All posts by Ollie

Robotic Sleeve Developed for Heart Failure

Heart failure affects over half a million people in the UK alone, and it gets worse over time.  The heart becomes unable to pump blood around the body properly, usually as a result of the cardiac muscle being damaged from a heart attack, for example. There are not enough hearts available for this number of transplants and so there are treatments in place. They are mechanical devices that are implanted directly into the heart tissue; they aid with pumping blood around the body. However, the body can react to these devices creating a risk of dangerous blood clots. Therefore, scientists have been trying to come up with something else to treat heart failure with fewer risks.

Recently, a new device has been developed that helps the heart pump blood when it is deteriorating. It is made of silicon, a similar material to the heart muscle; it stiffens and relaxes when inflated with air. Instead of being implanted into the heart tissue, this device is fitted around the heart so it ‘hugs’ the heart instead, meaning that the body is much less likely to have a reaction to it. It squeezes the outside of the heart, just like the cardiac muscle to aid the pumping of the heart.

It was fitted around six pig hearts and the device was able to be synchronised with the shapes and movements of the heart. It was seen to boost the amount of blood being pumped around the body; when the heart stopped beating, the robotic sleeve helped to restore blood flow.

Though promising, many more animal trials must be done before this device is tested on any humans. There is nothing so far, to suggest that this device won’t be used to help thousands of people in the upcoming years with heart failure.

Work Experience in a Residential Home

Towards the end f summer last year, I got the opportunity to volunteer in a residential home for the elderly, for just over a week. This meant that I could experience a different style of healthcare that I hadn’t particularly seen much of before. I also now volunteer weekly in a dementia day-care centre on a Friday morning, as a result of the week I did at the end of summer.

During this week in the summer, I spent most of my time there sitting, speaking to some of the residents. I also made cups of tea and coffee and played games with a few of them. I got the chance to go to the local hospital and meet a potential resident for the home to speak to them about potentially coming into the home. I got to go to another hospital as well to speak with a current resident who had become ill and wasn’t well enough to stay in the home.

During this week, the main thing that was clearly evident was the level of communicational skills required to work or volunteer in a place such as a residential home. I thought that being there helped me develop different ways to talk with elderly people who maybe could not always hear what I was saying. Conversations often meant I had to show patience as they would probably repeat the same story numerous times. I felt that it was important that I was enthusiastic with them when playing games or completing activities as it meant they would be more likely to enjoy what we were doing. Spending a week experiencing this high level of healthcare showed me how much some elderly community rely on other people, as well as the importance of patient confidentiality. This is why I later decided to volunteer weekly in a day-care centre, to maintain my involvement within a healthcare environment.

A care home is an excellent place to get some first hand experience of a healthcare environment; it will probably be a level of care and support that you haven’t experienced before. If you are considering medicine as a course for university, then it is important you can gain an insight to a healthcare environment like this beforehand. Speaking with people with dementia can be a challenging task at first, but I’ve found that the more I have been exposed to it, the better I’ve become at knowing what to say and how to deal with uncomfortable situations.

Higher Risks of Dementia Near Busy Roads?

Dementia is a group of symptoms such as struggling to remember things or finding it hard to work things out. It is most commonly caused by Alzheimer’s disease- 62% of of all those diagnosed. There are around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK and it is thought that, on average, one person will develop dementia every three minutes.

It was in the news this week that supposedly, living in close proximity to a busy road will increase the likelihood of an individual developing dementia. It is thought to be linked with the road pollution and the traffic noise. In a study conducted on 243,611 cases in Canada, compared to people that lived 300m away from a main road, people who lived within 50m were 7% more likely to develop dementia.

Clearly, it is clear that more research must be done in order to prove that there is a correlation; there could also be some unknown factors that the study didn’t take into consideration. It looked at where people lived; it cannot prove that the increase in dementia cases is purely down to the busy roads. There are many other factors that increase your risk of dementia by much more than 7%, such as smoking; it would be far more beneficial to quit smoking than moving into the countryside.

Having said that, however, we know already, living near busy roads has other health problems, such as increased risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory diseases. So, deciding to move away from busy roads may have its benefits, even if one of them isn’t a decreased risk of dementia.


Medical Breakthroughs of 2016

As we come to the end of 2016, I thought I would talk about a few of the medical advances we have seen over the last year, such as the new prostate cancer treatment, three-person babies, and a new way to approach neurosurgery.

In the last couple of weeks, we have seen the new prostate cancer treatment come into the news. It involves a drug that is made from bacteria that live on the sea floor, in complete darkness. These bacteria become toxic when exposed to light. As for the procedure, this drug is injected into the bloodstream of the cancer sufferer, and then fibre optic lasers are inserted through the perineum into the cancerous prostate. When the laser is switched on, it provides the light source this drug needs to kill the cancer cells, and then leaves behind a healthy prostate gland.

A trial was completed on 413 men with prostate cancer across 47 different hospitals. 49% of the men had no remaining signs of cancer. Usually 30% of men with prostate cancer need their prostate removed, whereas only 6% required it who undertook the new treatment.

The first three-person baby was born in Mexico and the process has just been approved in the UK, with the hope of the first baby being born at the end of 2017. The aim is to prevent children being born with genetically lethal diseases such as mitochondrial diseases meaning children have insufficient energy to keep their heart beating. There are two ways in which this can be done. The first is to fertilise two eggs-one from the mother and one from the donor-and remove the nucleus from the mother’s egg and it is inserted into the other egg in replace of the donor’s nucleus. This egg will have the healthy mitochondria and so the child will grow up without the inherited disease. The other method is to insert the mother’s nucleus into the donor egg before fertilising. Both methods will ensure the child has the majority of genetic material from the mother and father; a very small amount of mitochondrial DNA will have been passed down by the donor.

A new combination of drugs for cystic fibrosis has been tested this year. These drugs prevent really thick mucus being made and of the people that this drug was tested on, lung decline per year decreased from 2.3% to 1.3%. This is extremely promising in the development of treatment for cystic fibrosis.

A man who had tremors in his right hand underwent brain surgery but instead of using conventional surgery equipment, an MRI scanner and ultrasound waves were the chosen pieces of equipment. More than 1000 ultrasound beams are focussed onto specific points in the brain and they can generate enough heat to destroy the abnormal brain tissue. An MRI scanner is used to monitor the process and the patient remained awake throughout. The man experienced immediate recovery and clearly there were none of the risks associated with the usual way of performing neurosurgery. The man no longer had any tremors and many people think that this method could be used in the future to treat multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological diseases.

The final thing I am going to talk about is also a type of surgery. A man who had lost his central vision in his right eye had surgery. The surgeon completed the operation using a joystick that controlled a robot arm with a thin needle attached that can even filter out the surgeon’s tremors. With this joystick, the surgeon removed a membrane covering the centre of the retina that was only 1/100th of a millimetre thick. The hole left in the retina later closed up and his vision had fully recovered. The surgeon said that the ‘robot performed better than the human hand’. This method shall hopefully be used more often in the coming years.

2016 has seen some incredible medical advances and I’ve just picked out five of them. I hope those of you who have taken time to read all the way to the end (sorry for the length) have found something interesting in here. Finally, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year! ­čÖé

Work Experience in a GP surgery

Between the 12th and 16th December, I spent some time sitting alongside various medical professionals, all within a doctors’ surgery. The week gave me a chance to see what the work life is really like in a practice; I sat with a GP, Nurse Practitioner, and a Practice Nurse, all of which gave me different perspectives of healthcare.

Although my week was just a shadowing opportunity, rather than experiencing first-hand what the jobs are like, I found it extremely insightful and has helped me when considering the field of general practice. I sat with the medical professionals while they saw to patients; observations, diagnosis and  prescription. A good portion of my time was used for asking questions, to learn more about the roles I was observing. This experience as a whole helped me understand what the day-to-day life of GP, Nurse Practitioner, and practice nurses are like.

The one key thing I learnt from my time at the practice was the importance of listening to patients, showing empathy and being generally friendly to them as some patients can be very nervous or uncomfortable when seeking medical advice. It was apparent that some patients were in no need of any prescription, although it was still important that this was respected, as many people aren’t sure when they should come and see their doctors. Also in this scenario, patients require reassurance on their health when they are concerned about their symptoms, or in general when a patient may be suffering with ┬ámental illness. Another part of the job that is probably overlooked, is explaining to patients what they should do next, in terms of medication, dosage, lifestyle choices or booking further appointments. A patients life can be made a lot easier by explaining everything to them, rather than leaving them unsure about certain aspects of the upcoming weeks.

I would definitely say to people that are thinking about applying for medicine at university, that getting some work shadowing experience in a GP surgery is a great thing to do, as you will learn far more than you anticipate, and you will also get a good insight into the field of general practice; this will help you choose whether you think it is for you or not.

Welcome to my blog!

My name is Ollie and I have the intention of studying medicine at university in the near future. I am currently in year 12 at school studying biology, chemistry, physics and maths A-Levels. I will be using this blog to document my experiences in healthcare environments, taking time to reflect on these experiences as well as current issues or news stories relating to the medical world.

I’ve been interested in studying medicine for a few years now and really think that medicine would be the course that I would really enjoy studying. I feel that it is extremely well-suited to my nature as a ‘people person’ and having the ability to help people out and change lives on a day-to-day basis would be extremely rewarding. I hope that at least one person reading this blog can take something from it, especially if, like me, you’re pretty interested in medicine.

I have recently undertaken a two-day residential course at the University of Nottingham (Medlink) for year 12 students interested in pursuing a career in medicine. For anyone considering a career as a doctor, I would really recommend this course, as it was extremely useful, as it gave us different ways to boost our applications for medical school. It is also a chance for people who aren’t sure whether medicine is for them, to gain more of an insight into the admissions process and life of a medical professional.

I will aim to write a blog post about once a week, and I hope that many of you find this useful in the coming weeks and months, as I take my steps to hopefully being accepted into medical school. ­čÖé