Boy, 2, who was fighting for his life with meningitis is cured using daily doses of ASPIRIN
A gorgeous boy. How wonderful that he was saved
A baby boy who developed a deadly infection that made his brain swell has made a miraculous recovery - after doctors used aspirin to save his life.
Robert Airey was nine months old when he was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis and respiratory failure.
He was rushed to Southampton Children's Hospital as the infection caused a series of minor strokes and affected the nerves to his vocal cords.
And as doctors fought to save Robert's life, his brain continued to swell. It was then consultant paediatric neurologists Professor Colin Kennedy and Dr Neil Thomas took the unusual step of giving Robert daily doses of aspirin.
The decision proved a defining moment as the drug treated the blood clots in Robert's brain and the brave boy made a miraculous recovery.
The infection, which causes inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, affects around 200 people, mainly babies, every year. More than 20 per cent of those die from the illness and half experience long-term health complications such as deafness or brain damage.
But Robert, who turned two in March, has incredibly survived the infection - and escaped any of the life-changing repercussions.
His mother Sarah, 34, who is a GP, said: 'Miracle can be an overused term, but I think it's relevant here.
'From what we expected, to him making it and then recovering so well - it was an against the odds job.
'And to see him playing in the mud, rolling around and playing with the other children is an amazing sight.'
Robert first fell ill at his family home in Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, in the days leading up to Christmas in 2011. He'd had cough and cold symptoms for a few days, but by Boxing Day his temperature had become very high and he was suffering with sickness.
That evening worried parents Sarah and Paul noticed their baby suddenly felt limp and his breathing had become very fast. His skin was pale and his hands and feet were also very cold.
They rushed him to Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, Berks, where he was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis and respiratory failure.
Sarah said: 'From one minute being at home enjoying our first Christmas with Robert, we found ourselves in hospital being told he had severe meningitis and was suffering from respiratory failure. It was terrifying.'
Robert was in need of an urgent transfer to a specialist children's intensive care unit to receive the care his life depended on. But with nearby hospitals at full capacity, doctors called on the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Southampton Children's Hospital in Hampshire.
Sarah said: 'We struggled to take it all in, but the gravity of the situation was clear. At one stage, we were discussing transfer to a children's hospice.'
After initially responding to antibiotic treatment, Robert's immune system went into overdrive and set off a second round of inflammation in his brain.
Consultant paediatric neurologists Professor Colin Kennedy and Dr Neil Thomas then decided to administer him with a daily dose of aspirin.
Professor Kennedy said: 'This is a rare, but particularly aggressive illness and, despite seemingly beginning to do well, there was a marked deterioration in Robert's condition in his second day in PICU.
'Aspirin is not a conventional treatment for children with meningitis, particularly babies, but the severity of this situation and the need for fast action changed the likely balance of risk and benefit.'
The decision proved life-saving and Robert was moved out of the unit four days later - his dad Paul's birthday.
IT project manager Paul, 35, said: 'After such a rollercoaster of emotion in such a short space of time, it was almost unbelievable that Robert was well enough to leave intensive care - it was the ultimate birthday gift.'
Robert, who has made an almost full recovery since being discharged from hospital in October, now spends two days a week at nursery.
Sarah added: 'We were told Robert had even escaped some of the life-changing consequences, such as hearing impairment and severe brain damage, and I put that down to the exceptional medical team and the outstanding nursing care he received.'
Alzheimer's 'wonder drug' could be completely ineffective, warn scientists
A 'wonder' drug hailed as a new treatment for Alzheimer's may be ineffective, experts have warned. The cancer drug bexarotene, marketed as Targretin, was said to reverse the build-up of the brain plaques which have been linked Alzheimer's.
A high profile 2012 report, published in journal Science, reported that the drug quickly removed most of the plaques in the brains of mice and rapidly reversed the pathological, cognitive and memory deficits related to the onset of Alzheimer's.
The results were 'stunning' to the scientific community but seemed 'too good to be true', it was claimed at the time.
Now, another team of experts writing in the same journal say they have been unable to replicate the results of the original study and have called the findings into doubt.
Researchers at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Washington University in St Louis and University of Tubingen in Germany, jointly stated: `The drug has no impact on plaque burden.
`We have failed to support earlier findings that Targretin is efficacious in reducing plaque burden in transgenic mouse models of cerebral plaque deposition.'
Professor Sangram Sisodia, of the University of Chicago, said he and his colleagues were curious about the initial report in 2012.
He said: `We were surprised and excited, even stunned, when we first saw these results presented at a small conference. `The mechanism of action made some sense, but the assertion that they could reduce the areas of plaque by 50 per cent within three days, and by 75 per cent in two weeks, seemed too good to be true.
`We all went back to our labs and tried to confirm these promising findings. `We repeated the initial experiments - a standard process in science. Combined results are really important in this field. None of us found anything like what they described in the 2012 paper.' The researchers found no effects on plaque burden of mice that were treated with bexarotene.
They say that the discrepancy is not only disappointing but also raises concerns for patient safety.
The drug was approved for treating a type of skin cancer, meaning it is also available by prescription for 'off label' uses as well.
But it has never been tested as a treatment for Alzheimer's in humans and has side effects including headaches, vomiting and liver problems.
Despite the lack of testing on Alzheimer's patients, it is believed that many requested that their doctors prescribed them the medication and, in some cases, were given it.
Professor Robert Vassar, of Northwestern University, said: `Anecdotally, we have all heard that physicians are treating their Alzheimer's patients with bexarotene, a cancer drug with severe side effects.
`This practice should be ended immediately, given the failure of three independent research groups to replicate the plaque-lowering effects of bexarotene.'
But other experts, also writing in Science, said that the cognitive effects on the mice had been replicated, even if the effects on plaque had not.
University of Pittsburgh professor, Rada Koldamova said that the drug did improve cognitive effects on mice, although tests could not confirm the actual effects on the plaques.
Professor Koldamova said: `We believe these findings make a solid case for continued exploration of bexarotene as a therapeutic treatment for Alzheimer's disease.'
Co-author Iliya Lefterov said: `We were already set up to repeat the Case Western Reserve University study to see if we could independently arrive at the same findings.
`While we were able to verify that the mice quickly regained their lost cognitive skills and confirmed the decrease in amyloid beta peptides in the interstitial fluid that surrounds brain cells, we did not find any evidence that the drug cleared the plaques from their brains.'