October in a Nutshell

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



Heart Surgery Safer in the Afternoon?

A Lancet study claims that the heart is stronger and more able to tolerate surgery in the afternoon than in the morning.

The researchers found that 54 of 298 morning patients had complications such as heart attacks, heart failure, or death. In contrast, 28 of 298 afternoon patients had complications, representing an almost 50% decrease in risk of complications. One major event could be avoided for every 11 patients treated in the afternoon.

The study also claimed that this was not due to surgeons being more tired in the morning.

One researcher warned against scaring people from undergoing lifesaving surgery. Besides, allowing surgery only in the afternoon would be logistically difficult for hospitals. However, high-risk patients – such as those with obesity or type 2 diabetes – would benefit from undergoing surgery in the afternoon.

Previous studies have suggested that heart attack risk is highest early in the morning.

The researchers pointed to circadian rhythms in cardiac cells as a possible reason for this finding. They found that cardiac cells beat more readily in the afternoon. DNA analysis of the samples identified 287 genes that follow a circadian pattern of activity. They were able to reduce the risk of death by targeting one of those genes in mouse models.

This has important implications for scheduling non-urgent heart surgery. As a next step, the researchers are exploring whether circadian rhythms affect survival in other types of surgery.

New 'Tagging' Programme for Graduates

The Health Ministry will introduce a new ‘tagging’ programme next year for medical graduates who are awaiting housemanship. It will be carried out at hospitals and clinics that do not already provide the housemanship course.

According to Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya, this programme provides an opportunity for graduates to shadow medical officers in order to prepare them for housemanship.

However, graduates are not obliged to apply for the programme.

Scotland: Abortion Pill at Home

More than 12000 of pregnancies were aborted in Scotland last year. The majority of the abortions were done medically rather than surgically.

Abortion can be carried out either medically or surgically. The first option involves taking two drugs: Mifepristone (blocks the action of progesterone) and Misoprostol (usually taken at the clinic). Many women experience heavy bleeding on their way back home. This is a major concern among women in Scotland who are forced to travel long distances in multiple visits to abortion or maternity clinics.

To give women more control over their own treatment and make the whole process more comfortable, Scotland's Chief Medical Officer has approved the use of Misoprostol at home. This move would also ease worries about travelling, time off work or child care.

While receiving backing from the chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, this decision was criticised by John Deighan, chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) Scotland. According to Deighan, this presents abortion as the most attractive option to vulnerable and desperate women, leaving them to deal with it on their own rather than helping them to cope effectively.

Malaysia's First Nobel Nominee

Most Malaysians may have heard of Lt. Col. (R) Mohd Nasarudin Mohd Yusof, whose team won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for their work in monitoring the usage of chemical weapons around the world. Sadly, not quite as many know about the first Malaysian nominee for the Nobel Prize, Dr. Wu Lien-teh, who was nominated for the 1935 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

A few interesting facts about Dr. Wu:

1) He was the first Chinese medical student to graduate from Cambridge. At the tender age of 17, he won the Queen’s Scholarship and earned a spot at Cambridge University. He completed his medical degree two years ahead of requirement, and won all possible prizes and scholarships in a class of 135 students.

2) He founded one of the first anti-drug associations in Malaya, but also had to leave the country because of this.

3) He conducted post-mortems in China to investigate the mode of transmission of pneumonic plague (caused by Yersinia pestis). His work earned him the nickname of ‘plague fighter’. He also chaired the International Plague Conference in 1911. His dedicated work during the plague led to his Nobel Prize nomination in 1935.

Apart from this, Dr.Wu devoted many of his efforts towards establishing hospitals and medical colleges and founded the Chinese Medical Society.

A road in Ipoh and a neighborhood in Penang are named after him. Also, one of the sports houses in Penang Free School bears his name.

Marriage May Protect Against Dementia

A study on roughly 6000 adults done by researchers at Loughborough University shed new light on risk factors contributing to dementia.

They found that individuals with close relationships have a lower risk of getting dementia. This may be closely related to stress reduction.

Interestingly, this study also found that single individuals are more prone to getting dementia than those who are married. This is mainly due to loneliness and lack of support.

Dementia patients can be incredibly isolated. They need to be supported to preserve meaningful relationships and quality of life.