How do you judge the risks and benefits of new medical treatments, or of lifestyle choices? With a finite health care budget, how do you decide which treatments should be made freely available on the NHS? Historically, decisions like these have been made on the basis of doctors' individual experiences with how these treatments perform, but over recent decades the approach to answering these
questions has become increasingly rational.
Infectious diseases hardly ever disappear from the headlines — swine flu is only the last in a long list containing SARS, bird flu, HIV, and childhood diseases like mumps, measles and rubella. If it's not the disease itself that hits the news, then it's the vaccines with their potential side effects. It can be hard to tell the difference between scare mongering and responsible reporting,
because media coverage rarely provides a look behind the scenes. So how do scientists reach the conclusions they do?
One of the greatest advances in the biomedical sciences has been the unravelling of our genetic code. This new understanding sheds light on what makes organisms function and how they are related to each other, helps to combat diseases, and to convict criminals. But it also poses great mathematical challenges: the genetic revolution is an information explosion which can only be tamed using mathematical methods.
Comparing and communicating small lethal risks is a tricky business, yet this is what many of us are faced with in our daily lives. One way of measuring these risks is to use a quantity called the micromort. David Spiegelhalter and Mike Pearson investigate.
The human genome is represented by a sequence of 3 billion As, Cs, Gs, and Ts. With such large numbers, sequencing the entire genome of a complex organism isn't just a challenge in biochemistry. It's a logistical nightmare, which can only be solved with clever algorithms.
People have been using gold particles dispersed in water — gold hydrosols — for medical purposes for over 1000 years. Recently, hydrosols containing gold nanoparticles have become particularly popular because they have exciting potential in cancer therapies, pregnancy tests and blood sugar monitoring.
Obesity has reached epidemic proportions and the World Health Organisation estimates that, by 2015, about 3 billion adults will be overweight or obese worldwide. These individuals will be at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and osteoarthritis.