Small study shows vaginal microbiota can be partially restored for babies born via caesarean
A PILOT study has demonstrated that vaginal microbes can be partially restored in babies delivered by a caesarean section. The small study, published this week in Nature Medicine, set up a vaginal microbial transfer, where four caesarean delivered babies were swabbed with gauze that had been incubating in their mother’s vagina for an hour prior to the birth. They then compared the babies’ microbiota with seven c-section infants not exposed to vaginal fluids and seven babies born vaginally. They found that after 30 days, c-section infants exposed to vaginal fluids had the microbiota more similar to vaginally born infants than to c-section born infants not exposed to vaginal fluids. However they also noted that not all the microbes transferred. Associate Professor Andrew Holmes from the Discipline of Microbiology in the School of Molecular Bioscience and the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney says the paper is “essentially meaningless in terms of scientific insight or clinical application”. He says that there wasn’t enough data collected to make a meaningful comment and that the authors were testing a solution to a problem that few in the field felt was a significant issue. More at doctorportal.

Genes of human embryos to be edited for research
SCIENTISTS in Britain have been given a licence to edit the genes of human embryos. Kathy Niakan, a stem cell scientist from London’s Francis Crick Institute was given permission by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to do the work, which “will be for research purposes and will look at the first seven days of a fertilised egg’s development, from a single cell to around 250 cells”. The experiments will be carried out using CRISPR-Cas9, a technology that is the subject of fierce debate over fears it could be used to create “designer babies”. The technology can enable scientists to find and replace genetic defects. Niakan says she has no plans to genetically alter embryos for human reproduction. Instead she is aiming to increase scientific understanding of how a human embryo develops. She said this is something that could help improve fertility treatments in the long term. Bruce Whitelaw, a professor of animal biotechnology at Edinburgh University’s Roslin Institute in Scotland, said the HFEA’s decision had been reached “after robust assessment”. “This project, by increasing our understanding of how the early human embryo develops and grows, will add to the basic scientific knowledge needed for devising strategies to assist infertile couples and reduce the anguish of miscarriage,” he said. More at doctorportal.

Significant delays from referral to treatment for lung cancer
RESEARCH published in the MJA has shown that significant delays exist at various stages of the patient journey after referral for initial definitive management of lung cancer in Victoria. The median time from referral to diagnosis was 15 days; from diagnosis to initial definitive management, 30 days; and from referral to initial definitive management, 53 days. Factors that were significantly associated with delay between referral and initial definitive management included declining or not being referred to palliative care, and being treated in a public hospital. The median time from referral to initial definitive management in public and private hospitals was 61 days and 30 days respectively; 48% of patients in public hospitals waited longer than the British National Health Service target of a maximum 62 days between referral and first definitive treatment. “Having a greater understanding of these delays will enable strategies to be developed that improve the timeliness of care for patients with lung cancer,” concluded the researchers, from Monash University and the Alfred Hospital, in Melbourne. Listen to a podcast with one of the research authors, Associate Professor Sue Evans.

Asbestos still a challenge for Australian clinicians
The unique properties of asbestos that still make it valuable for industry make it extremely hazardous to health, and a continuing challenge for Australian health practitioners, say the authors of an editorial published in the MJA. More people are being identified with pleural plaques from minor asbestos exposure, thanks to improved technology. “Although overall rates of MM [malignant mesothelioma] in Australia have levelled off at around 50 per million per annum in men and tenfold less in women, the pattern of exposure of patients with MM is changing … Since prohibition of the production and importation of asbestos in Australia in 2004, patterns of workforce and domestic exposure have further changed. Increasingly, claimants are presenting with MM arising solely from domestic exposure … As exposure to asbestos in the community declines, it will be increasingly unlikely that clinicians will be mindful of the condition and diligent in taking an asbestos exposure history.”

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