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Health news weekly: from lab-grown blood to birdsong

November 11, 2022

We know it can be difficult and time-consuming to wade through all the news about healthcare (much of it doom and gloom) which is why we’re here to keep you up to date with all the latest news, discoveries and innovations in our weekly round-up:

Lab-grown blood given to people in world-first clinical trial

A groundbreaking clinical trial is taking place in the UK to test how small amounts of lab-grown blood perform inside the body. The RESTORE trial is a joint research initiative by NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) and the University of Bristol, working with the University of Cambridge, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Cambridge Clinical Research Facility, and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Although the majority of blood used in transfusions is always expected to come from donations, the advent of lab-grown blood could increase the availability of blood from ultra-rare blood groups, for which there are very few donors and very low stores. This could be of great benefit for people who require regular blood transfusions for conditions such as sickle cell anaemia.

NHS offers ‘life-changing’ bionic arms to all amputees

Until now, cutting-edge bionic prosthetics were only available on the NHS to military veterans injured in service. However, after two independent reviews and the successful rollout for veterans, the technology is set to be made available to every patient in the UK who needs it. 

This represents a huge step forward for patients who previously only had access to basic models which were either purely cosmetic or only able to grip in a limited way; now, anyone with enough residual upper arm muscle to operate the technology will be eligible for the far more dextrous bionic prosthetic. 

How AI Is Changing Medical Imaging to Improve Patient Care

This fascinating long-read from Time magazine explores how AI is making medical imaging more powerful than ever before, using tremendous computational power and machine learning to spot differences that would otherwise likely be missed by the human eye. 

The article outlines two core ways in which medical imaging is evolving: through no longer focusing on improving the resolution of images captured, but on improving the way in which the data is analysed; and through no longer being used to simply diagnose conditions, but in their treatment and prevention as well. 

The future of healthcare design is a lot more colourful and a lot more fun

Hospital design is typically seen as merely functional, austere and clinical, but one of the biggest hospitals in Portugal has a new paediatric ward that’s seeking to change that. The Hospital de São Joã in Porto commissioned local architecture firm ARG Studio to create leisure areas for children staying in hospital for a protracted period of time. 

The designs aim to bolster patients’ mental wellbeing, with bold, bright colours used in the five rooms that include a library and play area. The project implicitly acknowledges the importance of hospitals and healthcare environments not just being places that promote physical wellbeing, but somewhere that it is actually pleasant to spend time.

Study finds birdsong could improve mental health 

Research carried out by academics at King’s College London found that everyday encounters with birds and birdsong boosted the mood of people with depression, and could be beneficial to the wider population as well. The study tracked 1,292 people’s encounters with birds via a smartphone app, prompting them at random intervals to report whether they were feeling happy or stressed, whether they could see trees and whether they could see or hear birds. 

The findings showed that average mental wellbeing was higher when participants could see or hear birds, including for those who disclosed that they had previously been diagnosed with depression.