Friday Five

McDonald’s management advice, petri dish placentas and dodgy devices – this week’s Friday Five

Drastic changes are needed to medical device rules to protect patients

The Royal College of Surgeons have said that urgent and drastic changes are needed to medical device rules in order to protect patients. This comes after an investigation, coordinated by BBC Panorama, uncovered patients being given implants that were unsafe. The RCS wants to register every device in every patient so doctors know if new innovations are causing harm. Prof Derek Alderson, president of the RCS said, “There needs to be compulsory registration of every new device and implant that goes into a patient in the United Kingdom” and risks could increase as technology is advancing so rapidly.

The investigation conducted by BBC Panorama found that some devices were failing patients including implants that cracked inside patients backs, birth control implants that caused internal damage and misfiring implantable defibrillators. The Department of Health and Social Care has said the UK regulator has a “robust process” to support the regulation of new medical devices and they “will work with the regulator to see what future changes may be required”

Read more in BBC.


Terminally ill man loses right-to-die appeal

Noel Conway, 68, suffers from motor neurone disease and only have movement in his head, neck and right hand. This week he lost a legal battle at the Supreme Court over his right to die.

The former lecturer lost a challenge at the Court of Appeal in June after his case was rejected by the High Court, and Supreme Court judges rejected his bid to appeal against this ruling, saying his chance of success was “not sufficient”, meaning his case cannot go any further.

Mr Conway, who was too ill to attend the hearing in London, said it is “barbaric” that he must choose between “unacceptable options” to end his life. He said the ruling was “extremely disappointing”, adding it is “downright cruel” to be refused a right to die. “The only option I currently have is to remove my ventilator and effectively suffocate to death under sedation,” he said. “To me this is not acceptable.” Instead, he wants medical assistance to die when he has less than six months to live, while he still has the mental capacity to make a “voluntary, clear, settled and informed” choice.

Read more on the BBC.


Lab-grown placentas will “transform pregnancy research”

Cambridge University scientists have grown “mini placentas” in a breakthrough that could transform research into the underlying causes of miscarriage, stillbirth and other pregnancy disorders.

The mini placentas can even fool over-the-counter pregnancy tests. “If we put a pregnancy stick into the medium from the organoids it reads ‘pregnant’,” said Ashley Moffett, a senior researcher on the team and professor of reproductive immunology at Cambridge University.

The team grew the organoids in their laboratory using cells from frond-like structures called villi which are found in placental tissue. The cells organised themselves into multi-cellular structures capable of secreting the proteins and hormones that affect the metabolism of the mother during pregnancy.

Researchers want to use the organoids to study some of the most common pregnancy disorders, such as pre-eclampsia, stillbirth and growth restriction. “We can now begin to do experiments on how placental development occurs in the uterine environment,” said Moffett.

The mini-placentas could also be used to check the safety of new drugs taken during early pregnancy, and shed light on how chromosomal abnormalities and infections, such as Zika, can upset a baby’s normal development. Further on the placentas could provide stem-cell therapies for failing pregnancies, the researchers said.

Read more in the Guardian.


Matt Hancock deletes tweet after false GP claim

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock was called out this week for deleting a tweet that claimed a “terrific” increase of 1,000 GPs joining the NHS in just three months, after it was censured by the government statistics watchdog.

Matt Hancock made the claimed in a tweet last week and was widely criticised by doctors and health groups who said he was misleading the public, as the actual figures showed qualified doctor numbers fell. The figures were also drastically inflated by the new intake of junior doctors who started GP specialty training in August.

In 2015 the government pledged to add an extra 5,000 doctors, including trainees, to the GP workforce by 2020 – but based on the latest September data it still has 5,460 posts to go.

Read more in the Independent.

Chinese scientist claims to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies

Professor He Jiankui and his team have reported that they altered the embryos of seven couples undergoing fertility treatment. One successful pregnancy resulting from this treatment resulted in twin girls born earlier this month that the scientists claimed were naturally resistant to HIV.

Many scientists have criticised Prof He, although one US scientist also confirmed that he took part in the work in China. This kind of gene editing is banned in most countries, including the UK and US, because the DNA changes can pass to future generations and risk harm.

There is no independent confirmation of the claim, and it has not been published in a journal, but was instead revealed by He on Monday in Hong Kong to one of the organisers of an international conference on gene editing, and in exclusive interviews with the Associated Press. “I feel a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example,” he told Associated Press. “Society will decide what to do next” in terms of allowing or forbidding such science.

Chinese authorities have declared the work a violation of Chinese law and called for the suspension of all related activity. The Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, where He is an associate professor, has said it had no knowledge of his research.

In recent years scientists have discovered a relatively easy way to edit genes, the strands of DNA that govern the body, using a tool that makes it possible to supply or disable a gene. It’s only recently been tried in adults to treat deadly diseases, and the changes are confined to that person. Editing sperm, eggs or embryos is different as the changes can be inherited.

Read more in the Independent and the Guardian.


Quote of the week

“Surely, the life-saving business requires at least as much emphasis on good leadership as the fast-food business”

This week’s quote comes from Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, who suggested during the King’s Fund annual conference that McDonald’s values its staff more highly than the NHS after reports emerged of widespread bullying across the health service. Hancock also praised the company’s training programmes and said the NHS could learn from them.

Read more in the Telegraph.