Saturday, November 8, 2008

Green spaces 'reduce health gap'

Even small parks in the heart of our cities can protect us from strokes and heart disease, perhaps by cutting stress or boosting exercise.

Their study, in The Lancet, matched data about hundreds of thousands of deaths to green spaces in local areas.

Councils should introduce more greenery to improve wellbeing, they said.

Across the country, there are "health inequalities" related to income and social deprivation, which generally reflect differences in lifestyle, diet, and, to some extent, access to medical care.

This means that in general, people living in poorer areas are more likely to be unhealthy, and die earlier.

However, the researchers found that living near parks, woodland or other open spaces helped reduce these inequalities, regardless of social class.

When the records of more than 366,000 people who died between 2001 and 2005 were analysed, it revealed that even tiny green spaces in the areas in which they lived made a big difference to their risk of fatal diseases.

Although the effect was greatest for those living surrounded by the most greenery, with the "health gap" roughly halved compared with those with the fewest green spaces around them, there was still a noticeable difference.

Surgery beneficial in heartburn

People with persistent heartburn should be considered for early surgery to prevent a lifetime of popping pills, NHS research suggests.

A year after keyhole surgery, only 14% of patients were still taking medication, compared with 90% of those treated with drugs alone.

The £1m trial of 800 patients suggests surgery should be done more routinely in patients with chronic acid reflux.

Experts said there was a view among GPs that surgery was "too extreme".

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen co-ordinated the trial of laparoscopic fundoplication at 21 hospitals around the UK.

The results so far suggest the procedure, although expensive at £2000 per patient, is cost-effective because reflux sufferers no longer have to take medication and their quality of life improves.

But they are following the patients for five years to check the benefits are long-term.

The operation involves wrapping a piece of the stomach around the oesophagus to create a new valve to prevent acid backing up from the stomach.

It used to be done by opening up the chest cavity, but with the advent of keyhole surgery is now a lot safer.

Common problem

Reflux is a very common condition with 20% of the population experiencing it at some point in their lives.

Those at the more severe end of the spectrum end up taking tablets for the rest of their lives - potentially for 20 to 30 years in younger patients - and few currently receive surgery.

Study leader, Professor Adrian Grant, said: "It looks pretty promising.

"I think these results will mean that surgeons will be suggesting the operation in those patients who are not quite so bad."

He added: "Like all surgery, fundoplication has some risks, but the more troublesome the symptoms, the greater the potential benefit from the operation."

Professor Roger Jones, head of general practice at King's College London and chair of the Primary Care Gastroenterology Society said surgery was often regarded as "too extreme" for something which is not a serious problem.

"But for some people, it is a serious problem which could potentially mean a lifetime of tablet taking."

BBC News health reporter

Search For Sensitive Sensors Boosted By Winning University Of Melbourne Ph.D. Research

Research that could lead to brighter LCD screens, more efficient solar panels, improved biomedical imaging and high-tech security sensors has won the University of Melbourne's Chancellor's Prize for Excellence in PhD.

Dr Daniel Gomez, who completed his thesis in the School of Chemistry, has shed new light on the properties of semiconductor nano-crystals, particles only a billionth of a metre long.

He is now expanding on his work as a Research Fellow at CSIRO where he is part of a team that is working to develop new sensor applications.

Dr Gomez is working on the "fundamental science" aspect of the project - determining how to incorporate these nano-crystals as highly sensitive components in a variety of sensor devices.

With this sensing technology, it would be possible to detect very small amounts of dry particles - such as biological agents or explosives - in the air or liquid.

They could even result in more sensitive pathology, detecting minute amounts of drugs or hormonal changes in urine tests.

Obama's win means changes for US pharma industry

Friday 7 November 2008
Sue Sutter - Washington Editor

Democrat Barack Obama's victory in the US presidential elections and increased Democratic majorities in Congress herald potentially dramatic changes in how healthcare and pharmaceuticals are purchased and supplied.

Mr Obama's defeat of Republican John McCain on November 4th, and the president-elect's selection of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff, suggest the pharmaceutical industry will have an uphill battle in staving off direct government price negotiations in the Medicare Part D programme. The legalised importation of medicines and a new federal emphasis on comparative effectiveness research could also pose challenges.

In the first few months of Mr Obama's administration, any of these measures could find their way into a bill expanding the state/federal programme that provides health insurance to low-income children. That programme, known as SCHIP, needs to be reauthorised this spring.

On the positive side, pharma would benefit from a broad expansion of health insurance – a cornerstone of Mr Obama's campaign platform – as more coverage means more individuals able to afford medicines. The new president may also move quickly to reverse current federal funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research by signing an executive order. Alternatively, a measure expanding such research funding could be one of the first healthcare bills passed by the new Congress...

Friday, November 7, 2008