Manchester’s week in science: 15th-20th February.

Informative DVD may improve reliability of MRI scans:

800px-MRI-PhilipsThe walls feel like they are closing in as you lay still, confined within a narrow tube, listening to an intensive cacophony of screeches and bangs caused by giant magnets moving around your body. This may sound like an exert from some futuristic sci-fi, but it’s actually a common medical procedure experienced by many on a daily basis. MRI scans can feel pretty intimidating but, for doctors to get a good look inside your head, it’s vital that patients stay entirely still and remain so throughout the entire procedure – not an easy task!

Research conducted by Dr Rachael Powell, from the University of Manchester’s school of psychological sciences, has found that watching a DVD explaining the procedure and outlining relaxation techniques improves MRI success rates for many patients. This study followed 83 outpatients who were due to have MRI scans. Approximately half of these patients were given paper based information detailing the procedure and appointment particulars, while the other half were sent a DVD. The DVD contained lots of information about the procedure, including a demonstration, detailed accounts of other patents experiences and a range of relaxation techniques and exercises. – Of the 41 patients who received the DVD, 35 had satisfactory scan outcomes, while only 23 of the 42 patients who did not see the DVD managed a successful scan.

Dr Powell explained: “We found that the vast majority of participants found the DVD an easy format to use, with almost all participants viewing the DVD at least once, with over half the participants using it at least twice. Most of the participants found the DVD useful and said it helped them to feel less anxious and more confident about taking the scan.

“Given the high number of scans where either patients move in the scanner, reducing image quality, or where patients do not manage to stay in the scanner long enough to complete the examination, the finding that an affordable, acceptable and effective intervention can be sent to patients by post prior to their scan could have an important impact on patient care and health care costs.”

Hospital hygiene rubbing staff up the wrong way:

Human_hand_with_dermatitisThere is no denying that increased hygiene in hospitals has had a positive impact on the prevention of healthcare-associated infections, such as MRSA and C-difficile. But, researchers from Manchester University’s Institute of Population Health have found that healthcare workers are now 4.5 times more likely to suffer from irritant contact dermatitis than they were back in 1996 – before the introduction of new hygiene measures.

Irritant contact dermatitis is a form of contact dermatitis where the skin can become injured by friction or over-exposure to water or chemicals. Meaning that the same high levels of hygiene, vital for preventing infection in hospitals, may also have the knock on side effect of increasing dermatological problems in frontline health workers. This may potentially lead to staff choosing not to wash their hands as often in an attempt to reduce irritation on damaged or broken skin.

Dr Jill Stocks, who led the research, said: “Campaigns to reduce these infections have been very successful and many lives have been saved.  However, we need to do all we can to prevent skin irritation among these frontline workers.”

Dr Stocks said: “Obviously we don’t want people to stop washing their hands, so more needs to be done to procure less irritating products and to implement practices to prevent and treat irritant contact dermatitis.”

New ‘life’ for extinct marine reptile:

James McKay

James McKay

Dean Lomax, palaeontologist and honorary scientist at the University of Manchester, has recently helped uncover the secrets of a ~185 million year old fossil. The fossil, first unearthed on Dorset’s Jurassic coast and displayed at the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, has finally given up it’s secrets; revealing the existence of a new type of ichthyosaur (an extinct marine reptile).

Lomax, who first examined the fossil in 2008 noticed a rage of abnormalities in its bone structure and, working with Professor Judy Massare of Brockport College New York, spent five years traveling the world in the hope of better understanding the fossils peculiarities.

Dean said: “After examining the specimen extensively, both Professor Massare and I identified several unusual features of the limb bones (humerus and femur) that were completely different to any other ichthyosaur known. That became very exciting. After examining perhaps over a thousand specimens we found four others with the same features as the Doncaster fossil.”

Ichthyosaurs were similar in shape to modern-day dolphins and sharks and inhabited the seas for millions of years during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The discovery of a new species if ichthyosaur is very important for both our understanding of these extinct reptiles and their modern day relatives.

The new species has been named Ichthyosaurus anningae in honour of the British collector, and woman in science, Mary Anning, who first collected ichthyosaurs in the early 1800’s. It is the first new Ichthyosaurus identified for almost 130 years.

Dean added: “It is an honour to name a new species, but to name it after somebody who is intertwined with such an important role in helping to sculpt the science of palaeontology, especially in Britain, is something that I’m very proud of. In fact, one of the specimens in our study was even found by Mary herself! Science is awesome.”

“This discovery shows that new species, and not only ichthyosaurs, are awaiting discovery in museum collections. Not all new discoveries are made in the field.”

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