Nick Clegg - Cancer in the UK

I have previously written about Gordon Brown and David Cameron’s views on cancer in the UK.  This week Nick Clegg, the leader of the liberal democrats has been giving his opinions and they are on the Cancer Research UK website.

Again, like Gordon Brown and David Cameron he starts off by saying that “early detection is key” he then goes on to say “so we’d scrap age limits on screening for a start”.  I almost stopped reading the interview at that point, that statement made me want to weep.  There are age limits on screening for a very good reason, it is to stop unnecessary harm being done to people.  Age limits are set by looking at the scientific evidence, based on studying hundreds of thousands of cases.  Age limits for cancer screening are NOT arbitrarily plucked from thin air in order to discriminate against people (younger or older) than the ages screened, they are based on getting maximum benefit for as many people while causing minimum harm to people who don’t have the disease, as well as reducing false-positives (healthy people who test positive that don’t have the disease being screened for)  For instance, there is no point in giving a 20-year-old woman a mammogram, their breast tissue is too dense for the mammogram to show any meaningful information and mammograms use radiation, which carries a small degree of risk of causing a tumour.  The statement that “we’d scrap age limits on screening” shows little understanding of either science or medicine, hardly encouraging for a party leader.

Nick Clegg’s seems to have less concrete views on the government’s role in public health, admitting that it’s nots “government’s job to tell people how to live their lives” and he isn’t into GP bashing (assuming all delays in diagnosing cancer are the GP’s fault) instead opting to increase the time GP’s can spend with their patients. However he seems to be keen on the idea that you can register with a GP near your work.  This is fine as long as your are healthy, as soon as you need a home visit then this system soon becomes a lot more difficult to put into practice.

What do you think?  Is this what you want to see from the leader of the liberal democrats?

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Cancer Resesarch UK Videos

Cancer Research UK have produced 4 short videos about detecting cancer early.  The videos are each 5 minutes long and discuss breast cancer, bowel cancer, lung cancer and mouth cancer.

Obviously there are lots of other types of cancer and there are also links to early signs and symptoms of other types of cancer.  You can embed these videos in your website or you can email them to a friend.  As with all videos on the web, it’s probably best if you have broadband and you’ll need to install flash for it to work.

For some reason, when I embed the videos they all start with the mouth cancer one,  you just need to click on the pictures at the bottom to find the ones on breast bowel and lung cancer.

Spot Mouth Cancer Early

What do you think of these videos?  Do you find them useful, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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Waiting Times Update

Figures out this week show that 96 % of people who were urgently referred and then diagnosed with cancer were treated within 62 days.  This means the 95 % target has been reached every quarter for the past year.  The average wait was 35 days.  NHS Grampian treated 96.8% of people within 62 days.

By 2011 the Scottish Government want all patients to start treatment within 31 days of  “the descision to treat”. This is part of the Better Cancer Care stratagey. Not everyone agrees that this 31 day rule is a good thing.  I’ve blogged before about cancer waiting times and how statistics alone aren’t a great way of judging services.  If you want to read the details you’ll find the full report on the ISD website.

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Cancer Research Grant for Aberdeen

The local cancer research charity CRANES – Cancer Research Aberdeen and North East Scotland, have been able to give a grant of £23,000 to Aberdeen University.  This is going to be used to research the links between obesity and cancer. To start the study they will be looking at people who have been treated for breast can prostate cancer and who could benefit from losing weight. The money will be used to employ a dietician who will work with people who have finished their treatment. The long term aim is to produce a programme suitable for people who have had cancer to help them improve their overall health and fitness by diet and excercise. There is more information here.

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Not cancer, but science… Diabetes Talk and Healthy Eating

As the title says, this isn’t about cancer but it is about science, on Monday the 15th of February, there will be a talk at Foresterhill about diabetes, over 22, 000 people in Grampian have diabetes so this will probably be of interest to a lot of people.  The talk is open to anyone and is in the new Suttie Centre, it runs from 6-8pm. The Suttie Centre is a building between the main door for ARI and the Institute for Medical Sciences, the postcode is AB25 2ZD if you are trying to find it by satnav. You can find a map and more details of the other Cafe Med talks on this leaflet.

Another local project is “Better by Miles“, which is launched by the Rowett today, it’s aim is to get kids to think about the food on their plate and how far it has travelled.  It’s aimed at children from 7 years and up.

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Seroxat, Tamoxifen and Breast Cancer

The bmj have just published a study that showing that tamoxifen may not prevent breast cancer if women also take the antidepressant Seroxat (paroxetine). This only applies to the Seroxat, other antidepressants did not have this effect. It seems that Seroxat reduces or completely stops the benefit of tamoxifen. The full (technical) article is here,  there is also a short video with one of the researchers on Insider Medicine.

If I get a chance I’ll write a longer article explaining why Seroxat in particular may be having this effect, basically in order to work your body needs to break tamoxifen down into two different parts, tamoxifen is broken down by something called P450, more specifically P450 isoenzyme 2D6 (or CYP2D6 for short). Unfortunately  Seroxat works (at least in part) by STOPPING CYP2D6 from working, so this means that tamoxifen can’t get broken down into the two different parts that are needed to block the oestrogen receptor and prevent cancer cells growing.

This is interesting research, it tells us something we didn’t know and it tells us something useful. Other anti-depressants don’t inhibit CYP2D6, so there are other treatments available for people who need an anti-depressant and are taking tamoxifen.

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Nuclear Pore Proteins and Cancer

I read an interesting article today about nuclear pore proteins The image on the left, is a cell, the nucleus is the blue dot on the right hand side of the green cell. Nuclear pore proteins control what gets in and out of that blue dot.  Researchers have discovered that some of these proteins can actually turn genes on and off.  I also learned that a few nuclear pore proteins are overexpressed (i.e. there is too much of them) in some cancers and generally if you have cancer and lots of these nuclear pore proteins you tend not to do so well (you have a poorer prognosis).

This research is published in Cell, which pleased me as they are still running their free trial to show off their new way of displaying papers online (see my post on Cell Journal 60 day free trial for more details). I still love their new “graphical abstracts” but not enough to part with £180 for a yearly personal subscription.

Anyway the papers are Chromatin Bound Nuclear Pore components regulate gene expression in higher eukaryotes and Nucleoporins directly stimulate expression of developmental and cell-cycle genes inside the nucleoplasm.

So just what is a nuclear pore? Most of our cells have a nucleus, a tiny fluid filled “bubble” that contains our DNA. Of course, this bubble isn’t completely sealed, things still need to get in and out of it and this is exactly what a nuclear pore does. A nuclear pore is a tube that crosses the nuclear membrane, the actual tube is made up of proteins and this tube allows things like water, RNA, ribosomes and proteins in and out of the nucleus.

So why is it so interesting that some of these nuclear pore proteins are controlling genes? Well, it’s a bit like discovering that during the night your window frames are taking control of the remote and programming your DVD player (!).  Scientists had thought that nuclear pores were structural (e.g. like the frames that hold your windows) rather than able to control genes (your DVD in this analogy…)   It has been known for awhile that some of these proteins are overexpressed or dysfunctional  in cancer e.g.  Nup98 in AML, a type of leukaemia or Nup88 in colorectal, breast and melanoma.  What is interesting is that these proteins aren’t found near the nuclear membrane (the wall containing the window) but are disperesed in the nucleoplasm (the rooms inside the house).

So what are they doing there? Well, this new research suggests that they are controlling other genes that control how and when a cell divides (e.g. cyclin B). Obviously if a cell divides and grows when it shouldn’t cancer can develop.

What does this mean if you have cancer now? These are laboratory experiments carried out on fruit flies, they are not directly relevant to treating human cancers. So what is the point of the research?  Many current cancer drugs interfere with the cell cycle, if we know more about how the cell cycle is controlled in normal cells we have a much better chance of designing new and better treatments for cancer in the future.

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Cancer Research UK Gift Shop

Sorry for the lack of posts, I’m busy with other work right now (the sort of work that pays the bills!). So today’s offering is a link to the Cancer Research UK gift shop. They have some special offers for valentines day, So if you want a heartshaped mug and you want to feel good about spending the money, you know where to look…

If you know of any other cancer charities that have special offers on for valentines day, please leave a comment below. Thanks!

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A summer placement with a difference – Naked Scientists

Black headphones with a microphoneIf you can afford to spend the summer of 2016 in Cambridge and you are interested in science communication you might like to apply to join the Naked Scientists. For more details read on…

Even if you don’t want to work in Cambridge you can still listen to the podcasts, visit their website to get the MP3 or if you have an ipod you just need to search for “naked scientists” on itunes.

Are you a budding Naked Scientist?

Cambridge University’s Naked Scientists have an opening for an intern to join their award-winning team this summer. The successful applicant will gain experience in making science radio programmes and podcasts, web development, science writing, video editing and production.

“The Naked Scientists” broadcasts on BBC radio stations across the UK, and worldwide as a podcast, which is consistently near the top of the iTunes Science podcast charts in the UK, US, Canada and Australia.  Their unique approach to science communication features a range of presenters who interview renowned scientists and researchers from all over the world and take science questions on any subject live from the listening public.

The successful applicant will join the Naked Scientists team for 8 weeks throughout the summer, helping to write, produce and present live radio programmes and podcasts.  This is an opportunity to develop audio and video editing skills, compile science news stories and write articles that will be published online at

There may also be an opportunity to gain funding for this placement through the Amgen Scholars Programme, which is open to undergraduate students in Europe.

So, whether your strengths are in audio, video or writing, the Naked Scientists may be able to provide the experience you need.

If you’re eligible and interested, please send your CV along with details of your experience and why you want to join the Naked Scientists to Ben Valsler:

To find out more about the Amgen Scholars Scheme, visit

Related Posts

Podcasts – Listen to cancer information on your computer

Are you a student? Do you want to work in a laboratory over the summer?

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Scottish Chromatin Group – Meeting and Webcast

This one is for the scientists, the Scottish Chromatin group are having a meeting next Wednesday (the 10th of February 2016).  The meeting is being held at the University of Edinburgh from 2pm-6pm, so obviously if you are in (0r near) Edinburgh you can just go along. Interestingly they are also webcasting the meeting, so if you can’t get to Edinburgh you can still hear the speakers.


The talks are on:

  • Epigenetic networks and cellular reprogramming
  • Histone modifications required for a chromatin boundary
  • X inactivation studies
  • Regulation of transcription memory
  • Building a mitotic chromosome: The complete protein parts list

Further details about the program and the webcast are here. They are charging £10 for the webcast to cover costs, which seem fair enough to me, it’s cheaper than the train to Edinburgh (!)

If you don’t know what chromatin is then you probably won’t get much out of the meeting, it’s likely to be very technical, but chromatin is something that is inside our bodies, it is made up of  DNA, RNA and proteins organised in a specific shape.  Just before your cells divide chromatin “condenses” and if you look down a microscope you can see things called chromosomes.  Chromosomes look like this:

How chromatin “works” is still a bit of a mystery, chromatin structure affects what genes are turned on and off in a cell and so this is an active area of cancer research.  Of course how chromatin works is probably important for a whole host of other diseases (not just cancer).

A lot of research into understanding chromatin is carried out in university labs and is considered “basic research”. Basic means the point of the research is to understand how a cell normally operates rather than “translational research” which is aimed at finding a treatment for a particular disease. Basic research does not mean that it is easy (!), far from it, it is frighteningly complicated. Both types of research are important if we are to cure cancer, we need to understand, in detail, how cells work if we are to continue to develop brand new ways of treating cancer.

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Watch a video showing a neutrophil destroying a germ

Everybody has white blood cells inside them, these white blood cells help us fight off infection and keep us healthy. In a drop of blood about this size • you have roughly 6,000 neutrophils.  Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell. For more information on this topic  see my post “What is a normal blood count?

Some types of chemo reduce the number of neutrophils in your body, this is called neutropenia. What does a neutrophil actually do? Well if you have Quicktime installed and a Broadband connection, you can see by watching this video on

It shows a neutrophil (the large oblong shaped grey thing) chasing a bacteria (two tiny black dots) through some red blood cells (the large, round blobs).  There is a much more technical description below the video, but basically you are watching a neutrophil “eat” a bacteria (“germ).  In this case the bacteria is called Staphylococcus aureus a bacteria commonly found on your skin.

What is interesting is that this video was actually taken in the 1950′s and isn’t dependent on any of the expensive microscope techniques that are so common these days.  I thought it was cool, what do you think?

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Studying lots of proteins at once

I read an interesting paper in Nature Methods this week called “Systems analysis of EGF receptor signalling dynamics with microwestern arrays“.  EGF stand for Epidermal Growth Factor, the EGF receptor is a small protein that “knows” when EGF is present.  Growth Factors generally make cells grow and so if your growth factors are faulty you could develop cancer.  EGF in particular is involved in some types of lung cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer.

The research is interesting because they study lots of proteins at the same time.  Nowadays it is relatively easy to study hundreds or thousands of genes at one time (often using an experiment called microarrays).  However genes make proteins and it’s much harder to study hundreds of proteins. See the Genetic Science Learning Centre to learn more about how you can Transcribe and Translate a Gene.

The normal way of studying proteins is to carry out a “western blot” (see here for a quick animation). Western blots can give you a lot of information, but you can usually only study one or two proteins at a time and it takes a couple of days to carry out each experiment.If you are interested to know how western blotting got it’s name, have a read of Southern, northern, western (and eastern?) on  BitesizeBio.

The experiment in Nature Methods allowed the scientists to study 96 different proteins at one time. They took some cancer cells, that they knew responded to EGF (responded usually means  the cell grows when EGF is present) and added different amounts of EGF to these cancer cells and measured 96 proteins to see what changed.

If you have cancer just now, this reasearch won’t change your treatment, but hopefully, in the future, we’ll be better able to understand how cancer treatments work by looking at how drugs affect lots of different proteins inside cancer cells, instead of just one or two.

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BBC Journalism College

This post may be of more interest to me than you!  The BBC has made publically available their internal journalism training website and it’s an absolute goldmine!

As I write about science on a daily basis this looks like a fantastic resource. Why?

Well for a start, healthcare in Scotland is devolved, so some things are different between Scotland and England, Northern Ireland and Wales, it can be hard to work out if a news story applies in Scotland (or not).  For example, legislation on the use of sunbeds differ between Scotland and England. Other differences include parking charges, prescription charges and drug approval.

The science media centre also produce some good resources such as:

My favourite website for explaining cancer risk, is still cancer research UK’s What is Risk. I also like the Open Universities free course, available via Open Learn called  Using Numbers and Handling Data. (part of S110).

Do you know of any good resources for writing about science?  Please let me know, leave a comment below or use the contact form to email me.

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NHS Scotland Spends more than England and Wales

Last week there were several news stories about a report released by the Nuffield Trust showing that NHS Scotland is less efficient and spends more than Wales and England and Northern Ireland.  NHS staff in Scotland also see less patients than their counterparts south of the border.  For some interesting statistics read this report in the Scotsman there is also a good article on the BBC called Why efficiency in the NHS matters.  The Scottish Government argue that overall peoples health in Scotland is poorer and the statistics used in the report are out of date.  What do you think?

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Research Blogging Awards 2016

Research Blogging Awards 2010 If you are registered on ResearchBlogging and would like to nominate my blog for their 2016 awards I’d be grateful.

If you have your own blog, you can register it here, and watch your number of readers increase.

If you don’t have your own blog but want to read lots of different peoples opinions on quality research then have a read of the Research Blogging homepage. I normally only read the “Health” section and I’m forever learning interesting stuff.  I especially like it when people write about their own papers that you’ve read about in press releases, how cool is that?  It’s like getting the information straight from the horses mouth (so to speak).

You can find a list of all of my blog posts on Research Blogging here. A couple of them have even been selected by the editors! (not that I’ve got round to putting the badge on them, but I do appreciate it…) So, please nominate me and help me pay my hosting fees for 2016 :-)

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Vitamin D and Colorectal Cancer

A Cancer Research UK press release out today suggests that people with higher levels of vitamin D in their blood have a lower risk of colorectal cancer (you can read the original paper in the British Medical Journal Jenab et al 2016).  This is particularly important in Scotland because we only get about 5 % of our vitamin D from our diet (mostly from oily fish) the other 95 % we produce when our bare skin is in the sun.  The trouble is that in Scotland, over winter, we don’t get much sun and we tend to wear lots of clothes to keep warm!

This research finding is part of the EPIC study, a very large study conducted by the World Health Organisation, that is following over half a million people for 10 years to try and determine how diet influences cancer. This study found that those with the highest levels of vitamin D in the blood had a 40 % reduced risk of colorectal cancer. 

Some people argue that we all need a lot more vitamin D and that this is one of the reasons Scotland’s health is so poor. Oliver Gillie, in particular promotes this view (see the Times -How scientists linked sunshine diet and disease, or Scotland’s poor health caused by a lack of sunshine).  He runs the health research forum and you can read his book online “Scotland’s Health Deficit“.  Not everyone agrees with this research, you can read more about the flaws in this sort of research at the Cancer Research UK website “Does vitamin D protect against cancer?

So should we all take vitamin D supplements? It’s not as simple as that, we know from earlier studies that not all vitamins are good for you. However, it’s worth knowing that the Canadian Cancer Society, reccommend that Canadaians take a vitamin D supplement over winter. What about the sun?  Should we give up the sunblock? Again, we know that too much UVB increases your risk of skin cancer, so too much sun is still bad for youWhere does that leave us? With the unsatisfying answer that we need more research, we simply don’t know what taking large quantities of vitamin D will do to our cells.

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The James Lind Library – Fair tests of medical treatments

I think this post is important, I’m going to write about The James Lind library and a book that is freely available for download called “Testing Treatments – Better Research for Better Healthcare“. I think everybody should read this book. It is 100 pages long and it is free to download, the download version is also available in Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic, so you’ve really no excuse. Admittedly if you have an inkjet printer, you probably don’t want to print it out but you can buy it as a book from amazon.

What is the James Lind Library and why are they giving away this book for free?  The website aims to improve public and professional knowledge about fair tests in medicine, it is maintained by the library at the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh.  James Lind was a naval doctor, born in Edinburgh in 1716, he conducted one of the first medical trials when he discovered that lemons and oranges could be used to treat scurvy.

So why do I like this book?

It is free! (to download)

It is easy to read, they only use long words when they have to and they explain them when they do.

They cover a huge range of diseases and trials. I’m willing to bet you know someone who has a disease or condition mentioned in this book.  They mention research into cancer (e.g. breast cancer, neuroblastoma, prostate cancer), HIV/AIDs,  premature birth, osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis, strokes, heart attacks, cystic fibrosis among many others.

The book is balanced, it discuss why medical research fails as well as when it succeeds, everyone will be familiar with thalidomide, the drug used to relieve morning sickness that causes severely malformed arms and legs in children born to mothers who had taken the drug while pregnant. It also discuss the research that showed that HRT increases the risk of stroke (despite it initially being promoted to prevent heart attack and stroke).  However don’t think it is all depressing, you learn something new in almost every paragraph and it made me grateful to live in modern times, when we are able to benefit from the results of these trials (even if many more trials are needed).

The boxes of information relate well to the text and provide case studies and interesting books for further reading.

Testing Treatments also covers some very difficult subjects without getting bogged down in details,

  • why not all research is good research,
  • why patients, universities and drug companies want different things from trials,
  • the uncertaintity of effects and why we need randomization

Finally, I like this book because the final chapter outlines things that EVERYONE can do to improve medical research. On page 101 it has “An Action Plan: Things you can do”.

  • For instance, they recommend that you check clinical trials are registered with,
  • if you have unanswered questions you can submit them to the NHS Health Technology Assessment Programme (HTA)
  • or look for research at the Association of Medical Research Charities (amrc).
  • They also suggest that you should discuss the evidence for treatments and effects with your GP, and recommend the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute – Decision Aids (to see the actual decision aids, click on the one your interested in – Find “How to Obtain the decision aid” and click on “Available Here”).

So, all in all, Testing Treatments is a good read, with lots of useful information and by the end of it you will be a lot better informed about clinical trials, how you can help and how they can be improved and that’s got to be a good thing.

PS Please feel free to pass this infromation on to other people, the more people that know about this sort of research the better.

Related Posts

Clinical Trials – How Can I help?

HRT and Cancer Risk

Science and Evidence Based Medicine Vs Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Scientists keep changing their minds…

The Scientific Method – If we can’t trust science…

Why is science important?

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NHS Websites – There are a lot of them…

This post is as much for my benefit as anyone elses, the NHS have umpteen different websites, many of which have “News” sections, however very few of these have RSS feeds, so it is very hard to keep up to date with them.  If  I make a list of them here, hopefully I’ll be able to keep up with some of them. Wikipedia also do a good job of describing how they all fit together.

First of all, the websites I look at regularly -

NHS Grampian

NHS Grampian – Latest News This is a good place to keep an eye out for upcoming public consultations, you can also find out about Board Meetings (which are open to the public).

NHS Grampian – Links A useful list of links, both local and national.

NHS Choices – Online health information, the information here is good, but you need to keep clicking through different tabs to get more information which annoys me.

NHS Choices – Behind the Headlines One of my favourite websites, in depth analysis of the research that makes it’s way into the mainstream press.

ISD – Scotland – Another very useful website, statistics on health for Scotland.

Other NHS websites I look at occasionally

NHS24 Scotland – This is different from NHS direct England, I’m not sure how, or why, but you can search for services by postcode. They also have online health information.

SHOW – Scotland’s Health on the Web – This is another NHS website, that lists lots of other NHS websites in their introduction, a good place to look if you’re trying to find a specific website.

NHS National Services Scotland – Deal with things on a national level like blood transfusion,  health statistics, communicable diseases and screening.

NHS Education for Scotland – Professional development for people working in the NHS

healthscotland – An agency set up to improve public health in Scotland.

NHS Quality Improvment Scotland – Publishes reports into cleanliness etc.

NHS Scotland – Recruitment – The NHS is Scotland’s biggest employer, you can find out more about job vacancies here.

Related Health Websites

Scottish Health Council – This website has information on patient and public involvement, they produce a regular newsletter called Connect.

Aberdeenshire Community Planning – Newsletters – Community planning often advertise health consultations, for example a new system of signs at Foresterhill or consultations on cancer care.  You can also download a newsletter called NOAH – North Aberdeenshire Health.

This list is no exhaustive, so if you use any other NHS websites regularly let me know and I’ll add them.

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How clean is Aberdeen Royal Infirmary?

This is a follow up to a post I wrote in November 2015 (called How to complain about the NHS), in October 2015 several wards at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary were inspected and found to be dirty, with poor procedures for infection control, hand washing, waste disposal etc (you can read the details in my earlier post, it doesn’t make for comfortable reading). There was an unannounced follow up inspection in November and that report has just been published today.  You can read a summary on the Scottish Government website – Improvements at Aberdeen Hospital or on BBC News – Hospital improves after criticism, the full report is available from the NHS Quality Improvement Scotland website -HEI Unannounced Inspection Report.

As far as the follow up report makes out, things have improved.  An infection control doctor and nurse have been appointed and it seems that people have a better idea of who is responsible for what.  The follow up report makes it clear that the earlier recommendations still need to be implemented, as well as the recent recommendations in the follow up report. Am I reassured by this report?  Well I’m glad to see things are getting better but I’m not convinced any of the underlying problems have been resolved. Hopefully time will tell and improvements will continue to be made, but if you are in ARI and you don’t like what you see, complain! Statistics seem to be more important than common sense.

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Scientific Cookies and things…

Okay, not a very weighty topic for a cancer blog, but here are some gorgeous looking cookies based on a scientific theme.  You can see more examples of sciencey cookies on  Ms Humble’s blog – Not so Humble Pie.

If that has whet your appetite for all things geeky then visit “” where you can buy cuddly red blood cells, neutrophils, platelets and neurons (among other things).  A similar American, selling all manner of scientific things  is

Right, I’m off to a Relay for Life meeting (hence the short posto, Relay for Life Huntly2016 is taking place on the 3rd of July 2016, hopefully I’ll see you there.

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Local Event and National Competitions – Biology and Health

This post is more a collection of various bits and pieces I have discovered on the internet over the last week, each link could warrant a whole blog post of it’s own but I don’t have time, so I’ll simply draw your attention to the links and if you want to follow them up feel free.

First of all, very last minute, but on Saturday the 16th January 2016 there is a “Training the Trainers day” for fitness instructors who help people living with cancer, it is in Alness and you can find out more on the Friends of Anchor, Events webpage.

Early next week, the first Cafe Med kicks of at Foresterhill on Monday the 18th January 2016 on Arthritis (usual caveats, check with the organisers before travelling etc.)

The University of Aberdeen are looking for children aged between nine and eleven to take part in a study looking at diet and physical activity. You can read the press release here. It is being run by the Rowett and you can visit the kids website called “Reality” to see what’s involved.

The Satrosphere (the science centre in Aberdeen) has some funding available for groups (like Brownies, Scouts, Women’s Institutes etc) to visit the centre. Schools in Aberdeen City can visit the Satrosphere for free and those outside the city can apply for funding to help with transport costs.

If you are a school teacher or a scientist you may like to know you can apply to the Royal Society for a partnership grant, to develop a science project in school. You can apply for up to £3, 000. The closing date is the 5th of March 2016.  I’ve run a successful project in the past, with money from the Royal Society, if you want to know more, please get in touch with me directly.

If you are an undergraduate student, studying biology (or something closely related) then you may like to enter the Higher Education Academy’s annual essay competition, you could win £250.  The title for this years comepetiton is “How would you advise new biosciences students to make the most of practical work”. The deadline is the 12th of April 2016.

If you know of any other science/medical events happening, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

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Microscopes using mobile phone cameras

Not really a cancer post, but certainly an interesting idea.  Researchers in America are developing a new way of using the camera on a mobile phone,  to take pictures of microscope slides when you don’t have access to a full blown laboratory.  This sort of thing will probably be of most use in the developing world.

It is called the “Celloscope”, if you have Broadband and Flash installed you should be able to see the video above (there is a short advert before it starts).  If you don’t have Flash Player installed then you can read a transcript of the video on the smartplanet website.  I thought it was a nice idea, healthcare should be affordable to all, not just rich people in the developed world who can afford luxuries like microscopes.

Related Posts

Cancer in the developing world

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Cell Journal – 60 Day Free Trial

This is a geeky post aimed at the scientists, the journal “Cell” is trying out a new way of showing scientific articles online and (in my opinion), it looks great. Normally you have to pay a lot of money to read Cell (an online only individual subscription for one year costs about £180). For the next 60 days (well I guess about 50 now) you can access Cell online for free. If you click on the homepage you can read about their new format for displaying scientific papers online.

There are papers on a wide selection of topics (the cytoskeleton, autoimmunity and cancer) I suppose they are trying to appeal to as wide a readership as possible, one paper that I read in depth was the one about how cancer cells use the fats we eat, (Monoacyclglycerol Lipase regulates a fatty acid network that promotes cancer pathogenesis) it’s technical and even though I used to work in the field it will take me a few hours to get my head round it. As part of the new format they also embed a YouTube video where 2 of the authors talk about the work. It’s only a 5 minute video but it would probably take me about 5 hours to write a layperson translation of what they say. One of my favourite bloggers (Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline) has already written a post on the paper called MAGL A New Cancer Target.

Another new feature of layout is the graphical abstract on the top right hand side, where each paper is summarised by a diagram. I love this! I learn a lot visually (you can take a VARK questionnaire to learn how you learn best) and so I like the idea of using a picture to sum up a paper.

If you are curious have a look at the new Cell format and if you want to let me know your opinion please leave a comment below, thanks.

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Cancer, cold weather and fuel payments

It’s freezing so now seems as good a time as any to mention Mamcillan’s campaign to Freeze out Fuel Poverty. According to Macmillan 1 in 5 cancer patients can’t afford to heat their homes.

If you have cancer Macmillan provide a factsheet about help with fuel bills. In the first instance they suggest you contact your supplier and check you are on the cheapest rate. If you tell you supplier you have cancer you will be put on the Priority Service Register so they can’t cut off your energy over the winter months.  If you are in Scotland they also suggest contacting the Energy Saving Trust, to see what you can do about insulating your home, the Trust also have information on financial help via their Energy Assistance Package.

There isn’t as much help from the government as you might think. If you are over 60 you should get between £100-£400 as a Winter Fuel Payment.  There is also a cold weather payment, if you receive certain benefits and the temperature drops below 0 C for 7 days in a row (which it has done recently), you will get this automatically.

If you don’t have cancer but want to back the Freeze out Fuel Poverty Campaign, visit their website and find out how you can help (it only takes a minute to sign their fuel poverty pledge, for instance).

Related Posts

Fuel Bills – Hidden Cancer Costs

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Little Scientist Days at the Satrosphere

For those of you close to Aberdeen, the Satrosphere (Aberdeen’s Science Centre, near the beach), run “Little Scientist Days“, aimed at kids from 3 to 5 years old.  It costs £4.75 for adults, and £3.5o for kids (under three’s are free).  The next Little Scientist day is based on living things and runs on the Wednesday the 20th and Friday the 22nd of January. Nurseries and playgroups can make group bookings for these events, see their website for further details.

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David Cameron – Cancer in the UK


In September 2015 I drew your attention to an interview between Gordon Brown and the Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, Harpal Kumar. In the interests of fairness,  I thought I’d point out that Cancer Research UK have posted a similar interview with David Cameron called “David Cameron speaks exclusively to Cancer Research UK CEO Harpal Kumar“.

This is an election year so I think it is worth knowing what the main parties opinions on cancer, research and the NHS are.

Actually, the things that annoyed me in the interview with Gordon Brown came up again in the interview with David Cameron, namely that GP’s don’t know the symptoms of cancer and this is the whole reason the UK lags behind Europe in terms of cancer treatment and survival.  I don NOT believe this is solely the GP’s fault, we need more people delivering care, more radiotherapists, for a start, more people to plan the very complex chemotherapy regimes, more people to administer these treatments and help people deal with the side effects. If GP’s referred everyone with a suspected cancer diagnosis the system would collapse because their simply aren’t enough specialists to deal with the numbers of people.

David Cameron puts more emphasis in the importance of public health to prevent cancers developing (not smoking/ eating healthily etc) and says he will set up local directors of public health to help achieve this.  The trouble is these sort of things take decades before you see results so politically are very likely to be cut and scientifically it is very hard to judge how much good they do.

His response on funding research in universities is luke-warm, to say the least, given that university level research is facing huge cuts (see my post “We can afford to pay bankers but not scientists” for my views on that). In fact at first he talks about the need for more pharmacology clinicians.  Is he even aware how much cancer research goes on in universities or does he think it all happens in hospitals?

What do you think? How do the two parties compare?

Related Posts

I have blood in my stool (poo) – Do I have cancer?

I have cancer – Why did my GP not diagnose it earlier?

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Can positive thinking cure cancer?

Can positive thinking cure cancer? Personally I don’t think so. That’s not to say that attitude is not important, but the idea that it’s “your fault” if your cancer can’t be cured has no scientific basis. Some of the treatments we have now can cure some types of cancer sadly, not all treatments cure all cancers and I don’t believe that’s because of the state of mind of those individuals. I think we fail to cure some types of cancer because we don’t (yet) have specific treatments aimed at the specific mutations and DNA damage in these particular tumours. Obviously I think with more research and over time (and I do mean a long time 50 odd years) I think many more cancers will be cured as we get better at making new drugs (e.g. we have only just started using new drugs aimed at cell signalling pathways).

This is a rather rambling introduction to a book I read  called “Bright Sided – How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America” by Barbara Ehrenreich (It’s been released in the UK as a paperback cherfully called “Smile or Die”).  Not an obvious book for a cancer website. Clearly I wasn’t the only person that read this over the holiday as Ron Ferguson’s opinion piece in Tuesday’s Press and Journal was about the same book “It’s always best to accentuate the positive, but get real, too.”

Wikipedia describe Barbara Ehrenriech as a feminist, socialist and political commentator. As it turns out, she started her career in science with an undergraduate degree in physics and a PhD in cell biology. So why was I reading a book by an American political commentator? She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and while searching the internet I came across her article “Cancerland”, it is a long article but well worth a read, a version of this article appeared in the Guardian last week called “Smile – You’ve got Cancer”. This forms the basis of the first chapter of the book Bright Sided, the rest of the book discusses postive psychology and how it affects American business.

Did I like this book? Yes, with some qualifications. It is refreshing to read something that goes against the grain of the “think positive” mentality. There is little evidence to suggests that environmental pesticides and chemcials cause a large number of cases of breast cancer (this is a point made frequently in the Cancerland article) and this is my one main complaint about an otherwise excellent book.

There is more and more research to suggest that your attitude has little to do with whether you are cured (or how long you survive) after you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. As Ron Ferguson points out it is cruel to give people “the added burden of believing that it’s all your own fault”.  For this reason alone I think Barbara Ehrenreich’s book is important and deserves to be more widely known.

The effect of all this positive thinking is to transform breast cancer into a rite of passage – not an injustice or a tragedy to rail against but a normal marker in the life cycle, like menopause or grandmotherhood. Everything in mainstream breast cancer culture serves, no doubt inadvertently, to tame and normalise the disease…

…Breast cancer, I can now report, did not make me prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual. What it gave me, if you want to call this a “gift”, was a very personal, agonising encounter with an ideological force in American culture that I had not been aware of before – one that encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune and blame only ourselves for our fate.

Barbara Ehrenreich Smile or Die – The Guardian

At the end of the day this book made me think more critically about the view that positive thinking is a good thing. This applies not only to cancer, but to accept modern working practices, if you get laid off (or your contract isn’t renewed) then it is somehow “your fault” and if only you have the “right” attitude you’d still have a job.  An interesting message in the current financial climate, that maybe instead of questioning our own personal character failings we should start asking questions about the bigger picture and demanding action.

Related Posts (handcrafted by me, Sarah and not a software plugin…)

More of my book reviews are in the Information and Links Section:

Books for the general public

Books for medical professionals

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What can I do with a lidl microscope?

1-4-09 004So you got a lidl microscope for Christmas and you are wondering what you can do with it? There are lots of websites out there that can help you get the most out of your microscope. Just goggling “amateur microscopy” will bring up 28,000 hits so there is plenty of stuff out there. A great place to start is “Emergency Kit of Things to See – What Can I see with my new microscope?” This is on the Microscopy UK website, which has a whole host of articles and information, although the site itself looks a bit dated and it is worth digging around to see what you can find.

If you are just starting out you’ll probably need to refer to the manual which gives the technical names for all the different parts of the microscope. If you want an online resource a good picture describing what all the bits of a microscope are called visit Make Magazines –Choosing a Microscope article.  A useful site, if you are just starting out is “The Microscope on a Budget”, the information itself is a bit dated but it covers all the basics, the section on slide microtechnique is good.

If you are looking for some inspiration then check out, in fact if you only click on one link, click this one, their image gallery is stunning. They also have a “Beginners” section on their forum which is a useful place to get some tips and a large and well explained links section.  If you have just got a new microscope you might like to know about the Postal Microscopical Society, which has been running since 1873, if you join they will send you a box of microscope slides (roughly every 3-4 weeks) for you to look at, comment on and send on to the next person in the club. It costs £20 to join, so its not too expensive. If you are looking for somewhere to buy slides, accessories stains etc then Brunel Microscopes are a good place to start.  I’ve bought prepared slides and stains from them and have been very happy with the service. They do a range of kits aimed at the beginner.

If you have found some dead house flies than a good website is the Anatomical Atlas of Flies, if you have broadband click on the “Atlas” in the  yellow box on the top right hand side, you then get a cool graphic describing the proper name for the bits of different flies, It is an Australian project and I don’t know how much of the information applies to British houseflies, but none the less it is an impressive project.

Human Cheek Cells

Onion Cells x 40 iodineEven if you don’t have a microscope the following links are interesting (you can see what the professionals can do!) The major microscope manufacturers run competitions every year and the entries are stunning, Nikon’s is the most famous, Olympus also run a similar competition. If you want to check out some human cells have a look at Ed’s Basic Histology website or Nikon’s Pathology on MicroscopyU.

The Pharmaceutical Collection has images of common drugs crystallised and photographed under the microscope, including some chemotherapy drugs like doxorubicin, taxol,tamoxifen and methotrexate. I love the images on this site, but the descriptions of the drugs side-effects are unnecessarily harsh and were clearly written by a scientist and not a medic. Not everyone gets all the side effects mentioned on this website! In a similar vein is a website called “The Medicine Cabinet” (without the doom laden side effect text), with some stunning images of everyday drugs. For a description of how to look at crystals under your own microscope using a Ferrero Roche chocolate box visit “Crystals Under the Microscope by Tony Saunders –Davies”.

That list should be enough to get you going, if you know of any other good websites please let me know, leave a comment below or email me using the contact form. Perhaps we could set up a North East microscope society?

Related Posts

Microscopes in Aberdeenshire

Microscopes at Lidl form the 17th December 2015

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2016 - A New Year

Happy New Year!  2016 is here, and I will be updating my News blog again on a daily (or almost daily basis).

I’ve had a quick scan of my favourite websites and there is lots to write about, several new bits of research have caught my eye including the effect of blood sugar levels on cancer risk, the role of mitochondrial DNA and chemotherapy drugs (with thanks to Dr Neil Ashley for providing me with a copy of his research paper) and more on VEGF.

I have also found some great websites for those of you who bought a microscope in Lidl over the holidays, so I’ll be writing a post on that.

I’ve added an upcoming events section, more so I can remember what is going on than anything else, I’m going to try and get to some of the new Cafe Med events at Foresterhill (in fact that might make a good new years resolution). If you know of any events that you would like added, please use the contact form to email me.

I got some new books for Christmas, so I will try and write some book reviews (see below for the links), including some from the Wellcome Prize shortlist.  I’ve also been reading:

  • Suckers – How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All by Rosie Shapiro and in the interests of balance
  • Living Well with Pain and Illness by Vidyamala Burch.
  • Bright Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich – How Positive thinking has undermined America (it does have a chapter on cancer, honest).
  • Testing Treatments by Imogen Evans, Hazel Thornton and Iain Chalmers.
  • Better Microscopy- A series of practical user’s guides, by D.J. Jackson

As you can see I’ve had a good holiday!  Remember, if you want these posts emailed to you click on the “email” button on the top right of this page and sign up.  If there are any topics you would like me to write about in 2016, please get in touch.

Books I plan on reviewing:

Image of Illness (Art of Living)
Image of Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All
Image of Living Well with Pain and Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself from Suffering
Image of Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America


Testing Treatments

Better Microscopy

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Decembers Posts in a Magazine!

This is an experiment.  I have saved a few of my posts from December as a newsletter.   This means you can dowload and print off the posts to read offline*.

Click on the link below to access the newsletter

Understanding Cancer December 2015

Please let me know if you find this useful, fill in a comment below or use the contact form to send me a private email  and let me know what you think. I have to pay for this service so I’ll only use it if I know people like it.

*The file is a pdf so you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to open it.

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Sarah’s Books

If you like these posts buy the book! The most popular posts from this website are available as a book called

Cancer Information for the North East of Scotland 2014-2015”.
Cancer Information Cover WEB

If you are more impressed with the images than the text “A Photobook of Cancer Research” might interest you.