The Health News – 20 March 2017

• The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RDFS) will give indigenous Australians from South Australia free B-strain vaccine against the deadly meningococcal disease.

• Researchers from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre have developed the liquid biopsy, a blood test that looks at minor fragments of DNA emitted from cancer cells into the bloodstream, called circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA).

• Queensland researchers were able to create a beating human heart muscle by using stem cells. This technology will allow researchers to now perform experiments on human heart tissue, screen new drugs, and investigate heart repair.

News on Health Professional Radio. Today is the  20th of March 2017. Read by Rebecca Foster. Health News

Indigenous Australians from remote parts of South Australia will be protected from deadly meningococcal disease thanks in large part to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

This year, up to 60,000 South Australian teenagers will be given the B-strain vaccine for free, as part of a trial organised by the Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the University of Adelaide.

The vaccine for meningococcal B-strain is expensive, and even if parents can afford the $500 cost, pharmacies often have waiting lists because of its limited supply.

Cheryl Boles from the RFDS base in Port Augusta said she would fly vaccines to places including Marree, Oodnadatta and Mintabie.

South Australia has the country’s highest rates of meningococcal B, and as part of the trial throat swabs will be taken to examine how the bacteria spreads.

A husband and wife research team at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre have developed a simple blood test that could eliminate the need for invasive and costly bone marrow and lymph node biopsies for people with blood cancers.

The liquid biopsy is a blood test that looks at minor fragments of DNA emitted from cancer cells into the blood stream, called circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA).

“Through advances in technology we now have better tools to be able to measure really small and tiny fragments of DNA in the blood and we can start to use that information to get some understanding about how patients are responding to therapy,” said Associate Professor Sarah-Jane Dawson.

Bone marrow and lymph node biopsies are usually an essential part of initial diagnosis and many patients with blood cancers will need to have the procedure several more times during their course of treatment.

But Professor Mark Dawson said the liquid biopsy would provide a less invasive and often less painful way to monitor how patients are responding to treatments.

The liquid biopsy can be done more often and is less expensive then the traditional biopsies.

The research team is hoping the test will be available in Australia from July.

Queensland researchers have used stem cells to create a beating human heart muscle, as well as heart tissue that is able to repair itself.

Doctors James Hudson and Enzo Porello from the University of Queensland worked with German researchers to create the samples in a laboratory, and will use them to study cardiac biology and diseases.

“The patented technology enables us to now perform experiments on human heart tissue,” Dr Hudson said.

Up until now researchers have had no “living” tissue to study, but now scientists have a viable, functioning heart muscle to work on.

Dr Hudson said it would help them model the cardiovascular disease, screen new drugs and investigate heart repair.

While the researchers have grown samples of beating heart tissue, they are not full size.

Dr Hudson said they were about 1 centimetre long and 1 millimetre wide.

He said about 54,000 Australians had heart attacks each year, with an average of about 23 deaths a day.

“Current pharmaceuticals can help those people in the shorter term, however some of those patients still progress to heart failure,” Dr Hudson said.

The research team hopes to commercialise the technology, which it believes will help save lives.

The project has been supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the National Heart Foundation.


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