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15 things we didn't know a year ago

Tagged In:  Health

There have been quite a few major breakthroughs and developments in the world of healthcare over the last 12 months. Here are our top picks (in no particular order)...

1.  Fighting cancer from within

Cancer Research UK scientists have published a study that shows how the body's own immune system can be targeted to recognise and destroy cancer cells.

2.  Why elephants don't get cancer

American researchers think they may have discovered why elephants seem to be immune to cancer. Apparently, elephants have 20 copies of a tumour-fighting gene called p53, while humans and other mammals only have one.

3.  Dogs can help kids avoid asthma

A Swedish study suggests that children who live with a dog for the first year of their lives have a 13% lower chance of developing asthma. However, exposure to man's best friend is still to be avoided by children who have already developed the disease. 

4.  Body clock? How about body calendar?

A research team from the Universities of Manchester and Edinburgh have identified 17,000 cells in the human pituitary gland that gradually switch between producing 'winter' chemicals and 'summer' chemicals. This creates a kind of 'chemical calendar' inside the body.

5.  A simpler cure for cataracts

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness globally. Now scientists in California have developed eye drops that simply melt the cataracts away. If they are approved and developed commercially, it could save millions of operations worldwide.

6.  Using polio to fight cancer

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted 'breakthrough therapy' status to a pioneering cancer therapy that uses re-engineered polio virus to treat brain tumours.

7.  New hope for Alzheimer's cure

A new study by the USA's Duke University School of Medicine has significantly advanced understanding of Alzheimer's disease. Using mice, researchers found that cells that should protect the brain begin to consume a vital nutrient called arginine, and this process could be blocked with drugs.

8.  'No safe alcohol limit'

In January this year the UK government changed its alcohol guidelines, suggesting a maximum of 14 units per week for both men and women. They were responding to the publication of a new review by the Committee on Carcinogenicity (CoC), which said that drinking any level of alcohol increases the risk of a range of cancers.

9.  Hand hygiene – six steps are better than three

Researchers at Glasgow University compared the three-step hand washing technique advocated by the Centers for Disease Control with the World Health Organization's six-step alternative. Read more in this previous blog post.

10.  Government goes for sugar tax

In March this year, Chancellor George Osborne unexpectedly announced a new tax on sugary drinks. Read more in this previous blog post.

11.  New vaccine for dengue virus

In December 2015 the world's first ever dengue virus vaccine was registered in Mexico. The World Health Organization has approved the vaccine, but has recommended it is only used in areas where the disease is highly endemic.

12.  Pacemakers can be wireless

In April the US FDA approved a new pacemaker that doesn't have wired leads between the pulse-generator and the heart. The self-contained 2cm-long device is implanted directly in the right ventricle.

13.  Virtual reality could help combat depression

Immersive virtual reality therapy could help people with depression to be less critical and more compassionate towards themselves, reducing depressive symptoms. That's the main finding of a joint research project by University College London and ICREA-University of Barcelona.

14. Hoorah! Chocolate could be good for you!

It's the piece of medical advice we've all been waiting for: regularly eating a small amount of chocolate could help you avoid type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that participants who ate 100g of chocolate a day had reduced insulin resistance and improved liver enzymes.

15. Happiness is genetic

A massive study of almost 300,000 people in 17 countries has found three genetic variants associated with how happy a person thinks or feels about his or her life. Researchers also found two genes associated with depression.

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