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A summary of the latest clinical research in the news. This issue covers studies on Genome Sequencing, Ebola, and Sleep Deprivation.

Genome Sequencing Project

A 500 million dollar genome project is underway in the UK. The project aims to sequence the genomes of 100 000 people in total, the first 40 000 of which will consist of volunteers who have cancer or rare diseases. The sequences will allow research to be carried out, aiming to increase the development of personalised medicine. For example, chemotherapy for cancer treatment indiscriminately kills healthy cells in addition to cancer cells, resulting in debilitating side effects. The project will potentially lead to the identification of target genes that play a role in specific cancers, allowing drugs to be developed that will specifically target these genes. The project will also allow insight into rare diseases, potentially uncovering clues to their cause(s) and possible treatment(s). Fifteen centres are to take part in the pilot studies that will be conducted over the next four years.

Godlee, R. “Genome project aims to transform treatment of cancer and rare diseases”BMJ2014;349:g4972.

Emergency Intervention During Childbirth

A study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology has reported on the association between maternal age and emergency delivery (via C-section and operative vaginal delivery). The study was carried out using data obtained between January 1999 and December 2009. The study population included 169 583 women delivering their first child, who were otherwise a low-risk population. The obtained data revealed that there was an association between maternal age and emergency intervention in this population of women, with an increase in the risk of emergency intervention with increasing age. These results are particularly important in Western countries where women are choosing to start having children later in life.

Herstad L, Klungsøyr K, Skjærven R, Tanbo T, Forsén L, Åbyholm T, Vangen S. “Maternal age and emergency operative deliveries at term: a population−based registry study among low-risk primiparous women.” BJOG 2014; DOI: 10.1111/1471-0528.12962.


Ebola Outbreak

The World Health Organization has declared the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa as a state of emergency. While several Ebola vaccines and treatments are in development, they have not been tested in clinical trials to determine their safety and effectiveness in people. This has created an ethical barrier between several potentially life-saving treatments from reaching the people who are in need of help. With the spread of Ebola on the rise, and the fear of spread via air travel into other countries worldwide, there are those who are calling for the use of the experimental drugs and vaccines on compassionate grounds. In a meeting convened on August 11th, a panel of experts deliberated on the use of experimental medicines in the current Ebola outbreak. The conclusions of the meeting were that the treatments yet to be tested on humans would be allowed as treatment or prevention of Ebola on compassionate grounds.

WHO Statement. “Ethical considerations for use of unregistered interventions for Ebola virus disease (EVD)” Available from: Accessed: August 13, 2014.


Sleep Deprivation

A study reported in The Lancet Neurology has investigated the effects of sleep deficiency in astronauts. The study used data obtained from 85 astronauts who took part in Space Shuttle or International Space Station missions. Results of the study indicated that the astronauts had significantly less sleep per night during the missions, in addition to up to 3 months prior to the space mission, when compared with the first week following the mission. In addition, the authors report an increase in use of sleep-promoting drugs during space missions. Due to the potential negative effects that sleep deprivation can have on performance, the authors suggest the need for development of strategies to help promote sleep amongst astronauts both prior to and during space missions.

Barger, LK, Flynn-Evans, EE, Kubey, A, Walsh, L, Ronda, JM, Wang, W, Wright, KP, Czeisler, CA. “Prevalence of sleep deficiency and use of hypnotic drugs in astronauts before, during, and after spaceflight: an observational study”The Lancet Neurology, Early Online Publication, 8 August 2014.doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(14)70122-X




Written by Deborah Tallarigo, PhD


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