October In A Nutshell

The ProtecT Research

Prostate Testing for Cancer and Treatment (ProtecT) was a 10 year study (1999 to 2009) conducted to compare the effectiveness of active monitoring, surgery or radiotherapy in relation to prostate cancer mortality.

A total of 1643 men age 50 to 69 years were recruited. They were randomly assigned to groups which required active monitoring (545), radical prostatectomy (553) or radiotherapy (545). Throughout the study, patients had their serum prostate specific antigen (PSA) measured periodically. A management review was done when the change in PSA concentration became a cause of concern.

17 people died of prostate cancer in the next decade after diagnosis; 8 in the active monitoring group, 5 in the prostatectomy group and 4 in the radiotherapy group. Based on the results, at a median follow up of 10 years, ProtecT trial showed that mortality from prostate cancer was low regardless of treatment type.

There were several setbacks to this study. Firstly, it was designed about 2 decades ago which did not reflect the current diagnostic and treatment techniques used for prostate cancer. Second, less than one percent of the patients were of African-Caribbean ancestry.


‘Alcosynth’, the new hangover-free alcohol

Alcosynth could soon replace conventional alcohol. This synthetic alcohol provides the same positive effects as normal alcohol but can prevent the unwanted side effects like nausea, dry mouth and hangover. Better still, it was claimed that the effects of drinking too much of this substance can be limited. Hence, it is impossible to get ‘too drunk’ by theory.

According to its creator, Imperial College Professor David Nutt has patented around 90 different compounds and said two of them are currently being tested.

Drinking is currently the third risk factor for death in the UK, after smoking and obesity. If this discovery is a success, it could lift a lot of alcohol burden on the health service.

Nevertheless, the huge cost of funding research means it will take a long time before it reaches the is commercialised. Professor Nutt hopes alcosynth could replace normal alcohol by 2050.

Read more about this development here.



Google’s artificial intelligence unit

Google sparked a controversy when its artificial intelligence unit, DeepMind was revealed that it would be accessing around 1.6 million patient records in an effort to develop an app - Streams, which would detect patients who are at risk of developing kidney disease.

Patients questioned why their data was used without consent. As a result, the app is now being investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office and National Data Guardian.

Google then decided to organise a patient engagement forum at its headquarters in London. The audience were generally excited and gave positive remarks on DeepMind’s ongoing projects: a collaboration with Moorfields Eye Hospital in an ongoing research into age-related macular degeneration, as well as a partnership with University College Hospital to determine if it can shorten the time taken to plan radiotherapy for head and neck cancers.

However, throughout the forum, it became clear that DeepMind has more plans than just collecting data.

It is planning to set up a program where doctors can access a patient’s medical record in chronological order before they even arrive. At the same time, patients may also be able to input their symptoms anytime as well.

Some audience questioned data confidentiality and what were the steps DeepMind took to ensure the data did not fall into the wrong hands. User verification and forgotten passwords may also be other barriers to this development.

Nevertheless, there are advocates who believe data sharing is important for proper health research.

Read the full report over at BBC.


A Worrying Survey

A survey from NHS Digital, done every seven years, revealed an increase in mental problems among adults, from 16.3% in 2000 to 17.5% in 2014, with women recording a greater increase than men.

There is also an increment in the number of individuals receiving treatment, from 24% in 2007 to 37% in 2014.

There has been a sharp increase in the proportion of 16 to 24 year-old women reporting mental health problem but a decrease for young men instead, with almost two-thirds lower than women. Therefore, it is clear that this group of women poses a worrying trend.

Interestingly, health officials point out that the current 16 to 24 year-old cohort has grown up in the social media era. Hence, they are trying to establish if this is a contributing factor to depression, anxiety, panic and other mental disorders.

Remember, SEEK HELP if you need it!


Does homeopathy deserve funding?

There are only two NHS centres offering homeopathic treatments, one in London and another in Glasgow. The other two in Liverpool and Bristol have now gone into private practice but they still receive NHS patients.

It is estimated that homeopathy receives 5 million pounds of funding from the NHS each year. Although this just a tiny fraction compared to 130 billion pounds spent every year on health services across the UK, some think it is a waste if homeopathy does not prove its effectiveness.

Homeopathy is built on the concept that diluting a version of a substance which caused a particular illness has healing properties. For example, one part of a substance is mixed with 99 parts of water or alcohol. Then it is repeated for another 6 or 30 times, depending on the formulation. Lastly, the end product is combined with a sugar tablet. Some claim the more diluted it is, the greater its effect; some think it is merely just a sugar pill.

Homeopathy has been under the NHS umbrella since the latter’s inception in 1948. At that time, there were five centres, the four mentioned above and another in Tunbridge Wells, Kent which closed in 2009.

Many are looking towards evidence-based medicine since the creation of National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to assess the effectiveness of new drugs for NHS use. Unfortunately, there is not much evidence beyond a placebo effect to support homeopathy. Hence, there is pressure to further reduce or stop its funding.

Read the full article from the BBC here.



In a nutshell, medicine is an ever evolving field. Research is being done all the time to expand the field of medicine. For example, the ProtecT research and the NHS Digital survey on mental health problems (again, always SEEK HELP if you need it ). As such, we are moving away from unproven medical practices like homeopathy, towards a more digitalised future with the ongoing DeepMind initiative. However, we need more effective studies and research to ensure that this project is successful and provides benefits to both doctors and patients.

And when that future comes, we can celebrate with a bottle of Alcosynth. Until then, visit MMI UK Facebook page for more articles.



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