Casts Away!

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New drug may reverse the effects of osteoporosis, but caution is warranted.

A new drug, recently featured in a top medical journal, could be that ‘magic bullet’ needed for the three million UK osteoporosis sufferers. Studies have highlighted a number of benefits, including increased bone formation and bone mineral density, whilst decreasing the bone decay rate.

Osteoporosis sees a general loss of bone particularly in postmenopausal women. This occurs everywhere, but the skull and jaw. Weakened and fracture-prone bones make falling a terrifying prospect. Persistent, unpleasant side effects to current drugs, mean effective therapies are still being sought after.

 A research team, led by Dr Michael McClung, founding member of the Oregon Osteoporosis Center, spent one year evaluating the safety and efficacy of the drug.

”Most osteoporosis drugs work by stopping the progression of bone loss, but they don’t have the capability of rebuilding the skeleton,” McClung said. ”This really is a new day in the consideration of how we treat osteoporosis, with the capability of truly stimulating bone production and rebuilding the skeleton, not simply keeping it from getting worse”. 

 McClung’s team found bone mineral density to increase by 11.3% at the lower spine, large increases of bone mineral density at the hip, as well as decreased bone resorption. Importantly, no significant side effects were observed.

 The drug, which is administered simply via injection, or orally, is designed to exploit a pre-existing bone forming process in the body. A protein, called Sclerostin, interrupts this process so bone is not formed.

 The body naturally needs to control bone formation, very precisely as bone overgrowth could have all kinds of bad consequences.

The drug works by getting rid of Sclerostin, so that bone can be formed once again, in addition to the many other benefits mentioned.

 The current standard treatment for osteoporosis is Teriparatide, a hormone based therapy. It has proved a safe and effective method since 2002. However, the need for daily injection and high cost mean it is not ideal.

 Romosozumab, the sclerostin based therapy, lasts much longer in the body, potentially meaning it can be administered as scarcely as every three months.

 Nevertheless, the novel drugs greatest feature may also be its worst. Sclerostin based therapy persists in the circulation, lasting for weeks or even months; once it has entered the body it cannot be taken out.

Currently in Phase Two human clinical trials, it may be a while before Romosozumab is readily available through the NHS. The initial promising findings must now be coupled with a cautious progression.

Nobel Women

Inventas vitam juvat exclouisse per artes - “And they who bettered life on earth by their newly found mastery”

Taken from Vergilius Aeneid, these are the words which adorn the medal of one of science’s most prestigious awards, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The 27th November 1895 saw Alfred Nobel, inventor of the dynamite, give the majority of his fortune towards an international award known as the Nobel Prize; consisting of a personal diploma, cash reward and medal. Actively involved in medical research, it was appropriate that Physiology and Medicine would become amongst the five possible Nobel prizes. But how does one go about being globally acknowledged and celebrated for their work? In none other than Mr Nobel’s words himself, they must ‘have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine’.

The unenviable task to distinguish which discovery has most greatly impacted mankind falls to the 50 Nobel Committee elected-voting professors making up the Nobel Assembly, at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. The Nobel Assembly have a choice of candidates suggested by invited nominators, the candidates selected are then assessed by specifically appointed expert advisors who aid the Nobel Assembly and all these filters set in place to make the best possible decision for that given year. The winner is then ordained a ‘Nobel Laureate’; it’s origin hailing from ancient Greece where circular laurel wreaths, composed of leaves and branches, crowned athletic victors, as well as symbolising honour during poetic gatherings.

Science has long been a largely male dominated field, nevertheless over the past 22 years the number of women making the top 1% of academic scores has risen from 8% to 25%. Women are undoubtedly starting to show the statistics, suggesting males vastly outnumber the females in this field, the door. As a female scientist myself, it’s a promising indication that science will continue to progress into a gender balanced field and with the 200th Nobel Laureate likely to be announced this year, it is fitting to look back at the incredible discoveries women have made in the domain of physiology or medicine.


Gerty Cori becomes the first female Nobel Laureate in Physiology or medicine in 1947 for the ‘discovery of the course of catalytic conversion of glycogen’. Amongst the team was her husband, Carl Cori giving the achievement a joyous family element.


The 1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was shared between Rosalyn Yalow, Andrew V. Schally and Roger Guillemin ‘for the development of radioimmunoassay of peptide hormones’.


Barbara McClintock was acknowledged ‘for her discovery of mobile genetic elements’, moreover she stands as the only female in history to obtain an unshared prize! This truly makes 1983 an inspirational year for female scientists everywhere.


The 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine waste shared between Rita Levi-Montalcini and Stanley Cohen ‘for their discoveries of growth factors’. This discovery was key to furthering our understanding of nervous system development, as the growth factors released by nerve cells where involved in stimulating and regulating the process.


The 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was shared between Gertrude B. Elion, Sir James W. Black and George H. Hitchings ‘for their discoveries of important principles for drug treatment’.


The 1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was shared between Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Edward B. Lewis and Eric F. Wieschaus ‘for their discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development’.


The 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was shared between Linda B. Buck and Richard Axel ‘for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organisation of the olfactory system’.


The 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or medicine was shared between Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Luc Montagnier and Harald zur Hausen ‘for their discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus’.


2009 saw two women winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, shared with Jack W. Szostak ‘for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres’.

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A Doctor’s Touch

Doctors constitute one of the oldest human profession. Arisen mainly from ancient Greek philosophy as well as religious institutions such as monasteries  in the Western world, this profession has become a very reputable one and is supposedly studied only by the brightest of students. The profession has undergone many transformations over the last centuries and with the advancement of science and technology, doctors now have a great insight into the human body.

Technological advances such as CAT scans, ultrasounds, blood counts and many other have contributed to our understanding of the human body. Such techniques are routinely employed by doctors nowadays and can help diagnoses and have thus become indispensable.

Abraham Verghese, a Professor for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, challenges these ideas in his latest TED talk as can be seen below.

Whereas technological advances contribute a great deal to the improvement of general human health, they do not necessarily give you always answers and can even be misleading. What if a scan does not show anything?

There are many diseases and conditions that can be unnoticed on many scans and obviously other techniques have to be employed.

This phenomenon is the critique of Abraham Verghese, who argues that nowadays it is often forgotten to use the hand to diagnose a patient, but instead one specialist after another tries to diagnose things in vain without really building up a rapport with the patient. Of course he does not try to judge his colleagues or put them into a bad light, but rather makes a fundamental suggestion to change our way of thinking.

He basically asks what happened to the stethoscope and a proper anamnesis when you consult your doctor.

For example, machines often do not tell us the cause for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Recently, I had problems with my digestive tracks myself. No specialist or gastroenterologist could pinpoint what was wrong, whereas a visceral osteopath could help me after examining my abdomen with his hands.

Technology and scientific advance is great, but sometimes we forget the great knowledge our fathers and grandfathers used to teach. Being a doctor is a difficult job and every doctor tries to help with the best of his/ her abilities. Maybe it is time to rethink and come back to some old approaches?

Watch the talk by Abraham Verghese below and see what you think …

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Homeopathy Works According to Swiss Health Regulators

Under pressure from its own people and the medical profession in general, the Swiss Government decided to set up its own committee to review the scientific validity of the main holistic therapies. The first among them was homeopathy, which was routinely prescribed by about 40% of the Swiss GPs in the 1990’s (according to Boiron), and of course Naturopathy / Herbal medicine, which has a long tradition in Switzerland.

The conclusion is clear: there is sufficient evidence to recommend homeopathy for its effectiveness, safety and economy compared with conventional treatment. This is another evidence that conventional medicine on the continent is more open to homeopathic treatment. The conclusion will allow the national health insurance programme to cover homeopathic treatment at a wider scale. Also, Universities are now busy setting up homeopathic course for the medical comprehension.

The study looked at the evidence for Homeopathy from randomized double-blind and placebo controlled clinical trials. They also took proper scientific account of the many systematic reviews and meta-analyses, outcome studies, and epidemiological research studies that have been undertaken. For example, the report concluded that 20 of the 22 systematic reviews of clinical research testing homeopathic medicines detected at least a trend in favour of homeopathy.

Most of the major European health systems support in one form or another homeopathy. Research is publicly funded in France and Germany, and more and more doctors in Eastern Europe use it in their practice.

Let us hope that the UK will one day accept the evidence shown in the Swiss report and start using complementary therapy along conventional drugs. This report shows that it is in general safer, cheaper and in line with what the public demands.

For more details about this news, which was overlooked by most media in the UK, please refer to:

Huffington Post. The Swiss Government’s Remarkable Report on Homeopathic Medicine. Published 15 February 2011.

EFHPA. L’Homéopathie est efficace d’après un rapport fédéral suisse. Published 03 January 2012.

Artificial Pancreas Tested at Cambridge University

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have demonstrated the usability of an artificial pancreas for patients with Type 1 diabetes. The apparatus allows the regulation of the patient’s blood sugar levels during night time and thus prevents hypoglycaemia, i.e. low blood sugar levels.

If blood sugar levels fall to low, patients can experience warning signs such as irritability, shakiness and heart pounding. At night, however, these signs often remain unnoticed, leading to permanent damage or even to fatality. Dr. Roman Havorka at the Institute for Metabolic Science of the university has been leading two studies on the applicability of the artificial pancreas. After the promising test results, he proposed that the device might be applicable for the usage at home, which will be included in the next test series.

The artificial organ itself includes two parts, an insulin pump and a glucose level monitor. It is the first time that both technologies have been successfully combined. Active research in the UK also encompasses the creation of a bioengineered pancreas including beta cells to create insulin. However, research in that area is still in its infancy as we reported previously.

The new technology tested at the university may help many people in the UK. Since the year 1996 the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK has increased from around 1.4 million to 2.6 million. It is estimated that by 2025 over four million people will have diabetes in Britain. These alarming figures show that diabetes is one of the major health challenges over the next decades. Although most of these people are predicted to have Type 2 diabetes due to an aging population, a strong increase in Type 1 diabetes is also expected due to wrong dieting. New technology such as the one demonstrated here will potentially benefit millions of people.

Image: courtesy of the University of Cambridge