December in a Nutshell


Here is our round-up of five newsworthy stories that were published in November 2017. Please click on the arrows on each side to navigate. Enjoy!


Huntington’s Disease Breakthrough

A trial by UCL researchers on 46 patients with early stage Huntington’s disease has provided a much needed boost in the search for a cure.

A drug was injected into the cerebrospinal fluid to silence the gene that expresses huntingtin. This prevented the formation of huntingtin, which is believed to disrupt brain development.

The procedure was carried out at the Leonard Wolfson Experimental Neurology Centre at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. Despite initial concerns over the risk of potentially fatal meningitis, the drug was safe and well tolerated by the patients. Importantly, it reduced huntingtin levels in the brain.

It remains to be seen whether lowered huntingtin levels in the long term will change the course of Huntington’s disease. In the meantime, researchers are using similar gene-silencing techniques to target toxic proteins in other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

Prescription Charges May Return to N. Ireland

The Department of Health has suggested bringing back prescription charges, which were abolished back in 2010. This is one of several possible moves to generate revenue in the wake of Northern Ireland’s financial crisis, which has left many sectors under financial pressure.

Currently, a prescription costs ÂŁ8.50 per item in England; prescriptions are free in Wales and Scotland.

Re-introducing prescription charges would raise an additional ÂŁ20m each year.

Baby Milk Recalled Over Salmonella Fears

French baby milk formula manufacturer Lactalis has recalled their products following a salmonella outbreak. 26 infants have become sick since early December. Salmonella poses a serious risk to the very young and elderly due to dehydration.

Lactalis is one of the largest dairy producers in the world. The recalled products include those in countries such as Britain, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sudan.

Lactalis believes the outbreak originated from a tower used to dry out the milk powder in northwest France. All products made there since mid-February have been recalled.

This is the second health scare in the baby milk formula industry, after the Chinese infant milk powder melamine scandal.

Turkey and Dementia

Forgetting to turn on the oven for Christmas turkey may indicate early dementia, says Prof Alistair Burns. Other possible signs include forgetting relatives’ names and becoming confused in someone else’s house.

Dementia affects around 850,000 people in the UK, usually those over 65. It happens slowly and can be easy to miss. Prof Burns points to Christmas visits to friends and family as an opportunity to spot early red flags. Visiting a relative or neighbour who lives alone could impact their mental health, especially if they are lonely.

Being Outdoors May Improve Eyesight in Children

Recent decades have seen a sharp rise in short-sightedness across the world. Despite the scarcity of research on the effect of screens on eyesight, experts are increasingly worried about growing levels of short-sightedness in children.

Annegret Dahlmann-Noor, a consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, says the lack of sunlight is the main factor for this trend. Children who use electronics a lot have less opportunity to be outside. This seems to increase their risk of developing short-sightedness.

Experts recommend encouraging children to play outside whenever possible to protect their eyesight.
Two hours a day outdoors could protect them from becoming short-sighted, according to Prof Chris Hammond of St Thomas’ Hospital.