PSR in the spotlight
AUSTRALIA’S beleaguered Medicare watchdog, the Professional Standards Review, will itself be reviewed after the collapse of 39 investigations into doctors’ prescribing and referral practices, The Australian reports. An increased workload, and pressure from the federal government to rein in health inflation, have exposed cracks in the PSR and left it unable to function as intended. Last November, PSR director Dr Tony Webber was forced to ask for the resignation of the agency’s review panel — deputy directors who head the committees that investigate doctors — because of flaws in the appointment process.

Earthquake impact on aged
THE devastating impact of the Japanese earthquake on the country’s ageing population has been exposed as dozens of elderly people were confirmed dead in hospitals and residential homes as heating fuel and medicine ran out, The Age reports. In one particularly shocking incident, members of Japan’s self-defence force discovered 128 elderly people abandoned by medical staff at a hospital six miles from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. Most were comatose and 14 died shortly after they were found. Eleven others were found dead at a retirement home in Kesennuma because of freezing temperatures.

Medicine deaths
MEDICINE-related deaths are killing more people than heart attacks or cancer, The Australian reports. About half a million Australians experience an adverse effect from their prescription medication every year, says pharmacist Ken Lee, whose study “How Safe is Your Prescription?” was launched at the Australian Pharmacy Professional Conference. His research shows about 190 000 hospital admissions a year are associated with medicines and their harmful side effects.

EPO for brain
A DRUG usually in the headlines when top athletes are found out as substance cheats could soon be helping people to recover from a traumatic brain injury, the West Australian reports. Australian scientists are involved in a global effort looking at whether erythropoietin — otherwise known as EPO — can boost the brain’s recently discovered ability to heal itself. Associate Professor Cristina Morganti-Kossmann, from the National Trauma Research Institute at The Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, which is about to start a 3-year study on brain healing linked to EPO, said it had been shown there was a small number of new neurones that were generated continuously, even in adult life.

Protein diet concerns
THE high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets many people turn to for weight loss might have potentially harmful long-term effects, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. In a small study of 17 obese men, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, UK researchers found that a protein-heavy, low-carb diet created certain changes in the colon that could, over time, increase colon cancer risk. The study looked only at short-term shifts in certain compounds that are by-products of metabolism and thought to be either cancer-protective or hazardous, and not actual disease risk.

Remote areas miss out
RURAL health providers fear the 3% of Australians living in remote areas who would benefit most from broadband access will be further disadvantaged by the satellite services provided under the National Broadband Network, The Australian reports. National Rural Health Alliance chairwoman Jennifer May has told an inquiry into the NBN that the relative disadvantage of those in rural and remote areas would be further enshrined if they missed out on the advantages of the broadband network.

Sperm secrets revealed
SCIENTISTS have uncovered the mechanism behind how sperm cells zero in on an egg and fertilise it, ABC News reports. The discovery could lead to the development of non-hormone-based contraceptives for men and women that do not have side effects. According to two studies published in Nature progesterone activates a calcium ion channel, known as CatSper, which is found in the sperm’s tail or flagellum.

Fish lowers AMD risk
A NEW study reports yet another good reason to eat fish: women whose diet was rich in omega-3 fatty acids found in fish were at significantly lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, the New York Times reports. The study, published in Archives of Ophthalmology, found that women who reported eating one or more servings of fish a week were significantly less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration than those who ate less than a serving each month.

Parkinson’s therapy
TREATING Parkinson’s disease with gene therapy has been shown to be successful in clinical trials for the first time, BBC News reports. A small study published in The Lancet Neurology used a virus to add genes to brain cells, which resulted in reduced symptoms for half of the patients. Parkinson’s UK welcomed the study, but said further research was needed.

Coffee a health food?
COFFEE has been blamed for heart problems, higher cholesterol and hyperactivity but researchers now believe it should be put in the category of health food, the Boston Globe reports. A study published in Stroke finds that drinking coffee lowers stroke risk in women by 22%–25% over a decade. “I think it’s actually more healthful than tea,” contends Professor Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Posted 21 March 2011

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