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3 Key Medical News Stories: 28th March 2019

Organ Donation

Welcome to this week’s medical news round up! In our latest edition, we bring you the healthcare topics that have been under the microscope over the past week, just in time for your med school applications. 

Joining us this week: the transplant service, Alzheimer’s disease and congenital heart disease.

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The Transplant Service

The transplant service is at ‘breaking point’.

The news hits headlines this week after an assessment carried out by NHS Blood and Transplant found that the system is under extreme stress.

This is concerning, as from 2020 the new ‘opt out’ system will be active and demand for the service is likely to increase. Many more lives are hoped to be saved by the new scheme, but it this will also mean an increase in pressure on an already stretched area of the NHS.

In response, the Department of Health are investing an extra £32 billion a year into the NHS to help with the increased demand.

The transplant service is an environment where every minute counts and wasted time could mean wasted donations. This would be devastating for not only those on transplant waiting lists, but the families of the donors as well.

What can we learn from this?

The news of the opt-out organ donation system usually focuses on the expected benefits and its overall approval. In contrast, this news highlights the expected negatives of increasing the numbers of organ donors.

With organ donation, there is a small window available from the moment of donation to the transplant surgery. If we miss this time window, the organ is no longer viable and is wasted. This is rare but can happen, as transplant patients normally require ICU beds, which are sometimes simply unavailable during that time.

With an increased number of donors comes an increased demand for specialist beds. Therefore, if the correct support is not in place, it is likely the system will not be able to cope.  

Question: What are the current issues surrounding organ donation?

Read:  NHS Hot Topics – Organ Donation

Alzheimer’s disease

Research has shown that new brain cells develop throughout our lives.

The news is a contrast to a common understanding that we are born with all the brain cells we will ever have. Researchers from the University of Madrid have shown that although we do lose nerve cells as we age, we can produce new nerve cells too, even at 90 years old.

In healthy brains, there is a very slight decrease in the number of new nerve cells forming with age. New research finds that there is a 30% decrease in the number of new nerve cells forming in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease. This occurs even before the accumulation of a hallmark for the disease called amyloid beta, and perhaps before symptoms begin to show.

More research is required to confirm the significance of these findings and investigate the potential of a reliable, early test.

What can we learn from this?

Many patients living with dementia in the UK do not have a diagnosis, so research is always striving to find ways of early and accurate detection.

This research is fascinating as it presents new information to the field, showing that the biological changes underpinning Alzheimer’s start long before symptoms or signs begin to show.

Question: how would you prioritize resources for dementia services compared to cancer services? Justify your answer.

Read: NHS Hot Topics – Ageing Population

Congenital Heart Disease

New research produces detailed images of a baby’s heart inside the womb.

MRI machines scanned pregnant women before computers used the images to build 3D models of the hearts of the babies in the womb.

This new technology means that usual, blurry 2D images of foetal hearts can now be analysed as a 3D printed model, allowing doctors to have clear views of any abnormalities.

Eight in every 1,000 babies in the UK are born with a congenital heart disease, but they are usually not apparent until birth. This research brings hope for improved care and survival for babies with congenital heart disease.

What can we learn from this?

The hope for this new research is that it will become a standard practice for prenatal diagnosis of congenital heart disease.

Researchers also hope that UK hospitals will implement this approach, as if a hospital has an MRI machine, the only new equipment needed would be a computer with a good graphics card.

The research is part of a larger project called iFind, which aims to increase the number of health problems identified during pregnancy scans.

Question: What role does technology play in the future of the NHS?

Read: NHS Hot Topics – AI

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