New Strategy to End Ancient War on Malaria

  Malaria is one of the most devastating infectious diseases in the world today. About 400 million people are infected each year and of those 1.2 million die. Efforts to control malaria have been held back by the lack of an effective vaccine, the alarming rapidity with which Plasmodium, the protozoan parasite, develops drug resistance, plus the failure to eradicate the Anopheles mosquito vector. Fresh approaches to fight malaria are urgently needed, to be used singly or perhaps in combination. One novel approach to a vaccine was recently discussed in this blog.   Formation of Plasmodium berghei (a rodent parasite) oocysts in culture. A. Ookinetes. B. Transforming ookinete and C. young oocysts. F. Transformation begins with a small hump on the outer edge of the ookinete. Transforming ookinetes (“tooks”) then take on a snail-like appearance (v). The entire population of ookinetes transform in 12–36 h, depending on nutrient availability. Source.   Plasmodium undergoes an unusually large number of lifestyle changes in its trip from the female mosquito to a human and back. This is one of the most complex life cycles extant, with so many details that it taxes one’s memory. Each one of the dozen or so stages is labeled with a fancy name and ought be a target for intervention but, for a host of reasons, that has proven elusive. However, the parasite is especially vulnerable in one stage, the transition from a cell called the ookinete to one named the oocyst, which...

Use of Pasteurized Bacterium to Safeguard Against Obesity

According to the World Health Organization, the rate of obesity has doubled since the 1980s, leaving more people at risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal issues, several types of cancer and premature death. Overweight individuals are those with a BMI at and over 25 and obesity occurs when BMI reaches 30 and higher. Both scenarios are generally caused by intake of high fat, energy dense foods and lack of physical activity.   Image: Source   Researchers in Belgium have recently isolated a protein that may stop the development of diabetes and obesity. If effective, this discovery would be huge as the CDC states that more than 36.5 percent of Americans are currently obese and that there are more than 29 million Americans with diabetes.  Akkermansia muciniphila is one of the normal bacterial floras of the gut. It typically resides in the mucosal layer and scientists noted that obese mice generally had lower levels present compared to healthy mice.   Source: Microbiology Society   Beginning in 2015, research began to introduce new levels of the bacteria to determine metabolic significance and a reduction in metabolic symptoms was noted.  The focus then turned to human use and methods to make it most effective were investigated. Pasteurization was used, as it allows the properties of the sensitive bacteria to be maintained while allowing it to be more suitable for human application. They found,...

What Can Angelina Jolie Teach Us About Gene Patents?

Angelina Jolie’s op-ed in The New York Times about her preventive double mastectomy sent shockwaves through the media. She represents a new generation of patients who are able to use genetic testing to make empowered, evidence-based decisions. While experts agree that her description of the procedure resulting in a breast cancer risk reduction from an 87% to a 5% chance might be an oversimplification, her courage in the face of such a difficult choice is laudable. Jolie now joins a class of “previvors,” unencumbered by the social stigma of these types of preventive procedures.   None of this could be possible without the BRCA1 and BRCA2 test, which helped to identify the mutated genes linked to cancer. But as Jolie so adeptly points out in her piece, “The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women.”   The simple truth to take away is that while Jolie’s example will inspire many individuals to jump over the social stigma of preventative procedures, there is still one large hurdle to cross: gene patents.    Last November, the Supreme Court heard the case Association of Molecular Pathology v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, concerning gene patents for BRCA1 and BRCA2 held by Myriad Genetics. An article in The New York Times explains the company holds patents for “two human genes, which, when mutated, give a woman a high risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer. The patents give Myriad...

How to Get Into Medical School If You’re White or Asian

Recently, we heard someone complain that “Asians don’t get into medical school anymore.” That’s quite a loaded statement, but it’s (somewhat) supported by statistics.   Asians definitely still get into medical school nowadays, but according to 2015 medical school admissions data, they do appear to be at a disadvantage.   The 10 Biggest Myths About Getting into Medical School     What Do These Statistics Show About Medical School? With average GPAs (3.40 to 3.59) and average MCAT scores (27 to 29), black applicants were almost 4 times more likely to be admitted to medical school than Asians in that applicant pool (81.2% vs. 20.6%), and 2.8 times more likely than white applicants (81.2% vs. 29.0%).   1) Likewise, Hispanic applicants with average GPAs and MCAT scores were more than twice as likely as whites in that pool to be admitted (59.5% vs. 29.0%), and nearly three times more likely than Asians (59.5% vs. 20.6%).   2) Overall, black (81.2%) and Hispanic (59.5%) applicants with average GPAs and average MCAT scores were accepted to US medical schools for the 2015-2016 academic year at rates (81.2% and 59.5% respectively) much higher than the 30.6% average acceptance rate for all students in that pool.   3) As the average GPAs and MCATs drop, the same trend continues, with acceptance rates for blacks and Hispanics being much higher than whites and Asians....

TED Talks For Food Lovers #8: Teach Every Child About Food

Ignorance is one of the first concerns in encountering a global issue. According to the TED prize winner Jamie Oliver, obesity needs to be targeted with this very angle in mind, going even further by incorporating childhood learning and understanding in order to help prevent the issue from precipitating in the first place.     Diet and health are highly interdependent. The food people eat over the course of a lifetime often plays a huge role in determining many of the ailments they incur. Referring to some recent exploration into the field of microbiomics, the large quantity and variety of bacteria in our body may likewise be acutely as well as chronically transforming due to the food we eat and the changes we make to our diets. Lastly, for aspiring medical personnel, quick food sources such as cold pizzas, Chipotle veggie bowls, and espresso shots often make up our daily sustenance. What effect do these have on our health?   Over the course of the next several articles, I would like to take you all on a run through some of the most interesting TED talks on food, some quite interesting and others downright genius. As you watch these videos, reflect on the close ties between nutrition and medicine, and what we can due as future clinicians to best counsel our patients in the face of changing food consumption...

This Isn’t Your Average Toy – The Mine Kafon

Inspired by the makeshift wind-powered toys of his Afghan childhood, Massoud Hassani is on the verge of something special.   The Mine Kafon is a low-cost wind-powered mine detonator with the appearance of a giant, spiky-armed tumbleweed. Check out his Kickstarter campaign. As a child living in war-torn Afghanistan, Massoud Hassani was well acquainted with the devastating nature of war and the long, perhaps endless road to recovery. Landmines concealed underground are a ubiquitous threat to countless communities in Afghanistan. A report from the Electronic Mine Information Network states that “over one million Afghans (3.7% of the total population) live within 500 meters of landmine contaminated areas.” Growing up, Hassani was a tinkerer; of particular interest to him was the creation of wind-powered toys, which he would race with other children in the windy, desert outskirts of Kabul. His interest in engineering led him to pursue a degree at the Design Academy Eindhoven.   Out of this tumultuous past sprung the idea for the Mine Kafon, a wind-powered mobile constructed from biodegradable plastic and bamboo. Hassani’s creation has caught the eyes and imaginations of many, and the prototype has been exhibited all across the globe. It was exhibited by The Museum of Modern Art in March of 2013.   Featured image is a screenshot from the video...

Stem Cells Used to Successfully Treat Sickle Cell Anemia

Sickle cell anemia is an autosomal recessive disease caused by a single genetic mutation of the beta-globulin chain of hemoglobin. Sickle cell disease occurs when one receives a mutation of both beta-globulin genes. Normally, this position contains glutamic acid and the mutation results in a substitution of valine instead. The issue is that valine is hydrophobic, which will cause the red blood cells to polymerize when deoxygenated, take on a sickled shape and be sticky. This leads to anemia, vaso-occlusion, intervals of severe pain, organ failure and even death.   Image: Source   Other than hospital admission and pain control, the treatment for this disease is an allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant. The concerns arising from this technique, however, include lack of accurate donor matches and transplant rejection. A second option is autologous gene therapy, which would correct the patient’s own genes with the hopes that the reinfused cells would promote correct erythrocyte function.   Zinc finger endonucleases have been investigated for gene correction for this disease, as they are able to target specific genomic sites for modification. The hope is that a break in DNA will occur and a matched donor’s normal segment of the beta-globin, coupled to the endonuclease, will replace the mutation and force the production of adult beta-globin. Studies have shown that correction can be completed focused on this specific target area and in bone...

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