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NEWS (6)

Wednesday, 10 February 2016 17:55

Cosmetic surgery ops on the rise

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There was a sharp increase in the popularity of cosmetic surgery in the UK in 2015, figures show.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps) said there were 51,140 surgical procedures last year - up from 45,406 the year before.

It overturns a recent decline, which was blamed on the recession and the scandal over faulty breast implants.

Nine out of 10 procedures were in women, although the rise was seen in both genders.

The top 10 procedures were:

  1. Breast augmentation up 12% to 9,652
  2. Eyelid surgery up 12% to 8,689
  3. Face and neck lifts up 16% to 7,419
  4. Breast reductions up 13% to 6,246
  5. Liposuction up 20% to 5,551
  6. Nose jobs up 14% to 4,205
  7. Fat transfer operations up 3% to 3,261
  8. Tummy tucks up 8% to 2,933
  9. Browlifts up 7% to 2,110
  10. Ear corrections up 14% to 1,074

Overall, the number of procedures increased by 13%.

Consultant plastic surgeon and Baaps council member Ash Mosahebi said many reasons were contributing to the increase.

He told the BBC: "I think partly because the economy is improving and people are spending more on luxury items.

"And social media is becoming more popular, people are sending pictures of themselves frequently and want to look good.

"And I would say the Botox generation who got older using Botox and fillers, those things are not working any more for those age groups so they're taking the next step up and that is surgical options."

However, he said people were more educated about cosmetic surgery after thousands of women were fitted with substandard breast implants made by the French firm Poly Implant Prothese.

"I have patients asking, 'What are you using?' and that's a good thing to have come out of that."

A diabetes drug that never made it to the market could possibly restore memory for those affected by Alzheimer's, a new study found.

How is diabetes treatment a potential cure for Alzheimers' disease? Researchers in Canada found that a diabetes drug known as AC253 brought animal brain cells altered by Alzheimers' back to relatively normal levels. Researchers attributed this to the drug's ability to block amyloid, a protein regularly found in the cells of Alzheimers's victims. The high presence of amyloid in these cells is what is believed to cause Alzheimer's.

"Drugs like this might be able to restore memory, even after Alzheimer's disease may have set in," said study leader Jack Jhamandas of the University of Alberta.

To determine the drug's capacity to treat memory loss, the researchers extracted normal and Alzheimer's riddled brain cells from mice and administered an electric shock memory test to the cells. After being treated with AC253, the Alzheimer's cells returned to levels similar to the normal mice cells, according to a statement.

But is diabetes drug AC253 a panacea for Alzheimer's? Far from it. The study notes that the drug has difficultly crossing the blood-brain barrier, keeping the amyloid blocker from getting to the brain. Pharmaceutical researchers would have to find a way to create a drug that could cross that barrier.

Trials could begin in five years, barring any other difficulties exposed during testing, Jhamandas said in a statement. The team is also running tests to determine if taking AC253 before symptoms emerge could "stop the impairment of behaviour and cognition altogether in animals destined to develop Alzheimer's."

Thursday, 22 November 2012 16:52

Half of medical reporting 'is subject to spin'

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A study that you probably won’t be reading in your daily paper or favourite news website anytime soon casts serious doubts on the reliability of mainstream medical and health journalism.

The study found that 51% of news items reporting on medical trials – specifically on randomised controlled trials (RCTs), which are seen as the gold standard in judging whether a treatment is effective or safe – were subject to “spin”.


What is meant by 'spin'?

To spin information is to distort the true picture to fulfil an agenda, often by presenting information in way that creates a positive or favourable impression.

The researchers defined spin for the purposes of the study as “specific reporting strategies (intentional or unintentional) emphasising the beneficial effect of the experimental treatment”.

Examples of medical spin cited by the researchers are:

  • Reporting positive effects that were not statistically significant – so that the effects could have been the result of chance.
  • Focusing on an outcome that the trial was not designed to study – for example, a trial that aimed, without success, to use acupuncture to treat hot flushes found incidentally that the treatment produced a slight improvement in sex drive. So the trial was spun with headlines such as “Acupuncture perks up sex drive”.
  • Focusing on inappropriate sub-groups – for example, a trial of a new type 2 diabetes drug might be a total failure in the population at large but show a slight improvement in women in their twenties. This can be spun as an important breakthrough. However, type 2 diabetes is rare in women in their twenties, so the new drug would not actually be of great use.
  • Ignoring safety data – we need to be sure that the potential benefits of treatment outweigh the risks but research summaries and press releases routinely omit mention of risks, side effects and so forth, and thus give an overly positive impression of results.


Where did the research come from?

The study was carried out by researchers working for a number of French institutions, including the Centre d’Epidemiologie Clinique, Beaujon University Hospital in Clichy and the Faculte de Medecine in Paris.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Medicine.

No direct funding was received for this study. The salaries of the authors were paid by their respective institutions during the period of writing.


What did the researchers do?

The researchers used a news database called EurekAlert! to look for press releases relating to RCTs that were published over a four-month period.

They then checked another news database called LexisNexis to see what mainstream media coverage was generated by the press releases. They then went back to the original research summaries (abstracts) on which the press releases were based.

All three sources of information were then assessed by a panel of experts for the presence of spin.


What were the results?

According to the subjective judgement of that panel:

  • 41% of abstracts contained spin
  • 46% of press releases contained spin
  • 51% of news items contained spin


How does spin occur?

Based on the results, the researchers believe – though cannot prove – that there are three levels of spin at work.

First, at the abstract (summary) level. Leaving aside any deliberate spinning, many researchers may just unconsciously “sex-up” their report abstracts to present them in the best possible light.

If, for example, you were involved in a project that may have lasted several years, and were asked for a brief summary of your findings, it is likely that you would focus more on the positives than the negatives.

Second, at the press release level. Press officers for universities, research institutes or medical journals are under pressure to generate media coverage. And a lively, positive “breakthrough” will get more coverage than results that are dull and inconclusive.

Third, at the journalism level. Many journalists claim (with some justification) that they are over-worked and under-resourced so they simply read the press release (and some might read the abstract) before writing the story. The full study on which the press release is based is rarely read.


Why this is important?

It is estimated that 90% of the public get information on developments in medicine and healthcare from the mainstream media. So the quality and reliability (or lack of it) of medical and health journalism is vitally important in determining whether we get an accurate idea of medical advances.

At best, unreliable medical journalism can lead people to waste time and money on treatments for which there is no evidence of them being effective. At worst, it can kill.

For example, the unfounded link between the MMR vaccine and autism became a “health scare” perpetuated by large sections of the mainstream media from the late 1990s. Despite the lack of credible evidence to back up the link, frightened parents justifiably avoided letting their children have the MMR jab. Official statistics show that this led to a sharp rise in measles cases. While in most cases measles is simply unpleasant, in a small number of cases it can be fatal.

Between 1998 and 2008 there were 15 measles-related deaths reported to the Health Protection Agency in England and Wales. All of these deaths may have been prevented by MMR vaccination.


Things to consider

When you read a news report about a medical study, you may find it useful to consider:          

  • Was the research in humans? Headlines that talk of a “miracle cure” often relate to research conducted on, say, mice – and the results may not apply to people.
  • How many people did the study involve? Small studies involving just a handful of people are more likely than large studies to reach conclusions that could simply be the result of chance.
  • Did the study actually assess what’s in the headline? As mentioned, a headline saying acupuncture boosts your sex-life was actually based on a study into whether acupuncture could treat hot flushes.
  • Who paid for the study? While most commercially funded studies are reliable, it is always worth checking if there could be any potential conflict of interest, for example where a company funds research into its own products.



The study paints a picture of spinning at multiple levels, with around half of medical news stories being subject to deliberate or unconscious spin at some point.

Some researchers distort their abstracts which are then turned into inaccurate, “sexed up” press releases. The releases are then used to generate news stories for journalists who, in general, don’t read the original research.

Researchers often complain that journalists misrepresent their work, but if they are spinning the information that goes into the abstracts, then they are partially culpable for any misrepresentation.

Given the levels of spin found by this study, readers need to be wary of medical news stories and approach them in a sceptical frame of mind.

Monday, 19 November 2012 18:24

How the brain forms habits

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People act on habits automatically because the habits are deep inside our brains. This explains why we take the same route to work every day, or put our left shoe on first. It also allows our brains to think about what to make for dinner, or what to wear to school.

The brain's administrative command center, however, does not fully renounce control of constant behavior. The new study has determined that a small region of the brain's prefrontal cortex has been identified as the controller of minute-by-minute control of thinking and acting, and can be prompted on at any moment.

Ann Graybiel, from the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT said:

"We've always thought - and I still do - that the value of a habit is you don't have to think about it. It frees up your brain to do other things. It frees up your brain to do other things. However, it doesn't free up all of it. There's some piece of your cortex that's still devoted to that control."

Graybiel explained that the recent evidence, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides hope for people who cannot seem to shake their bad habits, because it reveals that even though habits are deep in our brains, the brain's control center has the capability of turning them off.

The new findings also pave the way for possible intervention into that area of the brain in order to help people who are affected by certain kinds of conditions which stem from this part of the brain, including OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).

According to the report, which was led by Kyle Smith, a McGovern Institute research scientist, habits become such a large part of who we are that it sometimes seems it may be virtually impossible to say goodbye to them, even when they may not be good for us.

For their study, the authors conducted an experiment on mice that were trained to run a maze in the shape of a T. When the rats headed toward the part of the maze where they had to make a decision in direction, the researchers played a tone telling them to either go right or left. When the rats went in the correct direction (left), they were given a reward - chocolate milk. When the rodents headed in the wrong direction (right), they were only given sugar water.

To demonstrate that the rats' behavior was consistent, the authors ceased giving the trained rats any rewards, and the animals continued to find their way through the T-shaped maze. Then, after a while, the experts rewarded the rats with chocolate milk again. However, this time it was mixed with lithium chloride, which caused the rats to be nauseated. Even after the nausea, the rats continued to run the maze in the same way they had before, but they stopped drinking the chocolate milk.

When the researchers had determined that the rats' behavior was completely fixed, they wanted to find out if they could change the way the rats were going through the maze by changing a part of the prefrontal cortex called the infralimbic (IL) cortex. The IL cortex plays a role in the development of habits, even though neural pathways which encode habitual continuous behavior are found deep down inside brain structures called the basal ganglia.

Scientists used a method called optogenetics to get inside certain cells with light, and were able to shut off the IL cortex activity for the seconds before the rats approached the part of the maze where they had to make a decision to turn right or left.

The rats almost immediately stopped their habit of turning left and turned to the right instead. This showed that switching off the IL cortex changed the rats from instantly following their habits, and to instead, go the way they thought was right.

After the rats stopped going left, they began turning to the right every single time they were put in the T-shaped maze, even when the experts prompted them to turn left, indicating that a new habit had formed.

Smith said: "This habit was never really forgotten. It's lurking there somewhere, and we've unmasked it by turning off the new one that had been overwritten." The findings clearly indicate that the IL cortex is capable of changing habitual "moment-to-moment" behavior.

Graybiel concluded: "To us, what's really stunning is that habit representation still must be totally intact and retrievable in an instant, and there's an online monitoring system controlling that."

The research brings up questions regarding whether habitual behaviors are really automatic. Jane Taylor, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at Yale University said: "We've always thought of habits as being inflexible, but this suggest you can have flexible habits, in some sense."

The IL cortex seems to favor new habits above old ones, which has been shown in previous studies which indicated that habits are not just thrown out, but replaced by new ones.

Monday, 19 November 2012 18:03

Seniors on the Move

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Walking is the most popular form of exercise. The average can take between 8,000 and 10,000 steps per day. Podiatrists tout walking as one of the best exercises for your feet because it contributes to circulation, maintains weight control and promotes overall good health.

But, says the American Podiatric Medical Association, seniors who walk for exercise need to take these precautions:

  • Warm up and cool down. Stretching improves circulation and decreases build-up of lactic acid -- the chemical byproduct that causes muscles to ache.
  • Choose proper foot gear. Buying shoes is virtually the only necessary expense for walking, so don't cut corners on your shoe budget.
  • Pay attention to your feet. Changes and/or pain in the feet and ankles are not normal and could indicate a serious foot ailment or circulatory problem.
  • Walk on soft ground. With age, the natural shock absorbers ("fat padding") in your feet deteriorate, as does bone density.
  • Avoid walking in cold weather. Cold weather can cause numbness, limiting your ability to detect trauma or wounds to the feet.
  • If you have diabetes, use extra care. Diabetics are prone to infection from even minor injuries.
  • Exercise smart. Knowing your limits and exercising with caution can avoid injuries and frustration.
Saturday, 17 November 2012 02:09

Kids Who Start Swimming At Young Age Are Smarter

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The finding came from a team of experts from the Griffith Institute for Educational Research who interviewed parents of kids aged 5 and under from New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, over a three year period. The parents were given an inclusive list of milestones and asked to identify their child's achievements.

Since there was a possibility of parental bias, the scientists also observed 180 children aged 3 to 5 who participated in intensive testing. This made the research the world's most comprehensive study on kids and swimming.

According to the leading researcher, Professor Robyn Jorgensen, children who engage in early-years swimming attain a variety of skills before the normal population. "Many of these skills are those that help young children into the transition into formal learning contexts such as pre-school or school."

Regardless of socio-economic background, the differences between the kids who participated in swimming and those who did not were significant.

Results showed that the two higher socio-economic groups performed better in the testing than the two lower groups, but all 4 groups had better scores than the normal population. There were no gender differences seen between those studied and the normal population, the team pointed out.

As expected, the kids who took part in early-years swimming accomplished physical milestones faster. A study in the journal Current Biology demonstrated that certain activities, such as swimming, assists in the development of motor behaviors.

The researchers were surprised to find that these children also performed significantly better in visual-motor skills, including:

  • cutting paper
  • coloring in lines
  • drawing lines
  • making shapes

They even had better scores in mathematically-related tasks. In the general areas of literacy and numeracy, their oral expression was better as well. Oral expression is the ability to speak and explain things.

The authors concluded: "Many of these skills are highly valuable in other learning environments and will be of considerable benefit for young children as they transition into pre-schools and school."

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