News in Brief

New 3D imaging device tested

A research collaboration between the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Boston, US and Finnish Planmed Oy is studying the benefits and value of 3D imaging options of CBCT technology for imaging of extremities using Planmed’s Verity Extremity Scanner. The feasibility of this device will be investigated in various applications. In addition, the image quality, speed of examination, and accuracy of diagnosis of this new device is being assessed in relation to traditional CT equipment. Planmed Verity is designed to find subtle extremity fractures at the first visit to the clinic – fractures that have been the most commonly missed using only 2D radiographs. Planmed Verity is a unique solution to the problem with fast 3D imaging at the point of care. It is intended for pre- and postoperative imaging with better resolution, patient adaptability, and significantly lower dose than full-body CTs.

Bahrain to build facility to make insulin devices

Bahrain is investing US$93 million in a Gulf Biotic facility to produce insulin devices and the growth of diabetes in the Gulf region. The plant will manufacture insulin vials and cartridges, producing 26m units annually. All products will comply with U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency. "The focus of the supply will be in the six GCC states as increasing number of population in these countries are suffering from diabetes," said Dr Khalid Abdulla, CEO of Innovest, which will operate the new venture. The site is set to open in two years.

$27m gift to fast track neurogenetic disorder therapy research

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has received a five-year, $27 million gift earmarked to fast-track the development of therapies to treat tumours associated with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), a common and often debilitating neurogenetic disorder that causes tumours called plexiform neurofibromas to grow on nerves anywhere in the body. The gift, from anonymous donors with NF1 in their family, will fund creation of the Neurofibromatosis Therapeutic Acceleration Program (NTAP), which will bring together experts to identify the most promising research leads toward an effective therapy.

First record of tick paralysis in Egypt

According to a Promed Mail report in June, the first tick paralysis has been recorded in Egypt. Tick paralysis, caused by the secretion of toxin with saliva while taking a blood meal, is an important veterinary disease, but is rare in humans. Although it has certain geographical predilections, it exists worldwide. Tick paralysis was demonstrated for the first time in Egypt among four children living in rural area at Giza Governorate. The clinical pictures were confused with rabies; myasthensia gravis; botulism; diphtheritic polyneuropathy encountered in rural areas. The recovery of tick infesting the four children and negative clinical and laboratory data of all diseases denoted tick paralysis. The encountered ticks infesting their animals were on dogs, camels and goats.

Turkey pushes for health tourism free zones

The Turkish ministries involved in the formation of health tourism free zones in Turkey have been in talks examining the unique example of the Dubai Health Free Zone. Turkish areas considered as potential free zones for health include Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya, and Diyarbakir.

WHO calls for reinforcing the fight against malaria

The WHO has launched a new malaria initiative, T3: Test. Treat. Track, and urges malaria-endemic countries and donors to move towards universal access to diagnostic testing and antimalarial treatment, and to build robust malaria surveillance systems. WHO urges the global health community to scale up investments and to make a major push towards achieving the healthrelated Millennium Develop-ment Goals in 2015.

Johns Hopkins, Fraunhofer to jointly develop new sensor tech for medicine

Johns Hopkins University in Boston and the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute in Berlin has signed an MoU to jointly research innovative medical applications of integrated optical sensors – small, highly sensitive devices with disease-recognition capabilities. The “partnership will allow us to introduce an emerging technology into the medical field to advance care for patients around the globe”, said Helen Montag, corporate relations director of The Johns Hopkins University.

Coffee drinkers live longer

Older adults who drink coffee – caffeinated or decaffeinated – have a lower risk of death overall than others who did not drink coffee, according a study by researchers from the US National Cancer Institute. Coffee drinkers were less likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections, although the association was not seen for cancer. The researchers say, however, that they can’t be sure whether these associations mean that drinking coffee actually makes people live longer. Ref: New England Journal of Medicine 17 May 2012.

World’s first regulatory approval for a manufactured stem cell product

Osiris Therapeutics has received market authorisation from Health Canada to market its stem cell therapy Prochymal (remestemcel-L), for the treatment of acute graft-vs-host disease (GvHD) in children. The historic decision marks the world’s first regulatory approval of a manufactured stem cell product and the first therapy approved for GvHD – a devastating complication of bone marrow transplantation that kills up to 80% of children affected, many within just weeks of diagnosis.

Health Canada’s authorisation was made following the recommendation of an independent expert advisory panel, commissioned to evaluate Prochymal’s safety and efficacy. In Canada, Prochymal is now authorized for the management of acute GvHD in children who fail to respond to steroids. The approval was based on the results from clinical studies evaluating Prochymal in patients with severe refractory acute GvHD. Prochymal demonstrated a clinically meaningful response at 28 days post initiation of therapy in 61 to 64% of patients treated.

Joanne Kurtzberg, head of the Paediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Program at Duke University and lead investigator for Prochymal, said: “I have personally seen Prochymal reverse the debilitating effects of severe GvHD in many of my patients and now, after nearly two decades of research, the data demonstrating consistently high response rates, a strong safety profile and improved survival clearly support the use of Prochymal in the management of refractory GvHD.”

Prochymal is currently available in several countries under an Expanded Access Program (EAP).

New WHO statistics highlight increases in blood pressure

The World Health Statistics 2012 report released on May 16 puts the spotlight on the growing problem of the non-communicable diseases burden. One in three adults worldwide, according to the report, has raised blood pressure and one in ten adults has diabetes.

Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said: “This report is further evidence of the dramatic increase in the conditions that trigger heart disease and other chronic illnesses, particularly in low- and middleincome countries. In some African countries, as much as half the adult population has high blood pressure.”

The WHO’s annual statistics report includes information from 194 countries on the percentage of men and women with raised blood pressure and blood glucose levels. In high-income countries, widespread diagnosis and treatment with lowcost medication have significantly reduced mean blood pressure across populations, contributing to a reduction in deaths from heart disease. In Africa, however, more than 40% (and up to 50%) of adults in many countries are estimated to have high blood pressure. Most of these people remain undiagnosed, although many of these cases could be treated with low-cost medications.

Obesity is another major issue. Dr Ties Boerma, director of the Department of Health Statistics and Information Systems at WHO, said: “Today, half a billion people (12% of the world’s population) are considered obese.” The highest obesity levels are in the Americas (26% of adults) and the lowest in the South-East Asia region (3% obese). In all parts of the world, women are more likely to be obese than men, and thus at greater risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

World Health Statistics 2012

WHO warns of a gonorrhoea crisis

Millions of people with gonorrhoea may be at risk of running out of treatment options unless urgent action is taken, according to the WHO. Already several countries, including Australia, France, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom are reporting cases of resistance to cephalosporin antibiotics – the last treatment option against gonorrhoea. Every year an estimated 106 million people are infected with gonorrhoea, which is transmitted sexually.

WHO is calling for greater vigilance on the correct use of antibiotics and more research into alternative treatment regimens for gonococcal infections. Their Global Action Plan to control the spread and impact of antimicrobial resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoea also calls for increased monitoring and reporting of resistant strains as well as better prevention, diagnosis and control of gonococcal infections.

Gonorrhoea makes up one quarter of the four major curable sexually-transmitted infections. Since the development of antibiotics, the pathogen has developed resistance to many of the common antibiotics used as treatment, including penicillin, tetracyclines and quinolones.

Biomedical research centre opens at Imperial College London

Imperial College London (ICL) has opened a Dh421m (£73m) biomedical research centre, designed to expand and accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries into new ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases.

Called the Imperial Centre for Translational and Experimental Medicine (ICTEM), it combines laboratory space for up to 450 scientists with a dedicated facility for evaluating and developing new medical treatments through clinical trials.

The upper floors of the six-storey building constitute one of the largest cardiovascular research facilities in Europe, including the headquarters of the British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence at Imperial. The building is also home to the Imperial Cancer Research UK Centre, which brings together chemists, biologists and engineers who are working on new ways of tackling cancer, such as molecular imaging techniques that help doctors match treatments to patients and methods to reduce the toxicity of radiotherapy.

Sir Keith O’Nions, president and rector of Imperial College London, said: “The Imperial Centre for Translational and Experimental Medicine is a physical manifestation of our commitment to bring benefits to society through the application of knowledge. It is our Academic Health Science Centre in action. Under one roof, next to a major hospital, hundreds of scientists are dedicated to making new discoveries. Their mission is to find new ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases that blight the lives of millions across the world. In doing so they will not only improve people’s health, they will also bring benefits for the economic health of the country, driving drug discovery work and interacting closely with the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. The impact of the centre’s work will be felt by populations locally, nationally and internationally.”

Siemens Healthcare to collaborate with Maquet

Maquet and Siemens Healthcare are working together on a combined system for diagnostics and surgical procedures. At the heart of the joint solution is the angiography system Artis zeego1 (Siemens) and the Magnus operating table system (Maquet). The application is primarily intended for the hybrid operating room. A decisive benefit of the combined solution for hospitals is its versatile range of application in the OR. In future, the solution will be used for angiographic imaging as well as for open surgery. Both companies see considerable growth potential for the hybrid OR in this joint development, in particular for the fields of cardiovascular surgery, neurosurgery, orthopaedics, traumatology and urology.

Varian and Siemens announce partnership

Varian Medical Systems and Siemens Healthcare have announced a partnership to provide advanced diagnostic and therapeutic solutions for treating cancer with image-guided radiotherapy and radiosurgery. The collaboration covers the mutual marketing and representation of products, investigation of opportunities for joint development of new products; and Varian’s representation of Siemens’ diagnostic imaging products to radiation oncology clinics around the world.

Siemens Healthcare will similarly represent Varian equipment and software for radiotherapy and radiosurgery within its offerings to its healthcare customers. This will enable the companies to offer comprehensive solutions to support the entire clinical workflow from imaging to treatment. Furthermore, the partnership will see development of interfaces that will enable connecting Varian’s ARIA oncology information system software with Siemens accelerators and imaging systems to give clinics more options for improving workflow and streamlining their operations.

Stress-induced seizures confused for epilepsy

In a new study, a team of neuropsychologists and neurologists at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine suggest that people with PNES don’t necessarily experience more frequent, or more severe, stressful events than people with epilepsy, or neurologically healthy people. However, they seem to lack effective coping mechanisms necessary to deal with those stresses.

Physicians and psychologists from Johns Hopkins say that more than one-third of the patients admitted to The Johns Hopkins Hospital’s inpatient epilepsy monitoring unit for treatment of intractable seizures have been discovered to have stress-triggered symptoms rather than a true seizure disorder. These patients – returning war veterans, mothers in child-custody battles and over-extended professionals alike – have what doctors are calling psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES). Their display of uncontrollable movements, far-off stares or convulsions, Johns Hopkins researchers say, are not the result of the abnormal electrical discharges in the brain that characterise epilepsy, but instead appear to be stress-related behaviours that mimic and are misdiagnosed as the neurological disorder.
According to the research, one potent clue is that antiseizure medications fail to stop these patients’ symptoms, suggesting nothing is physically wrong with their brains’ electrical activity. The researchers also say the diagnoses appear to be on the rise, at least by what they have seen in recent months.

In the past, behaviours like PNES were called ‘hysteria’. Now they are often referred to as a conversion disorder, in which the patient unconsciously converts emotional dysfunction into physical symptoms. In some cases, those afflicted have become paralysed, or blind, because of emotional trauma. People at risk for pseudo-seizures are typically highly suggestible, the Hopkins scientists say, which is why physicians have often tried not to publicise the condition. In recent months, a group of more than a dozen female high school students in New York were reported to be experiencing uncontrollable tics and other movements, which many experts now believe are manifestations of a ‘contagious’ psychiatric rather than neurological disorder.

Dementia is a public health crisis, says WHO

A report released by the WHO and Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) calls for governments and policymakers to make dementia a global public health priority. In addition to valuable best practices and practical case studies from around the world, the report contains a comprehensive collection of data, including hard-to-get statistics from lowand middle-income countries, thereby dramatically underscoring that this is truly a global problem.

Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director for WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, said: “Right now, only eight of 194 WHO member states have a national dementia plan in place, and a few more are in development. Our hope is that other countries will follow suit, using this report as a starting point for planning and implementation.”

According to ADI research, the number of people living with dementia worldwide, estimated at 35.6 million in 2010, is set to nearly double every 20 years, reaching 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050. Who estimates that treating and caring for people with dementia currently costs the world more than US$604 billion per year.

Dementia: a public health priority


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