Health and Healthcare

Parkinson's blood test shows promise, and other health stories you need to read

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Top health news: Blood test for Parkinson's shows promise in an early study; and more.

Top health news: Blood test for Parkinson's shows promise in an early study; and more. Image: Unsplash/Matt Bennett

Shyam Bishen
Head, Centre for Health and Healthcare; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum

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  • This global round-up brings you health stories from the past fortnight.
  • Top health news: Blood test for Parkinson's shows promise in an early study; Cancer cases in under-50s rise significantly; US officials look to reclassify marijuana.

1. Experimental Parkinson's blood test shows early promise

A blood test has been shown to detect Parkinson's disease in a preliminary study, giving hope that doctors may be able to detect the condition at an earlier stage in the future.

The experimental test is years from being commercially available, but given Parkinson's diagnosis is currently symptoms-based it could provide a valuable way to specifically identify the disease. Earlier detection could allow doctors to intervene with therapies before the disease progresses and more nervous system damage is caused.

The test is designed to detect damage to mitochondrial DNA, which is known to be associated with the disease. Early studies show the test could detect higher levels of damage in the blood of Parkinson's patients than those who did not have the disease.

Projected number of people in the US with Parkinson's disease in 2020 and 2030.
Parkinson's Disease is becoming increasingly prevalent. Image: Statista

2. Cancer diagnoses in under-50s climb 80% in 30 years

The number of people under 50 who have been diagnosed with cancer has climbed nearly 80% over three decades, a new study has shown.

Globally, the number of cases of early-onset cancer increased from 1.82 million in 1990 to 3.26 million in 2019. Over this period the number of deaths due to early-onset cancer grew by over a quarter, with breast, tracheal, bronchus and lung, stomach and colorectal cancers showing the highest mortality.

Based on the study's projections, the incidence of early-onset cancer is set to increase by almost a third in 2030, while the death rate would rise by 21%.

Distribution of cases and deaths for the early-onset cancers of different systems in 1990 and 2019.
Incidence and deaths related to early-onset cancers have climbed rapidly. Image: BMJ Oncology/Jianhui Zhao, Liying Xu, Jing Sun

3. News in brief: More health stories from around the world

US health officials are recommending reclassifying marijuana to a lower-risk category. It is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning it is designated as having high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. Nearly 40 US states have legalized the drug in some form, but it remains illegal in other states and at a federal level.

The news comes as a study shows that while cannabis compounds are helpful for some people with some medical conditions, others should avoid it. It can help reduce seizures for epileptic patients and may help those with chronic pain, inflammatory bowel disease, or multiple sclerosis, as well as offer relief for palliative care. However, the drug is also linked to poor mental health and should be avoided by mentally ill people. It should also be avoided by teenagers and young adults, whose brains are still developing, as well as by pregnant women.

Updated COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer have been shown to generate a strong response against a highly mutated variant of the virus which has been causing some concern among scientists. The new variant has led to booster vaccines being rolled out earlier than planned in England.

The number of abortions being performed in American states where they remain legal has increased substantially, analysis from the Guttmacher Institute shows. The increase is particularly marked in states bordering those that have enacted stricter laws. In South Carolina, which borders Georgia where bans are in effect, abortion incidence increased 124% between 2020 and 2023. In New Mexico, the increase was 220% over the same period.

Meanwhile, Mexico's supreme court has decriminalized abortion nationwide. The new ruling legalizes the procedure across all 32 states after the court ruled that denying it violated the human rights of women.

The UK is to become the first country in the world to start offering an injection for cancer treatment. The immunotherapy drug atezolizumab will be offered as a jab rather than intravenously, cutting the time taken to deliver the medicine and circumventing issues relating to difficult-to-access veins.

Blood donors in Brazil have been given the chance to watch the Copa do Brasil final for free. The Rio de Janeiro State Sports Superintendence, which runs the Maracana stadium where the final of the football tournament will be hosted, said the first 100 fans to donate will get tickets.

A popular nasal decongestant used by millions of Americans has been deemed "no better than a dummy pill" by US government researchers and advisers to the Food and Drug Administration have voted unanimously against the effectiveness of the drug phenylephrine.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve healthcare systems?

4. More on health from Agenda

A company is working to create a scent that will repel mosquitoes without the need to use harmful chemicals. DSM-Firmenich, one of the world's largest manufacturers of flavours and scents, is hoping to contribute to the effort to reduce the health burden of mosquito-borne disease by incorporating mosquito-repellent smells into everyday products like soaps and laundry detergents.

Since the pandemic, drones have increasingly been used to deliver medicines and vaccines to vulnerable populations. Here's how the World Economic Forum's Medicines from the Sky initiative has been making a difference in parts of rural India.

Tackling health equity is a top priority if we are to help avoid some of the health impacts of climate change. The climate crisis is leading to a host of health consequences, including an uptick in both communicable and non-communicable diseases, but the burden of this is unevenly felt throughout the world.

Related topics:
Health and HealthcareGlobal Health
1. Experimental Parkinson's blood test shows early promise2. Cancer diagnoses in under-50s climb 80% in 30 years3. News in brief: More health stories from around the world4. More on health from Agenda

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