Health bites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2012, 12:00am


Diabetes on the increase in China

If you thought that diabetes was a problem that mainly affects the West, think again. A new study has found that childhood diabetes rates are nearly four times higher in China than they are in the United States. The study, a joint project involving The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the National Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety, Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention based on data from 29,000 people over 22 years, found diabetes rates of 1.9 per cent and pre-diabetes rates of 14.9 per cent in Chinese children aged seven to 17. Extrapolated across the entire population, that suggests 1.7 million diabetic children and a further 27.7 million considered pre-diabetic. Researchers say the rise in diabetes incidences parallels increases in cardiovascular risk, and is caused by the population of China becoming increasingly fat.

Preserved in silk

A key hindrance to getting medicines to people in countries with poor infrastructure could become a thing of the past - thanks to the humble silkworm. Researchers at Tufts University School of Engineering in the US have discovered a way to store vaccines and other heat-sensitive medicines, without refrigeration, for months and possibly even years. The secret is a new material made from a silk protein that comes from silkworm cocoons and can be made into a number of different drug-storage devices, including microneedles, microvesicles and films. The ultra-thin material is likened by the researchers to nanoscale bubble wrap. Many drugs lose their potency if not stored at a certain temperature. The MMR vaccine, for example, usually degrades rapidly if not refrigerated, but retained 85 per cent of its potency after being stored for six months in the new silk material at both 37 and 45 degrees Celsius.

You'll need a stroke of luck on weekends

If you go to hospital with a serious condition at the weekend rather than on a weekday, your chances of a good outcome are worse - or at least, they are if you have a stroke in Britain. A study in the Archives of Neurology of stroke patients admitted to hospitals under the British National Health Service found that the chances both of receiving urgent treatment and of things working out well were significantly lower on Saturdays and Sundays. The so-called 'weekend effect' has been identified before with other conditions and in other countries, but never before with stroke. Overall, patients admitted at the weekend did worse on five of the six metrics measured by the study, including rates of same-day brain scans, and of seven-day, in-hospital mortality. That equates to about 350 potentially avoidable in-hospital deaths each year.

Fertility drugs found to reduce breast cancer risk

Using fertility drugs can reduce your risk of breast cancer, as long as the treatment fails. A study published in the US Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that breast cancer rates among women who used the drugs but didn't conceive were significantly lower; while among those who got pregnant, rates were about the same as among women who had never taken them. Researchers believe that natural changes to breast tissue during pregnancy are modified by the drugs. They raise oestrogen levels, usually associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. The study's authors suggest that the specific drug responsible for lowering the risk may be clomiphene, a selective oestrogen receptor modulator. It's cancelled out in successfully treated women because of increased exposure to ovarian hormones and the natural short-term increase in risk caused by pregnancy.