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BBC Radio 4 - Medical Matters

Inside Health

Dr Mark Porter demystifies health issues, separating fact from fiction and bringing clarity to conflicting health advice, with the help of regular contributor GP Margaret McCartney

Inside Health

  • Alzheimer's and Parkinson's research, HPV Vaccine, BRCA genes
    News that the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has pulled out of research into Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease is casting doubt over the future of long promised breakthroughs in this area. Mark Porter hears from two leading experts who explain that due to the complexity of the disease the pharmaceutical industry's single agent 'magic bullet' approach needs to change. And while over the last 15 years nearly every trial into new treatments for Alzheimer's has ended in failure, lifestyle and medical prevention are starting to make a difference. Plus clarity on headlines that women who've had the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer will need far fewer smear tests in future. But how will the national screening programme know for sure who has been vaccinated - and who hasn't? And Margaret McCartney's thoughts on other news that women treated for breast cancer who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations that dramatically increase the risk of developing the disease, are just as likely to survive their illness as women who don't.

  • The Future Heart
    It's fifty years since the first human heart transplant but the number of donor organs - about 200 per year in the UK - remains dwarfed by demand. About 2,000 people under the age of 65 a year will die of heart failure without a transplant. Kevin Fong explores new ways that people with heart failure can be helped. He talks to Dr Doris Taylor, director of the Center for Cell and Organ Biotechnology, at the Texas Heart Institute, in Houston, about her research into growing hearts from stem cells. Kevin discusses the prospect of taking organs from pigs and using them for so-called xenotransplants with cardiothoracic surgeon Prof John Dark, of Newcastle University, who says this approach has not delivered benefits. An alternative to a heart transplant is the left ventricular assist device (LVAD) - an artificial pump that helps the left side of the heart do its job. This has shrunk from a large external piece of kit to a tiny battery-operated device that can be implanted into the chest. For the first year, they are as effective as a transplant, but they have a risk of infection, and they are not always easy to live with. Kevin meets patient Vincenzo Avanzato who had an LVAD that became infected and then a successful transplant. Kevin also talks to surgeon Mr Andre Simon of Harefield Hospital about the future of completely mechanical hearts made of metal and plastic.

  • Flu, Cow's milk allergy, Robotic pharmacy
    What goes into our flu vaccine always has an element of guesswork. Usually the experts get it right but sometimes nature has other ideas and a new strain emerges. Dr John McCauley, Director of the Worldwide Influenza Centre at the Francis Crick Institute in London tells Dr Mark Porter about Aussie flu and how different flu strains pose risks to different groups of people. Cow's milk allergy is the most common food allergy among infants and it affects at least one in 50 babies, toddlers and pre-school children in the UK. It's an allergic reaction to the protein in cow's milk. There are two different types though and one type, called delayed cow's milk allergy, is often missed by health care professionals because it's easily confused with other common conditions. Lucy Wronka tells Inside Health her baby son George was ill for months with reflux, eczema and an upset stomach. It was only a chance meeting with a friend who recognised the symptoms that led to a diagnosis of delayed cow's milk allergy. Twenty four hours after diagnosis and treatment, Lucy says George was a different baby. Dr Adam Fox, paediatric allergist at the Evelina London Children's Hospital explains the difference between the two different types of cow's milk allergy and discusses new guidance for GPs and health visitors which are designed to improve diagnosis. One of Europe's largest robotic pharmacies is housed in Glasgow and this super high-tech hub has replaced fourteen separate pharmacy stores. It handles almost a hundred thousand packs of medicines a week and Inside Health's Dr Margaret McCartney, herself a GP in the city, reports on how this automation has transformed pharmacy services in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

  • Medical detection dogs
    Can dogs smell cancer? Ever since Hippocrates the odour of disease has been used to aid diagnosis but has this simple technique been forgotten? Dr Mark Porter investigates the evidence for whether canine super noses can be used to accurately detect cancer. There have been plenty of anecdotes reported but what about hard science? Studies since 2004 from the Medical Detection Dogs Centre in Milton Keynes have shown convincing results and they've now teamed up with MIT in the US, specialists in 'e-noses'. Could devices the size of a mobile phone be used to sniff for disease?

  • Antibiotics, Statins and Pneumonia, Neurosurgery for Epilepsy
    The Chief Medical Officer has warned of a "post-antibiotic apocalypse" and "the end of modern medicine". As antibiotic resistance increases, the options to treat potentially deadly infections reduces. Inside Health's Dr Margaret McCartney discusses the latest campaign by Public Health England to remind us all not to take antibiotics when they're not needed. It's been over thirty years since there was a breakthrough in the treatment of pneumonia, but that could soon change....and from an surprising source. Researchers in Birmingham at Queen Elizabeth Hospital have been working with the cholesterol-lowering drugs, statins, and discovered that this medication can turbo-charge our immune systems, helping us to fight infection. Dr Liz Sapey, respiratory consultant and researcher tells Dr Mark Porter about the exciting possibility of tablets that cost just a few pence each, being used to treat potentially deadly lung infections like pneumonia. Epilepsy is normally controlled by anti-seizure medication but for a third of patients, pills don't work, and constant fits can have a devastating impact on the developing brain. Neurosurgery - removal or disconnection of parts of the brain where the seizures originate - is now done at a much younger age in patients with untreatable epilepsy. Operating on children takes advantage of brain plasticity. Mark visits Bristol Children's Hospital, one of four national centres which since 2011 have offered increased access to epilepsy surgery. Paediatric neurosurgeon Mike Carter is part of the national drive to operate on children before they are two years old, all to take advantage of brain plasticity. Mark meets 8 year old Lucy, 20 days after she had major surgery to remove a finger-nail sized portion deep in her brain. Lucy's father, Mark Nettle, describes how, before surgery, his daughter had suffered from multiple daily seizures with increasing weakness down the left side of her body. The possibility of ending these debilitating attacks made surgery an attractive option. Producer: Fiona Hill.