Roots of medicine lie in Egypt

Scientists examining documents dating back 3,500 years say they have found proof that the origins of modern medicine lie in ancient Egypt and not with Hippocrates and the Greeks.

The research team from the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at The University of Manchester discovered the evidence in medical papyri written in 1,500BC - 1,000 years before Hippocrates was born.

“Classical scholars have always considered the ancient Greeks, particularly Hippocrates, as being the fathers of medicine but our findings suggest that the ancient Egyptians were practising a credible form of pharmacy and medicine much earlier,” said Dr researcher Jackie Campbell.

“When we compared the ancient remedies against modern pharmaceutical protocols and standards, we found the prescriptions in the ancient documents not only compared with pharmaceutical preparations of today but that many of the remedies had therapeutic merit.”

The medical documents, which were first discovered in the mid-19th century, showed that ancient Egyptian physicians treated wounds with honey, resins and metals known to be antimicrobial.

The team also discovered prescriptions for laxatives of castor oil and colocynth and bulk laxatives of figs and bran. Other references show that colic was treated with hyoscyamus, which is still used today, and that cumin and coriander were used as intestinal carminatives.

Further evidence showed that musculo-skeletal disorders were treated with rubefacients to stimulate blood flow and poultices to warm and soothe. They used celery and saffron for rheumatism, which are currently topics of pharmaceutical research, and pomegranate was used to eradicate tapeworms, a remedy that remained in clinical use until 50 years ago.

“Many of the ancient remedies we discovered survived into the 20th century and, indeed, some remain in use today, albeit that the active component is now produced synthetically,” said Dr Campbell. “Other ingredients endure and acacia is still used in cough remedies while aloes forms a basis to soothe and heal skin conditions.”

Fellow researcher Dr Ryan Metcalfe is developing genetic techniques to investigate the medicinal plants of ancient Egypt. He has designed his research to determine which modern species the ancient botanical samples are most related to.

“This may allow us to determine a likely point of origin for the plant while providing additional evidence for the trade routes, purposeful cultivation, trade centres or places of treatment,” said Dr Metcalfe.

“The work is inextricably linked to state-of-the-art chemical analyses used by my colleague Judith Seath, who specialises in the essential oils and resins used by the ancient Egyptians.” Professor Rosalie David, Director of the KNH Centre, said: “These results are very significant and show that the ancient Egyptians were practising a credible form of pharmacy long before the Greeks.

“Our research is continuing on a genetic, chemical and comparative basis to compare the medicinal plants of ancient Egypt with modern species and to investigate similarities between the traditional remedies of North Africa with the remedies used by their ancestors of 1,500 BC.”

Blood conservation guide

A team of medical experts led by a Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) anaesthesiologist and a thoracic surgeon from the University of Kentucky in the US has established a set of clinical guidelines to help physicians decrease the need for blood transfusions in high-risk patients during cardiac operations.

The team, led by Bruce Spiess, MD, professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the VCU School of Medicine and director of VCURES Shock Research Center, and Victor Ferraris, MD, chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Kentucky’s Albert B Chandler Hospital, developed the guidelines, Perioperative Blood Transfusion and Blood Conservation in Cardiac Surgery.

It appears as a standalone supplement to the May 2007 issue of the The Annals of Thoracic Surgery. “Blood must be viewed as a scarce resource that carries risks and benefits,” said Prof Dr Spiess.

“This is a huge event for medicine. If these guidelines are adopted by a majority of cardiovascular centres in the world, we can decrease the amount of blood transfusions, blood usage and cost and blood shortages would be less frequent and not occur to such a degree.

“There is very strong evidence that patients who receive more blood have more post operative infection, have more renal failure and have more lung dysfunction,” he said.

According to the report, about 15% to 20% of patients undergoing cardiac procedures consume more than 80% of the blood products transfused at operation. Dr Ferraris agreed with the great significance of the guidelines. “The blood conservation practice guidelines generated under the auspices of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons represents a landmark undertaking,” he said.

“This work should serve as a template for individual cardiothoracic surgeons and for institutions as they manage valuable and scarce blood component resources.” The guidelines suggest that institution-specific protocols should screen for high-risk patients, as blood conservation interventions are likely to be most productive for this high-risk subset.

Some evidence-based blood conservation techniques include drugs that increase preoperative blood volume or decrease postoperative bleeding; devices that conserve blood; and interventions that protect the patient’s own blood from the stress of operation.

The guidelines are available online:

Philips-Misys partnership

Royal Philips Electronics and Misys Healthcare Systems, in May announced a plan to join forces to provide a comprehensive solution for the homecare market.

The companies intend to develop an integrated software platform that enables homecare agencies to provide high quality care to chronically ill patients, while benefiting from operational efficiencies in monitoring and managing their patients’ health status.

Through this nonexclusive agreement, the companies seek to combine Philips’ experience in telehealth and remote patient monitoring with Misys’ expertise as one of the leading providers of clinical and business software for the US homecare market.

Misys and Philips intend to work together to offer deeper integration of vital signs data and health status information into the patient record, providing a more comprehensive clinical review application than is currently available from telehealth providers.

The goal is to provide a powerful solution that helps homecare agencies optimise care for patients most in need of clinical attention, in order to reduce hospital readmissions and healthcare costs associated with chronic disease.

Philips offers wireless telemonitoring measurement devices, robust clinical content – including patient education, validated health surveys and risk assessment tools – as well as wide-ranging service delivery support and innovative pricing models.

Misys brings a fully integrated financial and clinical management solution, including point-of-care, to the homecare industry.

WHO stats 2007

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published (18 May) World Health Statistics 2007, the most complete set of health statistics from its 193 Member States.

As well as being the most authoritative annual reference for a set of 50 health indicators in countries around the world, this edition also highlights trends in 10 of the most closely watched global health statistics.

In her speech (15 May) to the World Health Assembly, the WHO director-general, Dr Margaret Chan, focused on the need for accurate evidence and up-to-date statistics as the basis for policy decisions.

“Reliable health data and statistics are the foundation of health policies, strategies, and evaluation and monitoring,” she said. “Evidence is also the foundation for sound health information for the general public... I regard the generation and use of health information as the most urgent need.”

This volume is available in print, as a download or as an online database. It includes:

- How much money is currently spent on health in comparison to regional burdens of disease;

- Projected patterns of major causes of death for 2030;

- Gaps in reliable information, and how estimates of maternal mortality are made;

- The diseases that are killing people, and those that make them sick;

- The extent to which people can access treatment, the major risk factors for illhealth, the human resources underpinning health systems; and

-  Health outcomes in the context of demographic and socioeconomic status of individual countries.

World Health Statistics 2007 is the official record of data produced by WHO’s technical programmes and regional offices. In publishing these statistics, WHO provides the global evidence base for improvements and continued challenges in global public health.

Health system collapse

A doctors group in Zimbabwe says patients are dying in hospitals because the government health system has collapsed, according to a report on Independent Online.

Zimbabwe is suffering record inflation of 3,700% with acute shortages of medicines, food, petrol and hard currency.

The Zimbabwean Association of Doctors for Human Rights said the crisis left all the nation’s major referral hospitals unable to function. “It can no longer be said the health service is near collapse.

The emptying of central and other hospitals of staff, and therefore patients, means the health service has collapsed,” the group said.

Transport costs have increased so much that many hospital workers can no longer afford to travel to work on their salaries. And many doctors have left the country after suffering “burn out” from working under poor conditions.

GE sues Sonosite

Aunt Minnie ( reports that GE Healthcare has filed a lawsuit against compact-ultrasound developer SonoSite.

The lawsuit charges SonoSite with infringing on GE patents for compact-ultrasound technology. GE filed the lawsuit on 15 May in the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

The company charges that SonoSite’s MicroMaxx and/or Titan scanners infringe on several GE patents relating to ultrasound technology. GE said it is seeking “unspecified monetary damages and an injunction”.

A SonoSite spokesperson said the company was evaluating its options and intended to “vigorously defend our rights”. SonoSite is already involved in litigation over patents related to compact ultrasound with competitor Zonare Medical Systems, according to the report.

Pfizer sued for $7bn

The Nigerian Government is suing Pfizer for US$7bn, accusing it of conducting improper trials for an antimeningitis drug, according to a BBC news online report.

The government says the drug, Trovan, lead to the deaths of some 200 children, while others suffered mental and physical deformities.

They said the drug was injected in children without approval from Nigerian regulatory agencies. Pfizer denies any wrongdoing and says the trials were conducted according to Nigerian and international law.

Pfizer – the world’s largest pharmaceutical company – tested the experimental antibiotic Trovan in Kano during an outbreak of meningitis which had affected thousands in 1996.

2D to 3D ultrasound

In collaboration with the software company MedCom, researchers from the Fraunhofer Technology Development Group TEG and the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT have succeeded in producing a system that enables conventional 2-D ultrasound scanners to be upgraded to provide 3-D images for as little as 400 euros.

Physicians and clinics wishing to upgrade from 2-D to 3-D technology usually have to invest around 50,000 euros in new equipment.

“We fit the ultrasound transducers with inertial sensors that can determine the exact position and orientation of the probe,” explained Dr Urs Schneider, project manager at the TEG.

“Specially developed algorithms then allow us to reconstruct a three-dimensional image from the data thus obtained.” Schneider expects the new system, which consists of a small device installed with the necessary software, to be commercially available later this year.


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