Abdominal pain: an accurate GP assessment can be crucialMartin Büdenbender Pixabay

Cambridge research combats medical misalignment.

Our GP is usually the first port of call for access to the wider NHS, so ensuring GPs understand our symptoms is vital – both to maintain trust in this ‘gatekeeping’ structure and even more importantly, to ensure access to appropriate treatment.

In a bid to improve GP care, in a study led by a Cambridge PhD student, a multinational team studied 28 video-taped primary care consultations - all of patients describing abdominal pain. The patients' descriptions of their symptoms was compared with what was ultimately entered into their record, with accurate recording being 'alignments' and inaccurate or missed information 'misalignments'.

Abdominal pain can indicate serious illnesses such as upper gastro-intestinal cancers (UGICs), though are most frequently simply benign. Due to the lack of large-scale screening programs for UGICs, and fewer clear symptoms, missing an early chance to detect this kind of cancer can mean much later diagnoses, and worse patient outcomes.

The study found GPs more frequently misaligned patient descriptions than they aligned when it came to these set of symptoms. However, this was more often the case when patients used vague description or used terms like 'discomfort' rather than 'pain', highlighting a route forward to reduce this disparity.

Cambridge economists: cars and computing to blame for UK productivity slowdown

Recent analysis has yielded a potential resolution to the  ‘puzzle’ of the slowdown in UK productivity. Economists at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy used ONS data to decompose the growth of the UK economy into contributions from a total of 19 distinct sectors, like manufacturing, finance and agriculture.

The paper found that within-sector productivity slowdowns were, on the whole, responsible for the total slowdown in growth, though there was a slight effect from labour reallocation – the net movement of jobs from higher to lower productivity sectors.

Of all the 19 sectors, the research indicated that ICT and manufacturing were the main culprits for the slowdown: over a third of ICT's slowdown attributable to the telecommunications industry, while automotives and basic pharmaceuticals were a large drag on manufacturing.

ICT and manufacturing are the main culprits for the UK's productivity slowdownwww_slon_pics | Pixabay

Sugary Drinks Tax is working, according to new Cambridge study

Researchers from the MRC Epidemiology Unit, in collaboration with other institutions, tracked changes in the levels of obesity in children in England in reception year and year six between 2014 and 2020, finding that the introduction of the sugar tax was associated with an 8% relative reduction in obesity levels in year six girls, equivalent to preventing 5,234 cases of obesity per year in this group alone. 

Cambridge investigates quantum friction

Graphene has found fame as a potential material of the future, but it still exhibits many properties scientists don't yet fully understand.

One proposed use of graphene sheets is as a nano-sieve, for water filtration or even energy production. But researchers have been left puzzled by the unusually high friction that is observed near water-graphene boundaries; this must be understood before any such technologies can progress.


Mountain View

The Varsity Science Round-Up: Lent Week 1

By simulating water-graphitic interfaces on a molecular scale, Cambridge scientists were able to provide early evidence to support a theory of quantum friction, an attempt to explain the unexpected phenomenon. They were also able to use the simulation to suggest approaches for future experimental efforts seeking to test the theory.

Emotional blunting caused by common antidepressants

Research from the Department of Psychiatry, in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen, found that anti-depressants cause half of the users to feel emotionally blunted because of how it affects reinforcement learning, which allows humans to form behavioural patterns from the environment. They found no significant effect of anti-depressants on 'cold' cognition, like attention and memory, or 'hot' cognition that involves our emotions.  

Rebuilding sheep from their skin

Scientists from Cambridge, Exeter, York, Scotland and Denmark have come up with an innovative technique in a bid to settle a ‘contentious’ chronology of the Agricultural Revolution between the 16th and 19th centuries. 

Laying the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution, it saw the adoption of field rotation, enclosure of commons and wider use of fertilisers, but until now it has been impossible to pin down precisely what, where and when certain changes were made during this period.

Animal remains can't be dated precisely enough and written sources are typically too local to provide a complete picture of the progress. Instead, the team deployed a new approach to tackle the problem: they measured the proportions of carbon and nitrogen isotopes in legal documents, in a technique known as stable isotope analysis. The documents spanned almost 500 years of British history.

Two of the documents used in the research. The left dates back to 1499, the right to 1728.Parchment, Sean Doherty | CC BY 4.0

Being legal documents, they bore precise dates and, most importantly, were written on sheepskin parchment. Comparing ratios of isotopes, researchers can rebuild the diet, environment and even health of the animals during their lifetime.

For instance, the research indicated that the increase in sheep size between the 16th and 18th centuries was likely not due to nutritional improvements, but to selective breeding. The expansion of global trade following the Napoleonic wars could also be seen in the data via changes in feed and fertilizer.