The Health News – 31 January 2014

Overview

  • Researchers from Japan and the US have discovered a method of converting cells from adult mice into embryonic stem cells, a breakthrough which could lead to significant progress in human treatment.
  • University of Melbourne vision scientist Dr Ashika Verghese presented her research on visual attention to the Australasian Neuroscience Society conference in Adelaide yesterday.
  • Recent figures from the Productivity Commission show large differences between states on elective surgery waiting times. Alarmingly, the number of Tasmanian patients waiting over a year for surgery is 4 times the national average.

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Scientists hail stem cell ‘breakthrough’ – by Tom Nightingale
Researchers from Japan and the US have discovered a method of converting cells from adult mice into embryonic stem cells, a breakthrough which could lead to significant progress in human treatment.  Professor Martin Pera of the University of Melbourne said of the findings “These are cells that we’re able to turn into any type of tissue in the body…I’ve been in the field for over 30 years and these are truly remarkable and actually very surprising findings. (If it works on humans) this would be an incredibly simple and straightforward way of taking cells from a patient and putting them into a state where they could turn into any type of cells to transplant back into that individual.”

The researchers exposed the adult mice cells to acid which caused them to revert to pluripotent embryonic cells, which surprised Professor Pera most of all. He said “This idea is completely counter-intuitive. And the surprising thing is that many cells of the body, such as the lining of the stomach for instance, are exposed to these kinds of acidic conditions and so you wouldn’t imagine that exposure to these relatively mild stresses would result in these dramatic changes. And so that’s why I guess these findings are so surprising and that’s perhaps why this phenomenon hasn’t been previously discovered – maybe people just weren’t looking for it.”

Better attention linked to bigger visual cortex – by Anna Salleh
University of Melbourne vision scientist Dr Ashika Verghese presented her research on visual attention to the Australasian Neuroscience Society conference in Adelaide yesterday. The research focused on how visual attention may be linked to the size of the primary visual cortex, or V1. The results may help clinicians to better understand and treat visual attention problems in people with disorders such as dyslexia, autism and schizophrenia. Dr Verghese said “Attention is involved in any task that we do these days. Understanding how attention operates has tremendous impacts. In the everyday world we are bombarded with so much visual information, so we need to process only that which is relevant to us.” However Dr Verghese said at this stage it appears V1 size correlates only with visual attention span, and not any visual task abilities such as reading.

AMA calls for healthy lifestyles as prevention as elective surgery and emergency room waits revealed – by Felicity Ogilvie
Recent figures from the Productivity Commission show large differences between states on elective surgery waiting times. Alarmingly, the number of Tasmanian patients waiting over a year for surgery is 4 times the national average. Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings says the waiting times are unacceptable but that they are being addressed, saying “We cannot have people waiting years for their hip and knee operations; that’s why we’ve targeted that group. But the reality actually is that we have the lowest number of people waiting on our elective surgery waiting lists since 2006.” The Australian Capital Territory had the longest surgery waits behind Tasmania but their times are improving. ACT Chief Minister and Health Minister Katy Gallagher said “Certainly, we’ve got some money from the Commonwealth under national health reform. Probably our effort in elective surgery over the last four years has been in the order of an additional $30 million, and going forward we’re looking at putting $80 million in over the next four years. And that’s really just to keep up with the demand. And I think this is one of the issues health ministers are going to have to look at nationally, across the country. As many people as you remove off the waiting list, more than that are put on the waiting list.” Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said the federal government need to focus on putting more beds in public hospitals for both emergency care and elective surgery, as well as putting more effort into keeping people out of hospitals. Dr Hambleton said
“I guess the big picture in healthcare is, why are we getting all this work anyway? And in the long run we have to stand back as a population and say, what’s going wrong? Literally, it is the same problem we’re seeing in other first world countries – in fact, in other emerging economies as well. We’ve got to think about the impact of tobacco, we’ve got to think about the impact of alcohol, we’ve got to think about the issue of over-nutrition an under-exercise. That’s what’s driving our healthcare costs. If we want to drop the healthcare costs in a decade or two decades, we have to actually, as a population, think about population health; and wellness maintenance, health prevention – this is where we should be investing.”

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