Month: May 2023

Obesity Raises Lifetime Risk of Mental Disorders

Source: Pixabay CC0

Being obese significantly increases the chances of also developing mental disorders. This applies to all age groups, with women at higher risk than men for most diseases, as a recent study of the Complexity Science Hub and the Medical University of Vienna shows. The results were published in the specialist journal Translational Psychiatry.

“We analysed a population-wide national registry of inpatient hospitalisations in Austria from 1997 to 2014 in order to determine the relative risks of comorbidities in obesity and identify statistically significant sex differences,” explains Elma Dervic of the Complexity Science Hub. Consequently, it became evident that an obesity diagnosis significantly enhances the likelihood of a wide range of mental disorders across all age groups – including depression, nicotine addiction, psychosis, anxiety, eating and personality disorders. “From a clinical point of view, these results emphasise the need to raise awareness of psychiatric diagnoses in obese patients and, if necessary, to consult specialists at an early stage of diagnosis,” says Michael Leutner of the Medical University of Vienna.

First diagnosis: obesity

“In order to find out which illness typically appeared prior and subsequently to the obesity diagnosis, we had to develop a new method,” explains Dervic. This allowed the researchers to determine if there were trends and typical patterns in disease occurrence.

In case of all co-diagnoses, with the exception of the psychosis spectrum, obesity was in all likelihood the first diagnosis made prior to the manifestation of a psychiatric diagnosis. “Until now, physicians often considered psychopharmacological medications to cause the association between mental disorders and obesity as well as diabetes. This may be true for schizophrenia, where we see the opposite time order, but our data does not support this for depression or other psychiatric diagnoses,” explains Alexander Kautzky from Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the Medical University Vienna. However, whether obesity directly affects mental health or whether early stages of psychiatric disorders are inadequately recognised is not yet known.

Women more impacted

Surprisingly, the researchers found significant gender differences for most disorders — with women showing an increased risk for all disorders except schizophrenia and nicotine addiction.

While 16.66% of obese men also suffer from nicotine abuse disorder, this is only the case in up to 8.58% of obese women. The opposite is true for depression. The rate of diagnosed depressive episodes was almost three times higher in obese women (13.3% obese; 4.8% non-obese). Obese men were twice as likely to be affected (6.61% obese; 3.21% non-obese).

Early intervention is key

Since this study now also shows that obesity often precedes severe mental disorders, the findings reinforce its importance as a pleiotropic risk factor for health problems of all kinds. This is especially true for young age groups, where the risk is most pronounced, and for whom the researchers strongly recommend obesity screening.

Source: Complexity Science Hub Vienna

A Super-cheap Smartphone Accessory for Blood Pressure Monitoring

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels

Engineers have developed a simple, low-cost clip that uses a smartphone’s camera and flash to monitor blood pressure at the user’s fingertip. The clip works with a custom smartphone app and currently costs about $0.80 to make. The researchers estimate that the cost could be as low as $0.10 apiece when manufactured at scale. The technology was described in the journal Scientific Reports.

Researchers say it could help make regular blood pressure monitoring easy, affordable and accessible to people in resource-poor communities. It could benefit older adults and pregnant women, for example, in managing conditions such as hypertension.

“We’ve created an inexpensive solution to lower the barrier to blood pressure monitoring,” said study first author Yinan (Tom) Xuan, an electrical and computer engineering PhD student at University of California San Diego.

“Because of their low cost, these clips could be handed out to anyone who needs them but cannot go to a clinic regularly,” said study senior author Edward Wang, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC San Diego and director of the Digital Health Lab. “A blood pressure monitoring clip could be given to you at your checkup, much like how you get a pack of floss and toothbrush at your dental visit.”

Another key advantage of the clip is that it does not need to be calibrated to a cuff.

“This is what distinguishes our device from other blood pressure monitors,” said Wang. Other cuffless systems being developed for smartwatches and smartphones, he explained, require obtaining a separate set of measurements with a cuff so that their models can be tuned to fit these measurements.

“Our is a calibration-free system, meaning you can just use our device without touching another blood pressure monitor to get a trustworthy blood pressure reading.”

To measure blood pressure, the user simply presses on the clip with a fingertip. A custom smartphone app guides the user on how hard and long to press during the measurement.

The clip is a 3D-printed plastic attachment that fits over a smartphone’s camera and flash. It features an optical design similar to that of a pinhole camera. When the user presses on the clip, the smartphone’s flash lights up the fingertip. That light is then projected through a pinhole-sized channel to the camera as an image of a red circle. A spring inside the clip allows the user to press with different levels of force. The harder the user presses, the bigger the red circle appears on the camera.

The smartphone app extracts two main pieces of information from the red circle. By looking at the size of the circle, the app can measure the amount of pressure that the user’s fingertip applies. And by looking at the brightness of the circle, the app can measure the volume of blood going in and out of the fingertip. An algorithm converts this information into systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings.

The researchers tested the clip on 24 volunteers from the UC San Diego Medical Center. Results were comparable to those taken by a blood pressure cuff.

“Using a standard blood pressure cuff can be awkward to put on correctly, and this solution has the potential to make it easier for older adults to self-monitor blood pressure,” said study co-author and medical collaborator Alison Moore, chief of the Division of Geriatrics in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

While the team has only proven the solution on a single smartphone model, the clip’s current design theoretically should work on other phone models, said Xuan.

Next steps include making the technology more user friendly, especially for older adults; testing its accuracy across different skin tones; and creating a more universal design.

Source: University of California San Diego

Researchers Advise Stopping Heparin Use for Pregnant Women with Thrombophilia and Miscarriage Risk

Photo by Shvets Production on Pexels

Heparin, commonly prescribed to pregnant women with an inheritable blood clotting condition and a history of recurrent miscarriage does not help to reduce their miscarriage risk, new research has found. The UK-led international study was published in The Lancet.

Researchers are now advising doctors to stop offering the anticoagulant heparin to women and birthing people with inherited thrombophilia, an inherited condition which increase clotting risk.

Despite the lack of evidence and guidance, doctors often prescribe heparin to women with recurrent miscarriage and inherited thrombophilia. It’s costly for health services, and inconvenient for women who must inject the drug daily and are more likely to experience bruising as a result.

The results show that a daily injection of heparin does not improve the chance of a live birth for women who have previously had two or more miscarriages and confirmed inherited thrombophilia, when compared to standard care.

Led by Professor Siobhan Quenby at the University of Warwick, the ALIFE2 trial recruited women from 40 hospitals in Europe and the US.

326 women with inherited thrombophilia and recurrent miscarriage were split into 2 groups; 164 received heparin across the course of their pregnancy, starting from as soon as possible after a positive pregnancy test and ending at the start of labour. 162 were not offered the medication.

All women received standard obstetrician-led care and all women were encouraged to take folic acid.

The rate of live births for each group was roughly the same: 116 women (71.6%) treated with heparin had a baby born alive after 24 weeks’ pregnancy. 112 women (70.9%) in the standard care group had a baby born alive after 24 weeks’ pregnancy.

The risk of other pregnancy complications, including miscarriage, babies with low birth weight, placental abruption, premature birth or pre-eclampsia, was about the same for both groups.

As expected, bruising easily was reported by 73 (45%) of women in the group taking heparin (mostly around injection-sites) and only 16 (10%) in the standard care group.

Professor Siobhan Quenby says, “Based on these findings, we don’t recommend the use of Low Molecular Weight Heparin for women with recurrent pregnancy loss and confirmed inherited thrombophilia.”

“We also suggest that screening for inherited thrombophilia in women with recurrent pregnancy loss is not needed. Patients and doctors will always value knowing about any factor which could be associated with recurrent miscarriage, but the association between inherited thrombophilia and recurrent miscarriage isn’t proven: a recent review of research showed that thrombophilia is as common in the general population as it is in women with recurrent miscarriage.”

“Many women with recurrent miscarriage around the world are tested for inherited thrombophilia and are treated with heparin daily. Research now shows that this screening is not needed, the treatment isn’t effective, and it is giving false hope to many by continuing to offer it as a potential preventive treatment.”

Twenty-eight percent of women who participated in the trial lost their badly wanted pregnancies, and these unexplained losses will be the focus of further study, as our researchers continue to search for answers and treatment to prevent early pregnancy loss.

Source: Medical Xpress

Researchers Identify New Compound that Could Stimulate Nerve Regeneration

Source: CC0

Research published in Nature has identified a new compound that can stimulate nerve regeneration after injury, as well as protect cardiac tissue from the sort of damage seen in heart attack. The UCL-led study identified a chemical compound, named ‘1938’, that activates the PI3K signalling pathway, and is involved in cell growth.

Results from this early research, which was done in partnership with the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB) and AstraZeneca, showed the compound increased neuron growth in nerve cells, and in animal models, it reduced heart tissue damage after major trauma and regenerated lost motor function in a model of nerve injury.

Though further research is needed to translate these findings into the clinic, 1938 is one of just a few compounds in development that can promote nerve regeneration, for which there are currently no approved medicines.

Phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) is a type of enzyme that helps to control cell growth. It is active in various situations, such as initiating wound healing, but its functions can also be hijacked by cancer cells to allow them to proliferate. As a result, cancer drugs have been developed that inhibit PI3K to restrict tumour growth. But the clinical potential of activating the PI3K pathway remains underexplored.

Dr Roger Williams, a senior author of the study from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, said: “Kinases are ‘molecular machines’ that are key to controlling the activities of our cells, and they are targets for a wide range of drugs. Our aim was to find activators of one of these molecular machines, with the goal of making the machine work better. We found that we can directly activate a kinase with a small molecule to achieve therapeutic benefits in protecting hearts from injury and stimulating neural regeneration in animal studies.”

In this study, researchers from UCL and MRC LMB worked with researchers from AstraZeneca to screen thousands of molecules from its chemical compound library to create one that could activate the PI3K signalling pathway. They found that the compound named 1938 was able to activate PI3K reliably and its biological effect were assessed through experiments on cardiac tissue and nerve cells.

Researchers at UCL’s Hatter Cardiovascular Institute found that administering 1938 during the first 15 minutes of blood flow restoration following a heart attack provided substantial tissue protection in a preclinical model. Ordinarily, areas of dead tissue form when blood flow is restored that can lead to heart problems later in life.

When 1938 was added to lab-grown nerve cells, neuron growth was significantly increased. A rat model with a sciatic nerve injury was also tested, with delivery of 1938 to the injured nerve resulting in increased recovery in the hind leg muscle, indicative of nerve regeneration.

Senior author Professor James Phillips said: “There are currently no approved medicines to regenerate nerves, which can be damaged as a result of injury or disease, so there’s a huge unmet need. Our results show that there’s potential for drugs that activate PI3K to accelerate nerve regeneration and, crucially, localised delivery methods could avoid issues with off-target effects that have seen other compounds fail.”

Given the positive findings, the group is now working to develop new therapies for peripheral nerve damage, such as those sustained in serious hand and arm injuries. They are also exploring whether PI3K activators could be used to help treat damage in the central nervous system, for example due to spinal cord injury, stroke or neurodegenerative disease.

Source: University College London

Groote Schuur Hospital Clears Backlog of 1 500 Surgeries

Photo by Quicknews

By Elri Voigt for Spotlight

Much of South Africa’s public health sector is plagued by long waiting times for surgery, a situation that was made much worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, an inspiring project at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town has reached the target of slashing its backlog by 1 500 elective surgeries – two months ahead of target.

At the end of March, a small team of healthcare workers completed the project called ‘Surgical Recovery’. The project ran from May 2022 and was originally planned to conclude 12 months later.

While this hasn’t cleared the entire backlog of people waiting for surgery at Groote Schuur, it has helped the hospital return to about the same waiting list level as it had before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Professor Lydia Cairncross, the head of general surgery at Groote Schuur. (Spotlight previously reported on the human cost of surgical waiting lists and on what could be done about it.)

The surgeries took place mainly in the E4 Surgical Day Ward at Groote Schuur. Cairncross explains that ward E4 was built as a Day Ward – meaning it handles surgeries where patients don’t require an overnight stay pre- or post-surgery – with the aim of increasing daycare surgery capacity for the hospital. And for the last 12 months, it has been the host of the Surgical Recovery Project.

E4 has 16 patient beds, four recovery beds, and two theatres, which were completed just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country. During the third wave of the pandemic, it was used as a COVID High Care Unit.

According to Dr Shrikant Peters, a public health specialist and the medical manager of theatre and ICU services at Groote Schuur, the hospital’s CEO Dr Bhavna Patel “had the foresight to request provincial use of COVID funding to develop the space as COVID High Care, and eventually to be used long-term as an Operating Suite and High Care Ward in line with prior hospital plans”.

The Surgical Recovery Project

By the end of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Cairncross, there were discussions about how to catch up on the surgeries that had to be postponed because of COVID-19.

“The backlog in surgery comes on top of a pre-existing backlog. So, it’s not that the backlog was created by COVID, but it made it much, much, much worse,” she says, “In November 2021, we did an audit of how many patients were just physically waiting for surgery at the hospital. It was around 6 000 plus. We don’t actually have a baseline for pre-COVID, but we knew that we lost about 50% of our operating capacity,” Cairncross says.

“So, the idea was really to find a way to utilise this theatre space so that we could catch up with some of that backlog.”

From here, the Surgical Recovery Project for Groote Schuur was born with the ambitious target of performing 1 500 surgeries in 12 months.

Funds from the project came from three sources. Kristy Evans, head of the Groote Schuur Hospital Trust, tells Spotlight that fundraising for the project was kick-started by a R5 million donation from Gift of the Givers. The recently established Groote Schuur Hospital Trust focused on Surgical Recovery as their first project to fundraise for. An additional R1 million was raised by the Trust from over 500 corporate and private donors.

“People are always willing… [they] give what they can. We had donations from people who would transfer R10 into the account, sometimes people transfer R180 000,” Evans says.

She adds that the Project will continue into its second year, but the details regarding targets had not yet been finalised by the time of publication.

The Western Cape Provincial Department of Health also donated around R6.5 million to the project from their budget for surgical recovery post-COVID-19. According to Mark van der Heever, the provincial health spokesperson, this money was part of the R20 million that the department allocated to various surgical backlog recovery initiatives.

“[The] COVID-19 pandemic meant that elective surgical services had to be significantly de-escalated, as staff were deployed to COVID services, and this resulted in an increase in the backlog of operations. Hence, a specific practi[cal] plan to address this backlog in the short and long term has been developed,” says van der Heever. “Similar projects and initiatives across hospitals have already taken shape and also yielded success, such as at Karl Bremer Hospital, which also received a portion of the R20 million from the department. The hospital was able to perform an extra 328 procedures since August last year.”

Working around difficulties

At Groote Schuur, the project had to find a way to work around the difficulties of surgical catch-up. According to Cairncross, with any surgical catch-up, the challenges don’t just come from needing a physical space to operate in but also from having the appropriately trained staff. Not having enough trained staff in the public health sector, like theatre and surgery nurses, makes it hard to implement a surgical catch-up programme, even if there is money to do so.

To work around these difficulties, they came up with a centralised model for surgical recovery, where one theatre team of nurses could be employed on a contract rate for the 12 months. This team, led by Sister Melinda Davids, the nursing operations manager for the E4 theatre, would work Monday to Thursday in one of the E4 theatres and occasionally other theatres in the hospital for each of the 1 500 surgeries.

According to Cairncross, many surgeons, herself included, would come and operate on patients in addition to their normal surgeries and other duties. The funds, a total of about R 12.5 million, were used to pay the staff involved in the surgeries. The day-to-day operations were run by Davids and Peters.

According to Peters, the 1 500 operations occurred across all surgical specialities, ranging from cataract to cardiothoracic.

Success factors

Cairncross attributes the success of the project to the existing systems at Groote Schuur, supportive management, and the dedication of the surgical team and surgeons that gave their time to the project.

She says that because the hospital has a relatively functional system to start off with and a supportive management team, it allowed for “enough of a regulatory environment to keep things safe and above board but not to the extent where you can’t move”.

It was also about having the right person in charge of the team, she adds, gesturing to Davids.

Davids, who started her nursing career in 1989 and qualified as a theatre nurse in 2009, started working at Groote Schuur six years ago. She explains that the surgical team at E4 consisted of about 18 people. This includes herself, five scrub nurses, three anaesthetic nurses, three floor nurses, a registered nurse who assists in recovery, and a clerk. Peters adds that there are also two surgical medical officers and two anaesthetic registrars.

According to Davids, when the project started, several of the nurses had not worked in a theatre before so had to be trained and upskilled by her and some of the specialist nurses who make up the scrub nurse team. She also had to get creative about having the right equipment for each surgery, which sometimes meant she had to borrow equipment from other theatres.

“It’s been a challenge, but it’s a good challenge that’s kept me going,” she says. “We’re a good team.”

“Trust [in staff] has been fundamental to this,” says Peters, “I mean, the ability to trust junior staff to upskill themselves to become scrub nurses, to hand surgeons the right instrument when they asked for it. That’s been really heart-warming.”

‘Behind every number on the list is a patient’  

When asked why it was so important to do this kind of catch-up, Cairncross says the surgeries that were postponed during the COVID-19 pandemic were ones that weren’t urgent or emergent, but those patients who were bumped still struggled physically because of the delays.

“Behind every number on the list is a patient with a story of either progressive blindness, invasive skull tumours, or tumours around the auditory canal that result in hearing loss, chronic pain from joint problems and urinary retention with recurrent infections and admissions or having a stoma bag [a colostomy bag] with them for months longer than needed,” Cairncross says. “Heart-breaking stories and often these were the patients who kept getting cancelled [on]. They would come in and if something urgent would come up, they would be cancelled or the COVID wave would come.”

She adds that at the time when the idea for Surgical Recovery came about, the morale amongst the surgical teams was at a real low. Patients would be coming to the outpatient clinics and asking, for the umpteenth time, “when am I going to have my operation?” to which the healthcare workers had to keep responding that they don’t know.

“It’s just a terrible thing and so people [staff] started to feel disempowered and disillusioned and I really think that the project helped them to at least see some progress. That there were some changes or some shift in what they were dealing with,” Cairncross says. “It hasn’t cleared our entire backlog, and a once-off project will not do that, but it has reset us pretty close to where we were pre-COVID-19.”

Peters adds that while the backlogs haven’t been fully cleared, “for every case that we’ve done in the project, it’s someone off of a waiting list”.

Health system at a ‘precipice’

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused many surgeries to be postponed and added tremendously to surgical waiting lists, it isn’t the only factor contributing to backlogs. According to Peters, the issue of a shrinking health budget for tertiary services is and will continue to add to the existing backlogs across the country.

“There’s this building backlog coming up against the shrinking budget. And that’s going to be with us for multiple years going into the future and if the clinicians aren’t protecting the budget for these patients that get missed, we’re going to focus on as we have been the emergency patients that come through the door,” he says. “But it’s always difficult for tertiary academic services because to keep up the skills of surgeons to maintain the quality of care, they do need to be managing waiting lists of booked patients. And so, I think across the country we’re going to be struggling with that across all tertiary services.”

Cairncross tells Spotlight that the project is just a temporary measure. In the long term, healthcare systems need to be fixed in order to address issues like surgical backlogs.

“The lesson, I suppose, is that these are temporising measures. We can do them, but fundamentally we need to fix the health system at a core, structural level. And we can’t work in isolation from the rest of the country because we are one health system and tertiary hospitals are only a part of that ecosystem,” she says. “The services at Groote Schuur Hospital, for example, cannot be sustained if the health systems from primary care to district health facilities, in urban and rural facilities, and across provinces are not supported and strengthened.”

The health system is at a precipice, according to Cairncross, and big academic hospitals need to be anchoring elective surgical services together with emergency services, as the problem with emergency services will only get bigger down the line if electives aren’t dealt with now.

“We know that postponed elective surgery just becomes emergency surgery over time, making cancelling elective surgery a false economy. We need to plan robust systems that ensure all types of surgical services are maintained,” she says.

“The strongest voice [in defence of the health system] is a conscious and motivated health workforce. So, where the nurses and doctors and managers are standing and defending patient services, they are supporting the health system,” she says. “I think this is an example of health workers standing up and saying, we can’t allow this deterioration in services. We’ve got to do more. We really want to tell the story, so that people can see it can be done.”

Republished from Spotlight under a Creative Commons 4.0 Licence.

Source: Spotlight

Strong Legs Reduce Risk of Heart Failure after Heart Attack

Photo by Henry Xu on Unsplash

People with strong legs are less likely to develop heart failure after a heart attack, according to new research. Myocardial infarction is the most common cause of heart failure, with around 6–9% of heart attack patients going on to develop the condition. Previous research has shown that having strong quadriceps is associated with a lower risk of death in patients with coronary artery disease.

Presented at Heart Failure 2023, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), this study tested the hypothesis that leg strength is associated with a lower risk of developing heart failure after acute myocardial infarction. The study included 932 patients hospitalised in 2007 to 2020 with acute myocardial infarction who did not have heart failure prior to the admission and did not develop heart failure complications during their hospital stay. The median age was 66 years and 753 participants (81%) were men.

Maximal quadriceps strength was measured as an indicator of leg strength. Patients sat on a chair and contracted the quadriceps muscles as hard as possible for five seconds. A handheld dynamometer attached to the ankle recorded the maximum value in kg. The measurement was performed on each leg and the researchers used the average of both values. Strength was expressed relative to body weight, meaning that quadriceps strength in kg was divided by body weight in kg and multiplied by 100 for a % body weight value. Patients were classified as ‘high’ or ‘low’ strength according to whether their value was above or below the median for their se

The median value for women was 33% body weight and the median value for men was 52% body weight. A total of 451 patients had low quadriceps strength and 481 had high strength. During an average follow-up of 4.5 years, 67 patients (7.2%) developed heart failure. The incidence of heart failure was 10.2 per 1000 person-years in patients with high quadriceps strength and 22.9 per 1000 person-years in those with low strength.

The researchers analysed the association between quadriceps strength (low vs. high) and the risk of developing heart failure. The analysis was adjusted for factors known to be associated with the development of heart failure after myocardial infarction including age, sex, body mass index, prior myocardial infarction or angina pectoris, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, peripheral arterial disease and kidney function. Compared with low quadriceps strength, a high strength level was associated with a 41% lower risk of developing heart failure (hazard ratio [HR]: 0.59; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.35–1.00; p=0.048).

The investigators also analysed the association between quadriceps strength as a continuous variable and the risk of developing heart failure. Each 5% body weight increment in quadriceps strength was associated with an 11% lower likelihood of heart failure (HR 0.89; 95% CI 0.81–0.98; p=0.014).

Study author Mr. Kensuke Ueno, a physical therapist at the Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Sagamihara, Japan said: “Quadriceps strength is easy and simple to measure accurately in clinical practice. Our study indicates that quadriceps strength could help to identify patients at a higher risk of developing heart failure after myocardial infarction who could then receive more intense surveillance. The findings need to be replicated in other studies, but they do suggest that strength training involving the quadriceps muscles should be recommended for patients who have experienced a heart attack to prevent heart failure.”

Source: European Society of Cardiology

Plants can Remove Carcinogenic Compounds from the Air

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Those pot plants in GPs’ waiting room may have an additional health benefit in addition to sprucing the place up. A ground-breaking study has revealed that plants can efficiently remove toxic gasoline fumes, including cancer causing compounds such as benzene, from indoor air.

The study was led by University of Technology Sydney (UTS) bioremediation researcher Associate Professor Fraser Torpy, in partnership with leading Australian plantscaping solutions company Ambius.

The researchers found that the Ambius small green wall, containing a mix of indoor plants, was highly effective at removing harmful, cancer-causing pollutants, with 97 per cent of the most toxic compounds removed from the surrounding air in just eight hours.

Poor indoor air quality is responsible for 6.7 million premature deaths globally, according to the World Health Organisation. Most people spend 90% of their time indoors at home, school or the workplace, so adopting new strategies to improve air quality is critical.

Ambius General Manager Johan Hodgson said the research presented new evidence into the critical role played by indoor plants and green walls in cleaning the air we breathe quickly and sustainably.

“We know that indoor air quality is often significantly more polluted than outdoor air, which in turn impacts mental and physical health. But the great news is this study has shown that something as simple as having plants indoors can make a huge difference,” Mr Hodgson said.

Previous studies on indoor plants have shown they can remove a broad range of indoor air contaminants, however this is the first study into the ability of plants to clean up gasoline vapors, which are one of the largest sources of toxic compounds in buildings worldwide.

Offices and residential apartment buildings often connect directly to parking garages, either by doors or elevator shafts, making it difficult to avoid harmful gasoline-related compounds seeping into work and residential areas. Many buildings are also exposed to gasoline fumes from nearby roads and highways.

Breathing gasoline fumes can lead to lung irritation, headaches and nausea, and has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, asthma and other chronic diseases from longer term exposure, contributing to decreased life expectancy.

Associate Professor Torpy said the study results, based on measurements from a sealed chamber, had far exceeded their expectations when it came to removing gasoline pollutants from the air.

“This is the first time plants have been tested for their ability to remove gasoline-related compounds, and the results are astounding.

“Not only can plants remove the majority of pollutants from the air in a matter of hours, they remove the most harmful gasoline-related pollutants from the air most efficiently, for example, known carcinogen benzene is digested at a faster rate than less harmful substances, like alcohols.

“We also found that the more concentrated the toxins in the air, the faster and more effective the plants became at removing the toxins, showing that plants adapt to the conditions they’re growing in,” Associate Professor Torpy said.

Mr Hodgson said the findings confirmed feedback they’d received after installing plants in hundreds of office buildings across the nation.

“At Ambius, we see over and over again the effects plants have in improving health, wellbeing, productivity and office attendance for the thousands of businesses we work with. This new research proves that plants should not just be seen as ‘nice to have’, but rather a crucial part of every workplace wellness plan.

“The bottom line is that the best, most cost effective and most sustainable way to combat harmful indoor air contaminants in your workplace and home is to introduce plants,” Mr Hodgson said.

Source: University of Technology Sydney

The Molecular Secrets of the ‘Feel No Pain’ Gene

The biology underpinning a rare genetic mutation that allows its carrier to feel almost no pain, heal faster and had reduced anxiety and fear, has been uncovered in a new study published in Brain.

Though it may sound like the stuff of superheroes, the carrier of the genetic mutation is an ordinary Scottish woman named Jo Cameron, who was first referred to pain geneticists at University College London in 2013, after her doctor noticed that she experienced no pain after major surgeries on her hip and hand. In 2019, they identified a new gene that they appropriately named FAAH-OUT, which had a rare genetic mutation. In combination with another, more common mutation in FAAH, it was found to be the cause of Jo’s unique characteristics.

The new research describes how the mutation in FAAH-OUT ‘turns down’ FAAH gene expression, as well as the knock-on effects on other molecular pathways linked to wound healing and mood. It is hoped the findings will lead to new drug targets and open up new avenues of research in these areas.

The area of the genome containing FAAH-OUT had previously been assumed to be ‘junk’ DNA that had no function, but it was found to mediate the expression of FAAH, a gene that is part of the endocannabinoid system and that is well-known for its involvement in pain, mood and memory.

In this study, the team from UCL sought to understand how FAAH-OUT works at a molecular level, the first step towards being able to take advantage of this unique biology for applications like drug discovery.

This included a range of approaches, such as CRISPR-Cas9 experiments on cell lines to mimic the effect of the mutation on other genes, as well as analysing the expression of genes to see which were active in molecular pathways involved with pain, mood and healing.

The team observed that FAAH-OUT regulates the expression of FAAH. When it is significantly turned down as a result of the mutation carried by Jo Cameron, FAAHenzyme activity levels are significantly reduced.

Dr Andrei Okorokov (UCL Medicine), a senior author of the study, said: “The FAAH-OUT gene is just one small corner of a vast continent, which this study has begun to map. As well as the molecular basis for painlessness, these explorations have identified molecular pathways affecting wound healing and mood, all influenced by the FAAH-OUT mutation. As scientists it is our duty to explore and I think these findings will have important implications for areas of research such as wound healing, depression and more.”

The authors looked at fibroblasts taken from patients to study the effects of the FAAH-OUT-FAAH axis on other molecular pathways. While the mutations that Jo Cameron carries turn down FAAH, they also found a further 797 genes that were turned up and 348 that were turned down. This included alterations to the WNT pathway that is associated with wound healing, with increased activity in the WNT16 gene that has been previously linked to bone regeneration.

Two other key genes that were altered were BDNF, which has previously been linked to mood regulation and ACKR3, which helps to regulate opioid levels. These gene changes may contribute to Jo Cameron’s low anxiety, fear and painlessness.

Senior study author Professor James Cox said: “The initial discovery of the genetic root of Jo Cameron’s unique phenotype was a eureka moment and hugely exciting, but these current findings are where things really start to get interesting. By understanding precisely what is happening at a molecular level, we can start to understand the biology involved and that opens up possibilities for drug discovery that could one day have far-reaching positive impacts for patients.”

Source: University College London

HPCSA’s Nationwide Crackdown on Bogus Doctors Continues

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

The Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) has caught out another individual impersonating a doctor. Mr Tshifata Katembwe, a Congolese national, was practising illegally in Kuruman, Northern Cape while not being accredited with the Council, said spokesperson Christopher Tsatsawane.

According to IOL, since January 2022. Mr Katembwe had been working at a medical practice registered under the name of Dr TK Gopane. This was in in contravention of Section 17(1) of the Health Professions Act, 56 of 1974, said Tsatsawane.

The nationwide crackdown on health-care practitioners operating illegally is gaining momentum with arrests made around the country, Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) has noted.

Katembwe appeared before the Kuruman Magistrate’s Court last week, and his case was postponed. Meanwhile, Dr Gopane, registered with HPCSA as a medical practitioner, is to be reported to the Medical and Dental Professions Board for appointing an unregistered person and putting unsuspecting members of the public at risk.

In a separate incident, HPCSA announced the arrest of Mr Simba Koromani, an undocumented Zimbabwean national who applied to practise by using the credentials of Dr Lesne Pucjlowski. The doctor notified the HPCSA that someone had tried to apply for a job with her credentials, which led the Council to collaborate with police in tracking down and arresting the fraudster.

Source: IOL

South African Medical Association Rejects NHI Bill as it Now Stands

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) issued a statement stating that they reject the current form of the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, with a major objection being that the mere establishment of the NHI fund does not embody the Constitutional principle of universal health coverage (UHC).

The NHI Bill is designed to provide one pool of healthcare funding to all South Africans and long term residents.

They state that the NHI Bill was developed without regard to expert concerns and opinions, especially on key issues such as Contracting Units for Primary Healthcare (CUPS), Benefit Packages and Reimbursement Models.

Given the mismanagement of COVID funds by the government and state-owned entities, there is further concern over its ability to regulate the R500bn fund.

SAMA spokesperson Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa said: “Misappropriation of funds in various state-owned entities casts doubt on government’s ability to handle the health care budgets responsibly. The public, alongside healthcare stakeholders, cannot simply entrust their lives to a government with an established history of financial mismanagement.”

SAMA contends that while the UHC is intended to improve the health and livelihoods of all South African citizens, the Bill as it stands will set the healthcare system up for failure.

“SAMA believes that a robust approach to health systems strengthening is indispensable, as it would rectify the current deficiencies and overcome the challenges posed by the NHI,” the statement concludes. “This approach seeks to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness, and resilience of the healthcare system, ensuring the delivery of optimal care to all individuals. Governance within the healthcare sector must be strengthened, with transparency and accountability at its core. Effective management of funds and meticulous budget allocation is imperative to rebuild trust and demonstrate responsible stewardship of public resources.”