An Overview of the Sugar Tax

I apologise greatly for the lack of posts recently; the revision period has started!

The sugar tax was brought about in the recent Budget in the aim to improve childrens’ health and hinder the growing obesity of our nation. It stated that there would be a tax of 7p on regular-sized fizzy drinks which could generate £1 billion per year; money which could be put towards health education programmes and fitness regimes.

The arguments for the sugar tax include:

SUGAR

  • Health implications- this proposal could solve the country’s obesity problem, whilst it would also reduce the risk of strokes, heart disease and diabetes. It is estimated to save almost 80,000 lives!
  • Similar programmes have been effective in other countries- a comparable motion was put in place in Mexican 2014, where the country introduced a 10% increase on the price of sweetened beverages. As a result of the introduction of this programme, they have found that over the course of one year, the average person has purchased 4.2 fewer litres of sugary drinks.
  • Economic benefits- it is estimated that £530 million would be raised, which would be put forward into funding fitness programmes and improving health awareness.
  • Sugary drinks are taxed in 2 bands- drinks with 5g per 100 millilitres will cost less than drinks with 8g per 100 millilitres, thus allowing families to gradually adjust their diet to a healthier one.

The counter-argument is as follows:

  • This is not the only solution- the sugar tax will not solve the country’s obesity problem on its own, it will just hopefully instigate a movement towards healthier eating and further encourage more people to exercise. An accumulation of these motions will form the solution!
  • The sugar tax unintentionally penalises the least well off or cokefamilies whom rely on sugary drinks to form a large part of their diet. They have limited funds to spend on the increased price. Furthermore, it also penalises those who suffer from type 1 diabetes who also rely on sugary drinks daily.

 

Overall, I believe that education upon health from a young age is key, where initiating fitness programmes in younger schools has already been introduced in some primary schools, such as the 1 mile a day campaign where children can run, hop, skip or simply just walk a mile a day! This, alongside the sugar tax is already being backed by many influential people, especially in the food and drink industry, such as Jamie Oliver which will increase advertising and help tackle the problem sooner!

As always, any likes, comments, opinions or questions will be greatly appreciated, thanks!

Images found here!

Should contact rugby be banned at school level?

Discussions this week have been held over the banning of contact rugby at school level in both UK and Irish schools.

Concerns surrounding the issue have risen following more than 70 healthcare professionals and academics whom have stated that injuries from this high-impact sport can result in severe lifelong consequences for individuals, where it is evident that two thirds of injuries in youth rugby and conclusions are because of tackles. I recently came across a particularly interesting and topical video upon researching into this matter, which demonstrates the impact of a collision on the brain; it clearly shows the severe effect a single rugby tackle could have on a child’s brain and thus, mental state.

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These injuries include ligamentous tears, dislocated shoulders, spinal injuries, head injuries and fractures, and repeated concussions. Although concussion is seen to be a common injury in contact rugby, doctors have highlighted a link between repeated concussions and cognitive impairment, whilst concussions have also been related to depression, diminished verbal abilities and memory loss: a scary concept resulting from a single tackle.

Professor Allyson Pollock, from Queen Mary University of London has evidence showing that rugby players ‘up to the age of 18 have a 28% chance of getting injured over a season of 15 matches’, where she also added that 90% of all injuries from the contact sport results in more than seven days off from school!

Talks surrounding this issue arose following the RFU’s decision to introduce rugby to a million children in state schools across England. The seven-year programme has reached 400 schools so far, with 350 to follow. The organisation have stated that rugby builds character and masculinity, whilst it also challenges students outside of academia.

Although the medical effects of tackling are evident, it can be said that many would be extremely sad to see the contact version banned!

 

 

The uniqueness of tears

I recently came across a fascinating article where photographer Maurice Mikkers displayed a series of stunning photographs showing delicate pieces with intricate patterns such as those seen on frozen bubbles, snowflakes and bacteria. What did the photographs depict though?

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These impressive photographs in fact show human tears like they have never been seen before. Each small disc is an individual tear droplet that has been collected and pipetted onto a glass slide, where it has been left to evaporate and then been photographed using dark field microscopy. The result is an impressive, white pattern formed by the crystallised salts left behind from the briny fluid. Each pattern is unique and is redolent of beautiful snowflakes under a high magnification!

Scientifically, tears are divided into three types based on their origin:

  • Basal tears- In healthy mammalian eyes, the cornea is continually kept nourished and wet by basal tears, which lubricate the eye and help to keep it clear of dust. Some of the substances in these tears, such as lysozyme, form part of our bodies immune system and help fight against bacterial infection. Lysozyme does this by dissolving a layer in the outer coating of certain bacteria.
  • Reflex tears- This results from irritation of the eye by foreign particles, or from the presence of irritant substances such as pepper spray, tear gas or onion vapours. These reflex tears attempt to wash out irritants that may have come into contact with the eye.

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  • Psychic tears- This is crying or weeping as a result of strong emotional stress, anger, suffering, pleasure, physical pain or mourning. Tears instigated by emotions have a different chemical make-up than those for lubrication, where they contain more protein-based hormones such as prolactin and a neurotransmitter called leucine enkephalin, a natural painkiller that is released when the body is under stress.

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onionsIt has been tested that every tear has a different viscosity and composition, where all tears contain oils, antibodies and enzymes, and that it is just this varied make-up that gives a uniqueness and ensures a radically dissimilar shape for each tear. So two psychic tears with the exact same chemical make-up can look very different up close, and these will both be completely disparate to a reflex or basal tear. Incredible!

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Mental health: an “invisible disability”

As you are all probably aware, mental health is a current major issue, and as a result, awareness over the topic has recently grown to spread alertness and help a larger proportion of the population to gain an understanding, allowing help to be provided to those in need more quickly.

“1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem over the course of a year”

This week has recently been named mental health week, where a series of programmes are being shown on BBC 1 over the period of 2 weeks called In The Mind, which illustrate various mental health issues and people’s experiences concerning different disorders. These include ‘The Not So Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive: 10 Years On’, which demonstrates Stephen Fry’s struggle upon living with manic depression, which was aired on Monday 15 February, and ‘Professor Green: Suicide And Me’ which is to be repeated on Thursday 18 February on BBC 1 at 11:45pm. These interesting programmes allow viewers to witness the extremes that the mind can be taken, and  how people have managed to recover or monitor their mental health issue to achieve a positive mental health state. I would certainly recommend watching them!_88246365_tumblr_mub0l5zjw81qbehyfo1_1280

Upon researching about mental health issues, I came across a series of intriguing articles about how people whom have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder and struggled to discuss in words, exactly how they are feeling, have found comfort through an array of drawings, comic strips and photographs that, some have stated, explain exactly how they are feeling! This is immensely encouraging as it just demonstrates another leap forward in aiding awareness about the topic.

“1 in 1o young people will experience a mental health disorder”

I recently participated in a mental health first aid (Youth lite) 3 hour course that gave an brief insight into young people’s mental health and common mental health issues. We learnt about some of the common mental health issues that are currently affecting young people, with a more in-depth look at depression, eating disorders, psychosis and anxiety. 

MHFA_Youth_logoThe enthusiastic instructor,whom was excellent in providing detailed facts and comfortably drew from personal experience to ensure we received a thorough understanding of mental health issues, advised us upon how to support a young person with a mental health issue and how to more easily relate to their experience, whilst also demonstrated the stigma and discrimination surrounding the topic.

Upon first entering the room, the instructor straight away questioned us if we had mental health. A few confidently answered yes, some replied no, whilst others were unsure at what was in fact being asked. “Do you have mental health?”. It was explained that our confusion was natural, as the question and matter concerning it are so rarely talked about, that is is normal to be slightly baffled. It gradually became evident throughout the next exercise that everyone found it instantaneously easier to talk about the negatives language surrounding mental health issues opposed to the positive, encouraging and inspirational talk, which is something I definitely hope all the increased coverage will change! 

“Mental health is the emotional and spiritual resilience which enables us to enjoy life and to survive pain, disappointment and sadness. It is a positive sense of wellbeing and an underlying belief in our own, and others’, dignity and worth”

-HEA 1997

Throughout the course we watched a video about a young woman whom had been diagnosed with depression during her teenage years following an accumulation of stress over exams an school school, and relationship problems. The inspirational and detailed video showed the women describing herself in her worst state, and took us through her journey from when she first felt strong feelings of depression where she refused, for days and sometimes weeks on end to leave her bedroom, to her diagnosis as she gradually received more help and guidance to enable her to ensure a positive mental health state of mind, to her current days, where the women’s self confidence and most of all happiness as radiant through the video! It was incredible the transformation she described, and also her confidence to share the journey she’s faced, which I believe would be one of the most challenging parts, to make it more relatable for others and hopefully encourage those with mental health issues to confidently seek help when it is needed.

“Every year in the UK, 70 million workdays are lost due to mental illness, including anxiety, depression and stress related conditions”

The course, albeit a lite version, truly was greatly interesting and engaging to help demonstrate the desperate need for more awareness of mental health issues. At the end of the course we received a manual which covers the contents of the training course, whilst also displaying various risk factors for poor/good mental health, a stress bucket analogy used to demonstrate how to manage your mental health and a range of mental health conditions showing signs, risk factors and treatments. Its a significantly interesting read! I would truly recommend booking a place at a place near you, or at least reading more about the topic on daily news sites or websites to help raise awareness surrounding mental health issues, allowing it to have the funding and appreciation this health sector needs!

The main points I took away from the session:

  • With the right support, most young people with mental health problems will get better.
  • Mental health problems are not a choice and people can not just ‘snap out of it’. The  symptoms are not in their control.
  • Over half of the people with alcohol and substance misuse issues have mental health problems.
  • Recovery is unique and specific to every individual. 
  • A young person with a diagnosis of a serious illness but who copes well and has a positive mental health is a safe place to be.
  • Listening is one of the best treatments 🙂

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The Zika Virus Epidemic

What is Zika virus disease?

Zika is a disease caused by the Zika virus that is primarily spread to people through an infected mosquito bite. It was first detected in 1974 in Uganda, but has never resulted in an outbreak of this scale until it was recently recorded in Brazil in May 2015. There has been research that there is growing risk of a link to microcephaly, which is a neurodevelopment disorder which results in an abnormal smallness of the head and is associated with incomplete brain development.

What are the symptoms of Zika?

Most cases result in no symptoms, thus it is difficult to test for, whilst there is also no cure. However, the most common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis.

World Health Organisation (WHO) officials have stated that between 500,000 and 1.5 million people in South America have been infected and the virus has spread to more than 20 other countries in the region, including Paraguay, French Guiana, Guyana and Venezuela. Moreover, the Zika virus has just recently been declared a global health emergency by WHO, where the epidemic has been noted to be of the same extremity as HIV, Ebola and SARS. This quick decision is partially a result of past accusations over the organisations extremely slow response to the recent Ebola outbreak, and thus, spurred a sooner and more definite response.

A case of the Zika virus has just been reported in the U.S, by sexual transmission, not a mosquito bite. A patient was confirmed to have the virus by The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Dallas County, Texas after having sexual contact with another person who returned from the country where the disease is present. This is significant as it is now evident the virus can be transmitted through sexual contact and thus, allows increased protection and education of the Zika virus, in the hope to decrease the rate of the epidemic. However, it is estimated that between 3 and 4 million people in the Americas could be infected with the virus, as the El Niño weather pattern is expected to increase mosquito populations in many areas and thus, lead to increased spread.

A little more information on microcephaly:

  • original_microcephalyMicrocephaly- ‘a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller thanexpected when compared to babies of the same age and sex’. Babies whom suffer from microcephaly often have smaller brains that are underdeveloped, whichcould result in a range of problems.These problems include: seizures, developmental delay (such as problems with speech), intellectual disability, problems with balance and movement, feeding problems, hearing loss and vision problems.
  • In the last 6 months, an estimated 4000 babies with microcephaly have been born in Brazil, which scientist have closely related to the Zika virus.
  • There has been a rapid increase in female infanticide and illegal abortions over worries that the baby will be born with microcephaly.

What has been proposed to stop this epidemic?

  • Currently 220,000 members of Brazil’s extensive police force are going from door-to-door to help eradicate the virus whilst mosquito repellent and nets have been distributed by the government to all pregnant women on benefits.
  • Avoid getting bitten. Although this is easier said than done, it is advised that people cover up and spray any exposed skin with DEET, however, some people who can’t afford these precautions are at risk and as a result, aid for those endangered by the virus is extremely important.
  • Eliminate mosquitoes. The Aedes species mosquitoes live in mainly urban areas, where they lay eggs and are most active in Zika-virus ater pooled places such as plant pot saucers and backed gutters. This breed of mosquito, associated with yellow fever too, was sprayed with DDT in the 1960s in the aim of elimination, however, this strategy would be harder to implement now as many of the mosquitoes survived and today DDT is widely banned.
  • Modified mosquitoes. There are already high-tech eradication methods in the works, where the most advanced involve making genetically modified mosquitoes whose offspring die as larvae, which relies on regular release of this genetically modified breed of males to reduce the population. It is already evident that the number of native mosquitos in Brazil has decreased by 95% within the last 6 months.
  • Make a vaccine. Research into a live dengue vaccine has already reached large-scale trials, and thus, a similar approach can be taken for Zika.

It is too soon to see whether any of these prepositions will be successful, however, as the epidemic is now considered a global health emergency,which will ensure a united response, and with research into new vaccines underway, developments against the race of the Zika virus are surely not far away.

Image sources:

 

Breakthroughs in medicine during 2015: Face Transplants

Hi everyone! I would like to apologise for the lack of pieces I’ve written recently as it has been a very busy past couple of weeks!

To continue with my review over last year’s most influential medical breakthroughs, I am going to talk about the most extensive face transplant to date, although I will also comment on various ethical issues and risks associated with this procedure. This topic interests me greatly as although surgery was being performed before 2015, last year saw the most advanced surgery to fully recover a firefighters face to date!

I recently gave a small presentation upon the advancement of facial surgery and thus, face transplants to my fellow classmates, in my school’s Enrichment programme where I chose the Biomedicine option, which further shows my through interest upon the topic!

Background knowledge and some facts 

A face transplant is a “medical procedure to replace all or part of a person’s face using tissue from a cadaver”

  • The world’s first partial face transplant performed on a living human was carried out in France in 2005 on a woman called Isabelle Dinoire. Dinoire had attempted to take an overdose in order to end her life, when she awoke and found that her Labrador had gnawed away at her face in an attempt for her to regain consciousness. Dinoire’s injuries to her mouth, nose and chin were so extreme that doctors immediately dismissed a facial reconstruction and announced the worlds first face transplant was to be done.
  • The world’s first full facial transplant was completed in Spain in 2010. The patient was identified only as Oscar, who was a farmer that has accidentally shot himself in the face. Doctors on the case lifted an entire face, including nose, jaw, cheekbones, muscles, eyeballs and teeth and transplanted this onto Oscar, where it was estimated that the patient would regain up to 90% of his facial features and would need a year of physiotherapy.
  • Spain, in order of the total number of successful face transplants performed, is considered the leading country in face transplants in the world.

Benefits and risks of the procedure 

Benefits:

  • Life changing. A facial transplant not only restores facial features, but encourages  confidence in the patient, where some have said this has allowed them to move on from the accident more easily.
  • Improves functionality. The transplant restores physical functionality of the human face, including the ability to breathe, speak, swallow and smile which enables an easier recovery.
  • Restoration of appearance. There is the ability to restore near normal facial appearance which of course helps patients regain confidence, which encourages them to return more easily to their former lifestyle.
  • Less pain and discomfort than the procedure of facial restoration. Firstly, facial transplant surgery is a single, longer procedure in comparison to facial reconstruction. Moreover, facial transplants do not involve the removal of the patients own skin from other areas for use on the face, and thus, overall the patient endures less pain.

Risks:

  • Rejection. The transplant may be rejected by the patients immune system as a result of recognition of foreign antigens on the transplanted cells, thus the procedure wouldn’t be able to occur. To avoid this, extensive tissue typing would need to be done to ensure the surgery can take place.
  • Identity issues that could result in pyschological issues in patients . There are many concerns that patients will be upset over essentially using their own identity, as your facial features are a large proportion of how others identify you. However, there is evidence that the donors appearance is not transferred to the recipient as a result of different underlying bone structure and facial shape.
  • Ethical worries. Many concerns exist over the ethical debate concerning the deceased’s body parts to be used for surgery, or whether this is considered wrong and disrespectful. What are your thoughts upon the ethical side of face transplants?
  • Drug side-effects. Immunosuppressants are given to patients to help prevent rejection, however, these will further weaken their immune system and thus, make the patient more susceptible to disease.  

The world’s most extensive face transplant 

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Volunteer firefighter Patrick Hardison was badly burnt in a house fire after he attempted to save a women from the blaze. The fireman faced severe third-degree burns and was visually unrecognisable from whom he used to be, where he lost his ears, his eyebrows and all of the hair from his head.

Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, whom specialises in microsurgery and plastic surgery, transplanted donated tissue which included the entire scalp, forehead, face, eyelids and ears alongside some underlying nerves, muscles and blood vessels onto Hardison in the procedure. Moreover, in order to ensure that the facial features would have a better scaffold to hold on to, and thus, could be held in the correct anatomical place, Rodriguez also transplanted various pieces of the facial skeleton such as the tip of the chin, parts of the cheekbones and the bridge of the nose. The donated upper and lower eyelids were attached to the patient and the inner linings of the nose and mouth were stitched into place, to complete the transplant.

“Our goal is to restore function as well as have aesthetically pleasing results”

-Dr Eduardo Rodriguez.

It was immediately evident that the surgery was a success. Hardison’s hair on his scalp, alongside his facial hair, began to instantly grow back, whilst it was evident from the rosy cheeks of the patient that his blood supply had been restored. Hardison was sitting upwards in his chair within a week! Of course, he will have to continue to take immunosuppressants for the entirety of his life, but the procedure, and the anti-rejection medication is surely worth it!

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Breakthroughs in medicine during 2015: Gene editing

2015 has seen many discoveries in the world of science and medicine that truly are amazing and not to mention life changing! New advancements in research are achieved and evolving every day, however, during my next few posts I will take you through some of the highlights of the year starting with transformative advances in Gene Editing!

Layla Richards, a one year old child from London, suffered from incurable aggressive leukaemia and was told by doctors that all treatment had failed and thus, on Layla’s first birthday, was advised to take the transition into palliative care. A bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy didn’t work, however, the determination of her family, professionals and a biotechnology company called Cellectis allowed Layla to proceed with an experimental therapy that has so far saved her life.

This treatment had only ever been trialled on mice before and thus, the results were thought unlikely to be successful. The treatment is available due to substantial advances in gene editing and the steps that took place are as follows:

  1. Microscopic scissors (Talens) were used to place the DNA inside the donor’s immune cells.
  2. These cells were designed to kill only leukaemia cells and make them imperceptible from the drugs given to the patient.
  3. These designer cells were injected into Layla, whilst she also received a bone marrow transplant to repair her immune system.

It is too soon following thetreatment to record whether this procedure is a cure, however doctors at the Great Ormond Street Hospital have noted that this is a tremendous breakthrough and one to surely be seen in the future to correct other conditions where cells are engineered and returned to patients in the treatment of cancer.

“We’re in a wonderful place compared to where we were

five months ago, but that doesn’t mean cure.”

-Dr Paul Veys, Great Ormond Street.

Professor Waseem Qasim, involved in Layla’s leukaemia procedure has discussed that treatments involving re-inforcing the immune system to target cancers and other inherited disorders are imminent, where the easiest method will be to cut cells out of the body, modify them and reinsert them back into the patients body. Qasim states that, therefore, sickle cell anaemia or beta thalassaemia, which are diseases of the blood, will be of more focus than heart or kidney defects.

Earlier this year, gene editing has also seen success in making pig organs suitable for human transplant and genetically modified mosquitoes that are resistant to malaria using a technique called CRISPR, which could save the lives of 3.2 billion people which are currently at risk from the disease. This technique has also been used at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong to change the genome of a human embryo that results in a blood disorder, in order to avoid any damage and create a perfectly healthy embryo. Of course there are ethical dilemmas that arise alongside these breakthrough, such as the worry of abusing the use of ‘designer babies’, however if gene editing is allowed to become more widely used as a treatment, the opportunities would be truly life-changing.

What are your opinions on gene editing? Please comment any thoughts you have.

Thank you!

View videos covering this story by clicking on the links below:

Photo of Layla Richards by http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11978250/Parents-who-refused-to-let-baby-die-of-leukaemia-change-medical-history.html

Who am I?

I am a student from Newcastle upon Tyne who is interested in pursuing a career in medicine. Through the use of this blog, I will deliver the latest developments in the world of science, breakthroughs in treatments and medicine alongside my own thoughts and experiences that have aided me in my will to study at medical school.

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The idea of generating a blog, where the freedom to write about anything and everything is all yours, has always interested me and finally I have decided to create one following the informative yet greatly inspiring talk from James Ridgeway at the Edge session at Medlink in Nottingham (in further detail later). The conference allowed me to truly see if I was cut out for that career path and even if I was actually fully interested in pursuing that career. The answer is of course yes, and I not only thoroughly recommend the experience but I too suggest to try it even if you are uncertain about medicine, because it will clarify whether it is the right choice or not for you! And of course, who wouldn’t cherish a free stethoscope!!!

I currently study the four subjects Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Geography at AS level, all of which I thoroughly enjoy, after I knew the path I wished to take would be science related. The idea of studying medicine has always been prominent in my mind however it is further defined following various trips to hospitals with a broken arm, broken finger or even a dinosaur ( a toy one at that!) wedged in my lip following a fight with my brother when I was younger. Although at the time the immense pain of the injury, and certainly letting everyone else know of it, were forefront in my mind, I take great inspiration from the various professionals that worked succinctly to allow my recovery, thus reassuring me that a career in healthcare is one I definitely want to pursue. I know now that I want to be a part of that team that not only nurtures patients from a point of uncomfortable or life-threatening sickness to a healthy human being. I want to be part of that same atmosphere  which also provides a shoulder to lean on alongside reassurance and support to all patients, family and loved ones at their greatest time of need and to know that I helped them, only if it was just slightly, when they are at their weakest point is what I would love to be able to achieve throughout my career.

Alongside academia, I am actively involved in sports, where Hockey and Netball are my favourites- I have played both to a school, club and regional level and also captained both at different levels which has allowed me to work with valuable teamwork that is essential throughout a career in medicine and further developed my leadership. Sport allows myself to fully switch off and play something I greatly love with people I need to and know that I can rely on! I have also partook in various work experience chances such as a week course at Proctor and Gamble and helped organise school holiday camps, whilst I regularly volunteer at St Oswald’s Hospice, Newcastle which is a truly exceptional and inspiring place to work at (I will come back to this).

Thank you for taking the time to read an introduction of myself! Any comments or advice would be very helpful and appreciated!