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Letters to the Editor Issue 285

by Letters(more info)

listed in letters to the editor, originally published in issue 285 - March 2023

Pusan National University Researchers Uncover Novel Gene that Regulates Leukemia Development and Progression

The findings of this study may lead to a new therapeutic strategy for acute myeloid leukemia for the first time in four decades

Surfeit 4 (SURF4) is a gene that is highly expressed in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), yet its effects are unknown. Researchers found that suppressing the gene in cells reduced tumour growth and mitigated certain processes that contribute to malignant progression. Additionally, patients with AML having low levels of SURF4 expression had significantly increased survival. The inhibition of this protein may thus present a new treatment strategy for AML.

Leukemia, a type of blood cancer, affected around 2.3 million people around the world in 2015. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) – a particularly aggressive disease – generally starts in the bone marrow, when stem cells cannot differentiate into white blood cells, which reduces the number of healthy blood cells in the body, leading to a very weak immune system, among other problems. Given the prevalence and implications of this disease, there has been a lot of research on the development and progression of leukemia. This has led to the discovery of a protein, stimulator of interferon genes (STING), which interacts with two other proteins –TANK-binding kinase 1 (TBK1) and signal transducer and activator of transcription 6 (STAT6) – to exert anti-cancer effects in blood cancers. Researchers have also observed that a particular gene – surfeit 4 (SURF4) – is highly expressed in leukemic cells, and its protein, SURF4, binds to STING. However, we are still unclear about how SURF4 affects the STING-TBK1-STAT6 axis, and what role it plays in leukemia. So, a team of researchers from Pusan National University, Republic of Korea set out to understand this. They were led by Professors Dongjun Lee and Yun Hak Kim, who explain the rather humanitarian motive for their research.

“Children who suffer from AML relapses seldom survive. This makes studying the mechanisms of AML very important. Uncovering the effects of proteins like SURF4 may lead to new therapeutic strategies for AML, which hasn’t happened in four decades”.

The team ran a series of experiments, the findings of which are detailed in a letter to the editor, published on 6 November 2022 in Cancer Communications.

First, using multiple short hairpin RNA constructs to target SURF4, the team suppressed its expression in myeloid leukemic cells and compared these to control leukemic cells. The former showed increased cell differentiation, cell death, and accumulation of ROS. Tumours containing these cells also displayed arrested growth when inoculated in mice. The researchers additionally compared SURF4 expression levels among patients with AML and saw that patients with higher SURF4 expression levels had significantly shorter survival. It was also observed that SURF4 expression was much higher in patients suffering from AML compared to healthy people. These observations suggest that SURF4 regulates cell death and differentiation in AML. Interestingly, SURF4 silencing did not affect the cell cycle status.

“Our research shows the role played by SURF4 in myeloid leukemia. It negatively regulates the STING-TBK1-STAT6 axis and inhibits the death of cancer cells. We also found that depletion of SURF4 synergistically works with anti-cancer drugs to reduce myeloid leukemic cell burden,” says Prof. Lee.
“Therefore,” Prof. Kim concludes, “inhibiting SURF4 expression using monoclonal antibodies and/or aptamers may present a better alternative to current cancer therapies that wipe out the immune system and have multiple side effects. This is a promising option for the treatment of hematological cancers.”

Overall, their findings have increased our understanding of AML and have opened new avenues for the treatment of not only AML but also other blood cancers.


  1. Jayoung Kim1, Hansong Lee2, Chae Mi Hong1, Ji Ho Nam3, Hye Ju Yeo4, Woo Hyun Cho4, Hyung-Sik Kim5, Changwan Hong6, Yun Hak Kim2,6, Dongjun Lee1. Novel endogenous endoplasmic reticulum transmembrane protein SURF4 suppresses cell death by negatively regulating the STING-STAT6 axis in myeloid leukemia. Cancer Communications.

06 November 2022.

1. Department of Convergence Medicine, School of Medicine, Pusan National University

  1. Department of Biomedical Informatics, School of Medicine, Pusan National University
  2. Department of Radiation Oncology, School of Medicine, Pusan National University
  3. Division of Allergy, Pulmonary, and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Pusan National University Yangsan Hospital
  4. Department of Oral Pathology, Dental and Life Science Institute, School of Dentistry, Pusan National University
  5. Department of Anatomy, School of Medicine, Pusan National University

 About Pusan National University

Pusan National University, located in Busan, South Korea, was founded in 1946 and is now the No. 1 national university of South Korea in research and educational competency. The multi-campus university also has other smaller campuses in Yangsan, Miryang, and Ami. The university prides itself on the principles of truth, freedom, and service, and has approximately 30,000 students, 1200 professors, and 750 faculty members. The university is composed of 14 colleges (schools) and one independent division, with 103 departments in all.    


About the Authors

Dr Dongjun Lee is an Associate Professor of the Department of Convergence Medicine at Pusan National University School of Medicine. His group is to define stem cell regulation and disease and how we can utilize information to develop novel therapies. Lee group is also interested in regenerative medicine, vascular biology, cancer, and stem cell biology, with a particular focus on translational medicine. Before coming to Pusan National University School of Medicine, he completed Postdoctoral training at David Scadden’s lab at the Center for Regenerative medicine (CRM) at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital. In 2010, Dongjun Lee received a Ph.D. in the Department of Biological Sciences from the Korea Advanced Institute of Sciences and Technology (KAIST).

Lab website:

ORCID id: 0000-0001-6828-401X

Dr Yun Hak Kim is an Associate Professor at the Department of Anatomy & Department of Biomedical Informatics at Pusan National University. In 2016, Yun Hak Kim received a Ph.D. in pharmacology lab from Pusan National University. He also completed Postdoctoral training at the Department of Anatomy at Pusan National University. His research group’s major focus is the development of new biomarkers for several diseases using genomic big data and validating these biomarkers.  

Lab website:

ORCID id: 0000-0002-9796-8266

Futher Information and Media Contact

Brijesh Manek

Public Relations team of Pusan National University, Busan, South Korea



University Of Glasgow to Lead International Effort to Advance Cancer Care and Research

A team of experts from the University of Glasgow will lead a new international effort to improve cancer control and reduce global health inequalities.

Spearheading the new Lancet Oncology Commission focused on cancer genomics and precision oncology, University of Glasgow researchers will lead an international team of experts over the next two years to create a blueprint for overcoming barriers and improving global access to the most innovative diagnostic tests and personalised cancer care.

The newly formed commission will start by examining some of the biggest challenges faced by healthcare systems and cancer clinicians worldwide for the widespread adoption of molecular testing in routine clinical care. The team of international experts will offer practical solutions to ensure sustainable and equitable access and advancement for cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The commission will analyse the challenges that impede accumulation of health and genomic data that can be shared in an appropriate way to refine current best practise and inform ongoing therapeutic development.

A rapidly increasing proportion of contemporary cancer care relies on a precision oncology strategy – the process of using molecular testing to understand a patient’s tumour and how to successfully target the cancer cells within it. Oncologists can use the results of these tests to select the best available treatment options for each patient, ultimately improving survival and quality of life. Molecular testing can also help identify hereditary cancer syndromes providing the opportunity to reduce cancer mortality through personalized prevention.

However, the majority of patients with cancer around the world, particularly those living in lower- and middle-income countries, cannot access molecular testing due to a range of issues including regulatory, financial, logistical, educational and clinical barriers. It is envisaged that this international consortium of experts will define solutions to these key problems, and ultimately help improve cancer care for patients around the world.

The Lancet Oncology Commission will be coordinated by the International Cancer Genome Consortium: Accelerating Research in Genomic Oncology (ICGC-ARGO) initiative. ICGC ARGO is a new phase of the International Cancer Genome Consortium focused on analysing specimens from 100,000 cancer patients with high quality clinical data to address outstanding questions in a bid to defeat cancer.

The Commission brings together international stakeholders with relevant expertise across a range of priorities that collectively define how precision cancer medicine can be implemented in a feasible and affordable way; how cancer omics data can be retained in a more sustainable and accessible manner; be shared more widely; and be better used for the benefit of people affected by cancer.

The organizations involved include the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC/WHO), Latin American Cooperative Oncology Group (LACOG), African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC), the Asian Oncology Society (AOS), the Global Alliance for Genomic and Health (GA4GH), the International Quality Network for Pathology (IQN Path), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and many others.

Director of ICGC ARGO Professor Andrew Biankin, Regius Chair of Surgery at the University of Glasgow, said:

“We have made great progress in defining the genomic aberrations that cause and drive cancer, are developing more and more treatments that directly target these cancer-causing molecular abnormalities. Yet these great advances are only reaching a small proportion of people even in developed countries.

“The time has come to incorporate broad genomic testing in routine cancer care. This will improve outcomes by using current treatments better through predicting who they will work for and for whom they won’t before giving a treatment. This will avoid the use of ineffective treatments, minimising side-effects and costs and providing better access for patients to new treatments and clinical trials.”

Dr Raffaella Casolino, a pancreatic cancer expert from the University of Glasgow’s School of Cancer Sciences and chair of the Commission, said:

“This Commission has the ambitious goal of improving the lives of people affected by cancer and their families driving the evolution of precision oncology over the next decades. Collaboration between stakeholders from different disciplines and countries, including engagement with the public, patients, and their families, together with attention to the policy of diversity, equity and inclusion, represent the fundament of this Commission and will be critical to achieve the intended goals. Cancer burden is doubling by 2040 and health disparities are major drivers of inequalities in outcomes both within and between countries. It is only through a global approach that we can reduce the burden of cancer. And this represents the strength of our initiative through which we really hope to impact at a scale.”

Professor Biankin and has team are world-leading experts on cancer genomics and testing, and have established a number of cancer initiatives including The Glasgow Precision Oncology Laboratory (GPOL) and Precision Panc – pancreatic cancer trials focused on a precision medicine approach, delivered through the NHS and funded through Cancer Research UK and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office.

Details of the The Lancet Oncology Commission, following publication, can be found here:

Further Information

For more information contact Elizabeth McMeekin or Ali Howard in the University of Glasgow Communications and Public Affairs Office on Tel: 0141 330 4831 or Tel: 0141 330 6557; or email  or



Is Poorer Blood Sugar Control Associated with a Reduced Capacity to Lose Heat During Exercise in Hot Conditions for People with Type 2 Diabetes?

 Poor blood sugar control could be associated with higher core body temperature and increased heart rate for physically active men with type 2 diabetes. The research published in Experimental Physiology[1] found that while a common marker of long-term blood sugar control, haemoglobin A1c (also called glycated haemoglobin), was not associated with differences in the amount of heat lost  from the body, heart rate rose by six beats per minute and core body temperature increased by 0.2°C with each percentage point rise in haemoglobin A1c (from 5.1% to 9.1%) in men with type 2 diabetes during cycling in a heated chamber.

People with type 2 diabetes can have a reduced ability to lose heat, which can heighten their risk of developing a heat-related injury during a heat stress. However, the cause of the reduced capacity to dissipate heat is not well understood. This health issue is becoming more relevant as countries around the globe experience more frequent and enduring temperature extremes as well as hotter average summer temperatures, such as the global heat waves of 2022.

Researchers from University of Ottawa, Canada sought to identify whether blood sugar control affects the body’s ability to lose heat during exercise in the heat. Although worse blood sugar control did not seem to impair whole-body heat loss, the association between chronically elevated blood sugar (indexed via haemoglobin A1c) with higher body core temperatures and heart rate could implicate its role in thermoregulation. Importantly, this effect did not appear to be related to the physical fitness of the participants. The findings suggest that among people with type 2 diabetes, poor blood sugar control could lead to a greater risk of reaching dangerously high core body temperatures and greater strain on the heart during physical activity in the heat. However, more research is needed to confirm this link and understand why these impairments are observed even when heat loss is not compromised.

Dr Glen Kenny, University of Ottawa, Canada, who leads the team said,

“Previous research showed ageing is associated with a decay in the body’s ability to dissipate heat, which is more pronounced in individuals with type 2 diabetes.  However, it remained unclear to what extent long-term blood sugar control may mediate this response. By examining whole-body heat exchange using our one-of-a-kind whole-body air calorimeter (a device that provides a precise measurement of the heat dissipated by the human body), we were able to gain a better understanding of the association between long-term blood sugar control and the body’s physiological capacity to dissipate heat in individuals with type 2 diabetes.”

Regular exercise is generally recommended to manage and improve blood sugar control. However, rising global temperatures and enduring heat waves make it challenging for people living with type 2 diabetes to manage the disease because current health guidelines advise to avoid exercising in hot weather. People with type 2 diabetes are also at greater risk of heat-related stress, the risk of which increases with age.

The researchers monitored blood sugar control by measuring the proportion of glycated haemoglobin in the blood. This is haemoglobin (a protein molecule in red blood cells that carry oxygen) with sugar molecules attached to it and reflects the last approximate 3 months of blood sugar control. A normal healthy glycated haemoglobin level is 4-6%, while a good level for an individual with diabetes is ≤7%.

26 physically active men aged 43-73 years, who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes for 5 years or more, performed an exercise heat stress test, which involved cycling in the calorimeter set to 40°C. After 30 minutes of seated at rest, they completed three 30-minute bouts of cycling, with 15-minutes rest period in between each bout, at light, moderate, and vigorous exercise intensities. Intensities were set based on a fixed rate of metabolic heat production relative to body size, so that each participant was given the same heat load and therefore amount of heat to lose.

The researchers caution that the findings are based on a male-only cohort of physically active individuals (at least 150-minutes of exercise per week). This might not represent the most heat-vulnerable among those living with type 2 diabetes. Further investigations are needed to understand the changes in the body’s physiological capacity to dissipate heat when sedentary and more vulnerable individuals exercise in the heat.

Dr. Glen Kenny, University of Ottawa, Canada, said,

“Type 2 diabetes is associated with higher rates of heat illness and death during heat stress when compared to the general population. By defining the levels of heat stress where diabetes-related impairments in the body’s ability to lose heat cause dangerous increases in core temperature, we can provide better heat-protection advice to safeguard the health and well-being of these heat-vulnerable individuals.  This includes guidance that can assist their health-care providers to manage heat stress in their patients who may be engaged in leisure, athletic activities or job-related activities in the heat.”


  1. Nathalie V. Kirby, Robert D. Meade, Martin P. Poirier, Ronald J. Sigal, Pierre Boulay, Glen P. Kenny. Association between haemoglobin A1c and whole-body heat loss during exercise-heat stress in physically active men with type 2 diabetes. Experimental Physiology 01 February 2023.  

Further Information

Experimental Physiology is an Open Access journal publishing research papers that report novel insights into homeostatic and adaptive responses in health, as well as those that further our understanding of pathophysiological mechanisms in disease. 

The Physiological Society brings together over 3,000 scientists from over 60 countries. The Society promotes physiology with the public and parliament alike. It supports physiologists by organising world-class conferences and offering grants for research and also publishes the latest developments in the field in its three leading scientific journals, The Journal of Physiology, Experimental Physiology and Physiological Reports. 

Further Information and Contact

The Physiological Society

Alanna Orpen, Media and Communications Officer

Corresponding author

Dr Glen Kenny



Fertility Treatment does not Adversely Affect Cardiovascular Health of Offspring

A large study looking at the effects of fertility treatment has found no robust difference in blood pressure, heart rate, lipids, and glucose measurements between children conceived naturally and those conceived using assisted reproductive technologies (ART).

The University of Bristol-led study, published in European Heart Journal 6 February 2023[1] sought to address concerns around whether fertility treatment leads to adverse cardiometabolic health in offspring. The data sample included 8,600 children from Bristol’s Children of the 90s study, a world-leading health study which has followed pregnant women and their offspring since 1991.

Since the first birth of a child by in vitro fertilization (IVF), questions have been raised about the health risks to children conceived this way, however previous studies are limited by small sample size, short follow-up, and unsatisfactory comparison groups.

The study, led by an international research group from the Assisted Reproductive Technology and Health (A.R.T-Health) Partnership, looked at data from 35,000 European, Singaporean, and Australian offspring. It was large enough to study whether conception by ART affected blood pressure, pulse rate, lipids or glucose from childhood to young adulthood (up to early 20s). The researchers found that blood pressure, heart rate, and glucose levels were similar in children conceived using ART and their naturally conceived peers. The team also found that those who were conceived by ART had slightly higher cholesterol levels in childhood, which did not persist to adulthood, and some indication of slightly higher blood pressure in adulthood.

Dr Ahmed Elhakeem, Research Fellow in Epidemiology in Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences (PHS) at the University of Bristol, and lead study author, said:

“This is the largest study of its kind, and could not be conducted without data from studies such as Children of the 90s. Parents conceiving or hoping to conceive through assisted reproductive technology and their offspring should be reassured that cardiometabolic health appears to be comparable in ART-conceived and naturally conceived children. Studies with longer follow-up would now be beneficial to examine how results might change across adulthood.”

Deborah Lawlor, Professor of Epidemiology, MRC Investigator and British Heart Foundation Chair and senior author from Bristol Medical School: PHS, added:

“This important research is only possible through large scale international collaboration and longitudinal health studies, where participants contribute health data throughout their entire lives. We are particularly grateful to the European Research Council, British Heart Foundation and UK National Institute for Health Research for making this possible and to all of the study participants and researchers.”

Peter Thompson, Chief Executive, The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), said:

“Each year around 60,000 patients use fertility services in the UK in the hope of one day having a family of their own. Those patients should be reassured by this study which shows that the heart health of children born from assisted reproduction technologies, like IVF, are no different from children conceived naturally.

“Science and research move rapidly in the fertility sector but it is widely acknowledged that more large scale studies like this are needed to continually drive improvements in care. Health outcomes in children conceived using assisted reproductive technologies are a high priority for the HFEA and we monitor the latest research and provide information for patients and professionals. Anyone considering fertility treatment in the UK should visit for high quality impartial information on treatment options and licensed clinics.”

The study was funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, Medical Research Council (MRC), British Heart Foundation (BHF) and National Institute for Health and Care Research Bristol Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR Bristol BRC).


  1. Ahmed Elhakeem, Amy E Taylor, Hazel M Inskip, Jonathan Y Huang, Toby Mansell, Carina Rodrigues, Federica Asta, Sophia M Blaauwendraad, Siri E Håberg, Jane Halliday. Long-term cardiometabolic health in people born after assisted reproductive technology: a multi-cohort analysis. European Heart Journal,ehac726, . 6 February 2023.

A total of 14 longitudinal cohort studies with participants from Europe (11 cohorts), Australia (2 cohorts), and Singapore (1 cohort) were included in this study.

About Children of the 90s

Based at the University of Bristol, Children of the 90s, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), is a long-term health research project that enrolled more than 14,000 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. It has been following the health and development of the parents, their children and now their grandchildren in detail ever since. It receives core funding from the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the University of Bristol. Find out more at

About the National Institute for Health and Care Research

The mission of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:

  • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care;
  • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
  • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;
  • Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and social care challenges;
  • Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a cohesive and globally competitive research system;
  • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low and middle income countries.

NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low- and middle-income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.

About the National Institute for Health and Care Research Bristol Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR Bristol BRC)

The National Institute for Health and Care Research Bristol Biomedical Research Centre’s (NIHR Bristol BRC) innovative biomedical research takes science from the laboratory bench or computer and develops it into new drugs, treatments or health advice. Its world-leading scientists work on many aspects of health, from the role played by individual genes and proteins to analysing large collections of data on hundreds of thousands of people. Bristol BRC is unique among the NIHR’s 20 BRCs across England, thanks to its expertise in ground-breaking population health research.

About the Assisted Reproductive Technology – ART-Health Partnership

The ART-Health Partnership is a multidisciplinary collaborative research project involving researchers from over 40 studies worldwide. The mission of the ART-Health Partnership to provide robust evidence on the effects of pregnancy conception by ART, compared with natural conception, on mothers and offspring health from pregnancy through to early adulthood.  We welcome any researcher with data and interest in joining the ART-Health Partnership and collaborating on future research to get in touch by contacting Dr Ahmed Elhakeem and Professor Deborah Lawlor

Further Information

For media enquiries please contact, Tel: +44 (0)7717 099216; or  tel: +44 (0)7956 268441. For out of hours telephone the out-of-hours on-duty Media Manager: +44 (0)117 428 2489.



'Microbot' Development Could Help Treat Seizures

University of Glasgow researchers are part of a new project which is setting out to develop tiny injectable robots capable of predicting and mitigating epileptic seizures. The project, called CROSSBRAIN, is led by Tor Vergata University of Rome in Italy and is funded by the European Innovation Council.

Over the course of the next four years, the CROSSBRAIN collaborators will develop implantable ‘microbots’, about a tenth of a millimetre in size, made from advanced nanomaterials with specially-tailored physical properties.

Once implanted in the brain, they will be controlled by a small, wearable central control unit capable of monitoring electrical activity to detect the onset of a seizure and modulate its effect through targeted neurostimulation. The microbots will be able to deliver genetic material on command, enabling cell- and microcircuit-level neuromodulation in rodent brains during the later stages of the project’s development.

Professor Hadi Heidari, of the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering, is leading the UK contribution to CROSSBRAIN. Professor Heidari’s Microelectronics Lab conducts pioneering research on integrated micro and nanoelectronics design for medical and industrial applications. In this project, the Microelectronics Lab will help to design and develop the microbots’ wireless power and data management and delivery systems.

The CROSSBRAIN team will develop a cutting-edge FBAR magnetoelectric antenna at the world-class cleanroom facilities of the University’s James Watt Nanofabrication Centre.

Professor Heidari said:

“We’re pleased to be part of this ambitious project, which has the potential to pave the way for transformative treatments for pathological brain conditions like epilepsy.

“CROSSBRAIN brings together leading researchers from across Europe, with a wide range of expertise in bioengineering, artificial intelligence, nanomaterial design and fabrication, and medical physics. I’m looking forward to collaborating with my colleagues to develop this exciting technology in the years to come.”

The CROSSBRAIN team are Dr Rupam Das, of the University of Exeter, Dr Finlay Walton, Mahdieh Shojaei Baghini, Jungang Zhang and Laura Mazon Maldonado. Professor Muhammad Imran, director of the University of Glasgow’s Communications, Sensing and Imaging Hub, is also lending his support on wireless power and data transmission.

Professor Nicola Toschi, of the Department of Biomedicine and Prevention at the Tor Vergata University of Rome, is the project’s principal investigator. He added:

“Within brain tissue, neurons communicate through a complex interplay of signalling mechanisms, including chemical, thermal, and electrical (depolarization / repolarization) changes. It is widely known that many pathological brain conditions directly involve aberrant electrical activity of the brain, such as, epileptic seizures or panic disorders.

"In such conditions, timely recognition and prompt intervention are essential to begin effective periodic and adaptive treatment. However, the technologies available to guide and modulate brain activity in a precise and selective way for therapeutic purposes are severely limited to date, considerably reducing the therapeutic options.

"However, recent advances in nanotechnology could facilitate access to new modalities and innovative paradigms in the field of neuromodulation. Innovation in the field of nanomaterials provides the opportunity to modulate neuronal activity with greater precision and sensitivity. The CROSSBRAIN project aims to create radically new neurostimulation strategies and devices in the field of precision medicine with a key role in the predictive management of brain diseases.”

The other partners in the CROSSBRAIN project are SISSA International School of Advanced Studies of Trieste, Italy; PERC PERCUROS BV, Netherlands; NLB NAMLAB GMBH, Dresden, Germany; FAU Friedrich Alexander Universitaet, Erlangen-Nuernberg, Germany; CIC Associacion Centro de Investigacion Cooperativa en Biomateriales, San Sebastian, Spain; IIT Italian Institute of Technology Foundation, Genoa, Italy and the CSIC Agencia estatal consejo superior de investigaciones cientificas Madrid, Spain.

CROSSBRAIN is funded by the EIC Pathfinder Challenge Grant, funded by the European Innovation Council (European Commission) under the Horizon Europe program. EIC is Europe's flagship innovation program that identifies, develops, and scales up breakthrough technologies and innovations throughout their lifecycle, from the early research stage, proof of concept, technology transfer and funding and development of start-ups and SMEs.

Further Information

For more information contact Ross Barker in the University of Glasgow Communications and Public Affairs Office on Tel: 0141 330 8593 or email


Over Half of Human Bird Flu Cases Prove Fatal – We Must Step Up Precautions

Cases are increasing of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza spreading to mammals. In the last 20 years, over half the people who have caught the virus have died. A leading testing expert is now urging the UK to increase its precautions.

A new report in the British Medical Journal reveals that 53% of humans who have caught the H5N1 strain of avian influenza since 2003 have died from the disease. A leading testing expert says this is why the virus must be taken extremely seriously. In contrast, Covid has a mortality rate of 3.4% and seasonal flu less than 1%.

Dr Quinton Fivelman PhD Chief Scientific Officer at London Medical Laboratory, says: 

“We’re becoming used to outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, generally known as avian or bird flu, in UK poultry farms. We must not let familiarity mean we become content with this situation. The fact that it is now spreading to mammals across the globe shows we cannot let our guard down against the spread of this virus.

“Bird flu is spread by close contact with an infected bird (dead or alive). You can’t catch it through eating properly cooked poultry or eggs. However, anyone who works with birds or who finds a sickly bird must be vigilant and take extra precautions.

“Avian flu was first detected among chickens in Scotland in 1959. In 1997, the first human cases were recorded in Hong Kong and China, where 18 people were infected and six died. Since 2003, there have been 860 human cases of infection and 53% of these have died.

“In the UK, there has only been one recorded case of the H5N1 strain in humans. A British man contracted the virus early last year. Duck expert Alan Gosling, who was 79 when he caught it, was believed to have contracted the H5N1 strain of avian flu from his Muscovy ducks. Happily, he is one of the 47% who have survived the illness. Previous UK cases were all of the H7 strain of avian influenza.

“However, the crossover from birds to mammals is increasingly concerning. There is a growing realisation that what were thought to be isolated incidents are becoming more commonplace. This month, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) reported that the rising number of cases in mammals had caused “morbidity and mortality” in species such as otters and seals. 600 sea lions off the coast of Peru have also died from the virus. In the UK otters and foxes have been found to have the H5N1 strain.

“According to the European Centre for Disease Control, around 50m birds, including poultry, have so far been killed by the virus or culled in this outbreak. However, that hasn’t stopped the WOAH from claiming that the disease is no longer a seasonal problem, but one that can occur all year round. Gregorio Torres, head of the science department at WOAH, says: “The seasonality we [used to] observe isn’t there anymore.”

“Additionally, the higher number of cases mean a greater chance of mutation. Many scientists believe that’s how the Covid-19 virus spread from animals such as bats to humans. Avian flu may also adapt to more easily pass from person to person.

“From the point of view of a health professional, it’s particularly concerning that there is no bird flu vaccine as yet. The seasonal flu vaccine doesn't protect against bird flu.

“Amid growing concern, the Government’s UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has updated its avian influenza guidance. It says:

“The symptoms of avian influenza in humans vary considerably depending on the strain or subtype of the virus involved. Most infections take the form of a flu-like illness (fever, cough, body or muscle pain, sore throat, runny nose). Other symptoms can include conjunctivitis (red, sore and discharging eyes).”

“Our own analysis is that the main symptoms of bird flu can develop very quickly – within 3 to 5 days after infection – and include:

  • A cough or shortness of breath
  • A very high temperature or feeling hot or shivery
  • Aching muscles
  • Headache

“Of course, those are worryingly similar symptoms to a number of other viruses, including Covid-19, that we are currently contending with. There are several other early symptoms, however, that are not normally seen in cases of flu or Covid:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Sickness
  • Stomach pain
  • Chest pain
  • Bleeding from the nose and gums
  • Conjunctivitis

“Patients may go on to develop more severe complications such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

“In the absence of any effective human avian flu vaccine, a general health test might be a useful course of action for anyone concerned, to ensure they are in overall good health to help fight the symptoms of new viruses.  London Medical Laboratory’s General Health Profile at-home blood test, for example, provides people with a comprehensive check-up of their general health, including diabetes (HbA1c), gout, liver & kidney function, bone health, iron levels and a full cholesterol profile.

“Many tests can be taken at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 95 selected pharmacies and health stores. If done in-store, a full blood test can be added that can indicate a wide range of issues such as anaemia and leukaemia.”

For full details, see:

Further Information

For more information, please email London Medical Laboratory’s Head of Public Relations, David Jinks MILT


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