Junior doctors’ strike in the UK

Jeremy Hunt, the UK Secretary of State for Health, has urged the junior doctors’ representatives to return to the negotiation table.  This followed the most successful “junior doctors’ strike” in the UK. Doctors are complaining about the working conditions especially the new junior doctors’ contract to be introduced by the government. The contract in its essence increases the workload on doctors and puts patients at risk. There has been worldwide support to the junior doctors’ strike and all efforts have been made to ensure patients’ safety on that day.

Demand for rubber ‘threatens forests’

According to a report, protected forests in Southeast Asia are being threatened due to increasing worldwide demand for rubber tyres.
As swathes of tropical forests make way for rubber plantations, UK researchers say animal life, which is already, endangered, such as birds, bats and primates are at risk. According to Conservation Letters, it is estimated that by 2024, up to 8.5 million hectares of new rubber plantations will have to be created to meet demand. With the destruction of habitats, breeding grounds and food supplies, the impact on wildlife is potentially catastrophic.

Should we care?

The already endangered white-shouldered ibis, yellow-cheeked crested gibbon and clouded leopard are species, particularly under threat, report the team led by Eleanor Warren-Thomas, from the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Can we do anything?

Dr Matthew Struebig, from the University of Kent, declared: “There’s a lot we can do …to make rubber production more wildlife-friendly.” She suggested incentives like agro-forestry – mixing rubber with other trees – to retaining patches of natural vegetation along rivers or in small conservation areas, as in organic farming in Europe. She went on to say: “The tyre industry consumes 70% of all natural rubber grown, and rising demand for vehicle and aeroplane tyres is behind the recent expansion of plantations. But the impact of this is a loss of tropical biodiversity.” 8.5 million hectares is roughly the size of Austria. Surely there’s a legitimate biodiversity concern here? Conservationists believe so. They are concerned that switching use of land to rubber cultivation can harm soil, water and biodiversity. As rubber is the most rapidly expanding tree crop in the Southeast Asia mainland, shouldn’t we take them seriously and halt this intrusion now? The first review of the effects on biodiversity and endangered species of this forest destruction could be compared to the problem that arose with palm oil; it is now linked to the growing tyre market.

The Philippines : The study reported that numbers of bird, bat and beetle species can decline by up to 75% in forests that have been converted to rubber.

Is developing more efficient sustainability initiatives the solution?

The researchers, from UEA and the University of Sheffield, are asking tyre manufacturers to support certification scheme initiatives.

This must surely be key to protecting our forests and wildlife, whilst fulfilling demand, by creating a standard endorsed by the public, and scientists, to manage rubber crops in a more environmentally friendly way?

Gene therapy: ‘Tame HIV’ used to cure disease

A pioneering treatment to correct errors in DNA, has transformed the lives of six boys with a deadly genetic disease, doctors declare. For people suffering Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome (WAS), a defective immune system leaves people susceptible to infections and bleeding.

A British and French study, published in JAMA, has used tamed HIV to correct the irregularities. A child wheelchair-user now has free mobility and there are improvements in other cases. The syndrome affects up to 10 children in every 1 million, almost exclusively boys.

Patients suffering the condition find that tiny bumps and scrapes can lead to wounds that are slow to close. Eczema is often present and they face repeat infections including pneumonia as well as some cancers and autoimmune diseases. It arises from an error in the genetic code that contains the building instructions for a key element in the immune system, a protein called WAS. The main therapy is bone marrow transplant; however that can only be considered when the donor is a close tissue match, such as from a sibling.

Great Ormond Street Hospital, in London, and Necker Children’s Hospital, in France have conducted trials to remove a part of the children’s bone marrow and purify it to find the cells that regenerate the immune system. Afterwards, the corrected bone marrow cells were then inserted back in the children. The outcome was so positive that in six out of seven boys, the therapy was a success. It reversed symptoms and drastically cut the number of nights spent in hospital.

Daniel Wheeler, who is now 15 and from Bristol, was the first British patient. His older brother died from the same condition when he was two-and-a-half. Their mum Sarah told the BBC News website: “Daniel was in and out of hospital, he had frequent infections of ear, chest, flare-ups and bruised joints, and lots of operations.”

Prof Adrian Thrasher, from Great Ormond Street Hospital, told the BBC News website: “I think it is very significant, it is another clear and powerful demonstration that a gene therapy approach is an effective one.” Prof Ian Alexander from the Gene Therapy Research Unit at Sydney’s Children’s Medical Research Institute in Australia said although the work was promising, it was “still early days”.

When all medicine, even Paracetamol, has risks, couldn’t interfering with genetic code bring huge dangers? Several trials have been abandoned as patients developed leukaemia when the modification turned healthy cells cancerous. But those trials did show one thing – the underlying principle worked. Could gene therapy be about to come in from the cold?