Thursday, 25 July 2013

Alcohol industry fights against Scotland healthcare measures

The alcohol industry as a whole, from small scale to large, is resisting changes the policy of Scotland’s government aimed at minimizing alcohol related health issues. In an attempt to bring down the figures of alcohol related illnesses and deaths, and thus reduce the financial burden related to such care, Scotland’s government is attempting to change currentpolicy.

It is unsurprising that the alcohol industry is fighting this change; any industry will naturally do its best to ensure that profits are maximized and steady. While it is arguable that in the case of alcohol there is a moral obligation the industry should bow to, it is not fair to be surprised that the companies responsible for our favourite drinks are not entirely happy with changes in policy that reduce profits.

Dr Jim McCambridge of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is at the forefront of this issue, having discovered that the alcohol industry is being far from open and fair in regards to research. “The public interest is not served by the alcohol industry’s misinterpretation of research evidence and we must consider to what extent we should allow the health of the population to be compromised by these commercial interests.”

In a recent study, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine researchers analysed 27 different submissions made by the alcohol industry to the Scottish cunsulation board. It was found that major companies were negatively dismissing research and evidence that would negatively impact their profitability, while placing emphasis on positive findings.

While certainly controversial and hard to sell to the populace, it has long been the strong opinion of scientists and researchers that, to quote Dr McCambridge ““There is a broad consensus internationally among researchers that the most effective measures to control problems caused by alcohol are to raise the price, control availability and restrict marketing activities.”

The ongoing struggle against commercial interests and honest and effective policy in regards to alcohol is one of major consequence. This is due to the scale of which alcohol is consumed on a countrywide level; even seemingly small alterations to price or marketing requirements and restrictions can have the power to save or negatively impact thousands of lives. It is not out of hand to say that the struggle over this industry and its limitations will be bitter and shows no clear sign of outright resolution.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Alpine Bacteria discovery may lead to new drugs

A rock growing bacteria found solely in the Swiss Alps has lead to greater understanding of alcohol’s relation to brain proteins. This information could give us a better understanding of our relationship with drugs and alcohol. 

This is a significant development and may pave the way for drugs that would work by disrupting the link between the brain and alcohol.

Texas researchers have sequenced the genome of this special type of bacteria. In doing so, a particular protein sequence has been found that shares remarkably similar properties to a specific element of the human brain.

This exciting discovery is remarkable partly due to the difficulties inherent in such a specific scientific task. Adron Harris of the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction within the University of Texas elaborates: “For many of us in the alcohol field, this has been a Holy Grail, actually finding a binding site for alcohol on the brain proteins and showing it with X-ray crystallography, but it hasn't been possible because it is not possible to get a nice crystal.”

The specific moment of triumph came through collaboration from the Texas based researchers and French scientists from the Pasteur Institute. The protein found that was so similar in nature to part of our human brains was altered to make it sensitive to ethanol. This allowed comparison of the original bacteria and the newly altered version to test if alcohol would bind to the bacteria.

“This is something you never would have found with any sort of logical approach” States Harris “You never would have guessed that this obscure bacterium would have something that looks like a brain protein in it. But the institute, because of Pasteur’s fascination with bacteria, has this huge collection of obscure bacteria, and over the last few years they've been sequencing the genomes, keeping an eye out for interesting properties.”

Through further research and testing on mice, the long-term aim of this specific research is the creation and production of drugs that could help lower alcohol consumption or halt it entirely. Through greater understanding of how alcohol interacts with the brain through the rewarding, positive effects as much as the negative, as well as research projects such as these, tailor made drugs could allow enormous numbers of people struggling with alcohol addiction increased odds of recovery. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Facebook: A new tool in eating disorder analysis?

New research is showing the potential of social media websites like Facebook in regards to the prediction of health issues.

A recent study led by scientists from the Boston Children’s Hospital has given new attention to the possibility of using such a widespread social media platform in a medical and scientific sense.

The use of geo-tagged user data from Facebook seems to show that knowledge of a person’s online activity on a regional basis can help experts predict obesity, eating disorders and other health related issues on increasingly small scales. The possibilities of mapping the potential and current levels of obesity on a neighbourhood scale, for instance, is a very exciting prospect for professionals tasked with lowering such rates.

Traditionally, achieving such results has been difficult in several ways. Cost is, as we all know, a primary concern when planning and undertaking any medical research or study. The fact that Facebook is such a widespread and open platform gives researchers a unique opportunity to analyse this data for the betterment of communities and individuals. The problem of sample size is also lesser, with untold millions using Facebook in current days, often to the point where it is feasible to except an entire community to be representable through the social media platform.

The researchers involved in this study are well aware of these benefits; Brownstein, involved in running the computational epidemiology section within CHIP (the runners of this study) clearly understands these possibilities, saying that “Online social networks like Facebook represent a new high-value, low-cost data stream for looking at health at a population level. The tight correlation between Facebook users' interests and obesity data suggest that this kind of social network analysis could help generate real-time estimates of obesity levels in an area, help target public health campaigns that would promote healthy behaviour change, and assess the success of those campaigns."

With Facebook users that ‘like’ sports or activity related pages shown to be up to 12% lower in terms of obesity rates, there is the great possibility of low cost data being available for researchers in a truly large scale.

This said, the issue of privacy and attainment of this data may prove an issue, with Internet privacy an incredibly hot topic amongst net users at present. It remains to be seen how this gold mine of data can be used fairly and openly amongst researchers to improve the quality of life of those they aim to understand better.  Brownstein concludes that this study “reveal(s) how social media data can augment public health surveillance by giving public health researchers access to population-level information that they can't otherwise get."

For more information about Eating Disorder Treatment visit The Life Works Website

Monday, 1 July 2013

Cannabis use in young adults linked to increased chance of stroke

A startling new study conducted in New Zealand has shown a possible link between the use of cannabis in young adults and the possibility of suffering from an ischemic stroke or attack. Based around a group of 18-55 year old participants, this new connection shows an alarming possibility cannabis to be linked to such a severe health issue. (For more information about Cannabis visit the Life Works Community Website)

This new research is at the forefront in this area, casting new light on the possible negative side effects associated with regular use of the drug, something many may not be considering as possible. “Cannabis has been thought by the public to be a relatively safe, although illegal substance. This study shows this might not be the case; it may lead to stroke” States professor Alan Barber.

While there is general knowledge that using cannabis can cause mental impairment in very young smokers, little is known or appreciated by the masses beyond this, with many even holding the opinion that cannabis is a completely benign substance for anyone to partake of.

This recent study appears to show that cases of ischemic strokes are connected with cannabis use several hours before the incident, with patients usually displaying  “no other vascular risk factors apart from tobacco, alcohol and other drug usage.”

While interesting, the above sentence shows a core issue with this research. Although the results of the study show a connection, there is no causation; we do not truly know for certain that cannabis is responsible for these attacks. It may be entirely likely that tobacco is the culprit, with the majority of cannabis users rolling joints with tobacco inside for ease of use or money saving purposes.

It is important that such possibilities are considered. Personal and inherited health issues may make individuals involved in these studies more prone to such attacks, combined with the possibility that tobacco is a contributing factor. While this does not dismiss the possibility of cannabis being the cause of such an increase in stroke possibility, consideration of these extra factors is key for accurate research.

Traditionally, studies concerning cannabis and its link to various health issues have been a complicated task for researchers due to the illegal nature. While analysis of the drug itself is not a common issue, it has proved difficult for researchers to conduct accurate and relevant studies on cannabis. As a result of this, studies such as these are a valuable source of new insight on cannabis.