February 5 - 11 2023: Issue 570

Women’s health experts appointed to tackle ‘medical misogyny’

January 31, 2023
Members of the new National Women’s Health Advisory Council have been appointed, bringing together diverse expertise to examine the unique challenges that women and girls experience in the health system.
Growing evidence has shown that systemic issues in healthcare delivery and medical research mean women often suffer poorer health outcomes. Women disproportionately experience delayed diagnosis, overprescribing, and a failure to properly investigate symptoms.
Chaired by Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney, the National Women’s Health Advisory Council will bring together leaders and experts from women’s health organisations, consumer groups and peak bodies.
The Council will also conduct ongoing community consultation and consider input from those with lived experience to better understand the barriers and bias women face.
The Council’s first meeting will outline initial priority areas and is scheduled for 20 February 2023.
The Council will consider:
  • health equity in healthcare and services
  • health literacy for women in priority populations
  • strengthening and diversifying medical research
  • health workforce training and education
The Council will also focus on a range of key concerns, such as menopause, cancer care, reproductive healthcare, causes of pelvic pain and cardiovascular disease. The Council will aim to promote better health outcomes for women and girls, and ensure their care is better tailored to their needs.
A panel of special advisers will contribute topic specific knowledge and relevant research from their areas of expertise to support the Council. 

“Since announcing the Council last year, I have heard an outpouring from women young and old, no matter their background, who all have a story to tell.” Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney MP said

“Woman have told me they’re being seen but not believed. They seek help for crippling pelvic pain as teenagers but suffer into adulthood from raging endometriosis. They have symptoms dismissed for weeks, only to have a stroke from a brain aneurysm.”

“The bias against women in the health system is deeply entrenched. We are now bringing together experts to begin to peel back the layers so we can chart a different course.” 

National Women’s Health Advisory Council Members

Name  - Organisation

Professor Gita Mishra - Co-Director, - Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH)

Ms Lorna Scott - Member,  Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation

Dr Danielle McMullen - Vice President, Australian Medical Association

Ms Bonney Corbin - Executive Chair, Australian Women’s Health Network

Dr Elizabeth Deveny - CEO, Consumer Health Forum

Dr Sarah L. White - CEO, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health

Dr Adele Murdolo - Executive Director, Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health

Ms Donnella Mills - Chair, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)

Ms Keli McDonald - CEO, National Rural Women’s Coalition

Dr Benjamin Bopp - President, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG)

Dr Sue Matthews - CEO, Royal Women’s Hospital

Professor Robyn Norton AO - Principal Director, The George Institute for Global Health

Associate Professor Cathy Vaughan - Unit Head, Gender and Women’s Health Unit, University of Melbourne, Centre for Health Equity (WHO Collaborating Centre on Women’s Health)

Professor Deb Loxton - Chair, Co-Director (ALSWH), Women’s Health Research, Translation and Impact Network ALSWH

Ms Carolyn Frohmader - Executive Director, Women with Disabilities Australia

Professor Zoe Wainer - Honorary Enterprise Professor, University of Melbourne

National Women’s Health Advisory Council Special Advisers

Name - Organisation

Ms Bronwyn Morris-Donovan - CEO, Allied Health Professions Australia

Ms Helen White - CEO, Australian College of Midwives

Ms Padma Raman PSM - CEO, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS)

Associate Professor Aliza Werner Seidler - Black Dog Institute

Ms Katherine Isbister - CEO CRANAplus, Council of Remote Area Nurses of Australia (CRANA)

Ms Nyadol Nyuon OAM - Chair, Harmony Alliance

Professor Cath Chamberlain - Head, Indigenous Health Equity Unit, University of Melbourne

Ms Nicky Bath - CEO, LGBTI Health Australia

Ms Shannon Calvert - Consumer Co-Chair, National Mental Health Consumer and Carer Forum

Professor Susan Davis - Director, Monash University Women’s Health Research Program

Professor Angela Dawson - Associate Dean Research, University of Technology Sydney, Public Health Association of Australia

Ms Nadia Levin - CEO, Research Australia

Dr Nicole Higgins - President, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners

Professor Daniella Mazza - Director, Sydney Partnership for Health Education Research and Enterprise

Elevating people with lived experience of mental ill-health to drive reform

January 30, 2023
The Australian Government will invest $8.5 million to support those with a lived experience of mental health to shape the policies and programs that affect them. Funding of $7.5 million will establish and operate two independent national mental health lived experience peak bodies – one representing consumers and the other representing carers, families and kin.
Lived Experience Australia will also receive $900,000 to continue its work to lead lived experience research and build the capacity of consumer and carers. Funding of $100,000 will establish a regular stakeholder forum to increase transparency, accountability and partnership with the sector.
These steps address recommendations made in recent inquiries including the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Mental Health and work undertaken by the National Mental Health Commission.
The announcement of two independent national peak bodies comes as the Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler and Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Emma McBride hosted people with lived experience alongside experts, clinicians and service providers at the Mental Health and Equity and Access Forum in Canberra.
People with a lived experience of mental ill-health made up the largest cohort of the more than 80 attendees, sharing invaluable insights into a system in need of repair.
The Forum recognised the shared goals of Government, the mental health sector, and those with a lived experience, and a commitment to working together to continue to build an equitable mental health system.
Discussions at the Forum focussed on how to make services more affordable and accessible to those who need them most, as part of broader system of care.
The Forum follows the release of the independent Better Access evaluation by Melbourne University, which showed that while the program delivers promising outcomes, many Australians continue to miss out.
In 2022, less than half of people from low socioeconomic backgrounds in major cities were able to access treatment they needed – despite most services being delivered in these areas.
The Hon Mark Butler MP, Minister for Health and Aged Care said “Mental ill health can affect every Australian, but we know that it hits some of us harder than others. Which is why we brought together people with lived experience alongside experts and clinicians to discuss how to improve mental health for everyone, whether you live in the wealthiest suburbs of our capital cities or the poorest parts of regional Australia.”
“Hearing from those with lived experience is incredibly important to making improvements in mental health. Progress will come from putting consumers and carers first.”
“These two independent national bodies will amplify the voices of consumers and carers to drive equitable reform in mental health.”
Assistant Minister McBride said:
“The further you live outside a big city the worse your access to mental health care is likely to be - this needs to change.”
“We are committed to build a system that works well for everyone, wherever they live and whatever they earn.”
“This investment puts the voices of people with lived and living experience at the centre of decision making as we work together to create a fairer, improved, system that meets the needs of Australians.”

2023 NSW Women of the Year Awards finalists announced

January 30, 2023
Some of our state’s most inspiring women have been named as finalists in the 2023 NSW Women of the Year Awards today.

Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor said the 34 remarkable women and girls are making a significant impact across the board, from science to education, health, industry, culture and community.

“I’m always inspired by the calibre of women nominated for these awards and the outstanding contributions they are making in their communities across the state,” Mrs Taylor said.

“There were almost 400 nominations, showcasing incredible women from all walks of life who are championing positive change. These finalists are an inspiration to us all and it’s wonderful to see them getting the recognition they deserve.

“On behalf of NSW, I extend a massive congratulations to all the finalists. You are all incredible individuals who make enormous contributions to our communities.”

There are 7 award categories in the 2023 program, including the Premier’s Award for NSW Woman of the Year, which is selected from a pool of category winners.

The finalists are:

NSW Woman of Excellence Award
  • Dr Rebecca Deans - Randwick
  • Anne Dennis - Walgett
  • Arabella Gibson - Mosman
  • Unis Goh - Turramurra
  • Jodie Ward - Heathcote
NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year Award
  • Natalie Ahmat - Gladesville
  • Debbie Barwick - Rutherford
  • Jodi Edwards - Flinders
  • Lynda Edwards - Narromine
  • Kirsty Hargraves - Dubbo
  • Naomi Moran - Lismore
Aware Super NSW Community Hero of the Year Award
  • Elly Bird - Lismore
  • Randa Habelrih - Maroubra
  • Mary Hollingworth - Glen Innes
  • Angela McCann OAM - Coolamon
Aware Super is an Australian superannuation fund headquartered in Sydney, New South Wales. With $150bn under management and over 1 million members, it is Australia's third-largest superannuation fund. 

NSW Minerals Council Regional Woman of the Year Award
  • Emma Bracken - Suffolk Park
  • Gayle Dunn - Ulladulla
  • Dannielle Pickford - Banora Point
  • Sally Rogers - Eatonsville
The NSW Minerals Council is a lobbying body created by the large mining companies operating in New South Wales. Its main purpose is to forward the economic interests of those companies and related industries by lobbying politicians and the public.

NSW Young Woman of the Year Award
  • Ashna Basu - Randwick
  • Chanel Contos - Sydney
  • Lua Pellegrini - Toongabbie
  • Daniya Syed - Oran Park
  • Jiahui Diana Zhang - Blacktown
Advocate for Children and Young People One to Watch Award
  • Abbie - Epping
  • Matilda Gibson - Cessnock
  • Jorja O’Brien - Young
  • Grace Salkeld - Garthowen
  • Jasmine Seidel - New Lambton Heights
  • Coralie Smith - Ulladulla
  • Haniya Syed - Oran Park
  • Penelope Towney - Corrimal
  • Lucy Trease - Alstonville
  • Audrey Wood - Mount Kuring-gai
Winners will be announced on Thursday 9 March at the 2023 NSW Women of the Year Awards Ceremony at the International Convention Centre, Sydney and livestreamed online. The awards are part of NSW Women’s Week, which runs from Monday 6 March to Sunday 12 March.

To read more about the awards and finalists, visit Women of the Year Awards page.

Antibiotics shortage in Australia

January 11, 2023
There are current shortages of some antibiotics in Australia, including amoxicillin, amoxicillin/clavulanic acid, cefalexin, metronidazole and trimethoprim. The TGA are facilitating supply of alternative medicines as a priority.

Most of the shortages are caused by manufacturing issues or an unexpected increase in demand. Many of these medicines have alternatives available.

Your pharmacist or doctor may be able to give you a different brand. Where suitable Australian-registered alternatives are not available, the TGA has taken action to approve overseas-registered alternatives.

If you are unable to fill your antibiotic prescription, you should speak to your pharmacist or doctor as soon as possible about alternatives for your situation.

More information

Visit our collection of alerts about this shortage Antibiotics shortage 2022 to 2023 collection

AI is helping us search for intelligent alien life – and we’ve found 8 strange new signals

Midjourney, Author provided
Danny C Price, Curtin University

Some 540 million years ago, diverse life forms suddenly began to emerge from the muddy ocean floors of planet Earth. This period is known as the Cambrian Explosion, and these aquatic critters are our ancient ancestors.

All complex life on Earth evolved from these underwater creatures. Scientists believe all it took was an ever-so-slight increase in ocean oxygen levels above a certain threshold.

We may now be in the midst of a Cambrian Explosion for artificial intelligence (AI). In the past few years, a burst of incredibly capable AI programs like Midjourney, DALL-E 2 and ChatGPT have showcased the rapid progress we’ve made in machine learning.

AI is now used in virtually all areas of science to help researchers with routine classification tasks. It’s also helping our team of radio astronomers broaden the search for extraterrestrial life, and results so far have been promising.

Discovering alien signals with AI

As scientists searching for evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth, we have built an AI system that beats classical algorithms in signal detection tasks. Our AI was trained to search through data from radio telescopes for signals that couldn’t be generated by natural astrophysical processes.

When we fed our AI a previously studied dataset, it discovered eight signals of interest the classic algorithm missed. To be clear, these signals are probably not from extraterrestrial intelligence, and are more likely rare cases of radio interference.

Nonetheless, our findings – published today in Nature Astronomy – highlight how AI techniques are sure to play a continued role in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

An AI-generated image signifying an AI entity searching for extraterrestrial life in space.
AI-based systems are being increasingly used to classify signals found in massive amounts of radio data, helping speed-up the search for alien life. Generated by DALL-E 2, Author provided

Not so intelligent

AI algorithms do not “understand” or “think”. They do excel at pattern recognition, and have proven exceedingly useful for tasks such as classification – but they don’t have the ability to problem solve. They only do the specific tasks they were trained to do.

So although the idea of an AI detecting extraterrestrial intelligence sounds like the plot of an exciting science fiction novel, both terms are flawed: AI programs are not intelligent, and searches for extraterrestrial intelligence can’t find direct evidence of intelligence.

Instead, radio astronomers look for radio “technosignatures”. These hypothesised signals would indicate the presence of technology and, by proxy, the existence of a society with the capability to harness technology for communication.

For our research, we created an algorithm that uses AI methods to classify signals as being either radio interference, or a genuine technosignature candidate. And our algorithm is performing better than we’d hoped.

What our AI algorithm does

Technosignature searches have been likened to looking for a needle in a cosmic haystack. Radio telescopes produce huge volumes of data, and in it are huge amounts of interference from sources such as phones, WiFi and satellites.

Search algorithms need to be able to sift out real technosignatures from “false positives”, and do so quickly. Our AI classifier delivers on these requirements.

It was devised by Peter Ma, a University of Toronto student and the lead author on our paper. To create a set of training data, Peter inserted simulated signals into real data, and then used this dataset to train an AI algorithm called an autoencoder. As the autoencoder processed the data, it “learned” to identify salient features in the data.

In a second step, these features were fed to an algorithm called a random forest classifier. This classifier creates decision trees to decide if a signal is noteworthy, or just radio interference – essentially separating the technosignature “needles” from the haystack.

After training our AI algorithm, we fed it more than 150 terabytes of data (480 observing hours) from the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. It identified 20,515 signals of interest, which we then had to manually inspect. Of these, eight signals had the characteristics of technosignatures, and couldn’t be attributed to radio interference.

Eight signals, no re-detections

To try and verify these signals, we went back to the telescope to re-observe all eight signals of interest. Unfortunately, we were not able to re-detect any of them in our follow-up observations.

We’ve been in similar situations before. In 2020 we detected a signal that turned out to be pernicious radio interference. While we will monitor these eight new candidates, the most likely explanation is they were unusual manifestations of radio interference: not aliens.

Sadly the issue of radio interference isn’t going anywhere. But we will be better equipped to deal with it as new technologies emerge.

Narrowing the search

Our team recently deployed a powerful signal processor on the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa. MeerKAT uses a technique called interferometry to combine its 64 dishes to act as a single telescope. This technique is better able to pinpoint where in the sky a signal comes from, which will drastically reduce false positives from radio interference.

If astronomers do manage to detect a technosignature that can’t be explained away as interference, it would strongly suggest humans aren’t the sole creators of technology within the Galaxy. This would be one of the most profound discoveries imaginable.

At the same time, if we detect nothing, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re the only technologically-capable “intelligent” species around. A non-detection could also mean we haven’t looked for the right type of signals, or our telescopes aren’t yet sensitive enough to detect faint transmissions from distant exoplanets.

We may need to cross a sensitivity threshold before a Cambrian Explosion of discoveries can be made. Alternatively, if we really are alone, we should reflect on the unique beauty and fragility of life here on Earth.The Conversation

Danny C Price, Senior research fellow, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

3 in 4 people experience abuse on dating apps. How do we balance prevention with policing?

Kath Albury, Swinburne University of Technology and Daniel Reeders, Australian National University

A 2022 survey by the Australian Institute of Criminology found three in four app users surveyed had experienced online abuse or harassment when using dating apps. This included image-based abuse and abusive and threatening messages. A further third experienced in-person or off-app abuse from people they met on apps.

These figures set the scene for a national roundtable convened on Wednesday by Communications Minister Michelle Rowland and Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth.

Experiences of abuse on apps are strongly gendered and reflect preexisting patterns of marginalisation. Those targeted are typically women and members of LGBTIQA+ communities, while perpetrators are commonly men. People with disabilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people from migrant backgrounds report being directly targeted based on their perceived differences.

What do these patterns tell us? That abuse on apps isn’t new or specific to digital technologies. It reflects longstanding trends in offline behaviour. Perpetrators simply exploit the possibilities dating apps offer. With this in mind, how might we begin to solve the problem of abuse on dating apps?

Trying to find solutions

Survivors of app-related abuse and violence say apps have been slow to respond, and have failed to offer meaningful responses. In the past, users have reported abusive behaviours, only to be met with a chatbot. Also, blocking or reporting an abusive user doesn’t automatically reduce in-app violence. It just leaves the abuser free to abuse another person.

Wednesday’s roundtable considered how app-makers can work better with law enforcement agencies to respond to serious and persistent offenders. Although no formal outcomes have been announced, it has been suggested that app users should provide 100 points of identification to verify their profiles.

But this proposal raises privacy concerns. It would create a database of the real-world identities of people in marginalised groups, including LGBTIQA+ communities. If these data were leaked, it could cause untold harm.

Prevention is key

Moreover, even if the profile verification process was bolstered, regulators could still only respond to the most serious cases of harm, and after abuse has already occurred. That’s why prevention is vital when it comes to abuse on dating apps. And this is where research into everyday patterns and understanding of app use adds value.

Often, abuse and harassment are fuelled by stereotypical beliefs about men having a “right” to sexual attention. They also play on widely held assumptions that women, queer people and other marginalised groups do not deserve equal levels of respect and care in all their sexual encounters and relationships – from lifelong partnerships to casual hookups.

In response, app-makers have engaged in PSA-style campaigns seeking to change the culture among their users. For example, Grindr has a long-running “Kindr” campaign that targets sexual racism and fatphobic abuse among the gay, bisexual and trans folk who use the platform.

A mobile screen shows various dating app icons
Match Group is one of the largest dating app companies. It owns Tinder, Match.com, Meetic, OkCupid, Hinge and PlentyOfFish, among others. Shutterstock

Other apps have sought to build safety for women into the app itself. For instance, on Bumble only women are allowed to initiate a chat in a bid to prevent unwanted contact by men. Tinder also recently made its “Report” button more visible, and provided users safety advice in collaboration with WESNET.

Similarly, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation’s eSafety-funded “Crushed But Okay” intervention offers young men advice about responding to online rejection without becoming abusive. This content has been viewed and shared more than one million times on TikTok and Instagram.

In our research, app users told us they want education and guidance for antisocial users – not just policing. This could be achieved by apps collaborating with community support services, and advocating for a culture that challenges prevailing gender stereotypes.

Policy levers for change

Apps are widely used because they promote opportunities for conversation, personal connection and intimacy. But they are a for-profit enterprise, produced by multinational corporations that generate income by serving advertising and monetising users’ data.

Taking swift and effective action against app-based abuse is part of their social license to operate. We should consider stiff penalties for app-makers who violate that license.

The United Kingdom is just about to pass legislation that contemplates time in prison for social media executives who knowingly expose children to harmful content. Similar penalties that make a dent in app-makers’ bottom line may present more of an incentive to act.

In the age of widespread data breaches, app users already have good reason to mistrust demands to supply their personal identifying information. They will not necessarily feel safer if they are required to provide more data.

Our research indicates users want transparent, accountable and timely responses from app-makers when they report conduct that makes them feel unsafe or unwelcome. They want more than chatbot-style responses to reports of abusive conduct. At a platform policy level, this could be addressed by hiring more local staff who offer transparent, timely responses to complaints and concerns.

And while prevention is key, policing can still be an important part of the picture, particularly when abusive behaviour occurs after users have taken their conversation off the app itself. App-makers need to be responsive to police requests for access to data when this occurs. Many apps, including Tinder, already have clear policies regarding cooperation with law enforcement agencies.The Conversation

Kath Albury, Professor of Media and Communication and Associate Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making + Society, Swinburne University of Technology and Daniel Reeders, PhD Candidate, ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Nope, coffee won’t give you extra energy. It’ll just borrow a bit that you’ll pay for later

Pexels, CC BY
Emma Beckett, University of Newcastle

Many of us want (or should I say need?) our morning coffee to give us our “get up and go”. Altogether, the people of the world drink more than two billion cups of coffee each day.

You might think coffee gives you the energy to get through the morning or the day – but coffee might not be giving you as much as you think.

The main stimulant in coffee is the caffeine. And the main way caffeine works is by changing the way the cells in our brain interact with a compound called adenosine.

Getting busy, getting tired

Adenosine is part of the system that regulates our sleep and wake cycle and part of why high levels of activity lead to tiredness. As we go about our days and do things, levels of adenosine rise because it is released as a by-product as energy is used in our cells.

Eventually adenosine binds to its receptor (parts of cells that receive signals) which tells the cells to slow down, making us feel drowsy and sleepy. This is why you feel tired after a big day of activity. While we are sleeping, energy use drops lowering adenosine levels as it gets shuffled back into other forms. You wake up in the morning feeling refreshed. Well, if you get enough sleep that is.

If you are still feeling drowsy when you wake up caffeine can help, for a while. It works by binding to the adenosine receptor, which it can do because it is a similar shape. But it is not so similar that it triggers the drowsy slow-down signal like adenosine does. Instead it just fills the spots and stops the adenosine from binding there. This is what staves off the drowsy feeling.

No free ride

But there is a catch. While it feels energising, this little caffeine intervention is more a loan of the awake feeling, rather than a creation of any new energy.

This is because the caffeine won’t bind forever, and the adenosine that it blocks doesn’t go away. So eventually the caffeine breaks down, lets go of the receptors and all that adenosine that has been waiting and building up latches on and the drowsy feeling comes back – sometimes all at once.

So, the debt you owe the caffeine always eventually needs to be repaid, and the only real way to repay it is to sleep.

cups of coffee on table in mug that reads life begins with coffee
But first, coffee. Unsplash, CC BY

Timing is everything

How much free adenosine is in your system, that hasn’t attached to receptors yet, and how drowsy you are as a consequence will impact how much the caffeine you drink wakes you up. So, the coffee you drink later in the day, when you have more drowsy signals your system may feel more powerful.

If it’s too late in the day, caffeine can make it hard to fall asleep at bedtime. The “half life” of caffeine (how long it takes to break down half of it) is about five hours). That said, we all metabolise caffeine differently, so for some of us the effects wear off more quickly. Regular coffee drinkers might feel less of a caffeine “punch”, with tolerance to the stimulant building up over time.

cup of coffee next to laptop
Coffee drunk late in the day can hit differently. Pexels, CC BY

Caffeine can also raise levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can make you feel more alert. This might mean caffeine feels more effective later in the morning, because you already have a natural rise in cortisol when you wake up. The impact of a coffee right out of bed might not seem as powerful for this reason.

If your caffeinated beverage of choice is also a sugary one, this can exacerbate the peak and crash feeling. Because while sugar does create actual energy in the body, the free sugars in your drink can cause a spike in blood sugar, which can then make you feel tired when the dip comes afterwards.

While there is no proven harm of drinking coffee on an empty stomach, coffee with or after a meal might hit you more slowly. This is because the food might slow down the rate at which the caffeine is absorbed.

What about a strong tea or fizzy cola?

Coffee, of course, isn’t the only caffeinated beverage that can loan you some energy.

The caffeine in tea, energy drinks and other beverages still impacts the body in the same way. But, since the ingredients mostly come from plants, each caffeinated beverage has its own profile of additional compounds which can have their own stimulant effect, or can interact with caffeine to change its impacts.

Caffeine can be useful, but it isn’t magic. To create energy and re-energise our bodies we need enough food, water and sleep.

The Conversation

Emma Beckett, Senior Lecturer (Food Science and Human Nutrition), School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Beware the Barbie drug: the dangers of using Melanotan

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) urges consumers to steer clear of using products containing 'Melanotan' without advice from a medical professional. Melanotan is a prescription only medicine and regulated as a therapeutic product. Misuse has proven, serious side effects that can be very damaging to your health. If you have recently used unapproved Melanotan you should stop until you have consulted a medical professional.

Melanotan-I and (especially) Melanotan-II are typically promoted as tanning products and may be in the form of pills, creams, injectable and nasal or misting sprays. Regardless of the how the product enters the body, the associated risks remain, and are not new. In 2019 A Current Affair featured a report on this issue, which also highlighted the dangers.

Melanotan-II is not included on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) and it has not been assessed for quality, safety or efficacy by the TGA. Its development as a potential medicine was halted some years ago due to safety reasons.

Melanotan-I (afamelanotide) is approved as a prescription medicine to support the management of a rare incurable genetic disease, erythropoietic protoporphyria, but because of its side effects and highly specialised use, it should only prescribed and used under close medical supervision.

This makes it illegal to advertise either Melanotan I or II to the general public, and illegal to supply them without a doctors’ prescription. If advertising is found to contravene the Act, penalties including criminal and civil sanctions may apply irrespective of disclaimers.

Risks to consumers
The TGA has previously warned consumers against the use of Melanotan-I and Melanotan-II for tanning and weight loss.

Side-effects include darkened skin, increased moles and freckles, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, flushing of the face, involuntary stretching and yawning, and spontaneous erections.

The TGA counterpart in the United Kingdom- external site also listed acne, kidney, brain and heart problems as reported side-effects- external site.

No tan, fake or real, will protect skin against damage from sun exposure. Use of Melanotan to increase skin pigmentation artificially, will not protect against UV exposure the way a suitable sunscreen will.

Melanotan and melatonin (use as a sleep aid) are different substances, and the above warnings in relation to risks and side effects do not apply to melatonin products.

Warning to businesses supplying Melanotan
There are legal implications for advertising and supplying these products. Importing, exporting, manufacturing or supplying these products without a prescription is illegal and can lead to prosecution.

Melanotan, along with a range of other products that are marketed as image-enhancing, like peptides and synthetic human growth hormones, are increasing in popularity. Young people are particularly vulnerable to the marketing of these products as they seek 'miracle' solutions to body and performance pressures.

For clinics who may be using Melanotan products or advertising them to their clients, the TGA encourages them to familiarise themselves with the legal requirements of the advertising code- external site and also the legal requirements around supply of prescription medicines.

Warning to advertisers, including social media influencers
Strict penalties including heavy fines and criminal prosecution can result from contravening the Therapeutic Goods Act and Advertising Code, such as advertising prescription substances directly to the public. The TGA has published guidance on advertising therapeutic goods on social media.

The TGA will take action in relation to illegal advertising of these products, including online advertising on social media platforms.

Contraventions of the advertising requirements under the Act can result in fines of up to $888,000 for individuals or $4.44 million for corporations, or civil penalties of up to $1.11 million for individuals or $11.1 million for corporations.

The TGA is working with social media and digital platforms to address allegedly unlawful advertising by users in relation to various therapeutic goods including Melanotan nasal sprays.

Purchasing medicines online
Australian consumers should exercise extreme caution when purchasing any medicines online.

Buying unapproved products online is extremely dangerous, because quality and safety simply cannot be guaranteed.

There is no knowing what ingredients are present in these products, and they could include substances that are harmful to your health.

Products purchased over the internet may be counterfeit, they may contain undisclosed ingredients, potentially harmful ingredients or contaminants, and may not meet the same standards of quality, safety and efficacy as those approved by the TGA. Using an unregulated product could be extremely detrimental to your health.

Despite some websites appearing to be Australian, these products are quite often coming from an overseas source. If they are detained at the border, you will not receive your goods, you will lose your money and there may be penalties if you are involved in promotion or sale of these products.

If a medicine needs a prescription in Australia, and you are told you can get it online without one – that should ring alarm bells.

Help the TGA to do its job: report illegal advertising
The TGA oversees the rules that govern the advertising of medicines and medical devices in Australia.

We have a system that relies, in part, on members of the public reporting misleading and illegal advertising to us so we can investigate. We encourage people to report suspected non-compliant advertising they see relating to Melanotan and other unapproved products.

If you suspect non-compliance in relation to therapeutic goods, you can report illegal or questionable practices online.

Farming more seaweed to be food, feed and fuel

January 2023
A University of Queensland-led study has shown that expanding global seaweed farming could go a long way to addressing the planet's food security, biodiversity loss and climate change challenges. PhD Candidate Scott Spillias, from UQ's School of Earth and Environmental Science, said seaweed offered a sustainable alternative to land-based agricultural expansion to meet the world's growing need for food and materials.

"Seaweed has great commercial and environmental potential as a nutritious food and a building block for commercial products including animal feed, plastics, fibres, diesel and ethanol," Mr Spillias said.

"Our study found that expanding seaweed farming could help reduce demand for terrestrial crops and reduce global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by up to 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent per year."

Researchers mapped the potential of farming more of the 34 commercially important seaweed species using the Global Biosphere Management Model.

They estimated the environmental benefits of a range of scenarios based on land-use changes, GHG emissions, water and fertiliser use, and projected changes in species presence by 2050.

"In one scenario where we substituted 10 per cent of human diets globally with seaweed products, the development of 110 million hectares of land for farming could be prevented," Mr Spillias said.

"We also identified millions of available hectares of ocean within global exclusive economic zones* (EEZs), where farming could be developed.

"The largest share of suitable ocean was in the Indonesian EEZ, where up to 114 million hectares is estimated to be suitable for seaweed farming.

"The Australian EEZ also shows great potential and species diversity, with at least 22 commercially viable species and an estimated 75 million hectares of ocean being suitable."

Mr Spillias said many native species of seaweed in Australian waters had not yet been studied from a commercial production perspective.

"The way I like to look at this is to think about ancestral versions of everyday crops -- like corn and wheat -- which were uninspiring, weedy things," he said.

"Through thousands of years of breeding we have developed the staple crops that underpin modern societies and seaweed could very well hold similar potential in the future."

UQ study collaborator Professor Eve McDonald-Madden said the seaweed solution would have to be carried out with care, to avoid displacing problems from the land to the ocean.

"Our study points out what could be done to address some of the mounting problems of global sustainability facing us, but it can't be implemented without exercising extreme caution," she said.

This research was published in Nature Sustainability.

UQ acknowledges the collaborative efforts of researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, CSIRO and the University of Tasmania.

*An area of the sea in which a sovereign state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind.

Scott Spillias, Hugo Valin, Miroslav Batka, Frank Sperling, Petr Havlík, David Leclère, Richard S. Cottrell, Katherine R. O’Brien, Eve McDonald-Madden. Reducing global land-use pressures with seaweed farming. Nature Sustainability, 2023; DOI: 10.1038/s41893-022-01043-y

World-first guidelines created to help prevent heart complications in children during cancer treatment

January 29, 2023
The world's first international clinical guidelines to help prevent and treat heart complications in children undergoing cancer treatment have been created.
The guidelines, published in JACC:Advances, cover cardiovascular disease assessment, screening and follow-up, for pediatric patients receiving cancer treatment with new molecular therapies, immunotherapy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The expert consensus, led by researchers from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, has defined the high-risk group of cancer patients who should undergo a heart check-up, standardised an approach to screening and surveillance during treatment and provided recommendations to protect vulnerable young hearts.

Murdoch Children's Associate Professor Rachel Conyers said while international guidelines to monitor poor heart side effects during therapy exist for adult patients, none were specific to children.

Associate Professor Conyers said the success of new cancer drugs had increased the chances of cardiac side effects that occur early on during therapy, sometimes within days, which warranted closer heart health surveillance and earlier monitoring.

"Recent advances in treating childhood cancer have resulted in survival rates of more than 80 per cent. However, improving serious health outcomes in survivors remains an important and essential focus and prevention is key," she said.

"Heart complications are a leading cause of death for childhood cancer survivors, second only to cancer relapse. Modern treatments including precision medicine have broadened the agents that can cause heart problems."

Childhood cancer survivors are 15 times more likely to have heart failure and eight times more likely to have heart disease than the general population.

Associate Professor Conyers said the guidelines would be an indispensable tool for clinicians to significantly reduce the harmful impact of cancer drugs on children's hearts.

"The guidelines are a major advance for the cardio-oncology field as before this there was no defined approach for surveillance or follow up of paediatric patients during treatment despite new therapeutics having early heart complications such as high blood pressure, abnormal heart beats and heart failure," she said.

The Australian and New Zealand expert group consisted of paediatric and adult cardiologists and paediatric oncologists who undertook a Delphi consensus approach across 11 areas of cardio-oncology care. The Australian New Zealand Children's Oncology Group endorsed the study with the guidelines useful for any tertiary institutes treating paediatric oncology patients or initiating cardio-oncology clinics.

Claudia Toro, Ben Felmingham, Sophie Jessop, David S. Celermajer, Rishi S. Kotecha, Dinisha Govender, Diane Marie Terese Hanna, Matthew O'Connor, Rebecca Manudhane, Julian Ayer, John O'Sullivan, Michael Sullivan, Ben Costello, André La Gerche, Thomas Walwyn, Lisa Horvath, Marion K. Mateos, Joy Fulbright, Mangesh Jadhav, Michael Cheung, David Eisenstat, David A. Elliott, Rachel Conyers. Cardio-Oncology Recommendations for Paediatric Oncology Patients. JACC: Advances, 2022; 1 (5): 100155 DOI: 10.1016/j.jacadv.2022.100155 

About Murdoch Children’s Research Institute
The Murdoch Children's Research Institute is the largest child health research institute in Australia committed to making discoveries and developing treatments to improve child and adolescent health in Australia and around the world. They are pioneering new treatments, trialling better vaccines and improving ways of diagnosing and helping sick babies, children and adolescents. It is one of the only research institutes in Australia to offer genetic testing to find answers for families of children with previously undiagnosed conditions.

The study was funded by the Heart Foundation as part of the Strategic Cardio-Oncology Grants (105525). C.T is supported by Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF). R.C is supported by the Kids Cancer Project, The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation, Heart Foundation of Australia and Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium and holds a Murdoch Children’s Research Institute Clinician Scientist Fellowship. D.A.E is a member of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine, supported by a Novo Nordisk Foundation grant number NNF21CC0073729, and supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Heart Foundation of Australia, and The Medical Research Future Fund. The Murdoch Children’s is supported by the Victorian Government’s Operational Infrastructure Support Program.

Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.