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Health Insight May 2001:
New British research

  Scientists have developed a test which can detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in just ten minutes. The test can distinguish Alzheimer’s sufferers from patients with depression and people without any neuropsychiatric disorder with ninety-eight per cent accuracy. Professor Trevor Robbins and Dr Barbara Sahakian developed the test, called the CANTAB Paired Associates Learning Test, at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. Dr Sahakian said, ‘The CANTAB-PAL’s sensitivity to Alzheimer’s disease is related to the fact that the areas of the brain first affected in Alzheimer’s disease are the same areas utilised when performing the test.’ The test works by flashing up a series of patterns and images on a computer screen, and then asking patients to pinpoint whereabouts on the screen a particular image has just appeared. It is designed to test the areas of the brain involved in controlling memory for places and events – known technically as episodic memory. It is this form of memory which is the first to be damaged by Alzheimer’s. Rebecca Gray, head of public affairs at the Alzheimer’s Society, said, ‘The study sounds very interesting. It is essential that people with suspected dementia are given as early and as accurate a diagnosis as possible.’ The results of early trials of the test are published in the journal Dementia & Geriatric Cognitive Disorders.

Source: BBC Online

Doctors in Manchester have taken a big step towards saving the fertility of women who have to undergo radiation treatment for cancer. They took tissue from an ovary of a young woman about to be treated for lymphoma, froze it for three years, then thawed it and replaced it after her treatment was complete. The tissue took and the woman, who is now thirty-six, went through two normal menstrual cycles. Although the implanted tissue has stopped working, the surgeons responsible believe they have demonstrated the principle. Until now, some women needing radiation treatment knew that it would involve bringing on a premature menopause and sacrificing their fertility. Brian Lieberman of the Department of Reproductive Medicine at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, where the operation was performed, said, ‘We hope this technique will have a major impact on the quality of life of young cancer patients, whether or not they plan to have a family.’

Source: BBC Online

The DoH has agreed to fund a large-scale trial of treatment for early prostate cancer. The multi-centre trial will cost about £13m and will involve the Universities of Bristol, Sheffield and Newcastle. Health minister Lord Philip Hunt said, ‘This is a clear demonstration of our commitment to finding the best ways of treating prostate cancer.’ Prostate cancer is now diagnosed more frequently following the introduction of the PSA blood test. Although only a minority of prostate cancers spread beyond the gland to cause disease and shorten life, the current treatments have major side-effects and are not very effective. Radical surgery or radiotherapy can cause harm (commonly impotence and/or incontinence) and have not yet been shown to reduce prostate cancer mortality. Evidence on the risks and benefits of alternative treatments is therefore essential to help patients and their doctors make informed decisions about testing and treatment. It will also help to establish whether to introduce a screening programme for prostate cancer.

Source: Press release (DoH)

A drug developed from a fungus on a remote Pacific island could improve the long-term survival chances of kidney transplant patients. The drug, Rapumune is named after the local word for Easter island (Rapu Nui). Trials have suggested that the drug could reduce the problem of organ rejection by as much as two-thirds. It also appears to have fewer side-effects than other immunosuppressants. Transplant surgeon Mr Robert Johnson of Manchester Royal Infirmary said the new drug represented a ‘significant breakthrough’. He said, ‘The biggest problems we have at the moment are not having enough organs for transplantation and the long-term side-effects of the drugs that we use in order to keep those grafts going. To have a drug that is hopefully equally powerful, but does not cause kidney damage would be a big advantage and hopefully would lead to longer life of the kidney.’

Source: BBC Online

A new centre has been launched at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to collate research on the health impact of globalisation and environmental change. Professor Andy Haines, Dean of the LSHTM said that it was time to ‘get to grips’ with the public health implications of global trade, demographic trends, over-consumption, pollution, biotechnology, and climate change. ‘We are a long way from understanding the complex implications these have for health.’ Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, such as E coli 0157, measles, Lyme disease, and Nippah and Ebola viruses, are linked with both international trade and the exponential growth in animal and human migration. Examples of the adverse effects of the global food and farming industries are common. The current epidemic of foot and mouth disease in the UK is an example. Widespread use of subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics in animals, administered to increase yield, has fuelled the rise in antibiotic resistance. For further information, the new centre’s website is www.lshtm.ac.uk/centres/cgech.

Source: BMJ 7 April

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