Our bodies evolved over thousands of years to function well for 30–40 years wandering around the jungle with a spear. There has not been too much more evolution over the past 10,000 years and when we hit 50 years old and the hormones go south, many parts of the body wear out relatively rapidly. No one at 80 looks as good as they did when they were 60. Equally no one at 60 looks as good as they did at 40 and also, no one at 40 looks as good as they did when they were 20. …

Despite enormous advances in the management of various cancers over the past two decades, one of the most difficult cancers to treat is brain cancer and, in particular, glioblastoma.

But, over the past few years, there have been some significant advances that may well see this dreadful diagnosis better treated and possibly even cured.

One of the major centres performing ground-breaking work in this area is from Duke University, headed by Professor Matthias Gromeier. Professor Gromeier is using a chimeric polio-rhinovirus (PVS-RIPO) which has been modified to express specific tumour antigens. Antigens are specific proteins that stimulate the immune response. …

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The multi-national drug company Pfizer have just published a press release lauding the benefits of their new COVID-19 vaccine. This particular vaccine known as an mRNA vaccine was tested in a phase 3 clinical trial i.e. using an active and placebo group. Just under 44,000 people participated and 94 cases of COVID-19 were reported. The press release suggested a 90% improvement one week after the second dose. Two doses of the vaccine or placebo were given a month apart and then all patients were evaluated one week later. No patients in the trial experienced significant side effects. The trial commenced in late July 2020 and the last patients were evaluated in early November. It is intended they will be monitored for two years and Pfizer have announced they will have 50 million doses available by 2020 and 1.3 billion doses available at some stage next year.

An mRNA vaccine contains a piece of genetic code of the coronavirus that trains the immune system to recognise the spike protein on the virus surface. It is the spike protein that allows the virus to gain entry into cells and then leads to infection. The Pfizer vaccine is totally different to the much discussed Oxford vaccine which uses an altered adenovirus (which basically causes a cold in monkeys) linked to part of the spike protein. The Oxford group, in conjunction with Astrazeneca are aiming to recruit 50,000 volunteers in Brazil, the United Kingdom, United States in South Africa. To date, apart from one person having an adverse reaction from which they have recovered, those administered the vaccine have had no major side-effects and it is looking effective in the vast majority of people who receive the vaccine, including the older population.

Although I believe any advances in vaccine technology for any condition are very exciting and, in this case, hopefully allowing our lives to return to normal following the coronavirus pandemic, there are some questions this dramatic press release did not answer. Most importantly, the press release said that the vaccine was 90% effective. It did not, however, explain what this actually meant. Was it 90% effective at stopping COVID-19 or was it 90% effective at reducing the severity of the disease? Does this vaccine reduce the spread of the coronavirus by 90%? Was the virus tested in the more vulnerable populations such as the elderly, the obese, those with diabetes, hypertension or other chronic illnesses and immune disorders? What was the breakdown between men and women in this trial?

It also did not address the significant issue that the vaccine needs to be stored at extremely low temperatures and this would be a problem with transportation and the use in lower income countries where this type of cold storage is not freely available.

However, Pfizer and all of the other research institutions involved in the development of vaccines need to be congratulated on the speed and extent of the research and also the fact that the public are continually being informed as to the progress of all of these interventions. …

When you think about diet or nutrition, your thoughts are mainly towards what foods you consume on a regular basis. But over the past few decades there has been increasing emphasis not just on our food intake but also our fluid intake as being an important factor towards good or bad health.

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For a number of years, we have been told about the benefits of drinking tea and especially green tea but there is still a number of people who live with the misconception that coffee is bad for your health. If you ask anyone the question, what is the most commonly consumed drug in the world, you get various answers such as cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine or possibly even heroin. The true answer, however, is caffeine, typically delivered through coffee but also present in smaller amounts in tea and a number of soft drinks. …

The human body is such a complex structure and is working all the time to keep us in balance. This requires the coordination of thousands of different proteins and other natural chemicals interacting on a moment by moment basis. When something goes wrong in the body, this typically manifests as symptoms and a subsequent disease. Enter the medical profession!

Much of medical teaching is based around the therapeutic value of pharmaceutical drugs and a variety of surgical procedures. Basically, if you can’t fix it with a prescription pad or a scalpel, then any other approach doesn’t work. …

Although, no doubt, 2020 has changed the world in so many ways and it will long be said that COVID-19 was the major epidemic of the 21st-century, the reality is that this is not the case. The major epidemic of the 21st-century is diabesity, the combination of diabetes and obesity. This condition will have much more far-reaching effects for many decades unless there are some major breakthroughs for these two very serious health conditions.

Two recent studies, the first from the US (the world capital of obesity) looked at the transformation of white fat into brown fat. I know what you’re thinking — you didn’t realise there was more than one type of fat.

Brown fat is the fat found typically in babies and small children and as we age, we lose brown fat and tragically gain white fat. Brown fat burns energy, including glucose and fat, whereas white fat stores energy. This all evolved when we were hunter gatherers when we needed efficient storage sites to hold on to nutrition for a few days “after the kill” until the next big feed. Life back then was the feast after the kill of an animal and then a few days of not eating much apart from getting some nuts and berries off trees and drinking water from the local watering hole, if indeed these food and fluid sources were available.

We typically don’t experience famine in the modern world, instead a constant feast with breakfast, lunch, & dinner and often snacks in between. Thus, our storage sites are overwhelmed with subsequent increasing abdominal obesity as we age. In most adults and especially those who are overweight or obese, there is little brown fat with the vast majority of our fat being white fat.

The researchers used gene editing technology to boost the expression of a gene known as UCP-1 which converts human white fat cells, in their very early stages before they are fully formed, into brown fat cells. These new cells, surprisingly known as HUMBLE cells were then transplanted into mice who demonstrated increasing insulin sensitivity and therefore much better clearance of glucose from the blood and also less weight gain, despite a high-fat diet. …

When I started my medical degree in the 70s, a diagnosis of cancer was typically a death sentence. Occasionally, if cancer was detected early, there was some hope for surgical resection. The radiotherapy and chemotherapy used back in those days was rather primitive and certainly often, extremely toxic to the body.

Now in the year 2020, despite significant emphasis being appropriately placed on improved therapies and vaccines for COVID-19, the medical world is closing in on a cure for cancer. …

It is my opinion, not shared by an ignorant, ill-informed few, that vaccination was the greatest advance in medicine of the last century. With the introduction of vaccines, we saw the end to a variety of conditions that would either prematurely kill or disable a significant proportion of the population. For some bizarre reason, not based on any scientific fact whatsoever, a small but very vocal group of the population have become known as anti-vaxxers, spreading ridiculous, and unscientific nonsense, typically on social media.

2020 has been dominated by COVID-19 and to this point we have seen around the globe over 32 million cases and around 1 million deaths. The USA has been the most prominent with more than 7 million cases and over 200,000 deaths, to date, with India, Brazil and Russia following close behind. In Australia, to this point, we have seen over 27,000 cases and just below 900 deaths. Fortunately, in our country, the caseload is diminishing rapidly, even in Victoria. …

Australia has been rocked by the death of the cricketing legend, Dean Jones, at the young age of 59. Dean, allegedly, had just gone for a run and returned to his hotel in Mumbai where he was part of the commentary team for the cricket IPL.

When any prominent person dies from any condition, there is typically huge publicity for the condition and the only silver lining of an event such as this is that it is a wake-up call for all of us to ensure we have proper preventative assessments.

Of course, I am not privy to the clinical circumstances of Dean Jones and did not know him personally but like many Australians, derived enormous pleasure from watching his extraordinary cricket skills and hearing his astute commentary on television and radio. It is highly likely that Dean died as a consequence of a plaque rupture in his coronary arteries leading to a heart attack and then subsequently the damage precipitated a cardiac arrest. A heart attack is the plaque rupture & subsequent clot blocking the artery (the typical, but not only cause of heart attack), whereas a cardiac arrest is when the heart stops working leading to sudden collapse & death, unless CPR is successful. There are numerous, non-heart attack causes of cardiac arrest. …

As we approach daylight saving, the usual supporters and detractors start to emerge. Recently, a Melbourne Professor of Medicine has called for the ending of daylight saving because of its proven health detriments. A number of studies have suggested that on the day after we lose an hour’s sleep, there is a 25% increased risk for heart attack, an increase in road traffic accidents and other non-related trauma, not to mention a reduction in thinking ability.

It’s rather odd to think that purely by losing one hour of sleep we can see such significant health effects. But, let me put this in perspective. In Australia alone, with a population of just under 25 million people, there are typically around 150 heart attacks per day. A 25% increase would bring the number up to close to 190 heart attacks. Of course, if you are one of the 40 extra heart attacks, it is not a good thing, but these are hardly earthshattering numbers. …


Dr Ross Walker

Dr Walker is an expert in the field of preventative cardiology and has published seven books. He gives lectures nationally and internationally.

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