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Care minister backs assisted dying bill, a 'breakthrough' for antimalarial research, and biological pacemakers for pigs and patients

A round-up of the morning’s health news headlines on Thursday 17 July.

The care minister Norman Lamb publicly came out in favour of Lord Falconer’s assisted dying bill – due to go before the House of Lords tomorrow – during an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight last night.

Speaking as an MP, rather than as a minister, Mr Lamb said his view on assisted dying had changed after talking to so many people who had loved ones who died after ‘going through months of pain and distress.’

The bill proposes that doctors should be able to prescribe a lethal injection to those who wish to die and have less than six months left to live.

Mr Lamb told the BBC: ‘The safeguards are absolutely critical,’ but added ‘I’m very clear in my mind that the individual should be the person who decides, not the state.’

A ‘major breakthrough’ by Australian researchers could provide a new focus for the development of antimalarial drugs, after they identified a way to starve the malaria parasite of vital proteins, the Guardian reports.

The malaria parasite dwells inside red blood cells to avoid detection by the immunes, but it’s dependant on a single channel to import the proteins it needs to survive. By targeting this channel, the parasite can be inhibited and will struggle to develop a resistance, according to the researchers.

Co-author, Tania de Koning-Ward from Deakin’s medical school, explained: ‘We managed to alter the function of this gateway so that these proteins can no longer get into the red blood cells, starving and killing the parasite.’

And finally, a ‘biological pacemaker’ - grown from the heart cells of its recipient using a ‘minimally invasive’ procedure - could be in use for humans within three years, the Telegraph reports.

The technique, which has been successful in trials with pigs with complete heart block, adds the single gene TBX18 and allows these cells to develop a stronger more regular heartbeat.

Lead scientist Dr Eduardo Marban, director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, US said: ‘Originally, we thought that biological pacemaker cells could be a temporary bridge therapy for patients who had an infection in the implanted pacemaker area,’

‘These results show us that with more research, we might be able to develop a long-lasting biological treatment for patients.’

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