Health and Healthcare Systems

Microplastics linked to greater risk of heart attack and stroke, plus other top health stories

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Marine scientist Anna Sanchez Vidal shows microplastics collected from the sea with a microscope at Barcelona's University, during a research project "Surfing for Science" to assess contamination by microplastics on the coastline, in Barcelona, Spain.

A new report has linked microplastics to heart disease. Image: REUTERS/Albert Gea

Shyam Bishen
Head, Centre for Health and Healthcare; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
  • This global health round-up brings you health stories from the past fortnight.
  • Top health news: Doctors warn of plastic pollution heart attack link; AI reveals prostate cancer is not just one disease; Donors pledge $600 million to fight cervical cancer.

1. Microplastics 'could raise heart attack risk'

Microscopic plastics could lead to a greater risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a new study.

A team of researchers in Italy examined 257 patients with arterial disease for evidence of microplastics and nanoplastics in artery plaques – which are made up of deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol and other substances, and thicken the artery walls as they build up.

They found that more than half had deposits contaminated with tiny plastic particles – and that people with artery plaques containing microplastics and nanoplastics were about four times as likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those with plaques that were free of plastic.

The researchers said that their findings did not prove microplastics were the cause, noting that other factors including diet or air pollution could contribute. But they said that as plastic production continues to increase it is important to understand “how [and] if any of these molecules affect our health”.

Graphic showing how microplastics enter our bodies
Microplastics have been found to enter our bodies via multiple routes. Image: Statista

2. AI shows prostate cancer not just one disease

Artificial intelligence has helped researchers find a new form of prostate cancer – and the discovery could have “significant implications for our understanding of progression, prognosis, and treatment” of the disease.

The UK-based study applied AI to data from DNA and revealed that prostate cancer includes two different subtypes. “This understanding is pivotal as it allows us to classify tumours based on how the cancer evolves rather than solely on individual gene mutations or expression patterns,” said lead researcher Dr Dan Woodcock, the University of Oxford.

In the paper, the authors say their work “has the potential to make a real difference to people affected by prostate cancer”. It is hoped it could pave the way to treatments tailored to individual patients.


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3. News in brief: Health stories from around the world

An experimental vaccine improved three-year survival of patients with advanced prostate cancer by 38% compared with a placebo, Reuters reports. The results could be a breakthrough for tens of thousands of men who suffer from the disease.

Global heath donors including the World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UNICEF have pledged $600 million towards eliminating cervical cancer, Reuters reports. The funding will help expand access to vaccination, screening and treatment.

A UK study has found that the number of smokers who think vaping is less harmful than smoking has fallen – from 44% in 2014 to 27% in 2023. The authors said the findings highlight the need to communicate the risks of vaping compared with smoking so that people can make informed choices about the nicotine products they use.

It comes as the UK government has announced plans to tax vaping products, while also raising the price of tobacco products to reflect vaping’s “positive role in helping people quit smoking”.

Scientists have discovered an antibody that they think is a step towards creating an antivenom that would be effective against the venom of a wide variety of snakes. More than 100,000 people a year – mostly in Asia and Africa – die from disease caused by venomous snakebites.


A wearable robotic exoskeleton that could improve the mobility of people with a range of disabilities or injuries has been unveiled in Milan. Currently a prototype, the aluminium alloy device has been developed to be easy to use, lightweight and portable, according to its developers, the Italian Institute of Technology and the National Insurance Institute of Workplace Injuries.

4. More on health from Agenda

There’s a persistent health gap, with women being underdiagnosed for certain conditions compared to men. This article looks at five conditions that highlight this gap. Another Agenda piece, meanwhile, explores how closing this gap could boost the global economy by $1 trillion.

Food can help us live healthier lives, but the poorest urban populations often face barriers to accessing nutritious food – and 3 billion people worldwide cannot afford healthy foods. Collaborating with trusted local partners, many cities are working to increase access and reduce the cost.

Europe has faced an unprecedented number of emergencies in recent years, including disease outbreaks, conflict and extreme weather events. In this article, the World Health Organization’s Hans Kluge writes on why we must better plan for the ‘invisible’ impact of emergencies and disasters on health.

1. Microplastics 'could raise heart attack risk'2. AI shows prostate cancer not just one disease3. News in brief: Health stories from around the world4. More on health from Agenda

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