New Test Can Identify Blood Type In 30 Seconds

A new blood test that is being developed by researchers has the possibility to revolutionise medicine in areas where it is difficult for health services to get to and areas where the traditional methods of blood typing may not be possible. If a blood transfusion occurs and the blood type of the donor does not match that of the recipient, it can be life-threatening as you could have a reaction meaning your immune system will begin to attack and destroy the blood of the donor. One problem that usually arises is that not everyone knows what type their blood is unless they have it tested, the four different types of blood for humans (A, B, AB and O) are categorised by the different antibodies and antigens found in the blood.

The more traditional methods for blood typing that are generally used involves a trained member of staff in a lab using a centrifuge to separate the blood in to different layers, this isn’t always possible in some places due to lack of equipment and can often take a long time. The new method being developed involves a special paper, Bromocresol Green dye and drops of blood from the person wishing to be tested. The use of Bromocresol Green dye is perfect as it fixes the problem of requiring specialist equipment and trained staff.

In the new test, the paper changes colour in the presence of different combinations of antibodies and antigens from the blood and the test works as follows. The test requires a piece of equipment with two ends, on the left side of the equipment the person must put a solution containing antibody A and for the right side, the person must do exactly the same except this time use a solution containing only Antibody B. A drop of blood must be added to the centre of the equipment, followed by a drop of the Bromocresol Green dye. The mix of dye and blood will travel down the piece of equipment until it comes in to contact with the antibody solutions on either side. Then blood type be determined in the following ways:

For type A, the left solution containing Antibody A would turn brown in colouration and the right solution containing Antibody B would turn teal in colouration. For type B, the left solution containing Antibody A would turn teal in colouration and the right solution containing Antibody B would turn brown in colouration. For type AB, both the right and left solutions would turn teal in colouration. For type O, both the left and right solutions would turn brown in colouration. Traditional methods can take as long as several hours however this new method can produce a result in 30 seconds. This reduction in time can sometimes be the difference between life and death.

Of the 3,550 samples that scientists tested on, they had an accuracy of 99.9%. However, although it seems as though this test is ready to be released, more testing is required to provide users insurance that the test will work under different conditions in different environments. As the test purely relies on colour change, as long as users understand what the change in colour means, almost anyone can use it and it could revolutionise point of care medicine.

Thanks, Will



Could Bioengineered Blood Vessels Revolutionise Treatment For Children With Congenital Heart Disease?

A new treatment that is being developed by researchers will hopefully grant surgeons the ability to treat the heart defects of children, without the heart having to be replaced. So far, the studies have only been completed on lambs, however if the scientists can translate the information they have discovered from the tests completed on lambs to humans, it could revolutionise treatments for children who suffer with congenital heart disease as they would no longer have to undergo many open-heart surgeries. A congenital heart disease occurs when there is an abnormality in the structure of the heart, this normally occurs at birth.

The researchers first step in achieving what they did was to create a framework from skin cells called fibroblasts and proteins called fibrin. Fibroblasts are cells found in connective tissue and the function of fibroblasts is that they play a role in the healing of wounds around the body. Fibrin is a non-globular protein and it can be found in areas of the body where blood clotting is occurring. For many weeks the group of researchers nurtured the skin cells of the sheep so that the cells could produce collagen. Collagen is the main protein that can be found in skin, connective tissue and bone, and its function is to provide the skin its structure and strength. The material that the researchers had harvested was not strong enough for implantation, however what they had was a graft that would not trigger an immune response from the lambs immune system (a graft is a piece of living tissue that can be surgically transplanted).

From their studies, they concluded that the lambs who had the artificial tubes had naturally put on the correct amount of weight as they were growing. Also the implanted vessels had grown in size and taken up a shape that naturally occurs in pulmonary arteries. The mechanical properties of the implanted vessels had almost no difference from that of a regular, natural pulmonary artery which is really promising news for the future of this treatment.

As a traditional method of treatment, surgeons have relied on materials that are synthetic as well as transplants from the recently deceased. Although this new method is more expensive than traditional methods, the risks associated are far lower than open-heart operations and so I believe that this is a justified expense. In the near future, the research team hope to complete this testing in more animals and eventually in humans.

Thanks, Will


Are We Prepared For The Next Wave Of The Zika Virus?

In the early stages of 2015, the Zika Virus became a major health concern in South American countries. Since then, the virus has been quieter over the colder seasons but as the mosquito season approaches, it is believed that the virus could be more deadly and spread further than previously anticipated by health authorities.

Current studies conducted on the Zika Virus are investigating how the virus is transmitted most effectively between people. Data collected shows that of all the bodily fluids, the Zika Virus can survive in semen the longest. 55 men infected with the Zika Virus were tested and 3 showed traces of the virus in their semen as long as 3 months after initial infection. The Zika Virus is known to cause microcephaly in unborn babies of infected mothers. Microcephaly is a congenital condition (a condition that is present from birth) that is associated with an incomplete brain development. The condition causes the babies to have abnormally small heads as well as other disorders regarding the nervous system.

The Zika Virus is most commonly spread by the mosquito called Aedes Aegypti which are found in tropical and subtropical climates in the Americas. The virus can also be spread by another mosquito called Aedes Albopictus which can be found in more Northern regions of the Americas. One fear among researchers is that more species of mosquito may be able to carry the virus and the effect of this is that as the weather becomes warmer in the United States, there could be many more cases of the Zika Virus around the country.

The Zika Virus also poses a threat to adults as the virus is being linked to a disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), GBS is a rare disorder and is diagnosed when the immune system of a person begins to attack their peripheral nervous system. Research conducted on mice has suggested that the virus can effect the growth of neurones in the brains of adults and possibly cause testicles to shrink in size by as much as 90% causing permanent fertility damage.

There are a lot of protective measures currently to prevent the spread of the Zika Virus such as using genetically modified insects and destroying the habitats of the mosquitos carrying the virus. At the moment, there is no treatment or cure for the Zika Virus but people in some of the previously infected countries have started to develop some immunity to the virus. However, due to the nature of the virus, this may not be a long term solution as the virus could easily mutate so their current immunity becomes ineffective. There are currently 3 vaccines in place for the Zika Virus and all 3 are showing promising results in protecting vulnerable populations.

Thanks, Will


Are Chemicals Used in Plastic Bottles Doing Serious Harm To Your Body?

A chemical compound called BPA (Bisphenol A) has been used in plastic packaging for years, however in more recent times, it is being used less frequently due to fears that the chemical compound may disrupt the hormones in our body. The way in which the chemical enters the body is that small amounts can be dissolved by the foods and drinks that the chemical comes into contact with. Food and drink containers rarely reveal information about what they are made from, but containers known to contain BPA include sports bottles, baby sippy cups and canned food packaging.

Recent studies have shown that when BPA enters the body, it acts a lot like the hormone oestrogen as it can bind to the same receptors as the oestrogen hormone. Oestrogen is usually involved in the development of female secondary sexual characteristics. From previous work, animals who have been exposed to BPA have shown signs of developing reproductive systems that are abnormal to what they should be.

Many governments have had to take action on the situation and so there have been bans implemented in many countries over the use of BPA in packaging, and a demand for a substitute to be used instead. The substitute which has been implemented is called BHPF (Fluorene-9-bisphenol), however after some tests on this substitute it has been found that BHPF is just as bad as BPA for the human body, if not worse!

Similarly to BPA, BHPF binds to oestrogen receptors in the body, however unlike BPA, it does this without stimulating the receptors and so can cause the receptors to be blocked so they can’t perform their normal function. Scientists have investigated the effect that BHPF has on female mice and from their investigation they found that the mice exposed had smaller wombs, smaller pups and in very few instances miscarriages. Although from current knowledge it is still uncertain if the same results will translate from animals to humans, there is still a fear in many people who continue to raise questions over the chemicals safety.

Thanks, Will


New Stem Cell Treatment Could Treat Multiple Sclerosis

What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)? MS is a demyelinating disease in which the insulating covers surrounding nerve fibres (which are known as myelin sheath) in the brain and spinal cord become damaged. This happens because the immune system of the patient attacks the myelin sheath causing abnormal hardening of body tissue (sclerosis) or scarring. Once damaged, the myelin sheath begins to disrupt nerve signals and if the process of scarring isn’t treated, then the condition can cause permanent neurodegeneration in the patient.

Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT) is the transplantation of multipotent haematopoietic stem cells, usually from bone marrow and is the treatment that could potentially benefit MS sufferers in the future. The results shown so far from HSCT treatments have been remarkable and so this shows great promise for the future of modern medicine. Recently, the former BBC defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt had HSCT treatment at a private hospital in Puebla, Mexico. She was unable to get treatment from the NHS so paid £48,000 to travel to North America for this new treatment. The way in which the treatment works is that it uses chemotherapy to destroy the patients immune system, their stem cells are then harvested and reintroduced in the hope of growing a new immune system which will have no faults carried over from the patients previous immune system.

To diagnose MS in the UK, an MRI scanner uses a strong magnetic field which creates a detailed image of the patients brain and spinal cord. The MRI scanner is very accurate and can be used to pinpoint the location, as well as the size, of any damage or scarring on the patients myelin sheath. The MRI scans can diagnose MS in more than 90% of people living with MS. Charities like the MS Society have stated that there are clear benefits of the HSCT treatment but because the treatment is so new, they need further studies to compare this treatment with current methods. Approximately 100,000 people in the UK are living with MS, some of the effects of living with MS include: tingling in fingers, numbness, a struggle to think clearly and difficulty walking. Therefore if a cure is on the horizon, the benefits to the population could be drastic.

Thanks, Will


Could Taking Vitamin D Supplements Prevent Winter Infection?

Information gathered from a recent study has found that if everyone took Vitamin D supplements as a part of their daily routine, there could be up to 3 million fewer people in the UK each year that suffer from respiratory infections. Types of respiratory illnesses include: sinus infections, pneumonia, bronchitis and the common cold. The latest study pulled data from 25 clinical studies from a total of 14 different countries and found that the supplements of Vitamin D could help prevent patients from getting an acute respiratory tract infection.

We usually get Vitamin D from foods like tuna, salmon and egg yolks, but another major source of Vitamin D is from the sun. Although the sun doesn’t give us the vitamin directly, as the UV-B rays of the sun reach the skin, a reaction takes place which enables skin cells in the body to produce Vitamin D. Vitamin D is of known importance to the health of muscle and bone in the body, and in 2016, Public Health England declared that most people are generally not getting the recommended amount of Vitamin D (10 micrograms) from their lifestyle during the Winter.

A topic for debate regarding Vitamin D supplements is whether or not they are of actual benefit to people. Some researchers have proposed ideas that foods in the UK should be fortified with Vitamin D, to ensure that everyone in the UK will be getting the recommended daily amount of Vitamin D in their diet. On the other hand, others have argued that there is still insufficient evidence to prove that they actually have an effect on disease prevention.

At least 70% of the population will experience one or more respiratory illness each year and the study conducted found that this percentage of the population could be decreased by 12% if the Vitamin D supplements are taken. What do you think the best solution would be?

Thanks, Will


The Effect Of Consuming Too Much Salt

Salt is vital for many functions in the body such as increasing conductivity of nerve cells, regulating blood pressure in conjunction with water and balancing sugar levels in the blood. However, this is when salt is consumed in moderation, and most people in the UK exceed the recommendation (daily recommendation for an adult is 2.3 grams and the daily recommendation for people who are over 51 years of age, have high blood pressure or are living with diabetes is 1.5 grams).

Restaurants add salt to dishes to improve flavour and processed foods are filled with salt, as a result of this, peoples diets are very high in sodium and this is having drastic effects on their health and wellbeing. In an effort to raise awareness of salt intake, New York has made it a requirement for all restaurants to mark dishes on their menu that exceed the daily recommendation of salt.

When you have an excess of sodium in your body, your kidneys keep more water in order to maintain a balance between sodium, potassium and water. This can lead to problems like edema which is swelling in body parts like hands, arms, feet and legs. An increase in salt can also lead to excessive drinking of water and this can increase blood flow around arteries and veins and lead to a raise in blood pressure. Another problem with having a lot of salt in your diet is that because you drink larger quantities of water, you will urinate more frequently causing you to lose calcium from your body along with the urine. This can lead to health problems like Osteoporosis and weakened teeth and bones.

There are more problems caused from consuming large quantities of salt that researchers don’t fully understand yet, such as salt causing stomach ulcers and infections as well as the possibility of salt increasing the rate at which stomach cancers grow at. Researchers are not 100% certain yet but believe that sodium could be responsible for stripping the mucus lining of the stomach.

Thanks, Will



Researchers Believe A Chemical in Marijuana Could Be Used For Strengthening Bones

Researchers believe that they have found a chemical in marijuana that can increase bone regeneration rate and also be able to strengthen bones. The chemical Cannabidiol (CBD) is a component of the Cannabis leaf that does not effect the mental state of the recipient, and showed from tests that it increases the regeneration of cells in fractured bones.

The study had rats with mid-femoral fractures (broken thighbone) given an injection of Cannabidiol and after 8 weeks, the amount that the bone had healed was recorded. The group of rats given Cannabidiol rather than the control injection of saline mixture showed much greater healing in the bone, this leads scientists to believe that Cannabidiol could be used for the healing and strengthening of bones.

Another group of rats with mid femoral fractures were given an injection but this time of CBD and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the component of the Cannabis leaf that is psychoactive, meaning it has an effect on the mind. It is the part of the leaf that gives people the “high” feeling. The presence of THC had no extra advantages meaning that it will not be used in the medication. In the future, researchers hope to create synthetic marijuana a synthetic marijuana that targets specific serotonin receptors to try and increase its health benefits and reduce the negative effects that it could have.

Sorry for the shorter post this week, I have been extra busy!

Thanks, Will


Could Stem Cells Be Used To Regenerate Faulty Eye Lenses?

Researchers have been trialling a new surgical technique using the stem cells of the patient with cataracts to regenerate a functional lens and restore their vision. Firstly what is a cataract? A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world today.

In most cases, patients will require surgery to replace their clouded lens with an artificial one, however for most patients who get the surgery, this doesn’t always fully restore their vision and so many patients still are required to wear contacts/glasses. Cataracts can arise in many ways: from suffering injury to an eye to family history.

Body tissues have stem cells that can replace damaged cells, but over time the number of stem cells in body tissues decreases. This is one of the main reasons why researchers are interested in paediatric cataracts as children have a larger bank of stem cells than the older generations. Researchers developed a technique that allowed them to be able to leave functional stem cells in the lens untouched whilst being able to remove the the non-functional lens caused by the cataract.

This technique was tested on rabbits that were the equivalent age of a one year old human baby and after the surgery the results seemed promising. This prompted surgeries on human babies using their new method, researchers found that the children who had used the new method had functional lenses that regenerated at a faster rate than children who had undergone the more standard treatment. Although these results are promising in helping the younger generations, scientists have said that this procedure may be more difficult for the older generations as the regeneration process in the eye takes a much longer amount of time.

Thanks, Will


Breakthrough For Heart Transplants

One fifth of people in the UK in need of a heart transplant do not get one. For years now researchers have been thinking of new, innovate ideas to try and solve this problem. The end goal for this research is to be able to create synthetic organs from the patients own tissues. This isn’t the first time researchers have grown heart tissues in a lab but the strides they have made recently have put them in position to say that they are the closest they have ever been to their end goal.

There are lots of risks with heart transplants; from your immune system rejecting the new organ to the procedure going wrong. To minimise the risk of organ rejection, the donor tissue is matched as closely as possible to the recipient and the recipient is also given immunosuppressant drugs, which reduce the response of the immune system. Hearts also have a very particular structure which has been quite difficult for scientists to recreate in the past.

Previous research had been performed on the hearts of mice, however in the recent studies, researchers have stripped cells that cause a response from the immune system and then carry out a newly developed technique which uses mRNA (messenger). This technique turns the cells in to pluripotent stem cells which are stem cells that have the potential to give rise to several other types of cells. These were then used to produce two different types of cardiac cells that are found in the heart.

The cells were used to produce a synthetic heart and for 2 weeks they were under the same amount of pressure that a normal heart in a body would be under and given nutrients to allow them to grow. After the fortnight, the hearts showed a promising structure and when shocked, the hearts began to beat. The next step for researchers is to improve their yield of pluripotent stem cells as a full heart requires approximately 2 billion cells. Once again, promising research.

Thanks, Will