News round-up 30 September

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29th September 2022 about a 6 minute read

Over the past few years, there have been numerous unsuccessful trials of Alzheimer’s drugs. Now, however, a new drug is showing promising signs of being able to halt the progress of the disease. Other good news this week includes the development of MRI technology that can speed up diagnosis of heart failure, and the publication of a new framework to improve the use of health care data in research. Less happily, experts have warned that the UK could be in for an early flu season which, combined with a new Covid wave, could make for a hard winter.

New drug appears to slow Alzheimer’s disease

Trials show that a new drug, lecanemab, is successful in slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.

The drug, made by the pharmaceutical companies Eisai and Biogen, appears to slow the pace of the brain’s decline when given in the early stages of the disease.

The drug is designed to remove clumps of toxic beta-amyloid proteins that build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. In the trial, 1,795 volunteers in the early stages of Alzheimer’s were injected with lecanemab every two weeks and regularly had their memory and mental agility tested. The pace of cognitive decline was reduced by 27% over the course of the 18-month trial, compared with people given a placebo. 

Experts warn that the UK must prepare for an early wave of flu

The UK can expect a big wave of flu to arrive early this year, experts say, based on Australia’s recent winter experience.

Australia and other southern hemisphere countries have had their most rampant flu season for several years, probably because people started mixing more after the easing of Covid restrictions. They had little immunity to the flu virus after a break from the disease.

At the same time, the UK’s chief medical adviser, Dr Susan Hopkins, told BBC News that Covid cases “looked like they were turning in all four nations in the UK” and that she believed the UK was “starting to see our autumn wave of Covid.” The NHS director for vaccinations and screening, Steve Russell, urged people who are susceptible to serious illness from the two viruses to get vaccinated against both.

CQC triggers two reviews into whistleblowing concerns

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has commissioned an independent review into the handling of a whistleblower case, after surgeon Shyam Kuma won a tribunal case against the regulator.

The tribunal, held earlier this month, found that Mr Kuma had been unfairly dismissed as a special adviser on hospital inspections after he had raised serious patient safety concerns. Between 2015 and his dismissal in 2019 Mr Kumar wrote to senior colleagues at the CQC with a number of concerns about University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust, where he worked, and the quality of CQC hospital inspections. The tribunal drew particular attention to the two whistleblowing disclosures made by Mr Kumar about the CQC itself, which it found “clearly had a material influence on the decision to dismiss”.

New framework proposed to improve use of health care data in research

An international team of researchers has proposed a framework to improve the integrity and quality of studies using structured healthcare data from electronic health records.

The CODE-EHR framework, which has been published in the BMJ, Lancet Digital Health and European Heart Journal, was coordinated by the BigData@Heart consortium and the European Society of Cardiology. It included patients, patient advocacy groups, regulators, government agencies, leading medical journals, and representatives from professional societies, academic institutions, the pharmaceutical industry and payers.

The aim of the framework is to provide researchers with step-by-step guidance on how to achieve appropriate governance and transparency, while also enabling stakeholders to be confident in findings. It outlines minimum standards in five areas: dataset construction and linkage; data fit for purpose; disease outcome and definitions; analysis; and ethics and governance.

University of East Anglia develops MRI technology to diagnose heart failure

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have developed a technology that uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to diagnose heart failure more quickly.

The Kat-ARC 4D heart flow MRI creates detailed 4D flow images of the heart in just eight minutes, compared to the 20 minutes taken by a conventional MRI. The image created shows the heart valves and blood flow inside the heart, helping doctors to determine the best course of treatment for their patients.

The technology has so far been used on 50 cardiology patients from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. The researchers believe it will benefit hospitals and patients worldwide.

Digital technologies can enable better collaboration in integrated care systems

Digital technologies can enable better collaboration and joined-up services between health and care partners in integrated care systems (ICSs) and provider collaboratives, a new King’s Fund report has found.

The report, Interoperability is more than technology: The role of culture and leadership in joined-up care, explored what is needed for interoperability to progress in an ICS setting, using existing literature and a combination of interviews and workshops with staff in the health and care system and national bodies.

It found that interoperability has three aspects vital for success: good co-working relationships between staff; technology that makes co-working as easy as possible; and an enabling environment, in which funding, capacity, skills, education and governance are aligned.

It recommended that leaders should work collectively to minimise power dynamics, and that staff should be supported to lead change projects. It also said that communications were an important tool to reinforce a collaborative working culture.

Preventable cancers diagnosed in 400 people every day

More than 400 people are diagnosed with preventable cases of cancer every day in the UK, according to analysis of official data by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).

The analysis found that 387,000 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2019-20, and that 40% of those cases – about 155,000 – could have been avoided through lifestyle changes such as eating more healthily, stopping smoking, losing weight, drinking less alcohol and taking more exercise.