January In A Nutshell

Barcodes on breast implants

The Department of Health is implementing an initiative to print barcodes on breast implants and other medical items. This new system will record every medicine and implant given to a patient by scanning the product packet and the patient’s identity wristband.

Having barcodes will enhance patient safety because it is easier to track down the treatment a patient receives. Barcodes are also used for stocktaking, checking if any batches of medicine are reaching their expiry date and for surgeon to compare if one type of implant is better than the other in terms of its wear and tear after a certain period of time.

Six NHS hospitals are taking part in this pilot project. They are Derby, Leeds, Salisbury, Cornwall, North Tees and Plymouth.

Barcoding will prevent incident like the PIP scandal which affected around 50,000 women in Britain from happening.

Read more at the BBC website.


The war against HIV/AIDS

36.7 million people are living with HIV in the world but only half of the figure are receiving antiretroviral medication. According to the Malaysian AIDS Council, 108519 people had been affected by AIDS since 1986. Fortunately, the incidence of HIV infection due to unsafe drug injection has decreased, thanks to the aggressive health campaign. However, transmission by sexual activity is on the rise since 2010.

While anti-retroviral therapy (ART) manages to suppress the viral load in the body, there are some dormant viruses which are undetectable and hence, making them resistant to ART. As the fight against HIV continues, scientists are now finding a way to completely eliminate HIV off the body. One of the major advancement is the “kick and kill” technique.

The first drug to be administered into the body under this technique will awaken those dormant viruses. By “kicking” them out, they become detectable by the immune system and ART drugs. Then, two vaccines are introduced to selectively destroy these cells (the “kill” phase). So far, a 44 year old subject who took part in this research becomes HIV-free. This might be a promising way to eradicate HIV from the body in the future.

Another discovery is the N6 antibody which was identified from an HIV-infected person that can neutralise more than 95% of HIV isolates tested.

Nevertheless, prevention remains the core strategy to curb the spread of HIV among human.

Read more at The Star.


Countryside or city?

Is staying in a rural area better for our health than in a city?

Many experts believe that living in a non-urban area will improve one’s health. A main supporting factor is the low level of air pollution as there are less traffic and vehicles in countryside. In fact, research has shown that air pollution is the leading cause of an average loss of life expectancy of six months across the UK.

However, some think that rural area is not always an ideal place to reside. For instance, its remote area and lack of public transportation pose a challenge for the elderly and unwell. They might find it inconvenient to commute to their GP surgeries, hospitals and local amenities. Besides, working people spend more time in their cars commuting to workplace. Eventually, they do less exercise compared to some who stay in the city but walk to their workplace.

Prof Andy Jones, a public health professor at University of East Anglia believes that it is a personal choice to stay in an urban or rural area as one needs to factor in, among others, jobs, financial means, health and lifestyle.

Read more at the BBC website.


How alcohol increases appetite

Alcohol contains a high number of calories. In fact, it is second only to fat in its calorie density. Nevertheless, it leaves many to wonder why drinking alcohol will increase our appetite.

Scientists from the Francis Crick Institute and University of College London conducted an experimental animal research to find an explanation. They injected 10 mice with alcohol that has an amount similar to 18 human units a day for three days. The researches weighed how much food the mice ate each day and analysed to see if there were any changes before and after the alcohol administration. Indeed, the mice ate 10 to 25 percent more food on the days when they had alcohol.

The researches took brain samples from the genetically modified mice and found spikes in electrical activity in Agouti-related peptide (AGRP) cells when they were exposed to alcohol. AGRP cells regulate appetite in the brain. It is crucial in determining the “hunger, eat and reward” mechanism which regulates the hungry sensation in the stomach.

Hence, although alcohol contains much calorific values itself, people who drink will experience an increase desire to eat because the AGRP cells in the brain are activated (which is brought about by the effect of alcohol). When the researches blocked the mice’s AGRP centre, alcohol had no effect on the amount the mice ate.


Less for more

Many think fitness level can be maximised by increasing the duration of exercise. Apparently, it is not necessary.

A group of scientists from the University of Stirling in Scotland conducted a meta analysis and systematic review of 34 existing studies that investigated the health benefits of regularly completing repetitions of supramaximal training. Supramaximal is a specialised exercise where volunteers ride on a modified bike that enables them to work out at a very high intensity. The researchers evaluated the outcome by measuring the volunteers’ VO2max (the maximal volume of oxygen consumed in a minute). VO2max is chosen because it is a good indicator in predicting future health and the risk of premature death.

Surprisingly, the team found fitness can be improved greatly by completing fewer repetitions of high intensity sprint intervals on the bike. It concluded that a subject only required two spins in a session. In fact, an additional sprint will reduce an overall improvement by 5%.

This study focused only on high intensity bike exercise. Further research is needed to discover the optimum time for different types or regimes of exercise.

Given the tight schedule for most working adults, this can be an alternative to minimise exercise time but maximising benefit. Such irony!



In a nutshell, the regulation of medical products has become stricter over time. This has become increasingly important as more new medications are being developed, especially for chronic conditions such as AIDS.

The best way to prevent the use of medication is to prevent them in the first place. As obesity is a risk factor of many disease, one should act to reduce one's weight, by exercising moderately and drinking moderately. We should also take up a more active lifestyle, away from the urban culture of driving everywhere. Take a walk.

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