Medicine on the mark
Skip the heart bypass – I’ll take the injection instead… and other amazing medical inventions
HEALTH STORIES FROM around the world this week include speculation on whether pomegranate juice reduces the effects of flu.
Also, tests are being carried on a heart injection that could replace the need for bypass surgery. And we reveal how a rub-on gel used to treat eye infections can treat unwanted hair growth.
Flu? Try a glass of pomegranate juice
Can pomegranate juice reduce the effects of flu? In a new trial, patients with flu are being given two glasses of the juice every day for four or five days.
Previous laboratory studies have shown that compounds in pomegranates stopped the virus from replicating and spreading. The new study, at the Hillel Yaffe Medical Centre in Israel, will assess whether this benefit can be extended to people.
Pomegranate juice is thought to help combat oxidative stress. This is as a result of chemical reactions in the body which release harmful oxygen-rich molecules that attack tissue and cause permanent damage. This oxidative damage is implicated as a cause of many illnesses – including flu. The antioxidant punicalagin, mostly found in pomegranate seeds, is thought to be key in combating this process.
Heart bypass jab to replace surgery
A jab that stimulates the growth of healthy blood vessels could signal the end of heart bypass surgery.
The treatment, now being tested on animals, involves injecting heart muscle with a protein known to trigger blood vessel growth.
Tests suggest the jab can produce a network of new blood vessels within a few weeks.
Every year, nearly 20 000 Britons undergo coronary artery bypass. Surgeons use healthy blood vessels taken from other parts of the body to bypass diseased blocked arteries from the heart.
Although it is usually successful, about 3 percent of patients die.
The new treatment could end the need for major surgery. It follows studies showing that large amounts of protein stimulate blood vessel growth by “activating” cells that make up their lining.
Eye drug could stop excess hair
An antiviral drug may help prevent the growth of unwanted hair.
The drug cidofovir is used to treat viral infections of the eye, but is now being tested in a rub-on gel to tackle hair growth. This follows the observation that injections of cidofovir can cause hair loss as a side-effect.
It’s thought that the immune response triggered by the drug to tackle viruses also affects hair follicles, causing hair to fall out.
In a trial at the University of Pennsylvania, men will use the gel daily on their chins for up to six weeks.
Excessive hair growth in women is usually caused by too much male hormone (androgen). A common cause is polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Contact lenses worn at night could slow down or even halt sight deterioration in children.
The vast majority of children with sight problems are short-sighted – they have difficulty seeing things far away. This is caused by a misshapen eyeball.
The new contact lenses work like a dental brace, gently pressing on the eye to restore it to the shape of someone with normal vision. New research has found that after a year of use, children had far less sight deterioration than those who had worn regular contact lenses.
In normal sight, the light rays pass into the eye through the cornea. They then hit the retina at the back of the eye where they are transformed into image-forming signals, which are then sent to the brain.
With short-sight, the cornea is either too curved or the eyeball too long. This means the light rays from distant objects focus in front of the retina, rather than directly on it, making the objects appear fuzzy.
The overnight lenses work by gently pressing on the cornea, reducing its curvature and thereby refocusing the light directly on to the retina. It also, in effect, shortens the eyeball.
The reshaping in adults is temporary because the cornea will spring back to its original shape, so the lenses must be worn every night. (The lenses themselves are slightly harder than the softer lenses people wear.)
However, a few years ago scientists noticed that children who wore this type of contact lens had a slower deterioration of their eyesight. A controlled clinical trial of the lenses was set up in the US two years ago. About 300 children aged eight to 14 are taking part in the five-year study, known as SMART.
Half of the subjects have been given the overnight lenses, while the others are using normal contact lenses every day. At the end of the first year, both groups stopped wearing their lenses for one month to see if their prescription had changed.
Sight loss is measured in diopters. In children who are short-sighted it is estimated that sight deteriorates by 0.25 to 1.2 diopters a year (as a guide, most adults have a prescription that is no worse than minus 5).
After the first year, the children in the overnight lens group had no prescription change; in the control group the average increase was 0.4 diopters. Because shortsightedness is usually picked up by the early teenage years, it is hoped overnight lenses could at least prevent further sight deterioration.
The reason why children seem to benefit more than adults is because their eyes are still growing – this makes it easier to change their shape, just as it’s easier to fix misaligned teeth in children rather than adults, For more information, visit www.igolenses.com – The Daily Mail