Just as I was starting to notice a slight increase in day length, and daring to think ahead to spring, our weather reminded us that it is still very much winter, with possibly the largest snowfall in rural Wiltshire that I can remember.

It is during these winter months that colds and flu cases are at their peak – I’m sure we all notice the coughs and sneezes as we go about our daily lives. While there is no cure for the common cold and over-the-counter medications can help alleviate some of the symptoms, controlling the cough reflex is one of toughest problems to solve. Noscapine is a known cough suppressant but due to its limited availability had not found widespread utility. A BBSRC-funded collaboration, between the University of York and GlaxoSmithKline, which builds on earlier fundamental research led by Professor Ian Graham, has helped to change this. Their research has led to the breeding of a new poppy variety (PDF) that produces much higher levels of noscapine, so much so that it is now responsible for 80% of the world’s noscapine supply. Because of the higher quantity of noscapine produced by this new poppy, extraction is much simpler and cheaper, opening up the possibility of noscapine being used more widely in cough medicines – and this could bring welcome relief to many of us. Interestingly, noscapine is also undergoing phase II clinical trials as a low toxicity anti-cancer agent.

Copyright free (Pexels/Creative Commons CC0

Influenza or flu can be a much more serious illness, especially for vulnerable patients. Older people are at a particular disadvantage because their immune systems respond less well to vaccines. As part of their commitment to healthy ageing research, Dr Michelle Linterman‘s group at the Babraham Institute is investigating the mechanisms behind immune system decline in older people. They are also using Cambridge Bioresource, a unique panel of 17,000 volunteers willing to take part in research and who have donated DNA, to design better vaccine studies trials that test for efficacy in older people. A detailed explanation of the problem and how Dr Linterman’s group aims to tackle it can be found on the Babaraham website.

In my first blog of the year I mentioned New Year’s resolutions. This year I was challenged by my eldest daughter to complete Veganuary. There has been a lot of coverage recently about the rising number of people choosing to eat vegan foods, although robust data is hard to source, so I decided to accept the challenge and put to the test how easy it would be to follow a vegan diet for a month. I was occasionally tested to find a suitable option when travelling and surprised to find small amounts of milk powder incorporated into foods which one might otherwise have thought would be vegan, but overall it was pretty straightforward. Throughout the month I tried lots of new recipes, found some firm new favourites, slept better, found that I prefer tea without milk and shed a couple of kilos too.  A recent commission published by the The Lancet recommends that a healthy diet from sustainable food systems should contain a diverse range of plant-based food and low amounts of animal-derived products. Veganuary has demonstrated to me that it is easier than ever to eat a wide variety of plant-derived foods and as I transition to eating a broader range of foods again I will do so mindful of this report.

Copyright free (Pexels/Creative Commons CC0

Related posts (based on tags and chronology):