Monthly Archives: March 2009

Ravi Mattu

In this amazing video, scientists from the University of California, Davis and Mount Sinai School of Medicine have filmed for the first time the transfer of the HIV virus from an infected cell to a non-infected one.

According to the school’s website :

“Our findings may explain why attempts to develop an HIV vaccine have so far been unsuccessful,” said Thomas Huser, one of the study’s authors and chief scientist at the UC Davis Center for Biophotonics Science and Technology (CBST), where the video images were produced using advanced, live-cell video imaging microscopy.

While previous efforts to create an HIV vaccine have focused on priming the immune system to recognize and attack surface proteins of free-circulating virus, the current results indicate that HIV avoids recognition by being directly transferred between cells.

“We should be developing vaccines that help the immune system recognize proteins involved in virological synapse formation and antiviral drugs that target the factors required for synapse formation,” explained Huser, who is also an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Internal Medicine.

The controversial all-in-one polypill – a cocktail of drugs to fight heart disease – has come through its biggest clinical trial so far with flying colours.

Two thousand middle-aged and elderly people in India took part in the trial. The results, published online by the Lancet, show that a polypill with five active ingredients works almost as well as the sum of its individual components. And the combination causes no unexpected side-effects.

Salim Yusuf of McMaster University in Canada and his Indian colleagues, who organised the trial, estimate that middle-aged people could roughly halve the chance of suffering a “cardiovascular event” – heart attack or stroke – by taking polypills regularly. For those at high risk, the benefits would be greater.

A chart published online by the Economist today shows that, of 35 countries, Denmark seems to have the biggest problem with teenage drinking. In 2007, almost half of 15-16 year olds from that country said they had been drunk during the past 30 days. Britons will surely not be surprised to learn that the UK came in second place. 

The Economist noted: “In countries that were most sober, the prevalence of drinking was also generally lower.”

Scientists at Brandeis University in the US and the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge in the UK have taken important steps in understanding how human genetic information is passed from cell to cell.

A molecular clipping machine – the spliceosome – clips DNA in such a way that the bits can be translated into the proteins that are the building blocks of life.

Importantly, the spliceosome also rearranges the chunks in such a way that it can generate multiple and varied proteins which can have dramatic effects on human development.

For the first time, it has been possible to create a 3-D model of a crucial part of the human spliceosome using x-ray crystallography.

Medical News Today


Nicholas Timmins

A wake-up call to business to act to avoid big losses of productivity and profitability as its workforce ages was issued on Sunday by the Work Foundation and by Bupa, the health insurer.The warning came as the think-tank Reform said in a separate report that successful businesses were already investing to improve their employees’ health in what is becoming a Darwinian “survival of the fittest”.

Bupa’s study, undertaken with the Rand Corporation and Oxford Health Alliance, says the average age of the workforce will rise over the next 20 years as the population ages. As a result, millions of employees will be working while suffering long-term health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, musculoskeletal complaints and mental illness as the average age of those at work rises from 39 to 43.

Ravi Mattu


President Obama hosts an online Q&A. Photo: Reuters

If anyone doubted how important healthcare reform is, this picture seems a good riposte. In an online town hall held yesterday, the first hosted by a US president, healthcare was a major theme.

In a strongly-worded editorial, the Lancet, the prestigious medical journal, becomes the latest influential voice to join the storm of protest about the Pope’s recent claim that condoms were exacerbating the Aids crisis:

The Catholic Church’s ethical opposition to birth control and support of marital fidelity and abstinence in HIV prevention is well known. But, by saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue.

Whether the Pope’s error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear. But the comment still stands and the Vatican’s attempts to tweak the Pope’s words, further tampering with the truth, is not the way forward.

When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record. Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide.

By Alan Cane

The mysteries of wound healing have been further clarified by research that has also found an unlikely link between diabetes and eczema. The work may lead to ways to improve wound healing in diabetics.

Carried out by scientists at the University of California, San Diego, and reported in Nature magazine, the research identifies a protein called caspase 8 that is critical to wound healing – at least, in laboratory mice. This protein is produced overabundantly in diabetics – who typically lack a normal wound response and suffer complications from minor cuts and grazes. But it is deficient in people suffering from eczema whose skin, chronically inflamed, cannot carry out its normal protective function.

The San Diego scientists think that after damage to the skin, loss of caspase 8 from surface cells releases a second protein, interleukin 1-alpha, capable of travelling deep into the skin to stimulate stem cells to produce skin cells to fill and eventually heal the wound.

Cokin Jamora, who led the research, said he hoped it would contribute to alleviating the pain and suffering of millions of people with eczema and diabetes.

Ravi Mattu

Finding the right balance between work and health is often difficult to get right, both from a management and an individual employee point of view. Indeed, as my colleague Nicholas Timmins put it in part three of our roundtable discussion, the role of the employer in the provision of healthcare is only going to become more relevant as the nature of delivery changes.

Yesterday was a case in point. I oversee a small team of editors at the FT and one of them has been suffering from a nasty cold all week. She caught it from her four-year-old daughter and had not been able to get any rest because she had spent a couple of nights and days taking care of her little one.

After being away for a couple of days, my colleague called me yesterday morning in a barely audible, gravelly voice to say that “she was feeling better but just didn’t have much of a voice” and was “going to come in to the office that afternoon”, if only for a couple of hours.

Nicholas Timmins

Raising the quality of health care is a growing obsession around the world, not least in the US and UK.

In England, the health minister Lord Darzi has declared that quality is to be “the organising principle” for the country’s National Health Service in future.

It certainly has not been in recent years, according to the Healthcare Commission, the health watchdog which this week comes to the end of its four year life to be replaced by a new Care Quality Commission that will cover both health and social care.

Health and science blog (Archived)

This blog, part of the FT's health series, is a forum for readers interested in the science, policy, management, technology, business and delivery of healthcare.

This blog is no longer active but it remains open as an archive.

About our regular bloggers

Margaret McCartney is a Glasgow-based GP and FT Weekend columnist. She started writing for the Life and Arts section in 2005 and moved to the magazine in 2008. She also has her own blog:

Clive Cookson has been a science journalist for the whole of his working life. He joined the FT in 1987. Clive, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education.

Andrew Jack is pharmaceuticals correspondent, covering the industry and public health issues. He has been a journalist with the FT for 19 years, based in London, Paris and Moscow