A cure for HIV

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) damages cells in the immune system, and reduces your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.

HIV can be managed by antiretroviral therapy (ART) – medications which stop replication of the virus, allowing the immune system to repair itself.
Although ART makes HIV undetectable and can prevent transmission of the virus, it is still latent in cells, meaning it hasn’t been completely eradicated. It also requires long-term administration, which is costly, and can have side effects.

I recently read an article written by Sophie Cousins, regarding cancer treatments being used for a cure for HIV. It explains research that is being carried out into using immunoboosting therapies used in cancer treatment, to manage HIV.

Similarities between the barriers to a cure to HIV and cancer have been identified, such as the reappearance of malignancies, even whilst undergoing cancer treatments, which resembles the persistence of HIV. Cells infected with HIV proliferate in the same way as tumour cells do, and both show signs of inflammation during this proliferation. Some of the same markers are found in HIV and tumour cells. Markers are substances that are produced in response to or by the virus/disease.

Checkpoint inhibitors are a new type of immunotherapy drug, used for treatment of metastatic melanoma. One of these, called anti-PD-1 is being investigated, in the hope that it works in the same way for HIV, as it does in cancer. It works by blocking a signal, which would have stopped T cells from attacking the cancer. In Melbourne, research is being done to discover whether anti-PD-1 can reverse HIV latency, boost the immune system, and therefore cure HIV.

However, research in San Francisco reveals it may not work for everyone, and anti-PD-1 therapy can have side effects like autoimmune diseases of the skin and gut (when the immune system attacks healthy cells by recognising them as foreign). CAR T cell therapy is also being investigated as a possible HIV treatment. It treats leukaemia, by using genetically modified versions of the patients’ immune cells. It is currently being studied in HIV in animals.

 

 

Human Anatomy-a stroke case study

I undertook a 6 week Massive Online Open Course called ‘Human Anatomy’, by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where I learnt about the human anatomy from the perspectives of multiple healthcare professionals, through a case-based study of a stroke.

A stroke is a life-threatening medical condition, which occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.

In most cases, the cause is ischaemic (blood supply is stopped by a clot). It can also be haemorrhagic (a weak blood vessel supplying the brain bursts.) in the case study, the patient suffered a transient ischaemic attack, where the blood supply to the brain is temporarily interrupted, and it lasts for only a few minutes. The TIA can be a warning sign of a full stroke in the future, which this patient had days later. The patient was a heavy smoker and drinker, with a diet consisting of many fatty foods. He also had a very stressful job, and all these factors increased the risk of him having a stroke.

Throughout the course, I learnt about the different organ systems in the human body, and how a stroke can affect each of them.

Skeletal system:
A stroke can affect the skeletal system in many ways, and some affects include:

  • Bone loss- more severe in upper body (because it usually functions more)
  • Increased risk of fractures, most commonly on the hemiplegic side
  • Post-stroke osteoporosis (weakening of the bones), contributing to bone loss and increased risk of fractures
  • Vitamin D insufficiency
  • Bone resorption (loss of bone minerals like calcium to the blood) which can lead to hypercalcemia

Treatments for the effects on the skeletal system involve the administration of bisphosphonate drugs for osteoporosis, vitamin D supplements, and more.

Muscular system:
Because of contralateral control of the body by the brain, if the left side of the brain is damaged in the stroke, the right side of the body will be effected, and vice versa. A stroke can cause:

  • Muscle weakness- leading to difficulty in mobility
  • Paralysis
  • Hypoesthesia or hyperesthesia (change in sensitivity) for example to temperature
  • Contracture-. Muscles around the joint can change shape, and become shorter/longer. Sometimes this can become permanent, fixing the joints and muscles in a position. For example, your arm may be stuck in a bent position.
  • Spasticity-changes in muscle tone which can cause tight, stiff muscles
  • Drop foot- the dorsiflexor muscles (which lift up the toes) are weak, so your toes catch on the ground when you step forward

Treatments: exercising the muscles you find difficult to control, which can be helped by a physiotherapist. Occupational therapists will help the patient to find ways to carry out everyday activities. For drop-foot, an ankle-foot orthosis can be worn (a brace.) to treat spasticity, Botox can be injected into the muscle to reduce the muscle’s ability to contract. Medication can also help with the muscle stiffness.

In the case study, the treatments included antithrombotic therapy, which is administered in the hope that the blood clot will dissolve. Physiotherapy and occupational therapy was given to improve the strength of the patient’s limbs, and help walking. Speech therapy was given to the patient as he acquired mixed dysphasia. Optometrists helped his vision, as the stroke can cause the patient’s gaze to drift to one side.

Overall, the course ‘Human Anatomy’ was very interesting, and it allowed me to develop my basic knowledge of the anatomy of the human body further, whilst learning more about the causes and effects of a stroke.

A bra that could save lives

An 18 year old boy from Mexico and his 3 friends have invented the ‘Eva Bra’,  which could potentially detect breast cancer. Julian Rios Cantu was motivated to invent this bra by his mother- when he was 13, she was diagnosed with breast cancer which resulted in a double mastectomy.

So how does it work?
Cancerous tumours tend to cause skin to have a different temperature because of abnormal blood vessel systems and increased blood flow. Biosensors in the Eva Bra measure these temperatures and record them in an app. The app then alerts the user to any alarming results. To obtain accurate measurements, women should wear the bra for 60-90 minutes per week.

the Eva Bra is currently only at the prototype stage, but it will undergo more tests to investigate whether it really is a reliable way to detect cancer. Julian’s company called Higia Technologies won the top prize at the Global Student Entrepreneur awards last week, and they won £15,500 to develop their idea. 

Trials must be done before this bra can be approved by cancer experts as a method of detecting the tumours. Although increased blood flow  and higher temperatures of skin is a common effect of cancerous tumours, it is not entirely a reliable method of diagnosing cancer. However, if further tests of the Eva Bra prove it to be successful, it could be extremely beneficial as detecting breast cancer at the earliest stage could save lives. Julian and his friends hope to make the Eva Bra a product fit for sale by the end of next year.

Dying of boredom

Although scientists haven’t yet found what completely causes boredom, there is research that shows patients with damage to their prefrontal cortex are more likely to become bored easily. The prefrontal cortex is also known to control our perception of time, which explains why when we are bored, we perceive time to pass more slowly.

So is it really possible to die of boredom?
People with damage to the prefrontal cortex are not only prone to boredom, but also experience greater urges to take risks.

When we experience a new situation that we enjoy, a neurotransmitter named dopamine is released into the prefrontal cortex, which triggers a response that causes us to feel excitement and joy. People who feel boredom easily may have lower levels of dopamine, meaning it takes more to trigger this response. This explains why people with a predisposition to boredom are naturally more willing than others to participate in activities that have a high risk of danger.

 Of course boredom can’t cause death directly, but the link between boredom and risk-taking can lead to life threatening situations. Boredom-prone people are more likely to participate in activities involving drugs, alcohol, and hazardous sports. Other research has shown that these people are also at a greater risk of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and paranoia.

Preventing boredom
The reason we get bored is simply because we feel that the activity we are doing lacks value, either because it is unenjoyable, too easy, too difficult, or uninteresting. A tedious task may be prevented from becoming boring by thinking of it in an optimistic way; contemplate the usefulness or meaningfulness that the activity may have.

Does football cause brain injury?

Research has been done at the Institute of Neurology in London, which has found that professional football could be linked to a specific injury of the brain, also found more commonly in boxers.

The brains of six professional footballers who have played for an average of 26 years were examined in autopsies. In four of these males, signs of CTE were found; an injury common in boxers but uncommon in the general population. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a form of dementia which is caused by repeated blows to the head.  There are many symptoms including memory loss, disorientation, parkinsonism and dysarthria.

Repetitive brain trauma also leads to a build up of tau protein. This  slowly kills brainay cells leading to brain damage, most commonly Alzheimer’s disease (which was also found in the four brains).

The image on the right shows brains and microscopic sections of: a brain with no tau protein deposition and no clinical condition (far left), a brain with a large amount of tau protein deposition (middle), and a brain with severe deposition of the protein belonging to a patient with severe dementia (right).

But how does this relate to football? Repeated heading of the ball and other head impacts are thought to have caused the CTE present in the four males which were examined. The Professional Football Association have set to ban children under the age of 10 in America from heading the ball, due to fears of brain damage.

Although the research shows health risks associated with playing football at a high level, there is opposing evidence which shows footballers  have lower risks of cardiovascular disease, and will live longer lives. It is also unlikely that the injuries which come from recreational football will cause long term problems like professional football possibly can. Moreover In addition to the signs of CTE in the four men, the autopsy also showed blood vessel damage (a cause of dementia), meaning that professional football playing was not the only contributing factor to the brain injury.

 

Work experience in a hospital

The  week beginning 13th February, I did work experience in the orthopaedics department, in which I shadowed different consultant orthopaedic surgeons on ward rounds, in clinic and in theatre.

The most exciting part of the week was going in theatre; it was interesting to see the rolesknee-replacement-equipment of each professional during the surgery, including the scrub nurses, theatre assistants, anaesthetists, and of course the surgeons. I was able to observe many operations including arthroscopies of the knee and shoulder, a trapeziectomy, and knee replacements. Other than orthopaedics, I was also able to watch surgery in the field of otorhinolarynology (ear nose and throat).

surgicalThe procedures involved in orthopaedics are very aggressive, with the use of mallets,  drills and saws. In contrast, ENT surgery is more delicate as I saw in a thyroidectomy, with more use of forceps and scissors. In all types of surgery, sanitation is controlled in many ways such as wearing scrubs, using hibitane/iodine on the patient’s skin as an antiseptic, and thoroughly washing up to the elbow. Despite this I noticed there is greater emphasis on infection control in orthopaedic theatres compared to other specialties. During orthopaedic surgery, I had to wear a face mask, and there was a ventilator in the ceiling, whereas in the ENT surgery this wasn’t needed, and I was allowed to stand right next to the patient. This is because in orthopaedics the bones are exposed to the air, and can easily get infected (osteomyelitis). Infections in the bone are very problematic and difficult to treat.

Before the operations began, I observed the anaesthetists, who not only had a job of anaesthetising the patient, but also had to calm them down, which can be very difficult with anxious patients. They either gave general anaesthetic, or local in the epidural (back). An epidural anaesthetic was given if the patient is unfit for general: if the patient was overweight or a heavy smoker, respiratory problems could occur during surgery if general was used.  Another advantage of epidural anaesthetic is that the patient will experience less sickness and drowsiness after the surgery, which can help in recovery. The anaesthetists also taped the eyelids shut, to prevent the patient blinking, which could dry out and damage the cornea. A endotracheal tube was also fed down the trachea, and breathing was monitored throughout the procedure.

whilst in clinic, I learned about many different conditions, how to spot them on different forms of body imaging, and how to treat them. As I was able to observe more than one doctor, It was interesting to compare how they interacted with the patients when examining them, but both in an empathetic, thorough way.

work experience- GP surgery and pharmacy

Throughout the summer, I was able to do work experience in two different GP surgeries (for a week each) and a pharmacy.  In this time I was given the opportunity to: spend time with the administrative staff, shadow GP’s in consultations, accompanying GP’s on home visits, and also spend time with nurses, phlebotomists, and pharmacists.

During the first placement, I found shadowing the GP in consultations the most interesting; I saw a wide range of patients with different problems, and observed how the doctor dealt with each one. The surgery is common for patients with mental health related needs, therefore many of the patients that came to see the GP were for problems of mental health, particularly depression. Mental health is an area of medicine that greatly interests me, therefore work experience at this medical practice was an amazing opportunity for me.

I was also given the chance to spend some time in a local pharmacy. I observed the pharmacist distributing the drugs to various patients throughout the busy day, and learned how they were able to deal with every patient’s requests effectively, in a timely manner.

blood

During the second week at another GP surgery, I also shadowed the GP in consultations and accompanied him on visits to care homes, nursing homes, and patients’ homes. I was also able to observe the phlebotomist repeatedly take blood from many patients. After this, I had the opportunity to practice what I had learned, on a training arm.

I also spent time with the nurse, where I observed diabetes checks, smear tests, and learned how to use technology such as electrocardiograph machines and spirometers.

Aortic Stenosis

torsoAnt-locations250On my previous post, I mentioned that I learned how to perform an auscultation. This is using a stethoscope to listen for sounds from the inside of the body, including the heart,lungs, and abdomen. Auscultation is an effective, preventative method against many medical conditions. The diagram shows points on the body where the stethoscope is placed to listen for the sounds.

Auscultation of the heart:

The doctor should listen for the sounds that the heart makes, how often the sounds are being repeated, and how loud the sound is. A regular heart produces rhythmic sounds described as a repetitive ‘lub-dub.’

One condition that can be detected by an auscultation is aortic stenosis. Aortic stenosis is the most common valvular heart disease in the world. It is the narrowing of the aortic valve, causing a restriction of blood flow through the valve. This makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body.

Aortic stenosis can be caused in different ways, one of them being Congenital Heart Defect (CHD). This is a condition when there is either one (unicuspid), two (bicuspid), or four (quadricuspid) cusps rather than the normal three. A cusp is a flap of tissue in the aortic valve. Aortic stenosis can also be a result of a build-up of calcium on the valve, causing stiffening and narrowing of the aortic valve. Rheumatic fever involves inflammation of the heart’s valves, which in turn can cause scar tissue. Scar tissue is a rough surface that contributes to the collection of calcium deposits.

There are many symptoms of aortic stenosis, which are:

  • Angina (chest pain) and tightness
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling faint
  • Heart murmurs
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath

Medications can be used to control the symptoms, however surgery is the only method able to completely eliminate aortic stenosis. It is only recommended if the condition is severe.

aortic valve in tratment bitThe most common treatment is transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). this procedure is the most common treatment, as it is without the requirement of open heart surgery therefore less invasive.It involves replacing the valve with a prosthetic valve, via the femoral artery in the leg (transfemoral), or via the left ventricular apex of the heart (transapical). A catheter with a balloon and replacement valve at the end is inserted into the aortic valve, by an incision in the leg or chest. The balloon is then inflated, which expands the replacement valve. The balloon deflates, and the catheter is removed, leaving behind the replacement valve in the aorta.

 Sources used:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/aortic-stenosis/basics/causes/con-20026329

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Aorticvalvereplacement/Pages/Whatisitpage.aspx

http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/cardiology/aortic-valve-disease/images/aorticvalvefig6_large.jpg

Medlink

On the 17th-18th of December 2016, I attended ‘Medlink-Intensive’- a two day course held at the university of Nottingham for aspiring medics and vets. The conference was a very valuable experience as I learned many tips and useful advice.

blog-site-buttonDuring the course, I learned:

  • how to get the best possible grades in chemistry
  • tips on applying to medical school
  • what to expect from the  UKCAT and BMAT tests
  • the composition of an MMI interview, as well as a traditional interview
  • how to perform auscultation
  • how to get the most out of work experience

It was a great opportunity to make new friends and meet  many people in the same situation as me. It allowed me to explore the life of a university student by staying overnight on campus and attending lectures.

 

I highly recommend Medlink-Intensive to all students aspiring to become a doctor or vet, as it gives them a deeper insight into their career choice, and an opportunity to talk to many professionals in the field.

 

Hello world!

My name is Olivia, and I am a 16 year old student striving towards a medical career. I am currently studying biology, chemistry and psychology, and have been inspired by Medlink to create this blog. I aim to use it as a place for me to write about topics surrounding medicine that interest me, as well as a way of reflecting on my experiences from my journey to a career in medicine.