Moon landings and non-stick frying pans


As a schoolboy of the 1960’s I was absolutely enthralled by the Apollo space programme and can remember every detail, sitting cross legged in front of a small black and white television as I watched live pictures of Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. My mother certainly encouraged my interest but I will always remember her excitement at the thought of a Teflon frying pan. Teflon, the non-stick coating that we all take for granted, was a spin-off from the Apollo programme. No doubt some will say that was the best thing – I disagree.

A truly remarkable spin-off in the making was announced in the medical journals and the press last week.  It remains a fact that heart disease and heart attacks are right at the top of the charts when it comes to premature cause of death. A ‘pop quiz’ fact about our hearts is that, unlike most of our body, heart cells cannot regrow or fix themselves. In fact, the heart cells you are born with are pretty much the same ones you die with. That means if an area of heart muscle is damaged, it stays damaged for ever and damaged heart muscle inevitably leads to heart failure. While we can manage heart failure very well, we can’t treat it or reverse it.

Well, it’s quite something to say that there have been exciting spin-offs as a result of the Covid pandemic, but very recently the medical journals were full of some really exciting news. One of the ways the vaccinations worked was to slightly re-programme the way the virus worked once it got inside us. That re-programming was clever enough but we’ve been able to do that sort of thing for a while, the really clever bit was being able to deliver the re-programming instructions where they needed to go.

Researchers at King’s College in London have managed to create a re-programming instruction that tells heart muscles how to regenerate and repair themselves. In tests on animal hearts, it has successfully worked and damaged heart cells have repaired themselves. In terms of cardiac treatment this is nothing short of amazing. The researchers hope that after human trials the treatment will become routine and anyone suffering a heart attack could receive an injection at the scene, or upon arrival at hospital and damaged cells could already be on the road to recovery.

One estimate reckons that up to a million people are affected by heart failure in the UK alone, this treatment, once approved, could spell the end of heart failure as we know it today. It’s quite true to say that without Covid hitting us, we’d still be at the drawing board stage.

Talking about cardiac emergencies, CPR is such a simple skill that you can easily learn. It’s a truism that it is the person standing near you who will save your life, not the trained paramedics miles away. For CPR to be effective it has to be started very quickly; in fact, we now teach and talk about ‘the chain of survival’, defibrillators, new drugs like the one I have just been talking about, and skilled professionals are all part of a chain. However, that chain usually starts with someone who witnesses a sudden cardiac arrest or just happens to be passing after someone suffers a heart attack. I cannot emphasise enough what a difference it makes if that someone has the skills and knowledge to be the crucial first link in that chain of survival. The paramedics with their machines and advanced skills can take over when they arrive but if that vital first link is missing, they will in all probability be wasting their time. So, if you are thinking about how to use up some spare time, sign up for a short CPR course – you never know; you could save a life.

Dr Marcus Stephan

My views are entirely personal and do not reflect the view or position of any organisation. You should always consult your own medical practitioner regarding any concerns that you may have. Never stop taking any prescribed medication without first checking with your doctor.

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Dr Marcus Stephan

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