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Three Key Medical News Stories: 3rd October 2019

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: vaccinations, prostate cancer and superbugs

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Vaccinations

Falling vaccination rates have sparked debate over whether vaccinations should be compulsory

Recent medical news reports that Health Secretary Matt Hancock is “looking very seriously” at compulsory vaccinations for children before they are allowed into schools.

For a disease not to spread, 95% of the population needs to be immunised. This year, the number of children receiving the first dose of the MMR vaccine has fallen to 90.1%. This fall in vaccination rates reflects the rising number of measles cases across the UK and Europe, with the UK recently losing its measles-free status.

France, Germany and Italy are now making the measles vaccination mandatory for schoolchildren, which has proved to be effective. However, some argue against compulsion, as there is the risk of generating more controversy and increasing the current health inequalities. 

Compulsory vaccines are a last resort. Other approaches to consider include catch-up programmes and better vaccination reminders for parents.

What can we learn from this?

The NHS offer a routine vaccination programme for children, starting at eight weeks old through to teenage years. 

The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella. A health scare surrounding this vaccine in 1998, falsely linking it to autism, caused a huge public mistrust in vaccinations. Since then, it has been difficult to undo the damage and increase uptake rates.  This alongside current “anti-vaxx” campaigns presents a huge public health concern and challenge for the health services.

Question to think about: Debate whether vaccinations should be compulsory for schoolchildren

Read: NHS Hot Topics

Prostate Cancer

A genetically targeted drug could become a revolutionary treatment for prostate cancer

‘Precision medicine’ is a relatively new area of medicine and is a ‘game-changer’ for oncology.  

Olaparib works by targeting cancer cells with faulty genetic codes whilst sparing normal, healthy cells. The drug can target two genetic errors, BRCA1 and BRCA2, and is already a treatment for NHS patients in England with ovarian cancer. 

The drug appears to delay cancer growth by months, which could improve survival. Patients can be tested to see if they have these specific genetic errors and whether they would benefit from the precision approach. 

Experts say the drug could be available for prostate cancer treatment in the next couple of years.

What can we learn from this? 

One in eight men will receive a prostate cancer diagnosis in their lifetime and it mainly affects men over the age of 50. 

Genetics is a rapidly expanding area of medicine that is revolutionizing both diagnosis and treatment. BRCA1 and BRCA2 greatly increase the risk of ovarian, breast and prostate cancer and are therefore focuses for cancer prevention, investigations and management. 

Question to think about: Debate the pros and cons of genetic testing for disease

Read: Challenges facing the NHS

Superbugs

New sensor able to monitor medication using tiny needles

Imperial College London has developed a sensor to monitor patients’ antibiotic levels, in order to check how a patient has reacted to their medication.

The sensor involves a small patch on the skin that has tiny needles coated with enzymes, tuned to react to specific drugs. The needles are much thinner than human hair and can slip between skin cells, sampling fluids at 200 times a second.

The sensor allows constant monitoring and can detect tiny changes that indicate how patients are reacting to antibiotics in real time. This information can help to make sure patients receive the right dose of antibiotics. 

Larger clinical trials are required before this is a reliable method for use in hospitals, but it has great potential for the future.

What can we learn from this?

Microneedles can already be used to monitor blood sugar levels; however, this is the first instance when they are being used to monitor antibiotics. 

It is hoped that if successful, the sensor could help to reduce drug-resistant infections and manage serious conditions such as sepsis, a potentially fatal infection. 

Question to think about: Antibiotic resistance is arguably one of the greatest health threats we face. How do you think individuals and institutions can help to reduce this threat? 

Read: NHS Hot Topics – Antibiotic Resistance 

Words: Katie Burrell

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