuring temperature. This is a health check which needs to done regularly, so decreasing the need for human to human contact is helpful.


Robots can help to manage a number of tasks in hospitals


Machines can also be used to help with tasks like sanitation, so that humans who are susceptible to disease do not need to be involved in the process. Robots can’t get ill so they are the perfect solution for automated high risk cleaning and disinfecting. They can even be trained to test for pathogens on their own surfaces.

It is likely that some of the lessons learned during the current crisis will be used to help prevent future pandemics. For example, Changi Airport in Singapore had already started testing autonomous immigration checkpoints before the pandemic emerged.

It is likely that this approach will be even more relevant in the future as humans look for processes which can be automated to encourage reduced human contact.


Happy Birthday to the Human Genome project

The Guardian online  has reported that the Human Genome Project has turned 20 this month.

A group of renowned scientists published the first ever map of all of the human body’s genes (the human genome) on 25 June 2000. This first map was a draft which was developed over the next three years with the final and refined human genome being published in 2003.


Mapping the human genome


The past 20 years have seen a huge increase in our understanding of our genes.

Genetic mutations are the cause of many types of cancer and there have also been huge leaps forward in the amount of information we now know about genetic conditions like cystic fibrosis. Despite the huge effort which was required for the creation of the first gene map, two decades later, it is now fairly straightforward to sequence genes and use this knowledge to develop medical treatments.

The benefits of gene sequencing also go beyond humans and can be used for anything which has a genetic component – including diseases like COVID-19. Understanding illnesses and particularly how and why certain genes mutate is vitally important for managing them, either with treatment or vaccinations.


Understanding genes can help us to devise the vaccinations of the future


So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the Human Genome project and we celebrate the many ways that our understanding of genetics has helped the medical profession in the years since.

Measles in the human population is linked to the emergence of large cities

Measles is a common infectious disease experienced throughout the world. It can sometimes be serious so many countries like the UK now vaccinate children against it (along with mumps and rubella).

According to the New Scientist, medical scientists have been carrying out research into the disease to try to understand it better and have now established that it crossed from cattle to humans at around 500 BC.

Scientists think that this indicates it could only develop when humans started to build large cities which happened around the same time. Measles developed from a cattle only disease called rinderpest which has now been eradicated by vaccination.


Measles is a common virus


The team at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin looked at a preserved lung specimen from someone who had died of measles in 1912.

They used this sample along with other virus genomes including the rinderpest to create a virus ‘family tree’ which allowed them to establish the timing of the emergence of measles. This date coincided with the first large cities in Asia, Africa and Europe.


Measles require cities of a certain size to be passed from person to person (pictured: Chicago USA)


Once a human has had measles, she or he will develop a lifelong immunity meaning that the disease requires populations of a certain size to keep circulating. This is estimated to be a minimum of half a million people, so cities are the ideal locations for the disease to spread.

Looking at the origin and development of diseases helps scientist to understand how they mutate and circulate. This sort of understanding is particularly relevant for emerging diseases like COVID-19 which is known to have made a species jump from animals to humans.


Newtons news

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