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10 medical hopes for the future

By Lisa Smyth

Our top medical experts are in the frontline of the global fight against disease. Our reporter looks at 10 areas where we're leading the charge...

1. Research carried out at Queen's has discovered proteins in frog skins which could be used to treat cancer, diabetes, stroke and transplant patients by regulating the growth of blood vessels. Professor Chris Shaw has identified two proteins which can be used to control growth of blood vessels. By inhibiting blood vessel growth, one protein, from the Waxy Monkey Frog, has the potential to kill cancer tumours.

2. Researchers from University of Ulster have received a £214,000 grant from charity, Prostate Cancer UK, to investigate a new drug combination to help reduce the spread of prostate cancer in the body. They will research the new combination which aims to target aggressive prostate tumours to control their growth. Research, testing the drug regime on mice, will start in March.

3. A team at Queen's University is looking at the efficacy of a specific type of radiotherapy and new technology aimed at leading to even more impressive responses in patients with prostate cancer. This new phase of research, led by Professor Joe O'Sullivan, comes after scientists at Queen's pioneered a new combination treatment for prostate cancer. The treatment is the first of its kind to be developed in the world.

4. Children from Northern Ireland have taken part in a Cancer Research UK trial to ascertain the likelihood of their cancer returning. The test involved 75 youngsters being treated at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. Preliminary results of the trial have found that the cure rate for patients involved "remains the best in the world on long-term follow-up with the risk of relapse about half of what it was 10 years ago".

5. An international research team led by Queen's University has developed a groundbreaking treatment for Cystic Fibrosis sufferers. The new drug benefits sufferers who have the Celtic Gene -- a genetic mutation which is particularly common in Ireland. The study found significant improvement in lung function, quality of life and a reduction in disease flare-ups for those receiving the new treatment.

6. Craigavon Area Hospital is the first hospital in Northern Ireland -- and among the first in the world -- to fit a Biomonitor device in a patient. Dr David McEneaney, a consultant cardiologist, implanted the device in a patient for the first time in January. Biomonitor is a small cardiac monitor which continuously monitors a patient's heart rate and rhythm and can detect if the heart is maybe beating too fast, too slow or irregularly.

7. Randox Laboratories, the University of Ulster and the Western Health & Social Care Trust are working jointly on developing a simple blood test for those suffering from inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. The test aims to identify patients who will respond best to new advanced drugs which cost up to £10,000 per patient per year. The test will mean an end to futile therapy for patients who undergo the treatment without deriving any benefit.

8. Craigavon-based biotechnology company Almac Discovery is working to develop tomorrow's treatments for cancer. Since the company was set up in 2008, its researchers have made significant progress towards the discovery and development of a number of new drugs to help cancer patients. The company also works closely with scientists at home and internationally.

9. Northern Ireland scientists are set to launch the Chemo Breast Dx test which predicts the benefit of chemotherapy for early stage breast cancer patients. The test, which has been developed by Almac, may save patients from unnecessary chemotherapy while identifying those who may benefit most. Following surgery, a sample of patient tissue is taken and genetic analysis is carried out which indicates whether the patient is likely to respond to first line chemotherapy. Development is in its final stages.

10. Scientists at the University of Ulster have discovered a diabetes drug, liraglutide, could help treat Alzheimer's disease.The condition affects nearly 16,000 people in Northern Ireland and the laboratory research being carried out here could be crucial for millions of people around the world.

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