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Archive for October, 2017

Scientists ‘can’t explain’ Black Death plague outbreak

Monday, October 30th, 2017

An image of the Ebola virus under a microscope.

PLAGUE warnings were being issued for nine countries in south-east Africa this week, as authorities rushed to contain an outbreak of Black Death.

It’s the same virus that led to one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, killing an estimated 25 million people in Medieval Europe.

The recent outbreak is believed to have started in Madagascar, an island nation off the African coast, and at least 1300 people have been infected.

It’s a serious bacterial infection transmitted by fleas, and can be easily treated with antibiotics, but so far 124 have been reported dead.

“Plague, though terrifying, is nothing new in Madagascar, where about 600 cases are reported annually,” the World Health Organisation said on its website.

However, WHO officials warned there is “something different” about this outbreak, and “health officials couldn’t explain it”.

“Plague is a disease of poverty, because it thrives in places with poor sanitary conditions and health services,” said Dr Arthur Rakotonjanabelo.

However, he said the plague had spread to new parts of the country, which hadn’t seen the plague since at least 1950.

SO WHEN WILL THE NEXT OUTBREAK BE?

Scientists have known about it since 1976, but it took the world by surprise three years ago.

Global health authorities are constantly trying to predict the next outbreak – bacterial or viral – so it can be stopped before it becomes an epidemic or pandemic.

The Global Virome Project, which was proposed in 2016 and is just beginning to take shape, is one ambitious initiative which aims to find all viruses in birds and mammals that could spill over to humans in the next decade.

Meanwhile, the US Agency for International Development has spent the past eight years cataloguing threats, identifying 1000 new viruses.

However, experts estimate 99.9 per cent of viruses are still unknown.

A new Australian study, published this week by Jemma Geoghegan from Macquarie University and Edward Holmes from the University of Sydney, argued it’s impossible to predict a global outbreak because there are too many variables.

They said efforts will fail because the enormous number of unknown viruses could evolve and appear in humans at any time.

“The [Global Virome Project] will be great for understanding more about viruses and their evolution, but I don’t see how it’ll help us work out what’s going to infect us,” Dr Geoghegan told The Atlantic‘s Ed Yong.

“We’re only just coming to terms with the vastness of the virosphere.”

Once a virus achieves human-to-human transmission, it’s really just a matter of luck as to how severe and contagious it is, and whether or not it can be treated quickly.

EVOLUTION CAN BE GREAT, AND TERRIBLE

Scientists are always trying to identify the next threat before it reaches epidemic or pandemic proportions

Both humans and diseases are constantly changing, so it’s a bit like trying to hit a moving target from a moving car.

“We’re trying to predict really, really rare events from not much information, which I think is going to fail,” Dr Geoghegan said – and history agrees.

For example, scientists discovered the Zika virus in Uganda way back in 1947, and yet there was an outbreak on the other side of the world, in Brazil, two years ago.

The disease is spread by mosquitoes, and can cause severe birth defects in babies if the mother is bitten while pregnant.

Similarly, the Ebola virus was discovered in 1976 in South Sudan, but it claimed a reported 11,315 lives in west Africa three years ago.

It is highly infectious and spreads through transmission of bodily fluids, causing a gruesome death as the whole body haemorrhages.

Still other diseases emerge totally out of the blue.

One example is the SARS virus – a severe form of pneumonia – which broke out in China after a researcher accidentally caught it in a lab in 2002.

Another is HIV, a sexually transmitted virus which attacks the body’s immune system, which has claimed an estimated 35 million lives in the past 40 years.

Probably the most famous of all is the Spanish Influenza pandemic, which killed up to 100 million people – or five per cent of the world’s population – in 1918.

The other variable is changes to possible treatments – which vary widely depending if the outbreak is bacterial or viral.

Vaccines are undoubtedly the best way to treat viruses, because they require living hosts to multiply and can only really be fought off by the body’s own immune system, but they are a prevention and not a cure.

Bacteria, on the other hand, can be effectively treated with antibiotics – however, health experts warn an “antibiotic apocalypse” is fast approaching, as overuse of drugs like Penicillin lead to a significant increase in drug-resistant infections.

DOES SCIENCE HAVE A WAY FORWARD?

Dr Geoghegan thinks the best way forward is to focus just on the “fault lines”.

The Atlantic reports that means regions where people are more likely to be exposed to animal viruses because they are chopping down forests, setting up dense animal markets, hunting wild creatures for meat, or moving around a lot because of political instability.

However, others argue global scientific efforts shouldn’t be so readily dismissed.

Professor Jonna Mazet, global director for PREDICT, a European Union organisation that aims to prepare for the “domino effect” in crisis situations, told Ed Yong it’s too early to know how things will pan out.

She said if the same complaints had been made about meteorology a century ago, “we wouldn’t have created the data that lets us forecast the weather, which we can do pretty well now”.

Henry Sapiecha

Doctors stunned by extremely rare case of Italian woman who sweats blood

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

Washington: Doctors were baffled when a 21-year-old woman was admitted into an Italian hospital for “sweating blood” from her face and her hands, a condition she’s had for three years, according to two physicians from the University of Florence.

It’s a condition few doctors have seen, and some have questioned whether sweating blood is even possible. Cases of people sweating blood are uncommon, and the Italian had floated the idea that the woman may be faking her symptoms.

The bleeding has no clear apparent trigger and can happen while the woman is asleep or during physical activity, wrote doctors Roberto Maglie and Marzia Caproni in a case report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday. The bleeding becomes more intense, she told doctors, during times of stress, and the episodes can last from one to five minutes. The woman has isolated herself out of embarrassment, and reported symptoms associated with major depressive and panic disorders, doctors said.

After a round of tests and observations, and after ruling out the likelihood that she was faking her condition, doctors diagnosed the woman with a rare condition called hematohidrosis, in which patients spontaneously sweat blood through unbroken skin. But what causes the woman to “sweat” blood remains unclear: Despite the blood’s sweat-like appearance, doctors aren’t certain whether blood is passing through sweat glands. The bleeding reportedly has occurred through areas without sweat glands or through follicles, the doctors said.

Jacalyn Duffin, a hematologist and medical historian at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said she had never come across a case of patient sweating blood herself, and that few doctors have. In a commentary that accompanied the case report, she wrote that she was initially skeptical about the condition of the woman in Italy until she dove into medical literature and found that at least two dozen similar cases had surfaced around the world since about 2000.

Of the 42 reports Duffin came across dating back to 1880, almost half had appeared in the last five years, making her wonder whether there has been an increase in cases or if it’s becoming more recognised by doctors. Medical writers have previously traced the condition of sweating blood to the story of Christ’s suffering and the crucifixion, but hematohidrosis has appeared in scientific literature, too. Two treatises by Aristotle from the third century B.C. reference sweat that either looked like, or actually was, blood.

Still, Duffin believes the condition’s association with Christianity and religion may make it more difficult for doctors to accept. Since publication of the Italian case Monday, three people have contacted Duffin to tell her they believe they have the condition.

“That suggests to me that there may be more people who get it,” she said. “They either aren’t taken seriously by their doctors, or they hide it because it’s stigmatized.”

Recently reported cases make Duffin believe the condition is both “possible and plausible,” as the reports are credible, she said. Patients with hematohidrosis have their blood tested and are monitored by doctors, who look to see whether patients are scratching themselves. The majority of cases involve young women or children from around the world, making it difficult for Duffin to believe that the cases are a result of copycat behaviour.

Many of the reports Duffin analysed documented that the bleeding was preceded by emotional trauma, such as witnessing violence at home or at school. In all cases, the condition was transient, lasting anywhere from a month to four years. But little else about the bleeding, such as its causes or how to stop it, is known, she said.

The woman in Italy so far has been treated with propranolol, a heart and blood pressure medication, which has reduced but not completely stopped her bleeding.

Washington Post

Henry Sapiecha

Squirtable surgical glue seals wounds in 60 seconds

Friday, October 6th, 2017

Once squirted into the wound,  the MeTro glue is said to behave much like the silicone sealants used around bathroom tiles.Gives time to heal the wound.Maybe can be used for fixing loose healthy teeth in your jawbone.

www.perfectwhiteteeth.net

Advanced surgical glues that seal wounds faster could mean big things when it comes to medical care, with shorter recovery times and fewer complications just a couple of potential advantages. A new material is showing particular promise in this regard, with the ability to be squirted directly into a wound, seal it in 60 seconds and dissolve thereafter.

The researchers behind the surgical glue, which is called MeTro, say that it could replace staples and sutures used by doctors to seal up wounds, but its benefits don’t stop there. Because it is so fast-acting, it could be used at emergency sites, such as a car accident or a war zone, with the scientists likening its behavior once squirted into the wound to silicone sealants used around bathroom tiles.

“The beauty of the MeTro formulation is that, as soon as it comes in contact with tissue surfaces, it solidifies into a gel-like phase without running away,” said Assistant Professor Nasim Annabi from Northeastern University, who worked with other researchers in the US and Australia’s University of Sydney in developing MeTro.

The gel-like glue mixes natural, highly elastic proteins with light-sensitive molecules that enable it to set in 60 seconds when exposed to UV light. This UV-treatment cures the glue and allows it to form tight bonds with structures on the surface of the tissue, which maintains its elasticity. Also included is a degrading enzyme that can be manipulated to determine how long the glue lasts in the wound, ranging from hours to months, depending on the time it needs to heal.

Because of the glue’s high elasticity, it could be suitable for treating wounds in tissues that expand and relax and are therefore at risk of re-opening, like the lungs or heart. The team says it could also prove valuable in treating internal wounds in places where bodily fluids ruin the effectiveness of more conventional sealants.

Annabi was the lead author of the new study putting MeTro through its paces, where the team quickly and successfully closed wounds in rodent arteries and lungs, along with the lungs of pigs. Buoyed by the results, he and the team are now shifting their focus towards human trials.

“MeTro seems to remain stable over the period that wounds need to heal in demanding mechanical conditions and later it degrades without any signs of toxicity, it checks off all the boxes of a highly versatile and efficient surgical sealant with potential also beyond pulmonary and vascular suture and staple-less applications,” says Harvard Medical School Professor Ali Khademhosseini, who helped develop MeTro.

The team has published their results in the journal Science Translational Medicine, while the video below provides an overview of how MeTro works.

Source: University of Sydney

Henry Sapiecha

Pen-like instrument detects cancer in mere seconds

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

The instrument developed at UT Austin is claimed to be both much quicker and more accurate at detecting cancer than existing approaches(Credit: University of Texas at Austin)

Distinguishing cancerous tissue from healthy tissue is a chief concern when it comes to surgery, which is why medical scientists are continually looking at new technologies to help surgeons sort the good from the bad. Over the years, we’ve seen research advances in the form of glowing compounds that light up cancerous cells and smart scalpels that offer visual and audio guidance. Now researchers at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin have developed a pen-like device that identifies cancerous tissue during surgery, boosting the chances of a successful procedure.

“If you talk to cancer patients after surgery, one of the first things many will say is ‘I hope the surgeon got all the cancer out,'” says Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, an assistant professor of chemistry at UT Austin who led the team. “It’s just heartbreaking when that’s not the case. But our technology could vastly improve the odds that surgeons really do remove every last trace of cancer during surgery.”

Telling cancerous tissue apart from healthy tissue is key during surgery, and not just to ensure that all the tumor is removed. Taking too much healthy tissue can also be dangerous, raising the prospect of damage to muscle and nerve function, along with other painful side effects.

Currently, the state-of-the-art method surgeons use to differentiate cancer and healthy tissues is called Frozen Section Analysis. The downside to this approach is that it requires a sample to be prepared and assessed by a pathologist, which can take more than 30 minutes and leaves the patient exposed to increased risk of infection. Furthermore, it can prove unreliable in as many as 10 to 20 percent of cases.

The instrument developed at UT Austin is claimed to be both much quicker and more accurate than current approaches. Called the MasSpec Pen, it works by detecting the biomarkers of certain types of cancer, using software to check them against a catalog of 253 samples comprising both healthy and cancerous tissues of the breast, lung, thyroid and ovary.

“Cancer cells have dysregulated metabolism as they’re growing out of control,” says Eberlin. “Because the metabolites in cancer and normal cells are so different, we extract and analyze them with the MasSpec Pen to obtain a molecular fingerprint of the tissue. What is incredible is that through this simple and gentle chemical process, the MasSpec Pen rapidly provides diagnostic molecular information without causing tissue damage.”

The pen simply needs to be held against the tissue while a foot pedal is used to kick off the process. This sees a drop of water fall onto the tissue, allowing small molecules to be absorbed into the liquid. This water is then fed into a mass spectrometer, an instrument with the ability to detect thousands of molecules and interpret the molecular fingerprints of various cancers.

Once this analysis is completed, a connected computer screen will automatically display “Normal” or “Cancer” within about 10 seconds, and for certain cancers, will even name the subtype, such as “lung cancer,” for example. When testing the MasSpec Pen on 253 tissue samples taken from cancer patients, it proved more than 96 percent accurate and was also able to detect cancer in marginal areas between normal and cancerous tissue.

“Any time we can offer the patient a more precise surgery, a quicker surgery or a safer surgery, that’s something we want to do,” says James Suliburk, head of endocrine surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and a collaborator on the project. “This technology does all three. It allows us to be much more precise in what tissue we remove and what we leave behind.”

The team has filed patents for the technology, and expects to start testing it during oncologic surgeries in 2018. A paper describing the research was published in Science Translational Medicine, while the video below provides an overview of how it works.

Source: University of Texas at Austin


Henry Sapiecha