Thursday, 26 April 2012

Blind mice; see how they run

I cannot imagine what it must be like to be blind, especially if you have been able to see in the past. The reasons why people go blind differs from person to person and each of these causes will, most likely, require a different treatment. Scientists and doctors have been working at the Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfield's Eye Hospital to discover these potential treatments for blindness, especially degenerative blindness which is where one's eyesight progressively becomes worse until the person is blind.

Recently, these very scientists have taken mice with nyctalopia (night blindness) and transplanted cells into their retina. In the retina there are two types of light sensitive cells, rods and cones. Cones are used to detect colour and are found mostly in the fovea (yellow spot). Rods are the cells which detect light, and these are the cells which are important for vision in darkness. The most common cause of nyctalopia is when the rod cells cease to work, and this can be for a number of reasons thus it is easier to simply replace the rod cells.

For these mice, scientists have extracted immature rod cells from healthy mice and inserted them into the retina of the blind mice. The mice and then allowed to rest for six weeks, and the results show that one in six of the newly implanted rod cells grew nerves connecting them to the mices' retinas. Therefore, when the mice where placed in a maze with dim lighting they were now able to complete it meaning these scientists have been able to give these mice the sense of vision.

The results look promising but I am not sure how well it will work in humans. We do not know the quality of vision for these mice. I do not think that they will allow this sort of treatment to happen in humans if they are not able to see clearly. However, last year Moorfield's Eye Hospital were given permission to start researching and growing human stem cells in order to research new possibilities of treatments. I still think that eye transplants or some sort of bionic eye (such as a camera attached to the brain) will be a more realsitic treatment option in the future.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Obesity, is it being encouraged?

We have known for some time now that obesity is on the rise but who is to blame? Figures show that almost a quarter of all adults in the UK are obese which is an astonishing fact. Suggested ideas to tackle the problem include introducing a fat tax and even banning fatty foods and fast food chains from advertising on television and radio, just like smoking brands. All these ideas may sound good in theory but will they work in practice?

Smoking is run on the fact that the adverts try to make it seem cool to smoke. It is not the most pleasant thing to do, and certainly the first time that people try a cigarette, they often cough out the smoke and find it horrid. They push through these initial obstructions because of peer pressure and advertisements. However, most people who dislike the food at a fast food restaurant tend not to keep eating there, no matter how much it is advertised unless new foods are introduced at these restaurants. It can be extremely cheap to eat at non-franchise fast food restaurants and the food at these restaurants can be very unhealthy but I do not think banning advertisements is the way forward when combating obesity.

Professor Stephenson, a spokesman for the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, has been very outspoken about the sponsorship of the 2012 London Olympics by brands such as CocaCola and McDonald's but I do not believe that the exposure of these brands in their sponsorship of the Olympics will have a great effect on obesity. He has said 'it sends the wrong message' but surely people's focus will be on the athletes and their healthy lifestyles rather than the sponsors of these games. I hope there is not an overreaction to obesity, whilst it is a big problem, especially for the NHS's budget, it is not one that can be fixed by prohibiting brands from advertising rather than encouraging a more balanced diet and exercise regime through schools and maybe even employers.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Prostate Cancer Tests: Are False Positives Worth It?

According to the BBC, one in eight men will test positive for prostate cancer when they do not have the disease. I believe this to be an astonishingly high figure and cannot believe that this has gone undetected for years. The obvious solution to the problem would be to spend money on research and find more accurate tests, however, I would recommend to any government that sees these figures to raise awareness about the false positives and to maybe give patients two tests rather than one. This would hopefully eradicate at least some of the false positives.
Perhaps more worryingly, once given a false positive, these patients will undergo, sometimes, extreme invasive surgery. Due to the age of most of the men who develop this cancer, surgery can, as always, be fatal, therefore pushing the eradication of false positives to a new level of importance.
Hopefully in the near future a new test will be discovered and the only way that this will happen is if charities such as Cancer Research UK and companies that develop these tests put some funding and receive donations.