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Medicine of the future

Test to see if you’ll get statins side-effects – available 2020

Eight million people take statins in the UK, which help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attack, but many suffer side effects. A major study of more than 100,000 people who’d been prescribed statins from 2000 to 2008 found that 17 percent of patients reported side effects such as muscle pain, nausea, and liver and nervous system problems, tiredness or shortness of breath.

Two-thirds of those who reported side effects stopped taking the drugs, and, the study found, half of those prescribed statins quit taking them at least temporarily, while 20 per cent quit for more than a year. However, the British Heart Foundation points out the vast majority of people who take them will not have a problem.

Now a team at Dundee University are developing a simple saliva and blood test that looks for particular compounds that predict whether someone will suffer adverse reactions when they take these pills. The scientists are hoping a commercially available test could become a reality by 2020.

New proton beam therapy centres – available 2017

Proton beam therapy is a highly accurate form of radiotherapy which can target tumours without destroying surrounding tissue.  Planned NHS proton beam therapy centres at University College London Hospital and the Christie Hospital in Manchester, are due to open over the next several years.

At the present time, there are no proton beam centres in the UK, with the exception of a centre at Clatterbridge which only treats ocular cancers. Over 100 children each year are sent to centres overseas by the NHS but it is not known how many adults seek treatment privately.

‘The new technology is exciting because it offers a new way of tackling the problem and it will definitely improve the precision of radiotherapy. We are receiving funding from different countries to create a global network of proton centres,’ explains Professor Karol Sikora, who is part of a team hoping to open a private treatment centre in West London.

The therapy hit the headlines in 2014 when the parents of 5-year-old Aysha King took him abroad to get proton beam treatment for his brain tumour.

Patients who will benefit will be those who have aggressive tumours in areas including the brain or prostate which are hard to treat with normal radiotherapy, due to the high risk of damaging healthy neighbouring tissue.

Cheaper ‘shoebox’ IVF – available to couples on trials

A new trial which started in October 2014 means that British couples will get access to a relatively cheap system of IVF which has been nicknamed ‘shoebox IVF.’

Couples prepared to pay £1,000 per cycle (about a third of the cost of IVF to the NHS) will be able to try for a baby using a system known as the Simplified Culture System. In normal IVF, one of the biggest obstacles is the cost of the complex, sophisticated labs where “in vitro” egg fertilisation takes place. But the new system doesn’t require medical grade incubators and other equipment. Instead, it is an undisturbed completely sealed, sterile ‘toolkit’ which replicates these lab conditions in a ‘shoebox-sized’ environment and there is no need for a full laboratory.

A shoebox-sized IVF kit could help drive down the cost of IVF by as much as 80 per cent. The IVF kit has been trialled in Belgium since 2012/

Dr Willem Ombelet, head of the trial, says results indicate fertilisation and pregnancy rates are similar to expensive IVF methods.

Headset to help people ‘see’ – available to people on trials

Microsoft have developed a headset that helps those with poor sight navigate towns and cities. The headset uses GPS mapping data as well as sending out special beams to detect nearby obstacles such as lamp-posts, so it can help the wearer safely walk around the streets.

It has already undergone early trials.

The charity, Guide Dogs, which helped develop the technology, said it could help improve lives. ‘We have shown that the system works and now more work needs to be done to refine it,’ explains Liz Marshall, senior communications officer of Guide Dogs.

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