British scientists have identified the cells that trigger a common hand condition, paving the way for new and more effective treatments.
Some 2.6 million Britons have Dupuytren’s disease, an age-related condition in which the fingers curl in towards the palm.
It occurs when knots of scar tissue form in the palmar fascia, the thin layer of tissue that lies under the skin of the palm, making it tougher. These knots eventually link together to form a thick cord that pulls one or more fingers over towards the palm.
This can lead to ‘clawed’ fingers, making it difficult for people to carry out day-to-day activities, such as doing up buttons.
With no drugs to treat the disease and physiotherapy unable to release ‘clawed’ fingers, surgery — in which the knotted cords are removed under general anaesthetic — is the main treatment.
Some 2.6 million Britons have Dupuytren’s disease, an age-related condition in which the fingers curl in towards the palm
Recovery, though, is lengthy (two weeks during which the hand is in a splint, followed by two months of physiotherapy). Moreover the condition recurs in up to half of cases because the diseased tissue simply grows back.
Surgery can also be risky if the diseased tissue is wrapped around nerves and arteries.
Now scientists have found a specialised cell type only present in the diseased tissue, which they believe is responsible for the scarring that leads to the ‘knots’ developing in the first place.
These cells could now be the target of drug treatments for the disease in its earliest stages.
What causes Dupuytren’s isn’t known. As well as having a genetic component, studies suggest it is more common in people with diabetes. High blood sugar levels are known to damage blood vessels and one theory is that some of these damaged blood vessel cells break away and form scar tissue.
The first sign of the condition is thickening or pitting of the skin of the palm. In severe cases people can lose the use of all their fingers within two or three years.
Dr Ross Dobie, a biologist at the University of Edinburgh and a researcher with the study, used single-cell RNA sequencing to analyse the function of thousands of cells taken from diseased fascia from patients with Dupuytren’s and from healthy tissue — this revealed the specialised cell type in the diseased tissue. Further experiments on these cells revealed a protein on their surface was key to scar formation.
The researchers found they could stop the protein from working using monoclonal antibodies — man-made proteins that mimic the role of antibodies to fight diseases. This led to changes in the cells that should prevent them from producing scar tissue, the Journal of Investigative Dermatology has reported. More studies are planned to learn how to stop the cells producing scar tissue.
‘Dupuytren’s is massively debilitating and we urgently need better treatments that can help slow, stop and prevent the problems that it causes,’ says Chris West, a consultant plastic surgeon at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and co-author of the study.
Neal Millar, a professor of orthopaedic surgery and musculoskeletal science at the University of Glasgow, adds: ‘These data are crucial in developing new targeted treatments to radically change the options available to patients suffering from Dupuytren’s.’
A simple test, in which the thumb is folded across the palm, could give early warning of aortic aneurysm, an abnormal swelling of the aorta, the body’s largest blood vessel.
It is usually symptomless until too late when the aorta bursts, causing internal bleeding.
The test, from Yale University in the U.S., involves holding up a hand and stretching the thumb as far as possible across the flattened palm. A thumb that reaches over the far edge of it may be a sign of diseased connective tissue and the aorta may be at risk of rupture.
Don’t panic if you test ‘positive’, say the researchers. It can take the aorta decades to swell to the point of rupture.
New PPE that protects medics better than masks
A new Covid-safe ‘hood’ can offer NHS workers more protection from the virus than standard PPE.
The Morecambe Bay Hood is a full-face, cleanable and reusable head and neck covering that is connected to a wearable air filter via a tube that delivers clean air continuously.
It also has noise reduction technology and a clear plastic screen at the front, allowing staff to communicate with patients more easily — currently a challenge with masks.
The hood, developed by BAE Systems, will be supplied to NHS hospitals — beginning in Lancashire and South Cumbria — from this month.
The Morecambe Bay Hood is a full-face, cleanable and reusable head and neck covering that is connected to a wearable air filter via a tube that delivers clean air continuously
Tiny mites found on skin can live for almost 150 hours on lipsticks, 21 in mascara and two in powder, reports the journal Acta Parasitologica. The demodex mites can be beneficial as they remove dead skin, but can cause rashes and the skin condition rosacea. The researchers warn that sharing make-up can spread the mites.
Drug targets multiple autoimmune diseases
Can the same medication treat type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis?
Quite possibly, say scientists at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.
All three conditions are caused by the body’s immune system attacking and damaging its own cells.
Now experiments on tissue samples from people with the conditions have shown a gene called TYK2 is key to the damage, the journal Science Advances reports.
This means existing drugs for one condition might help the others. ‘Characterising the similarities and differences between auto-immune diseases has the potential to transform the way we treat and cure these diseases,’ the scientists said.
‘Pen’ device makes cancer ops faster and more accurate
A pen-like device has been developed to improve the accuracy of pancreatic cancer surgery by making it easier for surgeons to remove only diseased tissue.
To test for cancerous cells, the hand-held MasSpec Pen drops a little water onto the tissue. The water extracts molecules from the tissue which are then absorbed by the gadget and analysed within seconds using mass spectrometry imaging.
A study by the University of Texas in the U.S. found the device to be 92 per cent accurate when tested on 157 tissue samples in the lab — and 100 per cent accurate when used during operations. It was also 100 times faster than the current practice of sending a biopsy to a lab for analysis during an operation.
How a computer game can help those with PTSD
A computer ‘game’ that asks players to fill in the missing letters in words could help those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Researchers from the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany asked 40 patients with PTSD, which is characterised by anxiety and flashbacks caused by a traumatic event, to log on four times a week for two weeks and fill in blanks in sentences that related to their trauma.
It was hoped this would show them their symptoms were normal reactions, and so reduce the distress they felt.
Another 40 patients went through placebo training and all had psychotherapy.
Those who played the ‘game’ experienced fewer trauma-related thoughts afterwards and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their system, according to the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
How music can improve your health. This week: Eases pain of childbirth
Just listening to music can make the pain of childbirth more manageable, found a 2020 study published by the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics.
In a study of 30 women, those who listened to music had less pain and anxiety throughout labour compared to women who had no music.
Almost all who listened to music reported positive effects in as soon as 60 minutes. Using a pain scale from 0 (no pain) to ten (unbearable pain), the music group reported an average score of 8.8, compared to 9.8 in the non-music group.
Previous studies have found music can calm the central nervous system, particularly the areas that perceive pain.
It also helps to listen to familiar tunes, the researchers noted, as they can provide comfort in an otherwise unfamiliar environment.
Whole fruits — two portions a day or more — may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, research in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism suggests. In a study of more than 7,600 people, those who ate two servings (150g) daily were 36 per cent less likely to develop type 2 five years later, compared to people who ate less than half a serving or no fruit. Slow-release fibre in fruit may delay rises in blood sugar levels.
What’s in it?
We reveal the ingredients in everyday health products. This week: Veet Body & Legs Hair Removal Cream for Sensitive Skin
CETEARYL ALCOHOL: This thick, white substance is made from two fatty alcohols (which are solid at room temperature and used in skincare products).
These are found naturally in plants and animals or made in a lab. The ingredient helps make the cream smoother and stops liquids and oils from separating.
POTASSIUM THIOGLYCOLATE: An acid which, when mixed with the alkali calcium hydroxide (another ingredient), breaks down the hair.
ALOE BARBADENSIS LEAF JUICE: Also known as aloe vera, this has soothing properties and acts as an anti-inflammatory to stop skin reacting when the cream breaks down the hair.