Scientists on the brink of heart disease cure, 1m patients on hidden waiting list and retraining the brain to ease chronic back pain – this week’s Friday Five
Scientists ‘on brink’ of curing genetic heart disease
Scientists believe they are only a few years away from finding a cure to genetic heart conditions that put 260,000 people in the UK at risk of sudden death each year.
Researchers have been awarded £30m to develop the first ever cure for inherited heart muscle diseases by rewriting DNA with the aim of editing or silencing faulty genes. The researchers approaches have so far proven successful in animals with cardiomyopathies and in human cells.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: ‘This is a defining moment for cardiovascular medicine … [that] could also usher in a new era of precision cardiology.’
An NHS England leak has revealed more than 1 million people – including hundreds of thousands of children – are on an unpublished waiting list for community services.
The waiting list includes 75,000 children waiting to access community paediatric services, more than 74,300 young people for speech and language therapy, 321,000 adults awaiting musculoskeletal services and 120,000 waiting for podiatry. Siobhan Melia, chair of the community Network hosted by NHS Confederation and NHS Providers pointed out: ‘Delays in accessing some services, including speech and language therapies, can have a lifelong impact, especially for children and young people… Long waits for services which help people to manage musculoskeletal conditions, such as lower back and neck pain, can make existing conditions worse, and mean that many people could ultimately attend [accident and emergency] in severe pain.’
Siobhan Melia said: “We now urgently need a properly resourced plan that treats this community backlog with the same energy and urgency the government has given to driving down elective care waiting lists.”
Researchers say that chronic back pain is a problem of the nervous system rather than a disc, bone or muscle problem and that a change in mindset can be a more effective treatment than prescription drugs.
More than ten million people in the UK report suffering from persistent back pain. The researchers’ new approach aims to change how people think about pain, process information from the back and how they move during activities. In a 12-week trial, participants were taught to retrain how there body and brain communicate, which led to a reduction in reported pain intensity. In a paper in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors said more research was needed to replicate the results and to test the treatment in different settings and populations.
Professor James McAuley, a psychologist at the University of New South Wales, said: ‘People were happier, they reported their backs felt better and their quality of life was better. It also looks like these effects were sustained over the long term; twice as many people were completely recovered.’
HPV vaccine after surgical removal of precancerous cells may reduce cervical cancer risk
A study has found that giving women the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine when precancerous cells have been removed from their cervix may cut the risk of cells recurring and developing cervical cancer.
Cases of cervical cancer have fallen dramatically since 2008, when children aged between 13 and 14 began being offered HPV jabs as protection against the disease. This new finding suggests that the vaccine may have a second key role in preventing cervical cancer. However, authors of the study stressed that the evidence of reductions was ‘inconclusive’ and that large-scale randomised control trials were needed.
Eluned Hughes, head of information and engagement at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said: ‘We are pleased to see emerging research into the value of using the HPV vaccine to prevent the recurrence of cervical cell changes, and look forward to seeing further large-scale studies into the effectiveness of this method.’
A review published in the BMC Medicine journal, argues that the ‘strong public perception’ that male urinary symptoms are a key indicator of prostate cancer may hamper early detection, as there is ‘no evidence of a casual link between prostate cancer and either prostate size or troublesome male urinary symptoms.’
The paper says: ‘If rates of earlier diagnosis are to improve, we call for strong clear messaging that prostate cancer is a silent disease especially in the curable stages and men should come forward for testing regardless of whether or not they have symptoms.’