Monday, April 20, 2009

Official cake looniness in Britain

Can a cake kill you? According to the Government it can. The Department of Health has just spent £500,000 on advertisements that demonise, of all the things they could demonise, a small, iced cake. These ads, aimed at mothers and placed in women's weekly magazines, show a photograph of a healthy young girl biting into a type of fairy cake. The doomy caption underneath reads: 'Is a premature death so tempting?'

Not quite as tempting, perhaps, as beating health ministers with the paddle attachment on your mixer until they howl for mercy or form soft peaks, whichever happens first.

Unsurprisingly, the ads - part of a £75 million health campaign - have been rubbished by critics ranging from parents and chefs such as Delia Smith to the National Obesity Forum. All concur that a homemade cake at a party as an occasional treat for a child is absolutely fine. Making such cakes look like poison will, ultimately, only prove to be counterproductive and frighten children in the process.

And really, it is not home baking that is the difficulty here, it is the haunting lack of it - and other basic cooking skills - that is at the root of the problem.


Treatment that zaps prostate cancer cells developed by scientists

Powerful particles that seek out and burn up prostate cancer tumours are being developed by British scientists. The treatment would allow doctors to treat the cancer at the same time as spotting it. It could also allow earlier diagnosis, raising the chances of survival and cutting the number of distressing side-effects. The first patients could be given the treatment in three years and it could be in widespread use in ten.

The condition is the most common cancer in British men, with 35,000 cases a year and 10,000 deaths. It is curable if caught early, but conventional treatments – including drugs, surgery and radiotherapy – carry the risk of side-effects including loss of libido and impotence.

In addition, the blood test used to diagnose the disease is unreliable, meaning that fledgling cancers can be missed until they have spread to other parts of the body and are much harder to treat.

The breakthrough by scientists at Leicester University centres on tiny particles capable of seeking out and destroying prostate cancer cells. The particles, each one-fiftieth the width of a human hair, are armed with molecules that stick to the surface of prostate tumour cells. They are also magnetic so they show up on MRI scans allowing the cancer to be detected. After the tumour is spotted, the nanoparticles are zapped with radio waves, releasing a burst of heat that kills the cancer cells.

Although the work is at a very early stage, scientists believe it could lead to the cancer being detected a year before the patient notices symptoms. Researcher Dr Glenn Burley said: 'The nanoparticles are a lot more sensitive and targeted so they can spot smaller changes in the gland which would not show up in a blood test. 'The earlier you can detect tumours the better. With conventional treatment there's also a significant delay between diagnosis and treatment but nanoparticles could save time, depending on the length of waiting lists, because they kill the tumour at the same time.'

Co-researcher Dr Wu Su said the treatment could cut the need for surgery and costs to the NHS. He added: 'Prostate cancer cure rates have been predicted on early diagnosis and treatment. 'The technology we're developing offers the potential of both identification and early treatment of prostate cancer in a selective manner.' The technique could also be used to detect and burn up breast, bowel and liver cancer cells, researchers believe.

John Neate, of the Prostate Cancer Charity, gave a cautious welcome. He said: 'Even if the research does have a positive result, we will have to wait some years before answers from this study might arrive by the hospital bedside, but every journey starts with the first step.' Mr Neate added: 'It is promising that the increasing profile of prostate cancer over recent years has attracted new scientific interest.


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