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Apps, Alzheimer’s and antimicrobial resistance – this week’s Friday Five

NHS to prescribe apps to children with depression

Children as young as five will be able to get help for mild depression through apps on their smartphones after the NHS’s treatment advisers recommended the use of such devices in their care.

Children will be able to access digital cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) through mobile phones and computers to help them manage feelings of low mood, potentially avoiding long delays to see a therapist and reducing pressure on the nHS.

While CBT is already routinely available to adults with mental health problems, this is the first time NICE has recommended it as helpful for five-to-eight-year-olds.

“Digital CBT is delivered on mobile phones, tablets or computers and can be made readily available, avoiding waiting lists and giving children and young people faster access to psychological help,” NICE said.

Read more in The Guardian.


Global health research money reaches record high

The G-Finder report has found that money invested in research and development (R&D) of 33 significant diseases has reached $3.5bn (£2.8bn), the highest level since figures started being tracked 11 years ago.

The largest funder was the US government, which through its National Institutes of Health provided 39% of the total. But there were significant increases in contributions from the UK, the European Commission (EC), Germany and India. The UK’s funding increased by a huge 89% – representing an extra $87m (£67m) – in the latest year tracked.

Read more on the BBC.


Bowel cancer trial resets gut bacteria

Bowel cancer patients will be given a groundbreaking form of treatment aimed at altering the makeup of their gut bacteria, in a trial due to launch this year.

The phase one trial, backed by a £20m grant from Cancer Research UK, is led by an international team who are investigating whether gut bacteria play a role in triggering cancer and making the disease more resistant to treatment in some patients.

The human gut contains trillions of bacteria, which play a crucial role in digesting food and strengthening the immune system. But there is emerging evidence that certain strains of bacteria may be involved in triggering cancer, in allowing it to develop unchecked, or in making cancers resistant to chemotherapy and other treatments. The initial trial, which is expected to involve a dozen patients, will investigate the potential for using faecal transplants to reset the gut of patients by reducing the presence of cancer-associated microbes.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 12% of all new cancer cases in 2015.

Read more in The Guardian.


Gum disease may play a role in Alzheimer’s

A paper published in Science Advances claims a link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s, due to a common bacteria.

Scientists analysed brain tissue, spinal fluid, and saliva from dead and living patients with diagnosed and suspected Alzheimer’s, and found bacteria associated with chronic gum disease Porphyromonas gingivalis in their brains. The bacteria also increased production of amyloid beta, a component of the amyloid plaques commonly associated with Alzheimer’s.

Scientists also tested drugs in mice aimed at blocking the toxic proteins and found they were able to halt degeneration in the brain.

The team has now developed a new drug they hope could form the basis of a human treatment and plan to test it in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, in a clinical trial, later this year.

Studies have previously linked gum disease and dementia. However, people with Alzheimer’s are more susceptible to getting infections in their brains, so it may be that the gum disease bacteria and the toxic proteins they secrete are a by-product of Alzheimer’s rather than a cause.

Read more on BBC.


Concerns over the impact of Brexit on children’s health

A study from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has warned of future problems linked to Brexit, such as recruiting specialist doctors and accessing funding for research.

The report welcomed a government shift towards prioritising child health through initiatives such as tackling obesity and poor mental health, but called for more to be done on child poverty and low breastfeeding rates. The UK’s breastfeeding rates are some of the lowest in the world, and no longer formally measured after the the UK infant feeding survey was scrapped in 2015.

The study noted, “We are entering a period of change and uncertainty. The UK’s exit from the EU raises concerns about ongoing access to important EU funding for child health and potential detrimental impact with respect to access to medicines and other forms of treatment.”

Read more in the Independent.


Quote of the week

“Antimicrobial resistance is as big a danger to humanity as climate change or warfare. That’s why we need an urgent global response.”

Our quote of the week comes from Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who announced new plans this week to tackle antimicrobial resistance. The plan sets out how the UK government will reduce the number of drug-resistant infections by 5,000, or 10%, by 2025, preventing at least 15,000 patients a year from contracting infections as a result of their healthcare. The plan also targets to reduce antibiotic use in humans by 15%. It will do this by incentivising pharmaceutical companies to develop these “urgently needed” drugs. The pharmaceutical industry has been criticised for its apparent reluctancy to carry out research in the area since it is potentially less profitable than breakthrough medicines.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and NHS England will explore how a new payment model could pay pharmaceutical companies for drugs based on how valuable the medicines are to the health service, rather than on the simple basis of the sheer quantity of antibiotics sold.

Although the number of antibiotic prescriptions dispensed in primary care has reduced by 13.2 per cent in between 2013 and 2017, and sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals has dropped by 40 per cent, the number of drug-resistant bloodstream infections have increased by 35 per cent during that time. Resistant infections contribute to the deaths of about 2,000 people each year in the UK.

Read more in The Guardian.


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