A few months ago the world was looking askance at Sweden. Whilst most countries, both in Scandinavia and the rest of the world, enacted legislation to order an emergency lockdown to control the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweden carried on pretty much as normal. Swedish gyms and restaurants ran business as usual, and even nurseries and schools kept their doors open. The only restrictions the country put in place were a limit on the size of gatherings (a maximum of fifty people) and a ban on visits to care homes. Initially, the enactment of this unusual policy, suggested by the country's chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, saw soaring case numbers and was greeted by the world's concern. The New York Times even went so far as labeling Sweden as the 'pariah state'.
Early predictions forecast the country to have overflowing hospitals and a death rate in the hundreds of thousands, but was never the case. Sweden has had a much lower death and hospitalisation rate than the UK and other European countries. By paying an early price, Sweden hoped to achieve a herd immunity and has seemingly achieved just this, as any second wave in the country looks to be small. The economic benefits of not having locked down are also become apparent, as Sweden's GDP has fallen less than its neighbours and looks to bounce back better than them in 2021. The task force set up by Donald Trump to control Coronavirus in the United States, now cites the Swedish approach as the model for all countries to follow.
The question left for many is how did Sweden achieve this in the face of global panic over this virus? The answer seems to lie in the high levels of trust between the Swedish people and their government. Whilst many Swedes did stay largely at home during the height of the pandemic in March and April, daily life was not disrupted and nor were face masks encouraged. Although America might admire Sweden's results when battling the virus, without the same level citizen faith in state, the policy is unlikely to be as successful when exported to other countries.
Students applying for medicine may wish to study the concept of herd immunity further. Those looking to make applications to Economics courses might be interested in studying the global recession caused by the pandemic.
Researchers have recently discovered new proteins in snail mucus which are thought to be able to fight off harmful bacteria, thus potentially providing a solution to antibiotic resistance, the phenomenon during which harmful bacteria becomes unresponsive to drugs that could previously defeat them.
In their study, the researchers collected mucus from common garden snails (known as ‘Cornu aspersum’) and found that the snails’ mucus was able to inhibit a variety of strains of the ‘superbug’ bacterium, ‘Pseudomonas aeruginosa’, which had come from individuals with cystic fibrosis-related infections. The study yielded some interesting results, with four previously unknown proteins in snail mucus being discovered. Further, two of these proteins appear to exhibit strong antimicrobial properties, especially against aggressive and harmful strains of the bacterium, which is known to be a germ resistant to strong antibiotics and can cause lung infections in patients with cystic fibrosis and infections in skin wounds.
Co-author of the study, Dr. Sarah Pitt from the University of Brighton, explained how they went about conducting the study: ‘we tried all the control strains of P. aeruginosa we have available […] as well as five strains taken from patients [with cystic fibrosis] who had lung infections with this bacterium’. The researchers thus separated proteins from the snail mucus and then tested each of them, controlling for antibacterial properties.
These findings open up a multitude of possibilities for more therapeutic approaches to treatment, and scientists are optimistic that, in the foreseeable future, they may be able to transform these proteins with healing potential into ground-breaking treatments for humans.
Students applying for Biological Sciences, along with those planning to apply to Medicine, can delve deeper into exploration of these novel discoveries and contemplate how such research can lead to pioneering scientific developments within the medical community.
Every year, about 131 million cases of chlamydia are diagnosed worldwide. Chlamydia, a sexually transmitted infection (STI), can be treated with antibiotics. However, the infection often has no symptoms and hence many people are unaware they even have it – it is hence deemed to be ‘a hidden epidemic’. Without adequate treatment, it can lead to a range of complications among men and women alike, including fertility issues and an increased risk of HIV.
A recent clinical trial has led to the development of a vaccine which protects against chlamydia – this innovation ensures researchers and medical practitioners are one step closer to a reality in which the provision of a safe and effective vaccine against the STI is possible.
During the randomised controlled trial, led by Imperial College, London and the Statens Serum Institut based in Copenhagen, the vaccine, which was administered to participants, successfully provoked an immune response, boosting levels of antibodies against the chlamydia bacterium in both the blood and vaginal fluids. Further, the results of the trial showed no serious adverse reactions to the vaccines given, suggesting it may be safe to administer to populations on a larger scale. The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Frank Follmann, suggests that the vaccination could provide sufficient protection against the STI and that, although the novel vaccine is still in an early stage of development, the promising trial results ensure that testing can proceed to the next stage, with a larger number of participants.
Students planning to apply for Human Sciences, along with those applying for Biology as well as for Medicine, can consider how pioneering developments in scientific research such as this one may contribute to paving the way for a healthier, safer world population in the future.
Scientists have calculated an ‘ultimate endurance limit’ - how much energy a person can healthily use every day - through analysing participants of multiple elite events.
The study began by looking at Race Across the USA, an event where athletes run from California to Washington, covering a total of 3,080 miles in 140 days. Participants were running six marathons a week for months. They also monitored cyclists in the Tour de France and an Antarctic trekker.
The results were published in Science Advances and concluded that using 2.5 the body’s resting metabolic rate was the limit; anything above this could not be sustained long term. To contextualise this, in a marathon, runners use 15.6 times their resting metabolic rate, and cyclists used 4.9 times theirs, for the 23 days of the competition.
This indicates that although you can perform high intensity exercise such as a marathon, your long-term endurance will not build up past this limit regardless of your training: even the fittest person cannot run marathons daily without problems arising.
Dr Pontzer, who worked on the research, highlighted its use for athletes: “knowing where your ceiling is allows you to pace yourself smartly… it is most applicable to training regimes and thinking whether they fit with the long-term metabolic limits of the body”.
Other things of note in the research include that pregnant women are functioning at 2.2 times their resting metabolic rate, making them close to pro-athletes in terms of endurance. It is also suggested that the cap is because of the human digestive system; it may be that we are not able to digest food at a rate that would fuel us for anything more intense.
Medicine applicants might be interested in how this information might relate to healthcare for very active individuals, and what this might reveal to us about the digestive system and the metabolic system.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has updated its global manual of diagnoses, removing transgender health issues from the category of mental and behavioural disorders.
In the new manual, ICD-11, gender incongruence is defined as a marked and persistent incongruence between a person’s experienced gender and assigned sex. In the previous manual, this was classified as a gender identity disorder, listed under the chapter that discussed mental and behavioural disorders.
Dr Lale Say is a reproductive health expert working at WHO. She states that the change is a result of “a better understanding that this was not actually a mental health condition”, and that it will act to “reduce the stigma”.
There have been some positive responses to the changes. Graeme Reid from the Human Rights Watch feels that they will have a ‘liberating effect on transgender people worldwide’. He also stated that governments should change their medical systems and laws accordingly.
However, there are some remaining concerns. Over 50 intersex organisations have signed a joint statement criticising the WHO for terming variations in sex development as ‘disorders of sex development’.
Medical applicants may be interested in researching this along with other changes made in the updated manual, and reflecting on how medical definitions develop over time. Human and Behavioural Sciences and Psychology applicants might be prompted to consider how we define ‘disorders’.
Scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute have identified 600 new ‘weak-spots’ in cancer by dismantling lab-grown tumours.
The team disabled every genetic instruction inside 30 different type of cancer, one by one, to establish which ones were essential to the cancer’s survival – and so provide a way of treating the disease.
These vulnerabilities may provide a way of offering personalised cancer medicine. Currently, drugs used to treat cancer patients, such as chemotherapy, work on the whole body and so can have serious side effects.
One of the researchers, Dr Fiona Behan, has personal experience of this; her mother died of cancer after her first round of chemotherapy left her heart too weak to continue treatment. Dr Behan has stated that she feels this research will open the way for developing drugs that target only the cancer and leave the healthy tissue unaffected.
The research identified 6000 genes that is necessary for the survival of at least one type of cancer. However, a number of these are beyond the capabilities of our current science. There are also some we are already aware of, and others are also required in healthy cells. This leaves 600 vulnerabilities that we could develop drugs for.
This work is a result of another collaboration between technology and science, using the programme Crispr. It has opened doors to a wide range of genetic modification, making it possible to quickly and cheaply alter DNA.
Crispr previously caused controversy when last year it was used to genetically modify two babies in China to protect them against HIV. Prof He Jiankui was condemned by several other scientists; this included Dr Helen O’Neill, programme director of Reproductive Science and Women’s Health at University College, who highlighted that Prof He was in fact going against a global ban in his work.
Engineering applicants may be interested to consider the multiple uses that a piece of advanced technology can have, and the ethical considerations that come into play. Aspiring medics may be interested in considering the way that cancer treatment has developed, as well as the role that technology has in modern medicine.
Last Thursday saw the first episode of the BBC’s new programme, Our Dementia Choir - a show that follows a choir of dementia sufferers, put together by Vicky McClure in the hope of improving their quality of life.
McClure arranged this in memory of her grandmother, who suffered from the condition and died in 2015. The actress said that she noticed how music, especially singing together, appeared to raise her grandmother’s mood.
The choir is made up of 18 people, all living in and around Nottingham, where McClure grew up, and they all live with a form of dementia.
Dementia covers any progressive change in someone’s thinking abilities and can manifest itself in various ways – including changes in memory, language, emotion and behaviour. The effects depend on what causes it and what parts of the brain are damaged.
We are most familiar with Alzheimer’s disease, which covers 60% of dementia sufferers, most of whom are over 65. However, there are three other types: vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia.
There are more and more studies suggesting that music can help individuals with dementia live happier lives. Vicky McClure’s choir took part in one of these studies, run by Sebastian Crutch, professor in neuropsychology at the Dementia Research Centre, University College London. The study looked how music and visual art can affect people with dementia.
During the study, they measured physical indicators, such as the heart-rate of the participants when they sang, and asked them questions afterwards to assess their own views on their mood and well-being. Both elements of the study indicated a positive effect, including a lower level of agitation, which is common in dementia sufferers.
Both Medicine and Psychology applicants might be interested in the links between music and neurological health. They also might be interested in the methods used to assess the wellbeing of dementia sufferers, and how medical professionals must sometimes focus on improving quality of life when it is not possible to cure a disease.