Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT)

I was looking on the bbc website and I found a report on how OCT has been found to be useful in finding out how far along MS (multiple sclerosis)  has developed caught my eye as one of my family members has  MS.

OCT is an eye scan which works similarly to an unltrasound, the main difference is that it uses infrared light waves instead of normal soundwaves.  The infrared light waves are used to find the distance of eye structures.  It has 25 times better resolution than other eye scans and machines and it allows you to see the retina in a large amount of detail as well as the layers of the retina.  This means that you are able to see if there is a thickening or thinning of the retina.  OCT also allows for the nerve fibres in the retina to be viewed and shows any damage to them.

MS is caused by recurrent immune reactions in the spinal cord and brain.  The myelin layer that covers the nerve fibres (axons) is damaged by these reactions which leaves the nerve fibres open to damage.  Due to the damage to the nerve fibres people with MS  experience problems with balance, vision and usually movements. MS can be diagnosed through MRI scans as these show up any scar tissue in the brain.  The scar tissue is caused by new layers of myelin forming over the nerve fibres, however these are usually thinner and weaker and so are more easily damaged.

However, the problem with MRI scans is that we aren’t quite sure at which stage of MS these scar tissues begin to appear visibly and OCT is thought to be able to detect one of the earlier signs of MS.  This is because the nerve fibres in the brain have the myelin layer over them but the nerve fibres in the retina don’t have this layer.  It has been suggested that therefore the nerve fibres in the retina will show damage first because there is nothing to protect them.  This could allow for an earlier diagnosis which would allow the person to undergo treatment to slow down the disease (unfortunately there is no cure for MS yet).

Nonetheless, this trial has only been done on 164 people which did show that the ones that had earlier and more active MS had thinning of the retina.  OCT could also be used to find out how fast the disease is progressing as well as helping to diagnose people with it, this could help improve the quality of life for some people as they could have the possibility of changing the treatment they are on to see if that will slow down the disease anymore.  However more trials need to be done on a larger number of people to find out whether OCT really does help show the extent of MS.

Flu is no ordinary virus!

I have been reading the New scientist magazine and I found an article on, “Diabetes link to flu in vulnerable people”.  It was found that flu could possibly lead to Type 1 diabetes.  I know you are all thinking, ‘but Type 1 diabetes is genetically inherited’, however, it can also be triggered by the environment, such as by the flu virus.  The article talks about how the flu virus can cause diabetes in vulnerable people which is through confusing the immune system so much that it turns on the pancreas, breaking down the pancreatic cells.  Without these pancreatic cells insulin is unable to be produced allowing a continuing rise in blood glucose concentration (type 1 diabetes).  This isn’t a recent suspicion it has been around since the 1970s.

It is thought that what happens is when the killer T-cells are shown a piece of infected tissue to learn how to recognise it they also recognise these pancreatic cells as well and so think they should destroy them along with the virus.  Sometimes our bodies are wonderful machines, but just like machines they can make a small mistake which leads to a huge consequence.  Now we need to try and stop this!

Research was done and two of the studies stood out.  One showed that when birds were infected with the virus they usually developed an inflamed pancreas.  Many of these turkey’s suffered from diabetes due to the damage to the pancreas from the virus.  This research was followed by one carried out on a human pancreas where they injected two common flu viruses into the tissues, both viruses multiplied and colonised the tissues really well, especially in the insulin-producing cells, said Ilaria Capua.

We know that usually the flu virus only stays within the lungs and gut, but sometimes it can seep into the blood stream and so has access to the rest of our body.  It has also been shown that there has been a rise in Type 1 diabetes from people who have been infected with the flu virus relatively recently as well as there being a recorded rise in Type 1 diabetes after the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

As we are aware of this possible trigger of Type 1 diabetes we are able to do something about it.  The people who have a genetic tendency to develop this type of diabetes can been given the flu vaccination to immunise themselves against it.  This could stop a small percentage of people developing Type 1 diabetes which would be a great achievement to say the least!

This was an article from the New Scientist magazine on 10th November 2012.


Hello! 🙂

On the 19th-22nd December I went to the medlink conference at Nottingham Univerisity.  It was certainly one experience I will never forget!  It was extremely helpful and I now feel more prepared  for the difficult but very interesting journey to medical school!

In my blog I will be posting about articles and news in the science and medical world that has interested me, as well as my thoughts and opinions on them.  I will blog for at least 20mins every week and will also talk about work experience and volunteering that I have had the chance to do.

I hope people enjoy the blog and possibly find the articles and news I am talking about interesting to them as well 🙂