Call to end ban on producing immune therapy from UK blood

Megan and mother Victoria

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Megan, with mother Victoria, has needed immunoglobulins since the age of two

Eight-year-old Megan Steadman’s immune system is like that of a newborn and needs a special treatment derived from blood plasma to strengthen it.

Production of immunoglobulins was banned in the UK in the 90s over fears about the potential spread of the human version of “Mad cow disease”.

It has since been imported, but is now in short supply and there are calls by patient groups to overturn the ban.

The UK government said it was working to address the supply issue.

Large amounts of plasma are needed to make the treatment, which is used to treat people whose immune systems have failed.

Megan is one of only 5,000 people in the UK with a rare condition called primary immune deficiency.

She had a stem cell transplant last year, which her family hope will cure her condition, but for now her life depends on regular infusions of immunoglobulins.

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Megan says the treatment makes her feel better

Her mother Victoria Stoneman, from Aberbargoed, Caerphilly county, said without the treatment Megan may not be able to fight infections.

“This is to strengthen her new immune system, she’s like a newborn baby at the moment, she’s not ready to be immunised yet.

“So the immunoglobulin treatment keeps her strong and healthy and able to fight infection.”

Megan added: “It makes me feel better.”

Ms Stoneman said she first noticed Megan’s symptoms when she was two months old.

“[She had] high temperatures that we couldn’t bring down and lots of hospitalisation with severe ear infections. She often displayed symptoms of infection without infection.

“She was diagnosed when she was 18 months and was put on immunoglobulin at two and a half.”

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enot-poloskun/Getty Images

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A cell in the immune system

Immunoglobulins are extracted from plasma by a process called fractionation and it takes thousands of units of plasma, donated by a large group of people, to produce a single bottle.

The process was banned in the UK in the late 1990s in the wake of the Mad cow disease – or BSE – crisis.

Scientists were concerned just one blood donor carrying the human form of the fatal disease – variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) – could theoretically infect a entire batch of immunoglobulins.

Since then all supplies have been brought in from other countries.

But new treatments have seen the global demand for immunoglobulins rocket.

In Wales alone requests for immunoglobulin have increased by 35% since 2013, and there is now concern the situation is unsustainable in the long term.

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A cow with BSE or Mad Cow Disease in 1990 – at its height in the UK, there were 1,000 new cases a week

Liz Macartney, from the charity UKPIPS, which represents patients with primary immune deficiencies, said shortages were already impacting on patients.

“In the past, immunologists would try and assess which product would be better for each patient,” she said. “At the moment, we just have to accept whatever the NHS can buy. Potentially it could be devastating.

“Pharmaceutical companies tell us they will continue to make sure there’s enough immunoglobulin for all patients who have an immune deficiency, but in the long term we’ve got to make sure we can produce our own.”

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Tommy Browne was recently told his medication was going to be altered

Tommy Browne, from Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, is a spokesman for the Immune Deficiency Patient Group Wales and was diagnosed with a primary immune deficiency 11 years ago.

He was recently told his medication was going to be altered.

“It’s a big thing to have it changed because they don’t know how you are going to react to a new brand,” he said.

The UK government’s Department of Health, which oversees the regulation of treatments, said they were working with NHS England and other partners to address the pressure on supply of immunoglobulin over the last 18 months.

Chloe George, from the Welsh Blood Service, which manages the supply of immunoglobulins in Wales, said work was being done across the industry to increase supplies.

“Manufacturers… are also looking at ways to innovate new technologies so they can get more grams of immunglobulin per every unit of plasma,” she added.

11 Manfaat Mentimun untuk Kesehatan, Bisa Hambat Sel Kanker?

How social media is changing comedy

Amelia Dimoldenberg, Kojo Anim, Yomi SontanImage copyright
Grace Bristo (Amelia)/Publicity handouts

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L-R: Amelia Dimoldenberg, Kojo Anim, Yomi Sontan

Social media is now the go-to platform to showcase everything we do, and comedians have been quick to use it to promote their work.

Whether it’s with pranks, sketches or jokes, making your audience laugh is one of the easiest ways to go viral.

But can traditional stand-up comedy survive in the new comedy climate?

There are several pitfalls comedians can fall into the online era, as the BBC’s comedy controller Shane Allen pointed out last week.

“For social media you can have three tweets will lead to a storm… there’s people who are a lot more willing to take offence easily because they’ll take material out of context,” he told BBC News.

“People sometimes confuse the subject of a joke with the target of a joke. So anything around race or sex is accused of being racist or sexist, so a handful of comments and opinions can quickly become quite a storm and damaging so I would like the comedy community to be able to represent ourselves a bit more.”

Allen added he actively advises comedians to stay off Twitter once a TV show has been commissioned, to avoid the likelihood of being caught up in any scandals.

‘Great opportunity’

But while there are plenty of potential pitfalls, there are also plenty of benefits to comedians being on Twitter. Many use it as their main platform to build a profile.

Amelia Dimoldenberg, also known as “the girl from the chicken shop”, set up a spoof dating show where she interviews grime artists and influencers in fried chicken shops across London.

Through social media, she built up traction and meme accounts, such as YoungKingsTV, Warmzn and ImJustBait, helped by advertising short versions of her YouTube videos on their pages.

But Amelia, who has over 160,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel, doesn’t believe that traditional live stand-up comedy is obsolete just yet.

She tells BBC News: “I think that the online world of comedy has just created a different way to consume it rather than replacing traditional set-ups.

“I do think that if you want to be hyper successful in today’s landscape you must master them both.”

Amelia uses Mo Gilligan, also known as Mo The Comedian, as an example.

Gilligan co-hosts Channel 4’s The Big Narstie Show and tours regularly, but also has countless viral social media videos, and has sold out tours across the country with his a Coupla Cans comedy nights.

He started out by uploading clips while still working in a clothes store in London (customers even began to recognise him).

According to Amelia, digital platforms have birthed a new area for comedy to be displayed, which should be welcomed.

Yomi Sontan, known online as Yoms TV, uses Instagram as his main platform to showcase his comedy. He has more than 130,000 followers and generally accumulates around 60,000 views per post.

He believes the respect for traditional comedy, such as stand up in the UK, is declining.

Speaking about TV comedy programmes, he said: “We see the same old shows like Mock The Week and Live at the Apollo.

“The way audiences watch comedy has evolved, there’s no longer a set time on TV, they can watch it when they want through tablets and other devices.”

Comedian Kojo landed the coveted golden buzzer from Simon Cowell on Britain’s Got Talent earlier this month.

He’s also travelled all around Europe and Africa with his stand-up comedy.

He has also introduced London’s first black comedy club, Da Comedy Fun House, which has been graced by the likes of US comedy heavyweights Dave Chapelle and Kevin Hart.

According to Kojo, social media is a great way to build up a following, but he adds that stand-up comedians should be worried about the rise of the online comedian.

“Unlike music or a movie, you only laugh at the joke once and it gets lighter and lighter and lighter till it’s not funny anymore,” he explains.

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Getty Images

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Dave Chapelle is among the stars who have performed at Da Comedy Fun House

Kojo adds comedy audiences on social media and at live gigs are after very different things.

“It’s all 90 seconds long online, whereas with live stand up there’s a bit more story telling,” he says.

“It’s more slow place with a genuine interaction – it’s very easy to re-shoot it for social media. But when it’s live it either works or it doesn’t.”

Aaron Brown, the owner and editor of the British Comedy Guide says social media “offers comedians a great opportunity for wide exposure”.

“It’s a chance to find and grow a fan-base potentially very quickly, as well as for promotion and where fans can see them, whether that’s a stand-up tour, an existing DVD release, a TV appearance, a podcast or any one of a number of other activities.”

He adds it offers fans a great opportunity to re-promote comics’ material, with organic recommendations and benefits.

New and upcoming comics can use social media as a tool to find work, as well as sharing stories and boosting their morale chatting with colleagues.

There are certainly risks, as Allen argued last week, that given the immediacy of the platform, comedians find themselves at increased risk of being at the centre of a scandal.

But while it’s a tricky minefield for the industry, it’s one from which huge rewards can be reaped if used carefully and wisely.


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Surrey earthquakes: Is oil drilling causing tremors?

Drilling at Horse HillImage copyright
Bloomberg/Getty

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Drilling began at Horse Hill in September 2014

A series of more than 20 earthquakes in Surrey has been blamed on an oil well. A year after the first one, why are scientists still at odds over the cause?

When an earthquake struck Surrey in the early hours of 27 February, worried residents dialled 999.

One caller feared there had been a plane crash and another believed they were being burgled.

“The whole bed was jerking back and forth,” said Lynette von Kaufmann, 72.

But unlike those on the phone to the police, she knew exactly why her home was shaking.

It was the strongest in a series of more than 20 earthquakes and its effects were reported up to 10 miles away.

Most had not been felt that far afield, but they have become an increasingly common occurrence for Mrs Von Kaufmann, who lives less than a mile from the source of the tremors in Newdigate.

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David Burr/Alamy

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Climate protesters locked themselves together outside the oil well in October 2014

When the so-called “Surrey swarm” began in April 2018, Mrs Von Kaufmann and her neighbours did not have to look far for someone to blame.

An oil well a few miles away in Horse Hill – nicknamed the “Gatwick gusher” due to its proximity to the airport – quickly became the prime suspect.

“There just seem to be too many coincidences,” Mrs Von Kaufmann said.

A year after the first tremor, the government has said there is no connection and rejected calls for a fresh inquiry.

Scientific opinion, however, remains divided.

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Spider Aerial

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The “Surrey swarm” has centred on Newdigate, home to the 12th Century St Peter’s Church

Stuart Haszeldine, a professor at the University of Edinburgh’s geology department, believes the oil well is responsible for the “unprecedented” series of quakes.

“Whenever the oil and gas operators start preparing for some intervention, then there is a set of earthquakes,” he said. “It’s pretty straightforward.”

However, Stephen Hicks, a seismologist at Imperial College London, disagrees.

“There’s no obvious link to the nearby oil drilling activities,” he said.

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Media captionEmergency call made after Surrey earthquake

Dr Hicks installed measuring equipment near Horse Hill in July 2018 that allowed the collection of more detailed earthquake data.

He discovered the epicentres were clustered 3km away from the well and 1km “below the rock formations that [the operators] are getting oil from”.

There was also “no physical mechanism that could explain why these earthquakes would be induced,” he added.

The ongoing public debate has exposed entrenched fault lines, with academics, activists, residents and regulators all facing accusations of bias.

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Stephen Hicks

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Stephen Hicks, left, installed monitoring equipment near Newdigate in July 2018

Even before the tremors began, attempts to draw oil from beneath the Surrey countryside had attracted controversy.

UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) drilled the well, boring into an area known as the Weald Basin, in September 2014. Protesters were camped at the site by October.

In early 2015, the national press descended on the well after the company said early tests had shown they could meet up to 30% of the country’s oil demands from a well less than 30 miles south of London.

Speculators flocked to the company, listed on the AIM stock exchange, and some even joined activists outside the site, celebrating the progress of their investment by tweeting videos of oil tankers being driven away.

The protests continued. Some feared the controversial practice of fracking would be used to release the oil. Others objected to the general principle of oil exploration, believing climate change-causing fossil fuels should be left in the ground.

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Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

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The Horse Hill well – known as the Gatwick Gusher – has featured frequently in the press

When the earthquakes began, opponents of the well found their numbers swelled.

“It’s a great campaign,” one activist admitted. “Nothing gets people going like an earthquake.”

Seismologists from Imperial College London, the University of Bristol and the British Geological Survey (BGS) hope to settle the debate with an academic article, due to be published later this month, that will conclude the earthquakes are natural.

The research, to be published in Seismological Research Letters, found that the relatively small amount of oil being pumped out of the well, during what is known as “flow testing”, was unlikely to have had an impact “extending more than a few hundred metres”.

What’s more, seismologists found “no correlation” between the timing of the earthquakes and these tests. The earthquakes began in April, but the flow testing did not start until July.

Additionally, they concluded that a 16-year-old oil well in Brockham, more than four miles from the epicentres, was also an unlikely cause.

Their research stemmed from a 20-person meeting in October 2018, which was organised by regulator the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) and led by the BGS after Prof Haszeldine and others first aired concerns and called for a moratorium.

Prof Haszeldine was the only one to walk away from the meeting unconvinced that the earthquakes were natural.

He accepts that he was a lone “dissenting voice”, but said it was a case of “groupthink, versus individual thought”.

“That doesn’t mean I’m right, but all I’m saying is I don’t think my questions were answered.”

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Twitter

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The oil company’s financial backers use social media to monitor their investment

Along with two junior colleagues from the University of Edinburgh, he sent an outline of his theory to Surrey County Council in February after UKOG submitted plans to drill four new boreholes.

With only small amounts of oil being extracted at the time of the earthquakes, he looked for a cause that did not involve heavy industrial activity.

“Rather like Sherlock Holmes and the Silver Blaze, it is the absence of evidence in this case which drives us to a hypothesis,” Prof Haszeldine said.

He concluded that a build-up of gas might be released periodically to reduce pressure in the well, thus causing the earthquakes.

“That removal of pressurised gas is like letting pressure from a truck tyre – the mass of the truck collapses the tyre,” he said.

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Hulton Archive/Getty

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An earthquake in Essex in 1884 damaged about 1,200 properties

Earthquakes in Britain

The vast majority of the 20 to 30 earthquakes that are felt across the UK each year are magnitude 3 or under and do no damage.

None of the Surrey swarm makes it on to the BGS’s list of 58 “significant British earthquakes”, all of which have a magnitude of 4 or more. Less than half of the 30 or so Surrey earthquakes were reportedly felt by people.

The most powerful, on 27 February, was recorded at 3.1 magnitude and seismologists say it was felt by so many people largely because the epicentre was relatively close to the earth’s surface at 2km.

Britain’s largest earthquake – a 6.1 magnitude event at Dogger Bank in the North Sea in 1931 – was strong enough to damage properties on the east coast, despite being 60 miles offshore.

More than 1,200 buildings were damaged and three people killed in a 4.6 magnitude quake in Colchester in 1884.

In contrast, there have been 14 earthquakes worldwide with a magnitude of 6.3 or higher in 2019 alone.

UKOG chief executive Stephen Sanderson rejected Prof Haszeldine’s theory, pointing to Dr Hicks’ research, which shows the earthquakes were “1.1 to 1.4km deeper than anything that we are doing at Horse Hill”.

“The mechanism he’s suggesting is very arm-wavy. To people who don’t understand the way things happen in the subsurface, it has a veneer of credibility, but for people who do, it verges on being ludicrous.”

He called Prof Haszeldine a “well-known anti-oil and gas guy”, who was “motivated by his own political agenda”.

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Stuart Haszeldine is a professor of carbon capture and storage

Dr Hicks, who shared seismological data on social media after the earthquakes, said he had faced pressure from both opponents and supporters of the well.

“You are completely stuck in the middle. They will just take a small piece of what you say and use it to fit their agenda, which is irritating.”

Fracking – the process of using high-pressure fluid to release natural gases, which has been linked to earthquakes in Lancashire – has been ruled out as the cause in Surrey, with UKOG insistent it only conducts conventional oil extraction.

However, Richard Selley, emeritus professor of earth science and engineering at Imperial College, said it was “very hard to get the message across that the one cause that can be ruled out is hydraulic fracturing”.

In a report presented at the OGA workshop in October, he wrote that 2010 anti-fracking film Gasland “casts a long shadow”, adding: “Some folk anticipate flames emerging from their water taps.”

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EDDIE MITCHELL

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Protesters feared that fracking would take place at Horse Hill

For her part, Mrs Von Kaufmann said she was “not totally anti-oil,” but added: “I just feel the Weald is not the place for it.”

In the past year, hairline cracks have appeared in her Victorian home and she fears earthquakes will continue and increase in magnitude.

“That’s very scary,” she said.

Prof Haszeldine, who describes himself as “wearing two hats” – one of which is as the director of a research group promoting climate-change solutions – accepts that he might be “subject to unconscious bias”.

“I absolutely recognise that, but then I consciously try and make sure that I’m not going to get dragged into being a professional objector.

“I am not going to be parading up and down with a placard, saying ‘stop all oil production at Horse Hill’.”

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UKOG

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The Horse Hill well as it looks in April 2019 – Mr Sanderson said it has “less impact than a normal construction site”

He does, however, question the neutrality of the regulator. Established in 2015, the OGA’s founding principle is to “maximise the economic recovery from UK oil and gas”.

Prof Haszeldine said it was a “big weakness” that left the OGA “conflicted all the time because its job is to produce more oil”.

“If there is a judgement call and it’s not absolutely compelling that they have to close everything down, then their inclination will be to keep everything going.”

The OGA said its focus on “maximising economic recovery” only applied to offshore oil exploration, adding that it also “has a role in evaluating any effects of petrochemical exploration and production along with other regulators”.

After hearing of Prof Haszeldine’s theory, Reigate MP Crispin Blunt wrote to Environment Secretary Michael Gove last month calling for an independent inquiry to “investigate categorically whether or not there is a causal connection”.

Energy minister Claire Perry responded that a connection was “unlikely”, citing the opinion of the OGA and the BGS. She said that she did not believe an inquiry was “currently necessary”.

Mr Blunt said he was focused on establishing “what level earthquakes would need to reach before one starts worrying about it”.

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NurPhoto

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Energy minister Claire Perry said an inquiry was not “currently necessary”

Dr Hicks sympathises with residents looking for answers in the wake of what were “pretty shocking events to those who felt them”.

Humans naturally look for “coincidences and correlations” and have long sought meaning in the mysterious movements beneath their feet, he said.

“The Japanese used to think there was some giant catfish under the ocean that was being held down by a demigod and when that god became distracted, the catfish slammed its tail against the earth,” he said.

He said the Surrey swarm earthquakes were “probably natural events, just due to natural tectonic stresses”.

As to fears they will continue, he said: “The most likely scenario is they will just decay and die off, but then we said that back in the autumn of last year.

“We just don’t know.”

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