The Health News – 27 March 2014

Overview

  • South Australian researchers claim they have made a significant breakthrough in tackling HIV and hepatitis C, using a new type of DNA vaccine which protects against the viruses and could possibly provide a cure in five years.
  • A new study produced by Alzheimer’s Australia suggests up to 80 per cent of dementia patients in aged care facilities are being treated with psychotropic drugs.
  • The Fair Work Commission has dismissed an appeal by the sacked Geelong Hospital anaesthetist, Mark Colson, to try to get his job back.

Adelaide researchers claim breakthrough in tackling HIV and hepatitis C with DNA vaccine – Caroline Winter
South Australian researchers claim they have made a significant breakthrough in tackling HIV and hepatitis C, using a new type of DNA vaccine which protects against the viruses and could possibly provide a cure in five years. The DNA vaccine stimulates the body’s immune response and combines with the white blood cells to kill HIV or hepatitis C cells.

Adelaide University’s Professor Eric Gowans says the vaccine has already had positive results in animals, with human trials to start next year. Professor Gowans says he has found a way to stimulate the body’s immune system response which helps deliver the vaccine.

“DNA vaccines in general have enormous potential, but haven’t worked very well in large animals and in patients, They work very nicely in mice and we’ve developed a protocol and a technique that simplifies the whole process and makes a DNA vaccine very much more effective in large animals.”

He says DNA vaccines usually target muscles, but his technique injects DNA into the skin.

“Because we want to improve the efficacy of the DNA vaccination, we target the skin because the skin has a much greater proportion of white blood cells, which are important for the kind of immunity that we’re trying to impart. What we need to do is to target that small population of white blood cells, which circulate generally in the body, and unless the vaccine targets those cells, the vaccine isn’t effective and isn’t efficient in any way. So we’ve developed a strategy that targets these white blood cells in an indirect manner; we generate a little inflammation and that attracts all these white blood cells to that site of vaccination.”

Professor Gowans says other researchers have used skin to deliver the vaccine, but not to target white blood cells in this way. “We kill the cells that the vaccine is targeted to, and then those dead cells are highly inflammatory and they attract more of these white blood cells, so that is the difference,” he said.

The vaccine is currently designed to treat patients who already have hepatitis C, Those human trials will involve about 40 people infected with hepatitis C.

But Professor Gowans says it is likely it could be used as a preventative vaccine for hepatitis C and HIV in the next five years.

“It’s a significant advance; the strategy is novel, because we have the patent and it’s been examined. I don’t want to be too optimistic, but I think when we do the clinical trial next year, I think we can then begin to work out how best to take it forward from there.”

Up to 80 per cent of dementia patients in aged care facilities restrained with psychotropic drugs: report – by Steve Cannane
A new study produced by Alzheimer’s Australia suggests up to 80 per cent of dementia patients in aged care facilities are being treated with psychotropic drugs.

The report suggests only one in five dementia patients receive any benefit from taking such medication. Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications and ADHA drugs are some examples.

Alzheimer’s Australia says the use of drugs in nursing homes is excessive and it has called for reform of the sector.

Up to 6,000 elderly Australians could be dying prematurely each year because of the misuse of psychotropic drugs in aged care facilities.

Psychotropic drugs are psychiatric medicines that alter chemical levels in the brain, affecting mood and behaviour.

Alzheimer’s Australia chief executive Glenn Rees says about 140,000 nursing home residents are being sedated and restrained with psychotropic drugs.

“For people with dementia in residential care – and remember that people with dementia account for 50 per cent of residents – about 80 per cent will be on restraint at some time or other,” he said.

“Restraint can be necessary and as an organisation we accept that physical restraint in some circumstances and medical restraint are necessary, but we think it should be the last resort, not the first resort.”

What do you make of the report’s findings? Are you concerned? Have your say.

But the aged care industry argues it has been following the advice of medical professionals.

“It’s not the aged care facility that does the diagnosis nor prescribes the medication,” said Patrick Reid, the chief executive of Leading Age Services Australia.

“They’re acting on the … information from the clinical pathway, from a doctor.”

But Mr Rees says there are alternatives to medication.

“There are a number of things that can be done to reduce restraint,” he said.

“One is to adapt the physical environment so it’s less confusing and less noisy. Another is to give a person activities and a sense of purpose in life, whether it’s rehabilitation, social activities, physical recreation.

“Another is to adopt person-centred care approaches so that the care staff can relate better to the individual and know their personal histories.”

Mr Reid says the industry is open to change.

“Any changes to environment, whether it be the built environment, the culture and other things, are important,” he said.

“Certainly many of the refurbishments we are seeing in aged care, about 60 per cent of new buildings are around improving that environment. So I think it is a positive.

“My members do embrace those approaches and are trying very hard to make sure everyone is treated as well as they can be, and with their dignity and respect.”

A Senate committee has been hearing evidence about the overuse of psychotropic drugs in aged care facilities.

The committee will hand down its recommendations today.

Geelong Hospital doctor’s appeal against sacking dismissed –  Margaret Paul
The Fair Work Commission has dismissed an appeal by the sacked Geelong Hospital anaesthetist, Mark Colson, to try to get his job back.
Dr Colson was dismissed in May 2012 as a result of allegations of serious misconduct.
Last year, the Fair Work Commission decided his dismissal was conducted unfairly and ordered Barwon Health to pay him $59,050 in compensation, which was the maximum penalty available at the time.
Dr Colson’s former colleagues estimate his loss of earnings would be more than $400,000.
The Fair Work Commission’s Deputy President, Val Gostencnik, found that although it would be challenging for Dr Colson to find similar work as an anaesthetist in Geelong, reinstatement was not the answer.
“Although this matter is finely-balanced and the significant consequences for Dr Colson in not being reinstated has weighed heavily on me, I am satisfied, based on the totality of the evidence, that reinstatement in this case is inappropriate,” he said.

“The relationship of trust and confidence between Barwon Health’s managers responsible for Dr Colson, along with the management of the department and Dr Colson, has broken down and the evidence strongly points to a conclusion that the relationship cannot be repaired, making ongoing employment unworkable.”

Yesterday, the full bench of the Fair Work Commission refused Dr Colson’s application to appeal against that decision.
A spokeswoman for Barwon Health says the hospital accepts the decision.

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