Recently in Health Category
When I was a research biochemist, I used to enjoy the occasions when I would meet someone new, perhaps in the pub, and they would ask me what I do for a living. Upon hearing the word 'biochemist', you could see their face turn to stone and the panic come over them in a wave as they tried to think of a follow up line that did not involve having to ask what a biochemist is or does. More often than not, this thinking time would rapidly become a tumbleweed moment and I wish I had never said the dreaded B word. Apparently though, if you are a genetic counsellor, rather than a tumbleweed moment, one of the common responses you get is, "so you tell people not to have children then?". And this is how the October Birmingham Café Scientifique started.
Organ donation is always an interesting discussion because it is one of those things that most people, if you were to ask them, do not seem to have an issue with and are generally very supportive of in the UK. And yet we have one of the lowest rates of organ donation in Europe. Why is this? To start to discuss these points, the first thing you need is someone who knows a thing or two about organ donation and the second is a suitable environment for honest and open discussion - welcome to the Birmingham Café Scientifique.
More developments from the battlefront on the war with stress. Unfortunately, it looks like "stress" is winning the PR war...
Stressful jobs that involve a lack of control and decision-making from the worker are linked to increased risks of heart attacks, a new study has found, that has been published in the latest edition of The Lancet. This of course, is nothing particulalrly new, other than the results eminate from a meta-analysis of the data from over a dozen high-quality large-sized cohort studues in the field. Research in this area is often faced with a wall of indifference - on one hand the results state the obvious, which turns off many lay-readers from looking beyond the headlines. Yet on the other hand the results are important in terms of public health promotion, but still become over-shadowed by the authors' own assertions in the very same article that the health effects are minimal compared to those of smoking.
The paper, led by Mika Kivimaki, was a combined effort from researchers at many top-level research institues, and does indeed show strong evidence of the links between those jobs with little freedom, autonomy and worker-choice and heart attack episodes. Sensibly the authors also address their data seperately, taking account of the publication bias that often exists, resulting in published papers demonstrating larger effects (numbers of heart attcks) than those in un-published papers. All-in, the researchers found strong links that show decision-poor jobs have an odds-ratio of 1.23 (23% increased likelihood) of heart attacks than jobs which involve worker decision-making (based on workers' own self-rated questionnaire responses).
The researchers state that "Our findings suggest that prevention of workplace stress might decrease disease incidence; however, this strategy would have a much smaller effect than would tackling of standard risk factors, such as smoking." This statement, while providing balance and setting the results in context, also delivers an own goal to those who campaign for improved and healthier work environments.
We should not infer from this important piece of work that improving workplaces and the quality of working lives is neither impossible or pointless relative to other hazards, but we should also accept that making working lives better for millions of people will also contribute to reducing the exposure to hazards such as smoking and drinking. There will be an additive effect.
Improving workplace conditions, health promotion possibilities and work-life balance will reduce the wilfull exposure to other recreational hazards for millions of workers. What's that you say? You want a meta-analysis to prove it? OK.....
The tabloids have been quick to label as "skivers" those ten thousand civil servants who have been given permission to work from home when suitable over the Olympic and Paralympic games. Can our understanding of human behaviour in the workplace help us to predict what may happen to Londoners who have been advised to work from home over the Olympics to avoid travel chaos and those extra three million journeys that will be made? What will be the downside to this natural experiment?
Civil servants are one group who have been given dispensation to work from home from July 21st (6 days before the Olympics started) until the Paralympics end on September 9th. May have criticised the decision - complaining there will be a backlog of public sector work for up 7 weeks. However, when we're not working within the confines of an office, does our behaviour change differently when we're working at home, on our own, and could there be longer-term implications to follow?
West Midlands scientists are bending their minds around perhaps the biggest challenge facing humanity ever.
How the heck are we going to feed ourselves in 2050? With 9 billion on the planet depleting resources like never before, plus the havoc of climate change, it's a humdinger of a problem.
Discussions on the matter are a tad of a stretch; mind-numbing stats and handwringing all round often leave people feeling vaguely pessimistic about it all, yet without a clue about what to do.
The New Optimists Forum here in Birmingham is veering a different tack.
In October 2009, the now-defunct WM Regional Observatory published a 10-essay collection under the title West Midlands: Fit for the future: Positioning the region for economic recovery which was discussed at their Annual Conference that month.
At the time, I wrote a blogpost about it. It's still relevant today with all this talk about food futures for Birmingham 2050, so I've reproduced it here:
Only one contribution adds something surprising, even startling to the debate. It is by Roger Levett.
But let's start with the Foreword by Ian Austin MP. I quote: we know what we need to do to make the region the workshop of the world again.
We know? Eh? Workshop of the world? Which century is this man in? Or is he merely pandering to some vague nostalgia about what went on in Matthew Boulton's time?
Backed by Birmingham City Council and regional universities, the New Optimists Forum is doing a year-long scenario planning exercise looking at food futures for Birmingham 2050. It's all good stuff and will greatly inform the city's long-term strategic decision-making.
This video of Jim Parle talking about food deserts in Brum generated a lot of interest, and Richard Burden MP dropped a line to Sainbury's boss Justin King as a result of various reactions to Ian Nabney's interview about supermarkets and data -- the story of that is told in this Podnosh blogpost.
Then last Tuesday, I sat in on the APPG on Agroecology at the House of Lords, and here's a summary of the brilliant stuff that happened there -- and the opportunities for Birmingham.
No question about it, Birmingham is behind the curve when it comes to food issues. We have nowt like the APPG speakers' stuff: Rosie Boycott's London's Capital Growth, Mary Clear's Todmorden's Incredible Edible and Clare Devereux' Food Matters in Brighton & Hove.
Yet because we've been tardy, we can learn a lot from everyone else. And here's The New Optimists starter-for-ten about the opportunities for Birmingham. . . Among all that, anyone up for:
Finally, here's my take on why it's so important.
Bacteria can help kill cancer cells! That's what the headlines said on Monday, but did you know that microbes - the things we are often (wrongly) told to steer clear of - have been known to have an effect on cancer cells for hundreds of years?
It's my job to keep on top of all the news stories about microbiology. So anything about bacteria, viruses, fungi - if you can't see it, I need to know about it.
For over 200 years the Potteries has been home to businesses who have driven forward development of the pottery industry.
So now in the 21st century its no surprise that a specialist materials business from the region is at the forefront of shaping how ceramics can be used as advanced materials for use in new markets.
Stoke-on-Trent based CERAM Research specialises in working with manufacturers to develop new materials that are lighter, stronger or hold advanced proprieties to enable materials to be used in new ways.
They've been working with companies from across the world to develop materials that are used in a wealth of applications including healthcare, aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, energy and environmental products.
At first, their latest development project that will research how ceramics can be used a material for hip replacements, may seem to have fragile chances of success.
But CERAM Research's scientists believe that by fusing one of our most basic materials, ceramics, with high tech science they can transform a brittle material into one that's stronger, lighter and tougher, enabling it to be used in new ways.
Spree killing is different from serial killing - it occurs when multiple people are unlawfully killed by one or more killers, within a single onslaught or attack.
Serial killing can occur over months or years, and involves repeated murders with "cooling off" periods in between.
Spree killers are usually white, mostly acting alone, and almost always male (although some females have spree-killed).
Why is this distinction important?
If psychology can help reduce spree killings, then such distinction is vital to its understanding.