A weekly round-up of news affecting your health:
NEW HOPE ON SUPERBUGS
An old drug supercharged by Australian scientists could destroy some of the world's most dangerous superbugs.
University of Queensland scientists have found a way to improve the effectiveness of vancomycin, an old drug still widely used but which dangerous bacteria are increasingly resistant to.
They have modified the drug so it selectively binds to bacterial membranes rather than those of human cells, rebooting its effectiveness.
"The question now is, whether it can be used to revitalise other antibiotics that have lost effectiveness against resistant bacteria," UQ Professor Matt Cooper said.
Antibiotic-resistant superbugs cause 700,000 deaths worldwide each year, but there are predictions that could rise to a staggering 10 million deaths a year by 2050.
The supercharging technique has been detailed in the journal Nature Communications.
ONE CIGARETTE ENOUGH TO GET YOU HOOKED
A new study has shed more light on the alarmingly addictive pull of cigarettes, with at least three in five people who try just one becoming daily smokers.
Researchers from London's Queen Mary University analysed the responses of more than 215,000 survey participants, including Australians, and say the results show how imperative it is to stop teens from ever trying a cigarette.
At least 61 per cent of people who tried their first cigarette went on to smoke daily, for at least some period of time.
"We've found that the conversion rate from first time smoker to daily smoker is surprisingly high, which helps confirm the importance of preventing cigarette experimentation in the first place," lead researcher Professor Peter Hajek said.
The research was published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.
NEW FRONTIER IN GUT EXPLORATION
A new swallowable, gas-sensing capsule about the size of a vitamin pill has passed its first human trials and could prove a breakthrough in the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.
There's currently no lab test for the common condition, but an Aussie invention offers hope that will soon change.
The capsule measures and transmits data on gut gasses as the device moves through the stomach, small and large intestines, giving scientists information about when microbes are causing problems.
Researchers at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute say it could not only help diagnose IBS, but also track how effective dietary changes and other treatments are.
Details of the trial have been published in the journal Nature Electronics.
ANAESTHETICS DO MORE THAN PUT YOU TO SLEEP
Scientists believe they've solved one of the enduring mysteries about why general anaesthetics work.
It's long been known that anaesthetics given for surgery act on the body's sleep system, much like a sleeping pill does, but University of Queensland researchers have found they do much more than that.
One common anaesthetic, propofol, has also been found to affect the mechanism nerve cells use to communicate with each other and it does so across the entire brain, in a way that's very different from just being asleep.
Propofol was found to restrict the movement of a key protein, syntaxin1A, required at the synapses of all neurons, with the restriction leading to less communication between neurons in the brain.
The findings could explain why people experience grogginess and disorientation after coming out of surgery, with implications for children whose brains are still developing, and people with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.
"It has never been understood why general anaesthesia is sometimes problematic for the very young and the old. This newly discovered mechanism may be a reason," UQ Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen said.
He says more research is needed to determine if general anaesthetics have any lasting effects in these vulnerable groups.