Thursday, June 8, 2017

Homeless Babies And Starving Parents: The Poverty Seen By Doctors

A survey of 250 Paediatricians reveals a shocking return to old fashioned poverty that will hit future generations

Nearly one in three children in the UK – a total of four million – live in poverty.

It’s a statistic that perhaps many people acknowledge is shocking, but they don’t appreciate its implications.

Living in poverty can have all sorts of damaging effects on a child, not least on their health.

Poverty makes children sick; those living in the most deprived areas have far worse health outcomes than children from the most affluent.

They are more likely to be overweight or obese, suffer from asthma, have poorly managed diabetes and experience mental health problems. Infant mortality is more than twice as high in the lowest socio-economic groups compared with the highest groups.

Such large numbers can be a little abstract and it’s only when these are seen as people and personal stories that the reality hits home.

Comments from more than 250 paediatricians across the UK on the impact of poverty on child health were gathered as part of a survey by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). It makes sobering reading.

Poor housing

One doctor in London said that “overcrowded, damp or unsuitable housing among our patients is the rule rather than the exception” – conditions that can cause respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchiolitis.

Another said that one of his patients was a “two-year-old with recurrent seizures, living in a house with no heating”.

Poor housing is one of the main reasons for delays in discharging children.

One paediatrician said they were “unable to discharge a chronically unwell child requiring constant use of electrical equipment as the house only has one socket”, while another said: “I have seen a number of babies being unable to be discharged from the special care babies unit due to parents being homeless.”

Food insecurity

Many respondents said their patients struggled to afford healthy food.

One doctor observed: “Many of [our] patients are from low-income families who rely on food banks.”

Another said: “I see parents in A&E who are limiting their eating to care for their children. Children are worried, scared and upset.”
Worry, stress and stigma

Stress and worry caused by poverty affects not only parents, but children too. One respondent said: “The biggest impact of poverty on the children and parents I encounter is insecurity, inferiority and stress. Through biological and psychological factors these undoubtedly lead to poor health.”

Children who are otherwise healthy are at risk of becoming unhealthy due to poor nutrition and cold, cramped housing conditions.

For children who already have health problems, poverty exacerbates the difficulties.

One doctor said, “For sickle cell patients, cold homes can precipitate painful crises and admission to hospital” while another commented that “overcrowding makes looking after children with learning difficulties or autism next to impossible”.

One of the things that shocked me about the stories from the report is that we are seeing the return of what one might think of as old-fashioned poverty relating to crowding and nutrition for our children.

Political will

If poverty levels were reduced, the impact on child health – and therefore the future health of the nation - would be radical.

Whatever political party holds the reins of power post 8 June, tackling poverty must be a priority.

We need the next government to focus on the creation and maintenance of wealth for all parts of society, with a focus on our children.

Policies such as the restoration of binding national targets to reduce child poverty, backed by a national child poverty strategy and the adoption of a “child health in all policies” approach to decision making and policy development, with the Treasury disclosing information about the impact of the chancellor’s annual budget statement on child poverty and inequality, could make a difference. 

There should also be an immediate reversal of public health cuts to ensure universal early years services, including health visiting and school nursing, are prioritised and supported financially, with additional targeted help for children and families experiencing poverty.

The health of children is a measure of the future health of our society. As one of the doctors who responded to the survey said: “We cannot expect to have a healthy future for the UK if we leave our children behind.”

Source:     The Guardian

Monday, June 5, 2017

Prostate Cancer Trial Stuns Researchers

'It's a once in a career feeling'

Study with ‘powerful results’ finds that combining two existing therapies could extend the life of men with advanced, high-risk prostate cancer by 37%

Combining two existing prostate cancer therapies could extend the life of men with advanced, high-risk prostate cancer by 37%, according to a study presented at the world’s largest cancer conference. The new findings could change how doctors first approach treatment of prostate cancer.

“These are the most powerful results I’ve seen from a prostate cancer trial,” said Nicholas James, the lead author of the abstract presented as the American Society of Clinical Oncology. “It’s a once in a career feeling. This is one of the biggest reductions in death I’ve seen in any clinical trial for adult cancers.”

Researchers combined standard hormone therapy with a drug called abiraterone , which is typically used only for cancer patients whose disease has stopped responding to standard hormone therapy. The research was conducted as part of the Stampede trial, an ongoing randomized trial conducted in the UK and Switzerland.

“Abiraterone not only prolonged life, but also lowered the chance of relapse by 70% and reduced the chance of serious bone complications by 50%,” James said. “Based on the magnitude of clinical benefit, we believe the upfront care for patients newly diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer should change.”

The study looked at a group of 2,000 men. Patients who received both abiraterone and normal hormone therapy were significantly less likely to die, compared to patients who received only hormone therapy.

Comparatively, 83% of men assigned abiraterone therapy survived versus 76% of men on standard hormone therapy. Researchers also found that patients who received both medications had slightly stronger side effects, especially cardiovascular and liver problems.

One patient who participated in the trial, Alfred Samuels, 59, was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in January 2012. “It felt like my world fell apart overnight,” Samuels said. “The doctors explained that surgery wasn’t an option for me because the cancer had spread beyond my prostate.”

“As part of the trial, I started taking abiraterone four times a day and had a hormone injection every eight weeks,” he said. “During the first six months, tests showed that the treatment was working. I’m still on the trial, which I find reassuring and, fortunately, my cancer is being managed well.”

More than 27,000 men in the US and 11,000 men in the UK die of prostate cancer each year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prostate Cancer UK. In the US, aside from skin cancer, it is the most common cancer in men.

“The potential benefits of giving some men abiraterone alongside hormone therapy are clearly impressive and we will be working with all relevant bodies to make sure this treatment becomes an option available for these men via the NHS,” said Dr Iain Frame, director of research at Prostate Cancer UK.

Source:      The Guardian

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Are You Having A Bad Day? Do This To Turn It Around

Raise your hand if you're always looking for quick and simple ways to make your busy and stressful days a little bit better.

Are you waving your arms enthusiastically over your head? Me too.

Just like you, my days get busy. And if there's an easy trick that promises to make me end each workday feeling more positive --and a little less frazzled--I'm all for it.

So, in my quest to bring a little more sunshine into my workdays, I decided to try something: Every day for one week, I paid someone a genuine and heartfelt compliment.

Spreading Positivity

What exactly made me think of this activity specifically? Well, there were a few reasons that led me down this path.

First and foremost, I knew that a task like this would be fairly easy.
While I'm not exactly generous with praise (we all tend to be a little stingy with the compliments), I could instantly think of dozens of people or accomplishments who deserved my recognition--recognition that had previously gone completely unsaid.

So I knew that this wouldn't involve a huge investment in time, thought, or energy.

Secondly, I figured that doing something like this didn't just stand a chance to improve my day--it could improve someone else's day as well. That's an added bonus.
And finally, I knew that paying compliments was something that previously made me feel good. As much as I love receiving recognition and praise, I almost enjoy doling it out even more.

So I knew that this sort of exercise had significant chances of boosting my mood on a daily basis.

The Science of Kindness

Before I jumped in with my mini social experiment, I wanted to roll up my sleeves and familiarize myself with what I could expect moving forward.

Receiving a compliment feels good--that much I already knew. In fact, studies show that compliments activate the same part of the brain that cash rewards do.

But what about giving compliments? It'll make the recipient's day better, but will it realistically accomplish anything for me?

Here's what I found out: absolutely! Numerous studies point to the fact that spreading positivity can give you a definite boost.

For example, using a life satisfaction survey, researchers in Great Britain concluded that performing random acts of kindness (which can range from paying a compliment to buying someone's coffee) can significantly increase someone's satisfaction with their own life.

The Act of Paying Compliments

Needless to say, I was convinced of the many benefits. So, I took five minutes of each day during one workweek to pay a compliment to someone in my network.

Since I work remotely, these pleasantries were delivered via personalized emails. But if you have the ability to compliment someone in person, I'd highly recommend that!

One day, I sent an email to the editor of a website I admired to let her know that I was loving the site's recent content and that their newsletters were knocking things out of the park.

Another day, I sent a message to a fellow writer to tell her how much I loved her recent article.

The next day, I took a page from a previous tactic of mine and jotted a note to a past mentor thanking her again for all of her advice and guidance.

The Results

As suspected, sending these friendly sentiments made me feel great.

But what I didn't expect? I received a prompt response from every single one of those people letting me know how much they appreciated my message and that they were going to turn around and dish out a few compliments themselves.

Pretty great, right? I felt like I had started a chain reaction of positivity, which in turn boosted my mood and outlook far more than I had even anticipated.

So, if you're feeling a little down in the dumps--or even if you're not--follow in my footsteps and take five minutes out of your busy workday to pay a genuine compliment to someone who deserves one.

It's something I plan to continue doing, and I'm willing to bet you'll soon feel the same way.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Latest Biotechnology Shows That Skin Stem Cells Can "Make" Babies

Nearly 40 years after the world was jolted by the birth of the first test-tube baby, a new revolution in reproductive technology is on the horizon — and it promises to be far more controversial than in vitro fertilization ever was.

Within a decade or two, researchers say, scientists will likely be able to create a baby from human skin cells that have been coaxed to grow into eggs and sperm and used to create embryos to implant in a womb.

The process, in vitro gametogenesis, or I.V.G., so far has been used only in mice. But stem cell biologists say it is only a matter of time before it could be used in human reproduction — opening up mind-boggling possibilities.

With I.V.G., two men could have a baby that was biologically related to both of them, by using skin cells from one to make an egg that would be fertilized by sperm from the other. Women with fertility problems could have eggs made from their skin cells, rather than go through the lengthy and expensive process of stimulating their ovaries to retrieve their eggs.

 “It gives me an unsettled feeling because we don’t know what this could lead to,” said Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher at the University of California, Davis. “You can imagine one man providing both the eggs and the sperm, almost like cloning himself. You can imagine that eggs becoming so easily available would lead to designer babies.”

Some scientists even talk about what they call the “Brad Pitt scenario” when someone retrieves a celebrity’s skin cells from a hotel bed or bathtub. Or a baby might have what one law professor called “multiplex” parents.

“There are groups out there that want to reproduce among themselves,” said Sonia Suter, a George Washington University law professor who began writing about I.V.G. even before it had been achieved in mice. “You could have two pairs who would each create an embryo, and then take an egg from one embryo and sperm from the other, and create a baby with four parents.”

Three prominent academics in medicine and law sounded an alarm about the possible consequences in a paper published this year.

“I.V.G. may raise the specter of ‘embryo farming’ on a scale currently unimagined, which might exacerbate concerns about the devaluation of human life,” Dr. Eli Y. Adashi, a medical science professor at Brown; I. Glenn Cohen, a Harvard Law School professor; and Dr. George Q. Daley, dean of Harvard Medical School, wrote in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Still, how soon I.V.G. might become a reality in human reproduction is open to debate.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it was five years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 25 years,” said Jeanne Loring, a researcher at the Scripps Research Institute, who, with the San Diego Zoo, hopes to use I.V.G. to increase the population of the nearly extinct northern white rhino.

Dr. Loring said that when she discussed I.V.G. with colleagues who initially said it would never be used with humans, their skepticism often melted away as the talk continued. But not everyone is convinced that I.V.G. will ever become a regularly used process in human reproduction — even if the ethical issues are resolved.

“People are a lot more complicated than mice,” said Susan Solomon, chief executive of the New York Stem Cell Foundation. “And we’ve often seen that the closer you get to something, the more obstacles you discover.”

I.V.G. is not the first reproductive technology to challenge the basic paradigm of baby-making. Back when in vitro fertilization was beginning, many people were horrified by the idea of creating babies outside the human body. And yet, I.V.F. and related procedures have become so commonplace that they now account for about 70,000, or almost 2 percent, of the babies born in the United States each year.

According to the latest estimate, there have been more than 6.5 million babies born worldwide through I.V.F. and related technologies.

Of course, even I.V.F. is not universally accepted. The Catholic Church remains firm in its opposition to in vitro fertilization, in part because it so often leads to the creation of extra embryos that are frozen or discarded.

I.V.G. requires layers of complicated bioengineering. Scientists must first take adult skin cells — other cells would work as well or better, but skin cells are the easiest to get — and reprogram them to become embryonic stem cells capable of growing into different kinds of cells.

Then, the same kind of signaling factors that occur in nature are used to guide those stem cells to become eggs or sperm. (Cells taken from women could be made to produce sperm, the researchers say, but the sperm, lacking a Y chromosome, would produce only female babies.)

Last year, researchers in Japan, led by Katsuhiko Hayashi, used I.V.G. to make viable eggs from the skin cells of adult female mice, and produced embryos that were implanted into female mice, who then gave birth to healthy babies.

The process strikes some people as inherently repugnant.

“There is a yuck factor here,” said Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University. “It strikes many people as intuitively yucky to have three parents, or to make a baby without starting from an egg and sperm. But then again, it used to be that people thought blood transfusions were yucky, or putting pig valves in human hearts.”

Whatever the social norms, there are questions about the wisdom of tinkering with basic biological processes. And there is general agreement that reproductive technology is progressing faster than consideration of the legal and ethical questions it raises.

“We have come to realize that scientific developments are outpacing our ability to think them through,” Dr. Adashi said. “It’s a challenge for which we are not fully prepared. It would be good to be having the conversation before we are actually confronting the challenges.”

Some bioethicists take the position that while research on early stages of human life can deepen the understanding of our genetic code, tinkering with biological mechanisms that have evolved over thousands of years is inherently wrongheaded.

“Basic research is paramount, but it’s not clear that we need new methods for creating viable embryos,” said David Lemberg, a bioethicist at National University in California. “Attempting to apply what we’ve learned to create a human zygote is dangerous, because we have no idea what we’re doing, we have no idea what the outcomes are going to be.”

Source:     NYTimes

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Study Links Diet Soda To Higher Risk Of Stroke, Dementia

 Americans trying to stay healthy have abandoned sugary drinks for diet drinks in droves over the past few decades on the theory that the latter is better than the former.

Now, more evidence has emerged to refute that rationale.

Indeed, a new study shows an association between diet soda and both stroke and dementia, with people drinking diet soda daily being almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia as those who consumed it weekly or less.

“This included a higher risk of ischemic stroke, where blood vessels in the brain become obstructed and Alzheimer’s disease dementia, the most common form of dementia,” said Matthew Pase, a Boston University School of Medicine neurologist and the lead author of the study published in the journal Stroke.

While emphasizing that the research did not show causation, only a correlation, Pase said in a video explaining the study that diet drinks “might not be a healthy alternative.”

The study, described only as a hypothesis by its lead author was surrounded by caveats.

While the risk was greater, the absolute numbers were low. “In our study,” the lead author said, ” three percent of the people had a new stroke and five percent developed dementia, so we’re still talking about a small number of people developing either stroke or dementia.”

The lead author also noted its many limitations in an accompanying commentary from the American Heart Association:
The participants were overwhelmingly white, and it is possible that ethnic preferences may influence how often people select sugary or artificially sweetened drinks ….People did not drink sugary sodas as often as diet sodas, which Pase said could be one reason the researchers did not see an association with regular soda since the participants may have been health conscious and just not consuming them as frequently. The main limitation, Pase said, is the important point that an observational study like this cannot prove that drinking artificially-sweetened drinks is linked to strokes or dementia, but it does identify an intriguing trend that will need to be explored in other studies.

Still, people should be “cautious” about their intake of diet sodas, Pase said, noting that more study is needed.

And they should most definitely not retreat to sugary drinks, he said.

They have been associated not only with obesity and its consequences, such as diabetes, but with poorer memory and smaller overall brain volumes.

The study kept track of 2,888 individuals age 45 and over for the development of a stroke and 1,484 participants age 60 and older for dementia over a 10 year period. All are participants in the famous Framingham Heart Study, several thousand men and women who have had blood tests done periodically since the 1970s.

The study “found that those who reported consuming at least one artificially sweetened drink a day, compared to less than one a week, were 2.96 times as likely to have an ischemic stroke, caused by blood vessel blockage, and 2.89 times as likely to be diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease,” said a summary from the AHA.

The study “found that those who reported consuming at least one artificially sweetened drink a day, compared to less than one a week, were 2.96 times as likely to have an ischemic stroke, caused by blood vessel blockage, and 2.89 times as likely to be diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease,” said a summary from the AHA.

A parallel study of sugary drinks did not find an association with stroke or dementia.

The artificial sweeteners consumed by those in the study included saccharin, acesulfame-K, and aspartame. Other sweeteners, including sucralose, neotame and stevia have been approved by the FDA since, the study said.

The results were adjusted for variables such as age, sex, caloric intake, diet quality, physical activity and smoking. (For those seeking more detail, the study is downloadable in its entirety.)

“So, the bottom line is, ‘Have more water and have less diet soda,”

Christopher Gardner, director of Nutrition Studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, said in an AHA release. “And don’t switch to real soda.”

He added “Nobody ever said diet sodas were a health food.”

The AHA release quoted Rachel K. Johnson, professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont: “We need to be cautious in the interpretation of these results. It doesn’t prove cause and effect. When you see these kinds of associations, you want to always ask what is the biological plausibility, what is the mechanism that might be causing this?”
“We have a robust body of literature on the adverse effects of sugary drinks. Absolutely the message is not to switch to sugary drinks,” she said.

The American Beverage Association was quick to defend diet drinks.
“Low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities as well as hundreds of scientific studies and there is nothing in this research that counters this well-established fact,” it said in a statement. It added:

While we respect the mission of these organizations to help prevent conditions like stroke and dementia, the authors of this study acknowledge that their conclusions do not — and cannot — prove cause and effect.

This post has been updated and corrected. An original version said stevia was an artificial sweetener. In fact, it comes from a plant.

Source:     TWP