Patient in surgery
In a busy ICU noises as loud as a road drill can happen up to 16 times an hour
Credit: Derek Meijer/Alamy Stock Photo

Medical Sciences

Researchers target intensive care’s intensive noise problem

Far from being still environments punctuated only by hushed voices and softly bleeping machines, intensive care units (ICUs) in hospitals are in fact more like busy restaurants – and they are frequently noisy enough to compete with a pneumatic drill.

Professor Duncan Young, from Oxford’s Kadoorie Centre for Critical Care Research and Education, said: ‘High levels of noise make it harder to sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to confusion, and confusion is thought to complicate the healing process and slow down recovery. Yet our research found that, during the day, noise levels in an ICU are equivalent to those of a busy restaurant.’

Information from the study was used by a group of staff and patients from the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to help design a programme of noise-reducing changes, including new guidelines on equipment volume.

Saving lives

An interactive smartphone game developed by doctors in Oxford and Kenya will provide vital emergency care training to African healthcare workers, addressing the tragedy of the 470,000 babies who die each year in Africa on the day they are born.

The scenario-based game, known as Life-saving Instruction for Emergencies (LIFE), teaches healthcare workers to identify and manage medical emergencies, using game-like training techniques to reinforce the key steps that need to be performed to save the life of a newborn baby in distress.

LIFE appLIFE app

Credit: LIFE

Developed thanks to generous donors who gave money via a crowdfunding campaign, and produced in collaboration with Oxford’s Department of Education, the game is based in a hospital and involves interactive 3D simulations of various emergency scenarios.

The research team, led by Professor Mike English, Dr Chris Paton and Dr Hilary Edgcombe, will also be exploring with programmer Jakob Rossner and HTC how a virtual reality version could offer even greater levels of realism.

‘In Africa, the day a baby is born is also the day it faces the greatest risk of death,’ explained Professor English of the Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health. ‘With face-to-face training, we have reached only a tiny proportion of the 2.5 million African healthcare workers. We need a system that enables everyone to access and learn the essential steps to save babies in an emergency. This is what we’re aiming
to do with our LIFE platform.’

Friends are ‘better than morphine’

Students outside the WestonStudents outside the Weston

Credit: John Cairns

People with more friends have higher pain tolerance, Oxford research has found.

Katerina Johnson, a doctoral student in the Departments of Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology, studied whether differences in our neurobiology may help explain why some of us have larger social networks than others. Participants in the study were asked to complete a questionnaire on their social circles, as well as providing information on lifestyle and personality, before performing a physical exercise – the ‘wall-sit test’ – to discover their pain threshold.

Those with larger friendship groups tended to have a higher tolerance for pain – even when allowing for individual fitness levels.

The results add to the body of research around the links between social bonding and the production of endorphins, our bodies’ natural painkillers.

Gene therapy shows long-term benefit for treating rare blindness

Professor MacLarenProfessor MacLaren during surgery

Credit: Jonathan Brett, Eye Research Group Oxford

Pioneering gene therapy has restored some vision to patients with a rare form of genetic blindness for as long as four years, raising hopes it could be used to cure common causes of vision loss.

The technique involves injecting a virus into the eye (pictured right) to deliver billions of healthy genes to replace a key missing gene for patients with a condition known as choroideremia.

Lead investigator Professor Robert MacLaren, of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology, said: ‘There have recently been questions about the long-term efficacy of gene therapy, but now we have unequivocal proof that the effects following a single injection of viral vector are sustained. Even sharpening up the little bit of central vision that these patients have can give them considerable independence.’

This year, Professor MacLaren also led a team at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital that performed the world’s first operation inside the eye using a robot.

Virtual reality

VR tube sceneVR tube scene

Credit: Oxford Cognitive Approaches to Psychosis

An Oxford study has found that virtual reality can help treat severe paranoia by allowing people to face situations they would normally fear. The simulations allowed the patients to learn that these scenarios, such as a crowded lift or a trip on public transport, were actually safe.