Newtons Medical News – November 2020

In the news this month:


In Profile – The history of bloodletting

– This common practice was thought to promote good health as part of early medical practice

COVID-19 news

– Good news on vaccine development
– ‘Long-COVID’ clinics to be launched by the NHS

Medical technology news

– Octopus tentacles inspire new medical technology

Health news

– Helping asthma sufferers to use their inhalers correctly

Newtons news

– Fantastic face masks at a great price


News in Profile

The history of bloodletting

Medical history often provides a fascinating insight into how treatments have developed over time, so we were interested to read a recent article about the history of bloodletting, a medical procedure which has been in existence for more than 3000 years.

Ever since the practice of medicine began, physicians have been absorbed by blood and its impact on our health. These days when we talk about ‘phlebotomy’ we mean the taking of blood for medical tests and other purposes, but the origin of the word is from the Greek ‘phlebos’ which means vein and ‘temneim’ which is translated as ‘cut’.


Phlebotomy in modern times refers to the testing of blood for a range of conditions


It is known that many ancient cultures including the Romans and the Egyptians used bloodletting as a treatment, but we have learned the most about the practice from the early and influential doctor, Hippocrates, who was Greek.

The early Greeks believed that the body has four different humours, black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood, all of which needed to be kept in balance to ensure good health. Bloodletting was thought to be a helpful method to maintain this balance.

The famous Roman physician Galen, believed that bloodletting could be used to treat headaches, vertigo and eyesight problems.


Early surgical tools


Bloodletting continued to be used as a treatment over subsequent centuries and was particularly popular during the middle ages. Physicians during this period believed it could fend off illness and also prevent misalignment of the body.

The treatment continued throughout the 18th century when it was used to treat fever, high blood pressure, and inflammation. Often with the use of leeches.


Using leeches for bloodletting was popular in the 18th century


The practice became less popular from the 19th century onwards. This was partially thanks to the French doctor Pierre-Charles-Alexandre Louis who carried out research to check the efficacy of the treatment and discovered that there appeared to be little benefit.

Although mainly out of favour now, there are some parts of the world where bloodletting is still practiced and leeches continue to be used in medical therapy today.

The modern benefit of the medical history of bloodletting is that it caused doctors to focus on blood, which over time created a better understanding of its function in our bodies. Ultimately this led to the development of blood donation and transfusion which saves so many lives today.


COVID-19 News

COVID-19 Vaccines 

Recent weeks have seen lots of media coverage about successful trials for COVID-19 vaccines.

Two pharmaceutical companies – Pfizer/BioNTech in Germany and Moderna in the US both announced successful trials earlier this month which has led scientists to predict that as many as 1 billion people could potentially be vaccinated by the end of 2021.


A number of different trials for COVID-19 vaccines have been successful


The Moderna vaccine was found to have an efficacy rate of 94.5% and is now awaiting approval for use in the US. The Pfizer jab was found to be 90% effective and has been purchased by the UK government for use either the end of this year or early next.

The very latest announcement has revealed that the long awaited Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine has been found to be around 70-90% effective so more good news.

Pending the necessary approvals, all of these vaccines should be available for use in late 2020 or early 2021.

Long COVID clinics

As more people have contracted COVID-19, it has become apparent that a minority of those who experience the virus continue to feel its effects for weeks or even months. This condition has been dubbed ‘Long COVID’.


Some people develop a condition called ‘Long COVID’


The NHS has recently announced that it is opening 40 specialist ‘Long COVID’ clinics towards the end of November. These hubs will have specialist staff who can provide targeted help to the approximately 60,000 people who have the condition, which causes a range of symptoms including fatigue, breathlessness and pain.

£10million has been earmarked for the project which will see the establishment of clinics throughout the country.

The NHS has also launched a Long COVID taskforce to educate medical professionals and the public about the condition.


Medical Technology News

Octopus tentacle technology

Specially manufactured human cell or tissue sheets are regularly used to treat injuries or diseases of the flesh or skin. These substances are highly effective but are also delicate and can be difficult to handle.

A group of scientists have recently investigated methods to improve the management of these materials and their research was published in the Science Advances Journal. This involved a joint project between Professor Hyunjoon Kong (Chemical and Bimolecular Engineering, University of Illinois), Purdue University, the Chung Ang University in South Korea and the Korea Advanced Institute for Science & Technology.


Squid and octopuses use suckers to pick up a variety of objects


As we have investigated in past blogs, medical researchers often look to the animal kingdom for inspiration when it comes to innovative medical approaches. In this case they were seeking a method to effectively pick up and place tissue sheets without damaging them or causing cross contamination. The researchers noted that squid and octopuses are able to pick up a wide range of objects using the suction cups on their tentacles which operate through changes in pressure rather than force or stickiness.

Using this approach, the scientists designed a tool to pick up the tissue sheets with a combination of hydrogel and small changes in temperature to hold and then release the material. The process takes around 10 seconds and does not require human interaction.

As a next step the scientists are hoping to finesse the design to include pressure sensors which will improve the sensitivity of the tool for regular use in medical procedures.


Health News

Helping asthma sufferers to use their inhalers effectively

Many people use medical inhalers to manage a variety of medical conditions including asthma.

Although most people with asthma experience a mild version of the disease, serious asthma attacks are potentially deadly so preventing them is vitally important. Problems can occur through improper use of inhalers which leads to the medicine not getting deep enough into the lungs. Most inhalers contain steroids which have a vital role in reducing inflammation and wheezing in the lungs.


Inhalers often contain steroids


The Daily Mail Online has reported that scientists have now developed a simple device which helps people use their inhalers effectively.

Called ‘Clip Tone’, it clips into the top of the inhaler and as it is used, air moves into a tiny hole in the device. When the speed of air inhalation reaches the right level of 20 litres a minute, the hole whistles so that the user knows to press the canister to release the drug and inhale for 5 seconds.

A study was carried out and published in the European Respiratory Journal which showed that twice as many people used their inhalers correctly with this simple method. The manufacturers are planning to develop the technology so that it can be built into future inhaler designs.


Newtons News

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