Issue 77

16 March 1999


IC Reporter

STAFF NEWSPAPER OF IMPERIAL COLLEGE OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND MEDICINE

Media mentions

Bread bad for your health

New research suggests that a substance added to bread poses a significant health risk to people working in bakeries and mills. The additive, alpha amylase, which improves the quality of bread, has been identified as a cause of asthma as a result of a study by doctors in the UK and the Netherlands. The results of the research, led by Dr Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, T.H. Huxley School, are published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. BBC News Online (23.2.99) picked up the story as did various newspapers including the Herald (23.2.99) and the Sun (23.2.99). “The findings could explain why the bakery industry has one of the highest reported rates of occupational asthma in the UK,” (BBC News Online). Dr Nieuwenhuijsen concluded that: “This study suggests that exposure to alpha amylase is a considerable health risk in British bakeries and flour mills.” Urgent action is needed, he stressed, to reduce these high levels of fungal amylase and the high sensitisation rates of up to 30 per cent.

Material gains

The Times Higher Education Supplement asked academics to cast their minds 100 years forward and comment on what developments might have occurred in their field. Professor Malcolm McLean, head of the Department of Materials, offered his thoughts on the future of materials, proposing the development of ‘smart’ materials, which recognise their environment and respond accordingly. “An obvious example is glass that tints when it is sunny and clears when dull. Similar interactive abilities could revolutionise everything from clothing to building construction” (19.2.99). He pointed out that much of the advancement in materials engineering has been driven by military needs. “The next century may find medicine and the environment emerging as the main drivers for change.”

Keep out of reach of children

Ministers have commissioned a study into reports that mothers living within two miles of toxic waste dumps are much more likely than normal to have babies with birth defects, reported the Independent (8.3.99). The new study will be undertaken by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit, Primary Care and Population Health Sciences Division, St Mary’s campus.

Generation game

A Daily Telegraph columnist took up the story of Professor Peter Sever, NHLI Division, who “would welcome the opportunity to set the record straight on one story, concerning his father Hal, that has erroneously gone into rugby folklore” (26.2.99). According to the Guinness Book of Sporting Blunders, Hal Sever “dramatically ran into the opposition goalpost, losing not only the ball but his teeth as well”, during his last international in 1938 against the Scotland team which went on to win the match. However, Sever senior refutes that version of events: “The suggestion that I collided with the posts is absolute nonsense... I very nearly reached the tryline, was upheld by the opposing pack and was unable to ground the ball.”

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