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Three Key Medical News Stories: 8th August 2019

A doctor checks patient for heart disease

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: Bowel cancer test, artificial intelligence and Alzheimer’s disease.

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Bowel Cancer Test

Simpler tests lead to a rise in screening rates

Recent medical statistics reveal bowel cancer screening rates have exceeded 60% in Scotland since the introduction of a simpler test in 2017.

The new test, called faecal immunochemical test (FIT), is a home kit sent to all eligible adults. The test involves collecting one sample and sending it for analysis. The screening can identify pre-cancerous with the intention of earlier and more effective treatment.

What can we learn from this?

The other test used throughout the UK is the faecal occult blood test (FOBT). The test involves collecting two samples on three separate occasions.

This, compared to collecting one sample on one occasion, as with the FIT, can be off-putting for people. When taking into account those who take home kit tests are unlikely to have noticed any symptoms, it is understandable why many lose motivation to complete the screening.

This simpler, faster test is vital to the success of the screening programme, improving uptake rates and allowing for earlier detection of bowel cancer.

Question to think about: What factors impact on the success of screening programmes?

Read Empathy Questions

Artificial Intelligence

AI provides a new way of identifying a common heart condition

Recent medical news highlights the new role of artificial intelligence (AI) in identifying the common heart condition, atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrythmia that affects one million people in the UK. The irregular heartbeat is easy to diagnose during an episode, but in between episodes when the heart is beating as normal, it is difficult to pick up.

Currently, electrocardiograms (ECGs) can detect abnormal rhythms and patients may need long-term monitoring to identify the condition.

Now, computer modelling may be able to detect subtle signs of irregular rhythms, such as scarring, that cannot be identified by other tests. When tested, the model correctly identified arrhythmias in those with a previous ‘normal’ test result in 83% of cases.

What can we learn from this?

This story highlights the ever-expanding potential of AI in medicine. Atrial fibrillation diagnoses can require long, uncomfortable heart monitoring for patients, delaying treatment.

This is particularly dangerous, as atrial fibrillation greatly increases the risk of stroke and heart failure.

As well as arrhythmias, AI systems are being designed to detect a number of conditions, including cancer.

Question to think about: How do you feel artificial intelligence will change modern medicine?

Read NHS Hot Topics – Artificial Intelligence

Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers are one-step closer to a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease

Recent research successfully identifies those who are likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, even before symptoms appear.

Scientists are now able to use a measurement of protein in the blood to predict its levels in the brain and therefore the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease.

The test measures blood levels of a protein called amyloid beta in patients over 65 and with the gene APOE4. The levels of amyloid beta in the blood are then compared to levels found on brain scans to see if they match. The blood test proved to be 94% accurate.

This reliable blood test is likely to speed up dementia research and open up the possibility of trialling drugs earlier on in disease.

What can we learn from this?

Dementia is a rapidly evolving area of research with our understanding of risk factors and the disease process constantly improving.

The APOE4 is a gene known to increase a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s three-fold. Additionally, age is a widely accepted risk factor.

Therefore, combining these two strong risk factors with a blood test for the protein that we know plays a role in this disease has resulted in a reliable test.

Question to think about: Describe your understanding of the impact of dementia in health and social care settings.

Read NHS Hot Topics – Ageing Population

Words: Katie Burrell

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