Simple skin test may diagnose Alzheimer and Parkinson disease

Scientists have proposed a new simple idea for detecting brain conditions including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Simple skin test may diagnose Alzheimer and Parkinson diseaseTheir work which is at an early stage- found the same abnormal proteins that accumulate in the brain in such disorders can also be found in skin.

Early diagnosis is the key to preventing the loss of brain tissue in dementia-  which can go undetected for years.

But experts said even more advanced tests, including ones of spinal fluid, were still not ready for clinic. If they were, then doctors could treatment at the earliest stages, before irreversible brain damage or mental decline has taken place.

Investigators have been hunting for suitable biomarkers in the body – molecules in blood or exhaled breath, for example, that can be measured to accurately and reliably signal if a disease or disorder is present.

Dr Ildefonso Rodriguez-Leyva and colleagues from the University of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, believe skin is a good candidate for uncovering hidden brain disorders.

Skin has the same origin as brain tissue in the developing embryo and might, therefore, be a good window to what’s going on in the mind in later life – at least at a molecular level – they reasoned.

Post-mortem studies of people with Parkinson’s also reveal that the same protein deposits which occur in the brain with this condition also accumulate in the skin.

To test if the same was true in life as after death, the researchers recruited 65 volunteers – 12 who were healthy controls and the remaining 53 who had either Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.

They took a small skin biopsy from behind the ear of each volunteer to test in their laboratory for any tell tale signs of disease.

Specifically, they looked for the presence of two proteins – tau and alpha-synuclein.

The 20 people with Alzheimer’s and the 16 with Parkinson’s had raised levels of both these proteins in their skin compared to the healthy controls and the patients with other types of dementia.

The people with Parkinson’s also had higher levels of alpha-synuclein protein.

Dr Rodriguez-Leyva, who will soon present his findings to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, said: “More research is needed to confirm these results, but the findings are exciting because we could potentially begin to use skin biopsies from living patients to study and learn more about these diseases.

“This new test offers a potential biomarker that may allow doctors to identify and diagnose these diseases earlier on.” It could also guide research into new treatments, he said.

Dr Arthur Roach, Parkinson’s UK Director of Research and Development, said: “This work points to a possible diagnostic test that would be minimally invasive and could provide earlier, more accurate diagnosis.”

“There is still a need for more innovation in this area – at the moment there’s no way to definitively diagnose Parkinson’s.”

Dr Simon Ridley of Alzheimer’s Research UK said it was too early to say if a skin test would become available.

He said research into biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid – the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord – was at a more advanced stage, but that even these methods were not yet close to becoming a routine test.

Health Direct notes that whilst more research is obviously needed a skin test which finds a correlation between alpha synuclein proteins and degenerative brain disease would be hugely significant as it would allow for quick, cheap non invasive testing and diagnosis.

Smoking kills two thirds of smokers

The risk of death from smoking may be much higher than previously thought – tobacco kills up to two in every three smokers not one in every two according to new research.

Smoking kills two thirds of smokersThe study tracked more than 200,000 Australian smokers and non smokers above the age of 45 over six years.

Mortality risk went up with cigarette use, the BMC Medicine reported.

Smoking 10 cigarettes a day doubled the risk, while 20 a day smokers were four to five times more likely to die.

Although someone who smokes could lead a long life, their habit makes this less likely.

Smoking increases the risk of a multitude of health problems- including heart disease and cancer.

Cancer Research UK currently advises that half of all long term smokers eventually die from cancer or other smoking related illnesses- but recent evidence suggests the figure may even be higher.

Newer studies in UK women, British doctors and American Cancer Society volunteers have put the figure at up to 67%, says Prof Emily Banks, lead author of the Australian study.

“We knew smoking was bad, but we now have direct independent evidence that confirms the disturbing findings that have been emerging internationally.

“Even with the very low rates of smoking that we have in Australia, we found that smokers have around threefold the risk of premature death of those who have never smoked. We also found smokers will die an estimated 10 years earlier than non-smokers,” she said.

George Butterworth, tobacco policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s a real concern that the devastation caused by smoking may be even greater than we previously thought.”

“Earlier research has shown, as a conservative estimate, one in two long term smokers die from smoking related diseases in the UK, but these new Australian figures show a higher risk.”

“Smoking habits differ between Australia and the UK in terms of how much people smoke and the age they start, so we can’t conclude that the two-in-three figure necessarily applies to the UK.”

In Australia, about 13% of adults smoke. In the UK, the figure is about 20%.

Health Direct points out that stopping smoking can bring a person’s health risks back down.

Ten years after quitting, risk of lung cancer falls to half that of a smoker and risk of heart attack falls to the same as someone who has never smoked, according to NHS Smokefree.

A&E waiting times- rise in waiting more than 12 hours

More patients had to wait over 12 hours for treatment at seven of Northern Ireland’s A&E departments in January.

A&E waiting times- rise in waiting more than 12 hoursDepartment of Health figures show that 380 people waited more than 12 hours, compared to 92 in the previous month.

In January, 54,910 people went to emergency departments compared to 56,656 in December. The Ulster Hospital had the biggest rise in those waiting longer than 12 hours and Antrim Area Hospital had the biggest fall.

There was also a fall in the percentage of people seen and treated within four hours, from 73.5% in December to 71.4% in January. The target is 95%.

Figures released in December showed that Northern Ireland was the worst performing region in the UK for seeing patients in emergency departments within the four hour target.

The Health and Social Care Board said it had been a challenging month, with significant pressures during the first week of January coming after a two week period of substantially increased demand.

Chief executive Valerie Watts said delays were regrettable, but “it must be noted that significantly fewer people are waiting over 12 hours in emergency departments, compared to five years ago”.

“In 2011/12, over 10,000 patients waited longer than 12 hours in our emergency departments – that had almost halved in 2012-13 to 5,500 and was just over 3,000 last year,” she said.

Ms Watts said the board had been working closely with trusts to alleviate pressures in emergency departments and throughout the hospital system.

Winter deaths- why are they higher this year?

There has been a considerable increase in the numbers of people dying in England and Wales so far this year.

Winter deaths- why are they higher this year?The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says that in the first six weeks of 2015 just over 82,000 deaths were registered- which is 23% higher than the average from the previous five years.

The ONS recently published the graph above, which compares the last week in December and first three weeks in January for the last 16 years.

First of all, while we are currently well above the average for the past five years, we are at about the same level as we were in winter 2008-09.

Secondly, the spike for this year is exaggerated somewhat by last year, when there was the smallest number of Excess Winter Deaths since records began in 1950.

Excess Winter Deaths are the number of people whose deaths were registered between December and March, compared with the numbers for the previous four months and the following four months.

Thirdly, while the figures are high by recent standards, they are dwarfed by the levels in 1999-2000, which was the last year classified as a flu epidemic. An epidemic year is one in which more than 200 people per 100,000 go to see their GPs with flu-like symptoms.

We know that flu has played a part in this year’s high numbers.

Public Health England’s analysis says that the high number of deaths, “coincides with circulating influenza and cold snaps”, with the over-65s particularly hard hit by the strains of the virus spreading this year.

It also appears that this winter’s flu vaccine has been less effective than usual, which is suspected to be contributing.

But as for cold snaps, the temperature this winter was a bit warmer than average in December, close to average in January and only slightly below average in February, according to this blog from the Met Office on Wednesday.

It’s possible that deaths have been relatively low for five years and coincidentally have been a bit higher this year.

In short- Health Direct doesn’t statistically know- we will get a better idea when the breakdown of causes of death are published later in the year.

Obese could lose benefits if they refuse treatment

People who do work because they are obese or have alcohol or drug problems could have their benefits cut if they refuse treatment.

Obese could lose benefits if they refuse treatment David Cameron has launched a review of the current benefits system, which he says fails to encourage people with long term, treatable issues to get medical help.

Some 100,000 people with such conditions claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the government says.

There is currently no requirement for people with alcohol, drug or weight-related health problems to undertake treatment.

Mr Cameron has asked Prof Dame Carol Black-  an adviser to the Department of Health, to look at whether it would be appropriate to withhold benefits from those who are unwilling to accept help.

Announcing the proposal, he said: “Some people have drug or alcohol problems, but refuse treatment. In other cases people have problems with their weight that could be addressed – but instead a life on benefits rather than work becomes the choice.”

“It is not fair to ask hardworking taxpayers to fund the benefits of people who refuse to accept the support and treatment that could help them get back to a life of work.”

David Cameron sees the wide-ranging welfare reforms introduced in this Parliament as part of a “moral mission”. He has said they give new hope to people who have been written off by helping them back to work.

Similar proposals have been considered by the government before- in 2010 and 2012 the Conservatives considered plans to remove or cut benefits for drug and alcohol addicts who refused treatment.

At the time the plans were met with concern by charities, who said there was no evidence benefit sanctions would help addicts engage with treatment.

Disabilities Minister Mark Harper said people who were overweight or had alcohol or drug problems needed treatment to get back to work

ESA was introduced in 2008 to replace incapacity benefit and income support, paid because of an illness or disability. It requires claimants to undertake a work capability assessment to see how much their illness or disability affects their ability to work.

Once a claim is accepted, those receiving ESA get up to £108.15 a week. Some 60% of the 2.5 million people claiming ESA have been doing so for more than five years, government figures show.