News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 1st June 2015

Secret police files relating to Easter Rising released

    

Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) obsessively monitored future rebels.

A screenshot from the National Archives web site which details the extent of surveillance on the leaders of the Easter Rising.

Secret police files detailing the extent of surveillance on the leaders of the Easter Rising have been made available to the public for the first time.

The daily files were compiled by the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) which went to great lengths to monitor the movements of men including future Proclamation signatories Thomas Clarke, Seán Mac Diarmada and Thomas MacDonagh, Professor Eoin MacNeill and Bulmer Hobson among 230 people who they targeted.

The files have been in the National Archives for the past century and have only been available on request to specialist scholars. Now they have been digitised and released on the internet for the first time from Monday, June 1st.

They were compiled for the chief secretary’s office crime branch and the dispatches were entitled – “movement of extremists”.

The police were obsessive in monitoring the comings and goings of those they suspected of plotting sedition. “J.J Walsh left 37 Haddington Road at 11.30am and proceeded to McArthurs House Agents, 79 Talbot Street where he remained for 20 minutes. He afterwards inspected a vacant shop at 20 Blessinggton Street,” went one report which detailed all Walsh’s movements on June 1st, 1915.

The files will be released in chronological order according to what happened on each day 100 years ago.

The file for June 1st, 1915 notes that Prof MacNeill, the founder of the Irish Volunteers and the man who countermanded the order for the Rising on Easter Sunday, was seen visiting Thomas Clarke at his shop in 75 Parnell Street. Others observed entering Clarke’s shop included the future President of Ireland Sean T O’Ceallaigh (then known as John T Kelly) and Frank Fahy who was sentenced to death for his part in the Easter Rising. It was commuted to 10 years in jail.

The files observed that Ernest Blythe, the future Minister for Finance and managing director of the Abbey Theatre, returned to Killarney from Dublin that evening. It concluded: “R.I.C informed”.

Bulmer Hobson, a leading figure in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), is also listed in the files entering the Irish Volunteer office in Dawson Street between 4pm and 5pm.

Despite all the surveillance by the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), the Rising, when it happened, was regarded as a massive failure of intelligence.

As a result the long-serving chief secretary to IrelandAugustine Burrell resigned in the weeks after the Rising having been blamed for not foreseeing the rebellion.

The DMP had a particular interest in Clarke, the veteran republican who had served time in jail in England and who was the main instigator of the Rising through the IRB. He crops up in nearly every report.

Major events which took place in 1915 and 1916 were also under close surveillance. The files include references to the funeral of veteran Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in August 1915 when Padraig Pearse made his famous “the fools, the fools, the fools” speech and the annual convention of the Irish Volunteers. Anti-recruitment and conscription rallies were also carefully monitored.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys said the release of the files is part of a number of digitisation projects taking place as part of Ireland 2016, the Government’s commemoration programme for the Easter Rising centenary.

Director of the National Archives John McDonough said the chronological release of material will allow visitors to the national archives website to track the movements of those involved in the Rising in the months leading up April 1916. “People will be able to read how key players were identified, followed, and put under surveillance, and read the thoughts of the detectives tracking them.”

Cholesterol drugs ‘can cut heart bypass deaths’

 

A study has found that cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can significantly reduce the risk of dying during a heart bypass operation

Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can reduce the risk of dying during a heart bypass operation by as much as two-thirds, a study has found.

Researchers made the discovery after analysing data on more than 16,000 British patients aged 40 and over who underwent a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG).

The procedure diverts blood around blocked or narrowed arteries to improve the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart.

Patients who took statins – who made up 85% of the total – had a 67% reduced risk of death around the time of the surgery compared to the average risk associated with the procedure.

Other medications, including beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and alpha-2 agonists, were not associated with the same effect.

Simvastatin, the most commonly prescribed statin, lowered the risk of death by 77%, the study showed.

Findings from the research were presented at the European Society of Anaesthesiology’s Euroanaesthesia meeting in Berlin, Germany.

The authors, led Dr Robert Sanders from the University of Wisconsin in the US, wrote: “Statins were associated with a significant protective effect on peri-operative mortality from CABG surgery.”

A new era in Melanoma cancer treatment?

    

Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, kills more than 2,000 people a year in Britain

When it comes to reporting medical science, “breakthrough” is a very overused word, and one I usually try to avoid.

When dealing with cancer, I also prefer not to talk about cure – it’s a hostage to fortune, given that the disease can lie dormant for long periods only to emerge many years later.

Headline writers like both terms – they form a neat shorthand to advertise many stories of medical advance.

“Breakthrough” does seem justified, whereas “cure” does not, when referring to a slew of results from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) concerning a new generation of cancer treatments.

The main excitement from ASCO was prompted by a form of treatment known as immunotherapy – using drugs which unmask the ability of cancer to switch off the immune system and so hide from the body’s natural killer cells.

In a key trial, nearly six in ten patients with advanced melanoma saw their disease halted for almost a year when treated with a combination of ipilimumab and a new immunotherapy drug, nivolumab.

Until recently survival time for patients with melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, was just a few months.

For the BBC’s Panorama, I followed one patient, Vicky Brown, 61, from Cardiff, who was part of the major trial led by London’s Royal Marsden Hospital and Institute of Cancer Research.

Her melanoma had spread to her breast, lungs and neck and she initially thought she had months to live.

Instead the combination therapy shrank her tumours and left her apparently disease-free for two years.

‘Game-changing’

Although there were severe but temporary side-effects on her liver, Vicky says the treatment gave her her life back.

Vicky has recently been diagnosed with another tumour in her lung, so will need follow-up treatment.

That is why it is premature to talk about curing advanced cancer, which has spread through the body.

Nonetheless, given the grim outlook that used to exist for advanced melanoma, it’s easy to see why cancer specialists have been using terms such as “game-changing” and “paradigm shift”.

Not least because immunotherapy treatments are also showing promise with several other forms of cancer.

But these new drugs come at a price.

They cost hundreds of millions of pounds to develop – many treatments that go through trials end up in costly failure.

So the drug companies want to make a return on investment – and a profit for shareholders – while the drugs are still on patent, before cheaper generic versions are available.

Ipilimumab, one of the combination immunotherapy drugs in the trial, costs around £75,000 per patient.

The other drug in the melanoma trial, nivolumab, is not yet licensed in Europe. It has also been shown to extend life expectancy in lung cancer – the biggest of all cancer killers.

It is licensed in Japan at a reported cost of nearly £100,000 a patient, although once approved in the UK there would be a confidential NHS agreed price, as with other new drugs.

Genetic switches

Several pharma companies have immunotherapy drugs undergoing trials, with promising results against melanoma, lung, liver, bowel, head and neck cancers.

There is also plenty of excitement about a new range of cancer drugs which target genetic weaknesses in tumours.

These are the result of our far greater understanding of the biology of cancer, and the genetic switches which drive the disease.

Increasingly doctors will classify cancer, not by the organ of origin, but by its genetic make-up.

Some men with prostate cancer have been shown to benefit from a drug originally intended for women with inherited genetic defects leading to breast and ovarian cancer.

The drug, olaparib, was recently licensed for ovarian cancer, but has just been rejected by the drug watchdog NICE, on grounds – at £4,000 a month – of cost.

The regulator said it had not yet shown it extended life expectancy beyond existing drugs.

Such data may take years to emerge. The trials do show that the drug is often better tolerated, with fewer side-effects, than conventional chemotherapy.

The decision has dismayed British cancer researchers, who spent 20 years developing the drug and say around 450 women a year will be denied access.

Expect many more difficult decisions on cancer drugs. There are potentially dozens of new treatments coming through in the next few years.

With a finite health budget and competing demands from dementia, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and more, the NHS will have to make some challenging decisions on what price it puts on extending the lives of cancer patients.

Fisherman’s body is found in Donegal

  

The body of a fisherman who went missing in Donegal this morning has been recovered from the water.

It is understood that the man was working on a Spanish trawler that went overboard last night and was reported missing this morning.

Malin Head Coastguard and the Killybegs Coastguard Unit carried out extensive searches for the man.

His body was recovered in Killybegs harbour shortly after lunchtime. His remains were taken to Letterkenny hospital where a post-mortem will be carried out. The nationality of the dead man is not known at this stage.

Sawfish escape extinction through ‘virgin births’, scientists discover

A routine DNA study has revealed surprising results which suggest that female sawfish in Florida are reproducing without mating with males

  

A juvenile smalltooth sawfish. The DNA study revealed that female-only reproduction accounted for 3% of one population in Florida. Photograph: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

A virgin birth is normally taken as a sign of divine intervention, but the phenomenon may be more common than we thought – at least in certain fish species.

Scientists have discovered that female sawfish appear to be routinely reproducing without any male input through an alternative form of reproduction known as parthenogenesis.

Asexual reproduction had been observed previously in various sharks, snakes and fish in captivity, when zookeepers were surprised to discover pregnant females that had not had any recent contact with males. But until now so-called “virgin births” were assumed to be incredibly rare and had never been observed in vertebrates in the wild.

Gregg Poulakis of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who led the fieldwork in the study, said: “There was a general feeling that vertebrate parthenogenesis was a curiosity that didn’t usually lead to viable offspring.”

In the latest study, DNA fingerprinting showed that about 3% of a sawfish population in Florida appeared to have been created through female-only reproduction, suggesting that parthenogenesis may play an important role in the survival of certain critically endangered species.

Although reproducing in this way depletes the genetic diversity of a population, it could help maintain numbers during critical periods, perhaps serving as a “bridging” strategy to get through a population bottleneck.

The smalltooth sawfish is a member of the ray family, distinguished by its studded saw-shaped nose-extension, which it uses to attack smaller fish. The fish, which grow to several metres in length, are found in southern Florida and have been driven close to extinction due to overfishing and habitat loss. The global population is thought to be around 1% of its level in 1900.

“We were conducting routine DNA fingerprinting of the sawfish found in this area in order to see if relatives were often reproducing with relatives due to their small population size,” said Andrew Fields, who led the study at Stony Brook University in New York. “What the DNA fingerprints told us was altogether more surprising: female sawfish are sometimes reproducing without even mating.”

During normal reproduction, the female egg cell matures and ejects half its chromosomes through a series of cell divisions, leaving a single set of chromosomes to combine with the single set that the sperm brings along. The resultant offspring end up with two sets of chromosomes in each of their cells, with half the genetic material coming from each parent.

Sawfish are close to extinction due to overfishing and habitat loss. It is thought that the ‘virgin births’ may be a survival strategy. Photograph: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)

In parthenogenesis, however, the mature egg is fertilised by a sister cell, known as a polar body, that contains an identical set of chromosomes. This means that while the resultant offspring will still have two sets chromosomes in each cell, the genes on each will be exactly the same.

In the study, published in Current Biology, the researchers captured 190 sawfish and in each case analysed 16 sites on the genome that were known to contain short sequences that are repeated multiple times in succession.

The same technique, known as Short Tandem Repeats, is used in human paternity testing: since half your genetic material comes from your father, the number of repeats on half of your chromosomes should match up with the number of repeats seen on his.

When applied to the sawfish, the paternity-style test revealed that some of the fish lacked a biological father altogether.

In these cases, the number of repeats on each chromosome was identical at each of the 16 sites, which could only be explained if they had inherited the entirety of their genetic material from their mother.

The survey identified two fish with different mothers, which both appeared to have been born through parthenogenesis, and a further five fish, which all shared the same mother.

Until now, scientists assumed that having two mirror image sets of genes would normally lead to serious health problems or be fatal, since it leaves individuals without any backup in the case of genetic flaws. Surprisingly, though, the seven parthenogens appeared to be in perfect health.

Dr Warren Booth, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Tulsa, who previously discovered an instance of parthenogenesis in snakes, said: “This is basically a very extreme form of inbreeding. Most people think of inbreeding as bad, but it could be helpful in purging deleterious mutations from a population.”

However, he added that it would also lead to populations losing genetic diversity, which is essential for a species to remain resilient to new threats.

All of the “virgin birth” fish were female, and the scientists believe that only female fish could be produced through this method since sawfish sex is determined through an XX/XY chromosome system similar to that of humans. Despite this, the population appeared to have a roughly 50:50 balance of male and female fish.

The researchers have not yet established whether the offspring were fertile themselves, but are tracking the population to investigate further. “It takes a very long time for sawfish to reach sexual maturity, so it could be up to ten years until we find out,” said Fields.

The authors are now trawling through publicly available genetic databases of other species to investigate whether parthenogenesis may be happening more widely.

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