World First: the Woman with the Magnetic Spine

An Irish woman has become the first adult in the world to receive a revolutionary remote controlled ‘robo spine’.

Deirdre McDonnell was diagnosed with scoliosis as a newborn baby. After undergoing the first of many operations at just six weeks old, surgeons decided to try the pioneering MAGEC rod operation back in June 2014.

After three decades of living in pain with a 130 degree ‘C’ shaped spine, surgeons performed an operation that involved screwing magnetic rods in to Deidre’s spine. These rods can now be controlled externally to correct the curvature and straighten her spine.

Deirdre said: ‘The operation has completely changed my life. Before, I could only walk short distances without being in pain but now I love to walk everywhere.

‘After more than 30 years of operations and taking painkillers, I’m finally hopeful for the future.’

Up until now, the £15,000 procedure has only been performed on children, as it was thought only to be effective for early onset scoliosis – typically diagnosed before the age of ten.

Thanks to the success of Deirdre’s operation, doctors are now hopeful that the bone implant will help other adults, many of whom have undergone a number of unsuccessful and painful invasive surgeries in an attempt to straighten and lengthen their spine.

Image credit: Kevin O’Mara

First Organ Donation from UK Newborn

Organs from a recently-deceased baby have been successfully transplanted in to two patients.

In a procedure described as a milestone in neonatal care, a newborn baby girl’s kidneys and liver cells were given to two separate recipients after her heart stopped beating.

It is the first time in Britain that transplant surgeons have carried out such an operation involving a new-born child. Despite newborn organ donations being performed in the US, Germany and Australia, doctors say guidance about the diagnosis of newborn death in the UK may hamper life-saving operations.

Experts argue there is potential for more life-saving donations, but say current UK guidelines are prohibitive.

Prof James Neuberger of NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “We are pleased the first transplant of organs from a newborn in the UK was a success and we praise the brave decision of the family to donate their baby’s organs.

“The sad reality is for everybody to get the lifesaving transplant they are desperately in need of, more families who are facing the tragic loss of their young child will need to agree to donation.”

The parents of the deceased gave permission for the life-support to be switched off and for the baby girl’s organs to be used by the National Organ Retrieval Service after death had been confirmed.

In the last year, 4,655 organ transplants were carried out in Britain from donations made by 2,466 living and deceased organ donors. These included 206 heart transplants, 3,257 kidney transplants and 924 liver transplants.

At the present time, about 10,000 people in Britain are in need of an organ transplant and each year about 1,000 people die while waiting for a transplant.

Image credit: Christine Szeto

Implant Allows for Paralysed Rats to Walk Again

A new medical device attached to the spines of paralysed rats, has allowed for them to walk again.

Scientists have made a soft, flexible electrical implant that mimics the elasticity of the brain and spine’s protective tissue.

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology built the implant, called “e-dura,” after the dura mater, which is one of the layers of protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord.

The device delivers electrical and chemical stimulation to the brain and spine, and when implanted in paralysed rats, gave the animals the ability to walk again – with some help.

Previously, it had been difficult for scientists to find a way to connect an electronic device to the spinal cord without damaging it. One obstacle is that electronics are made of stiff materials, whereas the spinal cord and its protective covering are more flexible. The new flexible device moves with the animals, keeping the stimulation attached to their neural tissue. The implants also did not trigger an immune response, the team reports.

The results could have implications for long-term treatment of paralysis and certain diseases, such as Parkinson’s, in humans.

Image credit: Harraz

First Antibiotic for 30 YEARS Discovered

Scientists have created the first new antibiotic in 30 years – and say it could be the key to beating superbug resistance.

The new antibiotic is extracted from soil bacteria and can kill a huge range of disease-causing microbes, with scientists claiming it appears to be as good, or even better, than many existing drugs with the potential to work against a broad range of fatal infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Laboratory tests have shown the new antibiotic, teixobactin, can kill some bacteria as quickly as established antibiotics and can cure laboratory mice suffering from bacterial infections with no toxic side-effects.

Studies have also revealed the prototype drug works against harmful bacteria in a unique way that is highly unlikely to lead to drug-resistance – one of the biggest stumbling blocks in developing new antibiotics.

With fears that the world is running out of effective antibiotics given the rapid rise of drug-resistant strains of superbugs, this development could represent a huge boost for medicine. Clinical trials could begin in two years.

Image credit: marlo