Immune training MS trial safe

An experimental treatment to stop the body attacking its own nervous system in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) appears safe in trials.

The sheath around nerves cells, made of myelin, is destroyed in MS, leaving the nerves struggling to pass on messages.

A study on nine patients, reported in Science Translational Medicine, tried to train the immune system to cease its assault on myelin.

The MS Society said the idea had exciting potential.

As nerves lose their ability to talk to each other, the disease results in problems moving and balancing and can affect vision.

There are drugs that can reduce number and severity of attacks, but there is no cure — via

Stroke patients see signs of recovery in stem-cell trial

Five seriously disabled stroke patients have shown small signs of recovery following the injection of stem cells into their brain.

Prof Keith Muir, of Glasgow University, who is treating them, says he is surprised by the mild to moderate improvements in the five patients.

He stresses it is too soon to tell whether the effect is due to the treatment they are receiving.

The results will be presented at the European Stroke Conference in London — via

IRS sued for seizing 60 million medical records

A healthcare provider has sued the Internal Revenue Service and 15 of its agents, charging they wrongfully seized 60 million medical records from 10 million Americans.

The name of the provider is not yet known, United Press International said. But Courthouse News Service said the suit claims the agency violated the Fourth Amendment in 2011, when agents executed a search warrant for financial data on one employee — and that led to the seizure of information on 10 million, including state judges.

The search warrant did not specify that the IRS could take medical information, UPI said. And information technology officials warned the IRS about the potential to violate medical privacy laws before agents executed the warrant, the complaint said, as reported by UPI.

Despite knowing that these medical records were not within the scope of the warrant, defendants threatened to ‘rip’ the servers containing the medical data out of the building if IT personnel would not voluntarily hand them over, the complaint states, UPI reported.

The suit also says IRS agents seized workers’ phones and telephone data — more violations of the warrant, UPI reported — via

Design, Health

Clever Packaging: Essential Medicine Rides Coke’s Distribution Into Remote Villages

Simon Berry is piggybacking on Coca-Cola’s distribution system to bring life-saving medicine to the places that need it most.

You can buy a Coke pretty much anywhere on Earth. Thanks to a vast network of local suppliers, Coca-Cola has almost completely solved distribution, getting its product into every nook and cranny where commerce reaches. There are places in the world where it’s easier to get a Coke than clean water. In the 1980s, Berry was an aid worker in Zambia, and when he looked at Coke’s success, he saw an opportunity.

Child mortality was very high and the second-biggest killer was diarrhoea, which is simple to prevent, he says. The standard treatment is oral rehydration solution, or ORS, which is essentially salt, sugar and water. I had the idea of transporting ORS through the Coca-Cola system.

Unfortunately, the idea didn’t get off the ground. We had no telephone, let alone the internet, so it was hard to share the idea, he says. Five years ago I thought I’d have another go. It was much easier to do that through Facebook.

In April 2008, he began a campaign on Facebook. A groundswell of support gave his project, dubbed ColaLife, the attention it needed to get noticed by the BBC and, through the British broadcaster, by Coca-Cola itself. ColaLife began collaborating with one of Coca-Cola’s African bottler/distributors, and the beverage giant shared advice and information about how its distribution network operates.

Eventually, ColaLife registered as an independent U.K. charity in 2011 and began a pilot program in Zambia — via

Swansea measles: Cases rise by 20 to 1,094

Measles cases in the Swansea epidemic have risen by 20 in the last five days to 1,094 as health chiefs warn the uptake of MMR is too low to eliminate the disease in Wales.

Public Health Wales (PHW) continues to warn that the outbreak may spread.

It said 95% uptake of MMR would prevent further outbreaks.

But vaccination rates remained low in Wales, especially among those aged 10 to 18 who are hardest hit.

In total, 1,257 people across Wales have now contracted the disease since last November, as the latest figures were released — via

My Brother, My Mother, and a Call Girl

My brother Danny lost his virginity at age 25. To a call girl named Monique. Hired by our mother.
My mother didn’t bother asking Danny for his permission before engaging Monique’s services. She didn’t ask my father to condone the transaction. Nor was she troubled by social mores or laws against solicitation. She deserves a Mother of the Year Award.

There was a reason for my mother’s taboo-busting parenting. Danny was born with a rare, incurable genetic disease that affects the development and function of the nervous system. The typical lifespan for children born with Familial Dysautonomia was then about five years. My mother rolled up her sleeves, strapped on her stilettos, and ignored the statistic. A parent now myself, I wonder if I have half my mother’s grit and grace — via

The Rat Park experiment

Are drugs addictive? As odd as it might sound, one scientist believes that they weren’t — at least not to the degree most people insisted. He thought it had more to do with overwhelming misery and depressing environments, and to prove it he created the ideal environment… for rats.

In the late 1970s, Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander was distressed by the laws and policies pertaining to opiate drugs. He didn’t approve of the harsh penalties dealt out to people in the name of addiction prevention. Generally those penalties were applied in order to prevent drug dealers from pushing their product on new people — at which point the addictive nature of drugs caused people to be hooked.

When Alexander looked at the studies indicating the addictive properties of drugs, he found what he believed to be insufficient evidence. There were plenty of interviews with drug users who self-reported themselves as being addicted, but Alexander reasoned that they had reasons of their own to declare that their affinity for drugs was beyond their control. Meanwhile, the relatively few studies done on addiction were highly technical and all relied on one thing: they were conducted on rats that lived and died in miserable, cramped cages.

It seemed to Alexander that the reported increased rates of addiction in economically depressed areas might have something in common with the consistently high rates of addiction in studies done on rats in distressing environments. Drugs provided relief from pain, and if it was the only relief available, it was no wonder that anything — animal or human — would turn to it with the fervour of an addict. Alexander began to put forward a new hypothesis. If rats were given a beautiful living area that allowed them a relatively happy life, they would not become addicted — via

Scientists Find Potential Cure for Multiple Sclerosis

Scientists have discovered a way to convert ordinary skin cells into myelinating cells, or brain cells that have been destroyed in patients with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and other myelin disorders.

The research published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, may now enable on demand production of myelinating cells, which insulate and protect neurons to facilitate the delivery of brain impulses to the rest of the body.

The latest discovery is important because myelinating cells are destroyed and cannot be replaced in patients with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and rare genetic disorders called leukodystrophies.

Scientists explain that the new technique involves directly converting fibroblasts, a very common structural cell present in the skin and most organs into oligodendrocytes, the type of cell responsible for producing myelin, the fatty insulation necessary to allow neurons to communicate with one another — via

Scientists make laboratory-grown kidney

A kidney grown in the laboratory has been transplanted into animals where it started to produce urine, US scientists say.

Similar techniques to make simple body parts have already been used in patients, but the kidney is one of the most complicated organs made so far.

A study, in the journal Nature Medicine, showed the engineered kidneys were less effective than natural ones.

But regenerative medicine researchers said the field had huge promise — via

Majority of deprivation of liberty cases unreported, says report

Limits placed on the freedom of people with dementia or brain injuries are not being properly recorded, according to a healthcare regulator.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said almost two-thirds of applications to restrict a person’s liberty were not reported to it, as required by law.

The CQC said it could signal a lack of understanding or compliance with the Mental Capacity Act.

In some cases, patients had their freedom removed for months at a time — via

France expands access to abortion

The French state will reimburse 100 percent of the cost of abortions beginning 1 April, while girls aged between 15 and 18 will be offered access to free and anonymous birth control.

The change comes as a law approved in late 2012 comes into force.

Until now, French women over 18 could only receive up to 80 percent of the cost of the procedure, which can run up to 450 euros.

There are around 12,000 such procedures a year in France — via

Number Of Early Childhood Vaccines Not Linked To Autism

A large new government study should reassure parents who are afraid that kids are getting autism because they receive too many vaccines too early in life.

The study, by researchers at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, found no connection between the number of vaccines a child received and his or her risk of autism spectrum disorder. It also found that even though kids are getting more vaccines these days, those vaccines contain many fewer of the substances that provoke an immune response.

The study offers a response to vaccine skeptics who have suggested that getting too many vaccines on one day or in the first two years of life may lead to autism, says Frank DeStefano, director of the Immunization Safety Office of the CDC.

To find out if that was happening, DeStefano led a team that compared the vaccine histories of about 250 children who had autism spectrum disorder with those of 750 typical kids. Specifically, the researchers looked at what scientists call antigens. An antigen is a substance in a vaccine that causes the body to produce antibodies, proteins that help fight off infections.

The team looked at medical records to see how many antigens each child received and whether that affected the risk of autism. The results, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, were unequivocal — via

The gel that stops bleeding instantly

All-purpose healing gels familiar to fans of futuristic video games and movies could be about to make the transition from sci-fi fantasy to real-world medical tool thanks to a New York University student who has invented a gel that can instantly halt bleeding in even the most serious of wounds.

Veti-Gel, the name chosen by NYU student Joe Landolina uses plant polymers to rapidly solidify when applied to open wounds, and by a bizarre coincidence was initially being developed under the name Medi-Gel, the name of a fictional healing gel from the Mass Effect video game series with almost identical properties.

Humans Invent spoke to Joe Landolina about the development of Veti-Gel, and how in just a few years he went from high-school science geek to possibly securing a deal with the US military — via

Body mod legend Shannon Larratt left this final note before he died

Body modification enthusiasts may know better than most people what it’s like to be judged on sight for their piercings, tattoos, scars, and other forms of body art.

For Shannon Larratt, the founder of BMEzine, this societal judgment may have cost him the final years of his life.

The 39-year-old writer and publisher, perhaps best known outside his community for ModCon: the Secret World of Extreme Body Modification, died on 15 March of an apparent suicide. On his blog, a letter that he spent months carefully composing was made public after his death. In it, he discusses his deteriorating quality of life due to calcification, a process in which the body replaces soft tissue with calcium deposits, caused by a genetic disease known as tubular aggregate myopathy — via

Researchers grow teeth from gum cells

Dentists may one day be able to replace missing teeth with ones newly grown from gum cells, say UK researchers.

The team from King’s College London took cells from adult human gum tissue and combined them with another type of cell from mice to grow a tooth.

They say using a readily available source of cells pushes the technology a step nearer to being available to patients.

But it is still likely to be many years before dentists can use the method — via

Tooth replacement in prospect after scientists grow teeth from mouse cells

People may in future be able to have missing or diseased teeth replaced with ones grown from cells taken from their own mouth, scientists have predicted.

Hybrid teeth created by combining human gum cells and stem cells from mouse teeth have been grown in laboratory mice by researchers who hope the work could lead to dentures being superseded by new teeth grown on a patient’s jaw.

The mixture of mouse and human cells was transplanted into adult mouse kidneys and grew into recognisable tooth structures coated in enamel with viable developing roots, according to a study published in the Journal Of Dental Research — via

Child born with HIV cured by US doctors

Doctors in the US have made medical history by effectively curing a child born with HIV, the first time such a case has been documented.

The infant, who is now two and a half, needs no medication for HIV, has a normal life expectancy and is highly unlikely to be infectious to others, doctors believe.

Though medical staff and scientists are unclear why the treatment was effective, the surprise success has raised hopes that the therapy might ultimately help doctors eradicate the virus among newborns.

Doctors did not release the name or sex of the child to protect the patient’s identity, but said the infant was born, and lived, in Mississippi state. Details of the case were unveiled on Sunday at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta — via

Skin cancer able to fight off body’s immune system

A deadly form of skin cancer is able to fend off the body’s immune system, UK researchers have found.

Analysis of tumour and blood samples shows that melanoma knocks out the body’s best immune defence.

A potential test could work out which patients are likely to respond to treatment, the Journal of Clinical Investigation reports.

Cancer Research UK said the body’s response was a complex puzzle — via

Bionic legs for military amputees

Military leg amputees are to be given the most up-to-date prosthetic limbs available after the government announced a £6.5m funding boost.

The latest technology micro processor limbs, known as bionic legs, will be available to service personnel who have been wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The move is expected to benefit about 160 members of the armed forces.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said it was a top priority to give troops the best possible care and support.

And Chancellor George Osborne, who is making the money available from the Treasury’s Special Reserve, said: Our troops are heroes who have and continue to give absolutely everything for their country and it is only right that we do everything possible to help them, especially when they suffer injury — via

New Zealand to act on tobacco packaging

New Zealand says it will put all tobacco products into plain packaging, following the landmark move by Australia last year.

A review had shown it would help reduce the appeal of smoking and better publicise health risks, Associate Minister of Health Tariana Turia said.

The government acknowledged possible challenges from tobacco companies.

It will introduce laws later this year but wait for the outcome of legal cases in Australia before enforcing them.

As in Australia, packaging would carry large, graphic health warnings and be stripped of branding.

Currently the packaging does everything it can to attract consumers and increase the perceived appeal and acceptability of smoking, Ms Turia said in a statement — via

Pensioner starved to death after being left alone for nine days

An MP has called for an investigation into the death of an elderly woman from hunger and dehydration after bureaucratic confusion between the UK Border Agency and Surrey county council.

Gloria Foster, who was in her 80s, was alone for nine days after the company that she paid to take care of her was closed by the UKBA for employing illegal immigrants. The council was given the company records but apparently failed to go to Foster’s aid. Foster’s MP, Crispin Blunt, described her ordeal as horrific.

He said: Clearly there are questions to answer and I would expect a comprehensive investigation between all of the agencies involved. I said last week that I would certainly not like to pre-judge any more of the narrative before it is formally established. Yesterday’s desperately sad developments can only increase the salience of that need — via

Genetic patch stops deafness in newborn mice

A tiny genetic patch can be used to prevent a form of deafness which runs in families, according to animal tests.

Patients with Usher syndrome have defective sections of their genetic code which cause problems with hearing, sight and balance.

A study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, showed the same defects could be corrected in mice to restore some hearing.

Experts said it was an encouraging start — via

Tuberculosis vaccine hopes dashed

A major trial of a new booster vaccine has ended in failure, marking a major setback in the fight against tuberculosis (TB).

It was the first big study in infants since the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine was introduced in 1921.

BCG is only partially effective against the bacterium that causes TB, which is why several international teams are working on new vaccines.

The latest, known as MVA85A, failed to protect babies who had already had BCG — via

Long-term aspirin blindness link

People who regularly take aspirin for many years, such as those with heart problems, are more likely to develop a form of blindness, researchers say.

A study on 2,389 people, in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, showed aspirin takers had twice the risk of wet age-related macular degeneration.

The disease damages the sweet spot in the retina, obscuring details in the centre of a patient’s field of vision.

The researchers said there was not yet enough evidence to change aspirin use — via

Scientists hail potential cure for AIDS

Scientists from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research say they have made a breakthrough that could lead to a potential cure for AIDS.

Associate Professor David Harrich says they have discovered how to modify a protein in HIV so that, instead of replicating, it protects against the infection.

I consider that this is fighting fire with fire, he said.

What we’ve actually done is taken a normal virus protein that the virus needs to grow, and we’ve changed this protein, so that instead of assisting the virus, it actually impedes virus replication and does it quite strongly.

Associate Professor Harrich says the modified protein cannot cure HIV but it has protected human cells from AIDS in the laboratory — via

Tiny pill joins the battle of the bushfires

A tiny capsule swallowed by firefighters is changing the way volunteers work on the front line.

The pill can relay an individual’s core temperature in real time, giving a better understanding of the body’s vulnerability to heat stress to protect firefighters.

Victoria’s Country Fire Authority health and wellbeing officer Peter Langridge said the data gathered in a CFA trial had led to changes in firefighters’ work patterns, including the length of time they are exposed to blazes.

If we see their core body temperature increasing then we know to remove them from the fire and put them into the rehabilitation area, he said.

Working in hot environments will stress different people at different rates. There is no set formula for how long a person can fight a fire before they start suffering from heat stress or dehydration and management is the key to protecting our fire fighters — via

Beta-blockers may lower dementia risk

Taking beta-blocker drugs may cut the risk of dementia, a trial in 774 men suggests.

The medication is used to treat high blood pressure, a known risk factor for dementia.

In the study, which will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in March, men on beta-blockers were less likely to have brain changes suggestive of dementia.

Experts say it is too early to recommend beta-blockers for dementia.

The findings are preliminary and larger studies in men and women from different ethnicities are needed to see what benefit beta-blockers might offer.

People with high blood pressure are advised to see their doctor and get their condition under control to prevent associated complications like heart disease, stroke and vascular dementia — via

Spit test improves asthma care

A simple spit test could identify thousands of children with severe asthma who are taking medication which will never help them, scientists say.

One in seven people will not respond to salmeterol, found in purple or green inhalers, which is given to tens of thousands of children in the UK.

A study of 62 children showed those patients could be identified and given effective treatment.

The results were published in the journal Clinical Science — via

Fatally Ill, and Making Herself the Lesson

It was early November when Martha Keochareon called the nursing school at Holyoke Community College, her alma mater. She had a proposal, which she laid out in a voice mail message.

I have cancer, she said after introducing herself, and I’m wondering if you’ll need somebody to do a case study on, a hospice patient.

Perhaps some nursing students just want to feel what a tumor feels like, she went on. Or they could learn something about hospice care, which aims to help terminally ill people die comfortably at home.

Maybe you’ll have some ambitious student that wants to do a project, Ms Keochareon (pronounced CATCH-uron) said after leaving her phone number. Thank you. Bye.

Kelly Keane, a counsellor at the college who received the message, was instantly intrigued. Holyoke’s nursing students, like most, learn about cancer from textbooks. They get some experience with acutely ill patients during a rotation on the medical-surgical floor of a hospital. They practice their skills in the college’s simulation lab on sophisticated mannequins that can die of cancer, heart attacks and other ailments. But Ms Keochareon, 59, a 1993 graduate of Holyoke’s nursing program, was offering students something rare: an opportunity not only to examine her, but also to ask anything they wanted about her experience with cancer and dying.

She is allowing us into something we wouldn’t ever be privy to, Ms Keane said — via

Drug Enables Deafened Mice to Hear Again

All you greying, half-deaf Def Leppard fans, listen up. A drug applied to the ears of mice deafened by noise can restore some hearing in the animals. By blocking a key protein, the drug allows sound-sensing cells that are damaged by noise to regrow. The treatment isn’t anywhere near ready for use in humans, but the advance at least raises the prospect of restoring hearing to some deafened people — via

Epilepsy and migraine could have shared genetic link

A strong family history of seizures could increase the chances of having severe migraines, says a study in Epilepsia journal.

Scientists from Columbia University, New York, analysed 500 families containing two or more close relatives with epilepsy.

Their findings could mean that genes exist that cause both epilepsy and migraine.

Epilepsy Action said it could lead to targeted treatments — via

Totally blind mice get sight back

Totally blind mice have had their sight restored by injections of light-sensing cells into the eye, UK researchers report.

The team in Oxford said their studies closely resemble the treatments that would be needed in people with degenerative eye disease.

Similar results have already been achieved with night-blind mice.

Experts said the field was advancing rapidly, but there were still questions about the quality of vision restored.

Patients with retinitis pigmentosa gradually lose light-sensing cells from the retina and can become blind.

The research team, at the University of Oxford, used mice with a complete lack of light-sensing photoreceptor cells in their retinas. The mice were unable to tell the difference between light and dark — via

Giraffe robot aids dementia sufferers

A team of Queensland researchers has found a unique way to help people living with dementia stay in contact with their friends and family.

More and more Australians are being diagnosed with dementia, and for many it can be a very lonely life, particularly if their relatives cannot visit them regularly.

In response the researchers have created a mobile robot with an inbuilt camera, which can be used to set up video calls between people with dementia and their loved ones.

Professor Wendy Moyle from the Dementia Collaborative Research Centre says the giraffe-shaped robot, named Gerry, is designed to facilitate video calls and has been described as Skype on wheels — via

Bleeding internally? Seal it with this DARPA foam

While any soldier dreads the idea of being shot, sustaining an internal abdominal injury from an explosion or other impact can be far worse. Bleeding from wounds that can’t be compressed causes some 85 percent of preventable battlefield deaths.

As part of DARPA’s Wound Stasis program, Arsenal Medical has developed an injectable polymer foam that expands inside the body to staunch internal bleeding.

Based on testing in pigs, DARPA says the product can control haemorrhaging in an abdominal cavity for at least an hour, a critical window to get the soldier to a medical facility — via

Surgery that puts menopause on hold

Ovarian tissue transplants could be used like egg-freezing to preserve a woman’s fertility into her 40s and 50s but IVF specialists say they will only offer it to women whose fertility is threatened by illness such as cancer.

On Wednesday Monash IVF announced it had preserved a woman’s fertility by taking ovarian tissue from her before she had breast cancer treatment in 2005, freezing it, and reimplanting it in her this year. It allowed the 43-year-old woman’s body to resume natural ovulation.

Now six weeks pregnant, the Melbourne woman is the 20th in the world and the first in Australia to achieve pregnancy with the ground-breaking technique — via

Implant Lets Blind Eyes See Braille

For the first time, blind people could read street signs with a device that translates letters into Braille and beams the results directly onto a person’s eye.

The technology is a modification of a previous device, Argus II developed by Second Sight, which has been implanted on 50 patients, many of whom can now see colours, shapes, and movements. The complicated device uses a camera attached to a pair of glasses, a small processor to convert the signal of the camera into electrical stimulation, and a microchip with electrodes attached directly to the person’s retina — via

New Research Suggests Methamphetamine Could Stave Off The Flu

The threat of flu looms large in the northern hemisphere as winter starts to set in. But getting a preventative shot might not be the best line of defence any more — because new research suggests a small dose of crystal meth might be effective too.

Researchers, from the National Health Research Institutes in Taiwan and the University of Regensburg in Germany, have been working together to investigate how methamphetamine interacts with different viral infections. Meth is a widely abused drug, and there’s a wealth of evidence that suggests chronic use can dramatically increase the risk of picking up viruses because it suppresses the immune response of the body.

The researchers guessed the same would be true for influenza, but, like all good scientists, they had to prove their hypothesis — so they set to testing it out. First, they took human lung cells and nurtured them in the lab before exposing some of them to cystal meth. They then exposed the cells to the H1N1 influenza virus.

What they observed surprised them. Instead of increasing the rate of development and spread of the virus, meth seems to reduce susceptibility to flu. The results are published in PLoS One — via

Nanoparticles Stop Multiple Sclerosis In Mice

A breakthrough new experimental treatment that uses nanoparticles covered with proteins to trick the immune system, managed to stop it attacking myelin and halt disease progression in mice with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (MS). The researchers say the approach may also be applicable to other auto-immune diseases such as asthma and type 1 diabetes.

Corresponding author Stephen Miller is the Judy Gugenheim Research Professor of Microbiology-Immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago in the US. He says in a statement:

We administered these particles to animals who have a disease very similar to relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis and stopped it in its tracks.

We prevented any future relapses for up to 100 days, which is the equivalent of several years in the life of an MS patient, he adds — via

Nose cell transplant enables paralysed dogs to walk

Scientists have reversed paralysis in dogs after injecting them with cells grown from the lining of their nose.

The pets had all suffered spinal injuries which prevented them from using their back legs.

The Cambridge University team is cautiously optimistic the technique could eventually have a role in the treatment of human patients.

The study is the first to test the transplant in real-life injuries rather than laboratory animals.

In the study, funded by the Medical Research Council and published in the neurology journal Brain, the dogs had olfactory ensheathing cells from the lining of their nose removed.

These were grown and expanded for several weeks in the laboratory — via

GMC suspends rogue surgeon accused of unnecessary breast operations

An alleged rogue surgeon has been suspended by the General Medical Council after it emerged he might have performed unnecessary or inappropriate breast operations on more than 1,000 women in Britain.

Ian Stuart Paterson, a breast cancer specialist who worked at NHS and private hospitals in the Midlands from 1994 until last month, is suspected of misdiagnosing at least 450 of the women with breast cancer when they were in fact healthy, and then performing unnecessary lumpectomy surgery.

He also performed unconventional cleavage-sparing mastectomies on 700 other women, despite the procedure not being sanctioned in the UK. The technique involved leaving breast tissue around the cleavage area for cosmetic reasons but went against national guidelines which state that no excess tissue should be left behind as this could lead to a return of the cancer.

According to Thompsons solicitors, who are representing almost 100 of the affected patients on a no win, no fee basis as they launch compensation claims: Many of the women operated on by Mr Paterson using this controversial technique have had to undergo further surgery to remove the excess tissue and unfortunately some have had their cancer return — via

New flexible lens works like the one in your eye and could replace it

Scientists have created an artificial eye lens out of 800,000 layers of plastic that could revolutionise eye implants and aerial surveillance.

Based on research from 2008 published in journal Optics Express, the new plastic eye closely copies the structure of the human eye and other natural materials including tendons and butterfly wings.

Researchers at the Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, working with spin-off lab PolymerPlus, created the lens by stacking up layers of laminated plastic. Weighing a tenth of a traditional lens, the polymer version is up to three times more powerful and, crucially, had the capability to be flexible enough to incrementally change its refraction of light.

The new polymer lens can refract light thousands of different ways because each layer has its own refractive index. This multilayer lens design is called gradient refractive index optics, or GRIN optics. That contrasts to traditional lenses that have a single surface and a single refractive index — via

UN: Contraception access a universal human right

For the first time, the United Nations says access to contraception is a universal human right.

In its annual report released Wednesday, the UN Population Fund says family planning could dramatically improve the lives of women in poor countries and declared any legal, cultural or financial barriers to contraception an infringement of women’s rights.

Women who use contraception are generally healthier, better educated, more empowered in their households and communities and more economically productive, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the fund, wrote in a statement obtained by CBS News. Women’s increased labour-force participation boosts nations’ economies.

The report is not binding and has no legal effect on national laws — via

Calm down genes treat epilepsy in rats

Adding calm down genes to hyperactive brain cells has completely cured rats of epilepsy for the first time, say UK researchers.

They believe their approach could help people who cannot control their seizures with drugs.

The study, published in the journal Science Translation Medicine, used a virus to insert the new genes into a small number of neurons.

About 50 million people have epilepsy worldwide.

However, drugs do not work for up to 30% of them. The alternatives include surgery to remove the part of the brain that triggers a fit or to use electrical stimulation — via

Perpetual motion: A piezoelectric pacemaker that is powered by your heartbeat

It sounds like the theoretical impossibility of perpetual motion, but engineers at the University of Michigan have created a pacemaker that is powered by the beating of your heart — no batteries required.

The technology behind this new infinite-duration pacemaker is one that we’ve discussed before at length on ExtremeTech: piezoelectricity. Piezoelectricity is literally pressure electricity, and it relates to certain materials that generate tiny amounts of electricity when deformed by an external force. Piezoelectricity is exciting because it can harvest energy from kinetic energy that is currently wasted — the vibration of machines, the straining of floorboards in public/commercial spaces, the wobbling of bridges, the soles of your feet as you walk.

A conventional pacemaker. The long electrode is embedded in the heart. The main unit must be replaced when the battery runs out.

Or, in the case of the perpetual pacemaker, the vibrations in your chest as your heart pumps blood around your body. Piezoelectric devices generate very small amounts of power — on the order of tens of milliwatts — but it turns out that pacemakers require very power, too. In testing, the researchers’ energy harvester generated 10 times the required the power to keep a pacemaker firing — via

Alzheimer’s may be detectable earlier than thought

Researchers say they have seen the earliest ever warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease among a high-risk group of 20-somethings in the ongoing quest for early detection and prevention.

A major problem in the search for a cure for this debilitating form of dementia is that symptoms appear years after irreversible brain decay has already set in.

For the study, a team of scientists from the United States and Colombia tested 18- to 26-year-old members of an extended Colombian family that share a common ancestor and a genetic predisposition to develop an inherited form of Alzheimer’s — via

Hesperian Health Guides

This reference, published by the Hesperian Foundation, is used the whole world over. It’s distributed by the Peace Corps, and while its emphasis is largely on the third world, it contains information on treating a number of diseases and ailments without medical expertise. If you need to set a fracture or deliver a baby, this is the reference for you. Hesperian also offers a number of other health-related titles, including Where There is No Dentist, Where Women Have No Doctor, Water for Life, and Cleanliness and Sanitation, all of which are available for purchase or as free downloads

Cheap colour test picks up HIV

A cheap test which could detect even low levels of viruses and some cancers has been developed by UK researchers.

The colour of a liquid changes to give either a positive or negative result.

The designers from Imperial College London say the device could lead to more widespread testing for HIV and other diseases in parts of the world where other methods are unaffordable.

The prototype, which needs wider testing, is described in the journal Nature Nanotechnology — via

Spider Silk Makes Great Microchips That Dissolve in the Human Body

Spider silk is pretty amazing stuff. Pound for pound, it’s as strong as steel and more durable than Kevlar. It can be stretched to incredible lengths, but it’s no more cumbersome than cotton or nylon. Because it’s so awesome, scientists have long been searching for good ways to synthesize the stuff (it’s not exactly easy to milk spiders in any meaningful quantity), and they’ve made some good progress. Thanks to the latest work from biomedical engineer Fiorenzo Omenetto of Tufts University in Boston and Nolwenn Huby from the CNRS Institut de Physiques de Rennes in France, they’ll have a little extra motivation to get it done soon.

Omenetto and Huby are both presenting their work on Monday at a conference in Rochester, New York. It’s hard to tell who’s more impressive. Omenetto’s team is developing silk-based materials that look and act like plastic, but because of their unique chemical makeup, are completely and safely biodegradable. That means they could build special microchips that could be implanted inside of the body to serve a particular purpose and simply dissolve when the job’s done. A broken bone, for instance. Doctors might not be completely sure when the bone will be healed could theoretically implant one of their spider silk microchips onto the bone to monitor the progress, and it would simply disappear when everything is back to normal — via