Sunday, 18 March 2012


"A 20-minute drive away from Amsterdam" ( there is a trial going on to develop a town for dementia sufferers nicknamed 'dementiaville'. There are plans for a "£17million village to house dementia sufferers in a fake reality where carers are disguised as gardeners, hairdressers and shop assistants" ( to be built in Switzerland. The idea is that the residents of the village "150 patients in 23 homes" ( feel safe in the environment that is like their past, since the village is "being designed along the lines of the 1950s-style" ( with the carers overseeing them in a friendly environment that also makes them secure because the carers act as their friends rather than as nurses.

At the moment the only thing to go by on how well the idea for a dementia village would work is by the trial that is going on in the Netherlands. The residents of that village "pay £4,000 monthly to live in a world they think is normal" ( The reasons for carrying out the Dutch project and why plans have been drawn up for the Swiss village are because: we live in an ageing world with a number of nations with ageing populations and we need ways of dealing with this population balance that is beneficial to them and also to society. Another reason is that the Dutch experiment village has proved that "people with dementia are often restless and aggressive, but at Hogewey (Netherlands) they are relaxed and content" (; this is because in dementia, sufferers "often have difficulty remembering what is happening at present but usually have firm memories of the past" (, so the theme of the village puts the patients at ease.

I think that the idea is a fantastic one having had experience of volunteering in a dementia care home. I have noticed (as it says in the Daily Mail article) that they are happy and content to talk about their past lives, which they have a very good memory of, but cannot remember things such as what they did yesterday or what they had for lunch, the things in the short term. The other huge advantage of the idea is that the dementia sufferers get to continue the lives they used to have; because otherwise they tend to sit in a care home feeling sorry for themselves and unhappy whilst being quite inactive. But if they are in an atmosphere where people like them are living 'normal lives' like they used to then they can enjoy their time as much as possible, instead of living isolated in a care home. So overall I think that this could prove to be a good alternative to care homes in the long run and is beneficial to both the patients and the patients families (who see that their family member in the village is more comfortable than in a care home).

"Some patients from wealthy backgrounds are made to believe their carers are servants, while others of working-class origin believe their carers are extended family members. The overall effect has been to convince the residents that they are not really patients but neighbours" ( This illustrates the fact that the idea has been a success because of the belief that the patients have in thinking that the scenario is real and suggests that it may be a good model for the future.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Ethics of Cloning

Based on the story of the goat that was successfully cloned called Noori (referred to in 'News Round Up'), I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the ethical side of cloning humans.

Cloning is a very touchy subject in science because there are lots of opinions but very little has actually been carried out. We have no idea of the effects of cloning on humans (reproductive cloning), because it has never been performed, and laws are very strict on the matter, with the UN, EU, Australia and the US all prohibiting the cloning of human embryos and some even prohibiting therapeutic cloning (using cells from adults) where the "embryo would be allowed to grow for perhaps 14 days. It's stem cells would then be extracted and encouraged to grow into a piece of human tissue or a complete human organ for transplant" (

There are a number of opinions from religious and non-religious people that on cloning with some thinking it would be beneficial and others thinking that the risks/arguments against are too great.

Beneficial/Arguments For;
1. Research into cloning could lead to new scientific developments that could greatly aid our understanding such as developing new technologies. Therapeutic cloning has already helped us towards understanding the uses of stem cells and how useful they could be to us, so who knows how reproductive cloning could help us.
2. There are theories that it could be harmful to the clone but until it is proven then this can only be assumed as a precaution for not carrying out reproductive cloning. Of course it has to be taken into consideration because of the ethics to do with allowing the clone to go through excessive pain.
3. One of the biggest benefits that reproductive cloning could provide is in "the manipulation of genes, embryos can be created free of inherited genetic disorders or predispositions" ( This could provide a pathway to eradicating inherited diseases such as Huntington's disorder.

Risks/Arguments Against;
1. The theory of cloning being harmful could prove true and it could lead to a child with deformities or internal abnormalities and could cause the clone great pain and in the worst case scenario may have to be sacrificed. There are safety concerns with all forms of new medical techniques and this would be no different for cloning. Rigorous testing of equipment and procedure would have to be analysed. 
2. This leads to a religious argument that is quite often used in the cloning debate which is; by cloning humans, scientists are 'playing God' because they are doing the job of God by creating a new human being.
3. Psychological damage to the child may occur in the child because of the media attention that would undoubtedly be drawn to the first cloned human being but this could be avoided slightly by using Privacy Laws and government protection.
4. Another religious argument is that 'life begins at conception' which would be at the point when the embryo cells are cloned to produce the cloned cells. If the cells were then discarded or 'killed' then some may oppose and say that a 'new life has been destroyed' (as they do in IVF). Although this argument can be avoided as sometimes a time period of 14 days is specified and that after those 14 days the cells are a new human being.
5. "Adaptation in genes allows human beings to strengthen themselves against diseases and the environment. Cloning would limit this ability severely. Copying something generally weakens it, and scientists have found this true of cloning. All cloned animals have died early of diseases or genetic issues" ( which is an argument in its own right.

It is clear from the small amount of ethical factors that I have discussed and taken into account that I am only scraping the surface of the arguments. In my opinion I think that there are a lot of things that could go wrong, as has happened in the cloning of animals, and illustrated by number five of the 'risks'. Although I do not believe in the 'life begins at conception' argument I would say that it would not be at all ethical if we got to the stage where a clone was produced for it to die prematurely. If scientists could either illustrate this issue or maybe develop the technique of cloning animals to a point where they are confident it could be successfully replicated in humans. What are your thoughts?

News Round Up

A couple of stories, "PIP Breast Implants" and "Worldwide Flu Pandemic?", that I have covered in the last two months have come up again in the news recently with new developments.

Firstly in the "PIP Breast Implant" story, the BBC reported that "Lloyds TSB refunds cost of woman's faulty breast implants" ( Lloyds paid out £3,700 to the lady "on the grounds she was sold faulty goods" ( This is the first story I can find of someone being refunded the money that they paid for the faulty PIP breasts but the private clinics that fitted them are still refusing to pay out to the patients.

Secondly when I wrote the "Worldwide Flu Pandemic?" story there was a lot of talk at the time of closing/suspending research over risks of the H5N1 escaping and causing a flu pandemic. I then recently read in New Scientist (28th January 2012 (page 6)) that the "controversial flu research is on hold" on the basis that some "experiments could cause the H5N1 bird flu virus to spread more easily." It then went on to say "US bio-security experts say some details must be withheld, in case bioterrorists get hold of them." I'm not so sure about how big the risk of bioterrorism is though.

However, in the Telegraph it was reported "Scientists clone cashmere goats in bid to increase wool production" ( This is a goat that was cloned in India to increase the production of "pashmina wool, or cashmere" ( "Noori was cloned by Dr Riaz Ahmad Shah, a veterinarian in the animal biotechnology centre of Sher-i-Kashmir University and took two years to clone Noori, using the relatively new 'handmade' cloning technique involving only a microscope and a steady hand" ( This is only one in a list of animals that have been cloned, but what about the ethics of cloning?

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Exotic Diseases

I found in the WEEK that it was reported in the Sunday Times last Sunday "exotic diseases are heading our way" (The WEEK 10th March 2012 page 14). I can't find the article on the internet so I will give you the gist of what it was saying; "climatologists' predict and influx of exotic diseases from warmer climes, with cattle farms experiencing infections of Schmallenberg virus, which causes stillbirths and deformities in young livestock. How long before illnesses that have reached Spain and Portugal get to us? Or human diseases such as malaria and encephalitis?" (The WEEK 10th March 2012 page 14).

So what are the issues we face here? Firstly, in terms of malaria risk, by having the Anopheles mosquitoes coming to Britain the risk of getting malaria does increase (not all mosquitoes cause malaria-only the female Anopheles). Malaria is caused by a parasite known as Plasmodium (four main types; P. vivax, P. ovale, P. malariae and P. falciparum) getting into the Anopheles mosquito through a blood meal that it takes from a person already with malaria. The mosquito then acts as a vector for the Plasmodium, which breaks into its salivary gland. When the mosquito takes another blood meal, the Plasmodium is passed directly into the human's (second host's) blood in the saliva from the mosquito. The parasite then invades the liver cells where they multiply, then escape out into the blood and the red blood cells where they continue to multiply and break out into more and more red blood cells. The cycle then continues. There are a number of ways of trying to prevent the transmission of malaria such as bed nets and sprays, but what biologists are hoping will be the best solution is the RTS,S vaccine that has been in development for the last 25 years.

Secondly, the other disease mentioned in the article was encephalitis; "inflammation of the brain usually caused by a viral infection" ( There are a number of different viral infections that can cause encephalitis including "herpes simplex virus (the virus that causes cold sores and genital herpes), varicella zoster virus (the chickenpox virus), mumps virus, measles virus and flu viruses" ( But in other areas of the world there are other ways of getting encephalitis such as through mosquitoes which is where this article is coming from in terms of increased risk with the change in climate. In the UK the most common cause through viral infection  "is herpes simplex virus" ( But not to worry because at the moment encephalitis is very uncommon, but just if you do get it get to hospital very quickly because "in many people, encephalitis is a serious condition and can be life-threatening" (

Personally I think that the risks are low and that for the time being we should not be worried about these exotic diseases coming to our country because we have the capability of dealing with them if we need to and the healthcare is good enough to aid us. The issue that needs to be addressed is that of malaria in other countries, we are a long way towards that goal with the RTS,S vaccine and the other solutions that we have developed.

Another interesting story; about Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and the effect that their current ingredients have on cancer, and the warnings that they may have to put on their cans if they don't change their ingredients.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Smoking; Cigarette 2 pence rise?

News on the BBC today says that "health campaigners are asking for more substantial rises in cigarette duty in this month's Budget" ( The campaigners from "91 organisations" want the price to rise by "2 pence per cigarette" ( Statistics from the NHS 'smoke free' website say that a "20-a-day smoker will spend more than £900 over the next 6-months" ( If the cost was to be raised by 5% (as being campaigned for) then that figure would rise by £45 over 6 months or £90 over a whole year, which is a significant increase for those who may be struggling to pay for it at current prices.
Is this the best way of stopping people smoking? A 5% rise in the cost ofeach cigarette is a big increase if you are smoking one/two/three packets per day and would definitely build up over the years. "Prof John Britton, director of the UKCTCS (UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies), said hitting smokers in the pocket was the best way to get them to stop" ( By raising the costs of smoking it will hopefully force the people who are on the brink of quitting the ideal way of getting out, with regards to the rises of £45 over 6 months and £90 over the whole year (as an average), this could force people to give up.

There are fears that the smuggling rates of tobacco would go up if the prices of cigarettes goes up. But this doesn't seem to be a very good argument against raising the cost of smoking and the "chief executive of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) said; 'as ever the industry is clutching at straws with its ill-founded arguments'" (

I would argue; based on the BBC's viewpoint and the known effects of smoking that it would be beneficial to increase tax on smoking which would hopefully persuade some people to give up smoking or to get on a stop smoking course such as the NHS 'smoke free'. I disagree with Mr Simon Clark's statement for Forest "(Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco)" ( who says that "ideally we'd like to see a reduction in duty” ( The issue here is that this would encourage more people to smoke, and may increase the likelihood of younger people smoking if it was cheaper or more easily accessible. Although levels of smoking have decreased in children and adults over the last 20 years as shown in the tables on thiese two websites ( and (

A quote from Sir Ronald Harwood says; "tobacco is not an illegal substance yet the government is persecuting a minority. I think that's a disgrace in a social democracy" ( I can see where he is coming from because if the government raises the price above what people can pay then they are effectively taking it away from people and that doesn't seem very democratic since it is their choice if they want to smoke and the government would be taking away that choice.