Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Health - South Korea declares 'end' to Mers


Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – MERS – South Korea

Since May this year, after 36 deaths and 186 infections that followed the first diagnosis, South Korea’s Prime Minister declared the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – MERS, a `de facto end’. Mr Hwang stated that there were no new infections for the last 23 days and the people could `now be free from worry’.

 According to Yonhap news agency it was reported that he had also apologised for the government’s criticised response to the virus that had killed some of the people in South Korea. However, World Health Organization stated that it was not declared that Mers was officially over.According to a spokeswoman in Manila it was informed that the World Health Organisation needed 28 days without any new infection in order to make the announcement, which is twice the incubation period of the virus and the last case had been confirmed on 4th July in South Korea.

As per AFP news agency report, Health Ministry official of South Korea, Kwon Duk-cheol had said that precautions, inclusive of screening at airports would have to remain in place, `till the situations comes to a formal end. With several arrivals coming from the Middle East, there could be a possibility of new patients coming in’.

Causes of MERS

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – Mers is caused –
  • Due to corona virus, a kind of virus that includes common cold and severe acute respiratory syndrome – Sars
  • First case came from the Middle East in 2012 while the first death in Saudi Arabia was in June the same year
  • It is believed to have originated from camels, but the transmission to humans is not clear
  • The virus does not tend to pass easily from humans, though infections usually takes place in people who could have close contact with infected person
  • Patients who may have fever, cough and breathing problems. Mers could also cause pneumonia as well as kidney failure
  • Around 36% of reported patients with Mers have died and there is no vaccine or a specific treatment.

Condition First Identified in 2012

Mr Hwang while in talks in Seoul had said that `after weighing several circumstances, the medical personnel and the government, judge that the people can now be free from worry’. According to the Yonhap news agency report, he had asked the people to shake off the concern over Mers and continue with the normal daily routine, including economic, cultural, leisure and school activities.

Mers had appeared in South Korea that was brought by a man who had visited the Middle East, on 26 May, where the condition was first identified in 2012. The only outbreak outside Middle East - South Korea, had confirmed 186 infections with 36 deaths. The outbreak as well as the subsequent quarantine together with the restrictions on the daily life had a very tragic effect on the economy wherein tourism was reduced to 40% in foreign visitors.

The government was accused for being slow in reacting to the crisis wherein most of the infections took place at health centres that were not sufficiently prepared for an infectious disease. Recently the government had approved an 11.5tn won package in order to support the struggling economy.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

World First Bionic Eye Implant


First Bionic Eye Implant – Common Cause of Loss of Sight

The first bionic eye implant in a patient with the most common cause of loss of sight in the developed age, has been conducted by surgeons in Manchester. The bionic eye implant known as the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System – Argus II, was fitted as a part of a continuing research in order to access its efficacy in patients having dry age related macular degeneration – AMD which is condition accounting for 80-90% of all cases of AMD.

The main cause of vision loss among seniors is AMD which tends to affect over 14% of the individuals of 80 years and above in the US. This condition could cause damage to the macula which is a part of the eye’s retina, essential for central vision, enabling us to see images directly in front of us. In the case of dry AMD, damage is caused to the macula by small white or yellowish deposits known as drusen that forms under the macula resulting in it to deteriorate over a period of time.

As the condition tends to progress, patients experience blurriness in their central vision. However AMD does not result in complete blindness but it could interfere with daily activities like reading, driving, writing, cooking and much more which could affect the ability to recognize faces. Unlike wet AMD, there is presently no treatment option made available for dry AMD.

Argus II Implant

The first patient, Ray Flynn, 80 years had dry age related macular degeneration that had led to the total loss of his central vision. He has been using retinal implant which tends to convert video images from a minute video camera that is worn on the glasses and can now observe the direction of white lines on a computer screen with the use of the retinal implant. Mr Flynn was delighted with the implant and hoping that in time it would improve his sight adequately in helping him with his daily activities such as gardening as well as shopping.

Manufactured by the US firm, Second Sight, the Argus II implant had earlier been used in restoring some vision to patients who were blind due to a rare condition known as retinitis pigmentosa. The surgery at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital was the first time it had been implanted in a patient having age related macular degeneration, that had affected at least half a million people to some extent in the UK.

The operation had taken four hours, led by Paula Stanga, consultant ophthalmologist as well as vitreo-retinal surgeon at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital and the professor of ophthalmology together with retinal regeneration at the University of Manchester.

Beginning of a New Era for Loss of Sight

He had informed that Mr Flynn’s progress was remarkable and he could effectively see the outline of people as well as objects and that this could be the beginning of a new era for patient with loss of sight. The bionic eye implant obtains its visual information from a small camera that is mounted on glasses worn by the person.

The images tend to get converted into electrical pulses which are transmitted to an array of electrodes attached to the retina, wirelessly. The electrodes in turn stimulate the retina’s remaining cells that send information to the brain.

Two weeks after the surgery, Mr Flynn, in a test was able to detect the pattern of horizontal, vertical as well as diagonal lines on a computer screen due to the implant. During the test, he had his eyes closed so that the medical team could ensure that the visual information was coming from the camera on his glasses and the implant.

Mr Flynn had informed that it was amazing to be able to see the bars on the screen with his eyes closed. The implant does not provide any highly detailed vision though previous research have indicated that it can help patients in detecting discrete patterns like door frames as well as shapes. Prof Stanga at that time had stated that Mr Flynn could learn in interpreting the images from the implant in a more efficient manner.

Two Types of Age Related Macular Degeneration – Dry/Wet

There are two types of age related macular degeneration namely dry and wet. The dry type could affect around 85% of AMD patents resulting in gradual loss of central vision though it does not tend to affect peripheral vision.

Macular Society has estimated that about 44,000 people tend to develop dry AMD, a year in the UK. As a part of a clinical trial, it is said that four more patients having dry AMD will be receiving the implant at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital. Prof Stanga hopes that these patients would develop some central visual function that they could work alongside and complement their peripheral vision.

He has further commented that they `are excited with this trial and hoping that this technology could help people including children having other forms of sight loss’. The cost of Argus II would be around £150,000 inclusive of treatment cost, though all the patients on the trial would be treated free of cost.

The trial is being done in the Manchester Clinical Research Facility which has been funded by the National Institute for Health Research and Wellcome Trust, with the intention of bringing about new drugs as well as medical devices to the patients.

Totally Ground-Breaking Research

The AMD study has been described by Gregoire Cosendai of Second Sight Medical Products as a `totally ground-breaking research. Cathy Yelf of Macular Society has found this as an exciting result and intends following the progress of these trial with much interest.

According to him, macular degeneration could be a devastating condition where several people tend to get affected as they live longer. These are early trails though in time it could lead to useful device for people who tend to lose their central vision.

In Europe and the US, the Argus II has already been approved in the treatment of patients having retinitis pigmentosa – RP, a condition that is characterized by degeneration of the retina affecting several people. Prof Stanga is now hoping that the Argus II could help patients with dry AMD and states that first results of the trail are a complete success and that they are looking forward in treating more dry AMD patients.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Health - Cuba Becomes First Ever Country To Eliminate Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV


Cuba – First Country to Eliminate Transmission of HIV/Syphilis

Cuba has become the first country in eliminating the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mother to baby and has demonstrated that its health care system is something that can be admired and learned by becoming the first country to receive World Health Organization – WHO, validation.Margaret Chan, WHO’s director general has said that it was `one of the greatest public health achievements possible’ and an important step for an Aid-free generation.

Caribbean countries over the past five years have improved access to antiretroviral drugs as a regional initiative in eliminating mother-to-child transmission. Syphilis and HIV testing of pregnant women as well as their partners, caesarean deliveries and substitution of breastfeeding have made their contribution in the breakthrough of the infection chain according to `WHO’.

Though the term `elimination’ may give rise to believe that this type of transmission could have been cleared out, it is not essential to meet the needs set out by WHO for the purpose of validation. On the contrary, the country requires demonstration that the country has less than 50 infections from this route of transmission for 100,000 births for at least a year though Cuba has exceeded these requirements. Only two babies were born with HIV and just five with syphilis in 2013.

Major Victory in Long Fight against HIV

Dr Margaret Chan commented in a statement that `eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible. This is a major victory in the long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infection and an important step towards an AID-free generation.

There are around 16 million women living with HIV, all over the world and every year about 1.4 million of them tend to get pregnant and the risk of transferring the virus to their child is around 1%, if the anti-HIV drug is not given during phases where infection tends to take place, right through the stage of pregnancy to breastfeeding.

If they are left without any treatment, there could be around 45% chance of the child getting infected during any of these stages. While syphilis obtains considerably less attention than HIV, the infection at the time of pregnancy could tend to be serious bad news since it could lead to stillbirth or neonatal death without the antibiotic therapy.

Initiative Set in 2010 to Reduce Mother-to-child Transmission

An initiative was set up in 2010 to reduce the mother-to-child transmission rate of both of these, which improved the access to testing as well as treating these infection, caesarean deliveries as well as breastfeeding alternatives.

Services which tend to form part of the universal health system of Cuba are said to be implemented in various other countries and are being helpful towards the global aim of less than 40,000 new infections yearly. Though Cuba could be the first country in receiving the WHO validation stamp, it is not that other countries have not reached the elimination position.

As Carissa Etienne, Pan American Health Organization Director points out that it is likely that the U.S. and Canada have already eliminated mother-to-child transmission of both these infections, but have not sought validation. Thirty other countries have requested validation and so they could see the list begin to grow soon.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Smoking May Cause Schizophrenia, Scientists Warn


Smoking Connected to Development of Schizophrenia

According to latest research, smoking could be connected to the development of incurable mental illness like schizophrenia. Researchers from King’s College London has informed that smoking could triple the chances of becoming psychosis, stating that it was clear the possible link between smoking and psychosis, should be taken earnestly. The result, if verified would confirm that nicotine tends to damage the brain causing psychosis. The team observed that 57 percent of the people seeking mental health services with their first psychotic incident were smokers, more than the general average population.

Regular smokers were also twice as likely in developing schizophrenia as non-smokers and smokers suffering psychosis one year earlier. Results of the same were published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry. Earlier, smoking was considered as a form of self-medication among several individuals with schizophrenia. If this belief was true, researchers would have observed that the smoking rates only increased after a person had developed psychosis.

However, this was not the case indicating that smoking could have played an active role in progress of psychosis. The research observed 61 studies, which included data from 14,555 smokers and 273,162 non-smokers.

Meta-Analysis on Research

Researchers at King’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience – IoPPN, carried out meta-analysis on the research seeking for patterns from the results of prevailing studies and though it was clear that most of the smokers did not develop psychosis, they claimed that the link could be significant. They observed that several of the studies did not justify for the consumption of substances other than tobacco, like cannabis, which could have been the outcome of the results.

Experts working on the research consider that though the results did not prove causality, the links should not be overlooked. Clinical Senior lecturer in psychosis studies at King’s IoPPN, Dr James MacCabe, comments that while it is hard to determine the direction of causality, findings indicate that smoking should be taken seriously as a possible risk factor for developing psychosis.

The real cause why smoking could encourage the progress of psychosis tends to be unknown and would need further research. However, activity in the brain’s dopamine system could clarify the link wherein an excess of dopamine could be bought on by nicotine exposure that could cause the development of psychosis.

Long-Term Research for Precise Link between Smoking/Psychosis Needed

One theory could be the possible link between smoking and extra dopamine, which is a brain chemical, playing a role in the transmission of nerve signals. Professor Sir Robin Murray, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at Kings’ College comments that `excess dopamine is the best biological explanation for psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia and it is possible that nicotine exposure, by increasing the release of dopamine causes psychosis to develop’.

Another member of King’s College team, Dr Sameer Jauhar also comments that `longer term studies are needed to investigate the relationship between regular smoking, sporadic smoking, nicotine dependence and the development of psychotic disorders. Based on the clear advantages of smoking termination programs, every effort should be maintained in implementing changes in smoking habits in the group of patients.

Clinical lecturer in psychiatry at University College London, Dr Michael Bloomfield also comments that `it has been known for some time that patients having schizophrenia are likely to be smokers rather than people who do not have schizophrenia, though a definitive explanation as to why this is the case, is lacking’ Long term research looking for a precise link between smoking and psychosis would be needed to find a definitive link.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Systematic Over-Medication Blights Learning Disability Care

GPs Over Medicating – Learning Disabilities 

According to new health research, GPs have been over medicating people with learning disabilities very often prescribing antipsychotics which could be unsuitable for people. The research from Public Health England also revealed from the government report on private hospital Winterbourne View, that people with learning disables were known to have been abused, The report also concluded that there was `deep concern’ on the over prescribing antipsychotic as well as antidepressant medicines for patients with learning disabilities and autism.

The latest report providing information from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink, revealed that 17% of the adults having learning disability were prescribed with an anti-psychotic by the general physician although more than half of them did not have any form of diagnosis which could have possibly be interpreted as a need of antipsychotic, disorders like psychosis, bipolar disorder and depression.

It has been estimated by Public Health England that from 30,000 - 35,000, people having learning disabilities were unsuitably prescribed for antipsychotic, an antidepressant or both by their physician which is one in every six people with learning disability identified by the health services.

Psychiatric Drugs – To Manage Challenging Behaviour 

Co-director of the learning disabilities team at Public Health England, Gyles Glover had mentioned in a government post, that `psychiatric drugs were often given to people with learning disabilities to try and manage challenging behaviour and these drugs have important side effects, though the evidence that they are effective is limited. The report, which is the first of its kind indicate that psychiatric drugs are used more commonly than is suitable and this comes with a risk’.

Glover also urged for more evidence on how and when these drugs are prescribed, to administer a wider change in public health practices. The research viewed anonymised data of clinical records from April 2009 till March 2012 of those diagnosed having learning disability – 17,887, or autism – 11,136.

All the drugs that were prescribed to these people have been recorded and when the study authors viewed instances of hypnotics, anxiolytics, antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants and antiepileptic, that were being prescribed, they had found adult patienthad been exposed to one or more of these on 41.3% of `person days’, when the patient met with a doctor

System Developed Could be Utilised to Track/Monitor Changes 

In 90% of the cases, it was found that the prescription was not short term and patients returned and were given a repeat prescription. When the team behind the paper generalised the data in order to get countrywide estimates, it came to the conclusion that 13% of the adults in England having learning disabilities were needlessly prescribed antipsychotics while 10% were needlessly receiving antidepressants.

The report stated that `allowing for overlap which is common, was estimated that between 30,000 and 35,000 adults with learning disability in England are taking one or both of these types of drug in the absence of the condition for which they are indicated’.

 There could be a chance that these numbers could increase further taking into view the report that did not take into account drugs which were prescribed by secondary care staff or in, in-patient situations, as this is not the data which could have been followed up.

However, accepting the restrictions of the analysis the authors state that with reasonably straightforward improvements, the system developed could be utilised to track as well as monitor changes over a period of time.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Blocking Brain Protein Could Stop Memory Loss Caused By Ageing

Scientist to Develop Antibodies – Reverse Effects of Aging Protein

Scientists are trying to develop antibodies which may reverse the effects of `aging’ protein that tends to build up in the body and the blood. Researchers from the University of California San Francisco –UCSF, are of the belief that protein which gets accumulated in the blood and the cerebral spiral fluid in elderly people affects the formation of new brain eventually leading to age related memory loss.

It is a known fact that as people tend to age, it gets harder to remember and this occurs when people age and their brain chemistry begins to change. The body contains a kind of protein that interrupts the repair system of the brain cell as people tend to age. This protein beta2-microglobin – B2M, builds in the cerebrospinal fluid and the blood.

 The build-upprotein tend to alter how mice are able to perform in memory test and scientists have been conducting research in determining if eliminating the protein could help the aging memory. Researchers are making progress in discovering medication which could minimize the build-up of B2M and will very soon be capable of testing humans to determine if the protein tends to affect memory with use of appropriate medication to resolve the issue.

Protein Accountable for Brain Degeneration

Researcher from the University of California, Saul Villeda, has been responsible for the original discovery of detailed research of `anti-elixir’, factor, which is the protein accountable for brain degeneration.

Villeda is a former postdoce in the Wyss-Coray lab and as a professor his desire was to study blood factors that contribute to aging like B2M, with a hope of reversing the memory loss or save thoughts of past years by eliminating the protein. Several well-known scientists are aware that B2M is responsible in cutting nerve cell connections in young developing brains.

Major part of the research which has been focused on age reversal is looking into `elixir’ factor which are the agents that bring back youth. For instance, when a young mouse’s blood is injected into an old mouse, the brain and muscle degeneration tends to stop, while broken bones heal and heart damage is prevented. Scientists, at this point consider that the best solution in tackling the aging process is through treatments with the combination of pro-youthful factors and medication which are capable of neutralizing pro-aging agents like B2M. The protein is produces by the human body to assist the immune system to identify the difference between human cells and foreign cells and also has a role in developing the nervous system.

Possibility of Reversing Effects of B2M

But as people begin to age, the protein accumulates and prevents the brain in creating new cells. The cause of this build-up of protein is not clear.The research team of Villeda injected B2M into the brain or blood of young mice and thereafter the young mice performed poorly as the elderly mice in two various kinds of memory tests. After the B2M naturally reduced itself from the younger mice, which took around 30 days, the performance returned back to normal.

This indicates that there is a possibility in reversing the effects of B2M. Villeda had naturally engineered mice which did not develop this protein and their performance was the same at any age. Benjamin Alman from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada is not in agreement that B2M is the only factor causing memory loss as people begin to age. He is presently researching the molecules in the young blood which quickens the healing of bones.

He states that it does give rise to the possibility that failing memory can be rescued by drugs that interferes with circulating factors. The concept is very exciting and would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
Research on Molecules in Blood Associated with Aging
High levels of B2M have been found in people having cognitive disorders which have been associated with aging as well as those with Alzheimer. Initially Villeda’s team observed the protein in the blood of mice as well of people of varying ages and established that the levels does increase with age.

They then injected the protein into three month old mice and discovered that these mice were having problem with memory loss. While struggling to complete a water maze, the mice made more than a couple of mistakes after they had been trained to get through the maze. This took place since these mice had less new neurons than the other young mice.

Villeda is of the opinion that this on-going research ascertains that the blood could be manipulated rather than the brain in treating memory impairment which is a much easier attempt with regards to humans. This would mean that eliminating the protein B2M could help in saving cognitive memory loss. Several studies have been conducted and still going on which are looking into molecules in the blood associated with aging. Researcher, tony Wyss-Coray from Stanford University while working with other researchers confirmed from these and other studies mentioned, that injecting older mice with the blood of younger mice could reverse age related cognitive function and vice-versa

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Bonobos Use A Range Of Tools Like Stone-Age Humans


Captive Bonobos Used Tools to Crack Open Log/Extract Food

Bonobos could be just as handy as chimpanzees and their tool using abilities tends to look a lot similar to those of early humans indicating that witnessing them could teach anthropologists on how our very own ancestors developed such skills. Till now they have been more prominent with their free and easy life rather than their skills with tools.

They have not been seen in using tools though some of the wild populations have been researched due to political instability in Democratic Republic of the Congo where they tend to live. According to Itai Roffman of Haifa University in Israel together with his colleagues, regarding those captive, he observed a captive bonobo named Kanzi.

His observation was that he used stone tools to crack open a log and extract food. However, it was a possibility that Kanzi could be a lone genius, raised by humans who taught his sign language and also shown how to use the tools. To know if the other captive bonobos shared the same aptitude as Kanzi, Roffman’s team observed animals at a zoo in Germany and a bonobos sanctuary in Iowa.

Series of Problems Involving the Use of Tools – To Solutions

The team provided them with a series of problems which involved the use of tools to solve them. For instance, showing the bonobos that food was buried under rocks and then leaving a tray of potential aids like sticks and antlers nearby.

Two from the eight zoo animals together with four out of seven in the sanctuary utilised the tools, in some cases almost instantly. The Bonobos used sticks and antlers for digging as well as long stick as levers to move huge rocks out of the way while some used different tools in order.In another mission, three of the sanctuary animals used rocks as hammers to crash long bones and uncover food hidden in the marrow cavity.

Another cracked them neatly open lengthwise, a technique previously presumed to be unique to human descent. One bonobos even went to the extent of sharpening the stick with its teeth to fashion a spear, something which chimpanzees tend to do for hunting bush-babies and then thrust it at Roffman presuming him to be an intruder.

Bonobos – Potential of Using Wide Variety of Tools

Research indicates that bonobos have the potential of using a wide variety of tools which places them at par with chimps according to Roffman. Their hunting techniques are similar to those used by the earlier Stone Age humans of the Oldowan culture.

Roffman states that `when they are given the raw materials, they tend to use them in correct and context specific strategies’. Though captive bonobos unlike their wild counterparts have sufficient time to experiment, states Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux in France. Actions of the captive animal could bear some resemblance to what took place in the wild.

 However, d’Errico states that it shows the potential is there and the skill may come or go as needed. He suspects that once researches get to study bonobos in the southern area of their range, where the food seems to be hard to get, they may find that the use of tool would be common. If the use of tool in great apes could be older than we imagined, we could go back at least 5 million years to the common ancestor of chimps, bonobos as well as human.