Monday, June 27, 2016

Clearly Vision Prize: Improving The World’s Vision?


Can the Clearly Vision Prize manage to provide solution to the world’s “hidden disability” - i.e. poor eyesight?

By: Ringo Bones 

Unknown to most of us, 2.6-billion people around the world have poor eyesight and lack the means to treat and / or improve their current disorder. According to a recent global economic competitiveness study, poor vision costs the global economy up to 3-trillion US dollars a year. Fortunately, there are already ways recently started to alleviate this “largely unseen” global problem. 

The Clearly Vision Prize is an ideas competition for supply chain experts, data wizards and techies who have knowledge and technologies that can be applied to vision in innovative new ways. The very best ideas – those that have the potential to transform the way we deliver vision to all – will compete for US$250,000 in prizes and one-on-one mentoring opportunities to make them a reality. Clearly Vision Prize is now open to entrepreneurs around the world. You don’t need to be working in the eye care industry to enter, but your idea should aim to drive progress in one or more of these solution categories: 

1.        Diagnosis – People need reliable diagnoses, no matter where they live, their access to healthcare, or their age or gender. 

2.       Training – We need technology to accelerate the process of training people to identify the conditions that lead to poor vision.

3.       Supply – People need access to basic solutions like glasses through sustainable supply chain and distribution models. 

4.       Insights – We need solutions that harness the power of “big data”, helping eye care provides gain insights to work more efficiently. 

One idea to improve access to clear vision to the world’s poorest citizens that got noticed by the mainstream press was from a Hong Kong businessman and Clearly Vision Prize founder James Chen. Given that billions still have no access to vision correcting spectacles, Chen’s suggested a method of distributing spectacles to those living in the world’s remotest places via delivery drones like the types already trialed by the online shopping site Amazon to deliver their orders. The closing date for entries to the Clearly Vision Prize is on July 18, 2016.   

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Coffee No Longer A Carcinogen?


Even though this W.H.O. based agency has classified coffee as a possible carcinogen since 1991, does its recent “change of mind” spell good news for coffee drinkers around the world?

By: Ringo Bones

Since 1991, the International Agency for Research on Cancer or IARC has classified coffee as a Group 2B carcinogen citing that it could significantly increase one’s risk of getting bladder cancer. But during a recent press release back in Wednesday, June 15, 2016, the IARC announced after a result of their ongoing research that there is no conclusive evidence that drinking coffee causes cancer. Sadly, the IARC also announced the recent results of their ongoing research that very hot drinks – anything above 85 degrees Celsius – are probably carcinogenic and these include coffee, tea, hot cocoa, etc.   

The International Agency for Research on Cancer or IARC is an intergovernmental agency forming part of the World Health Organization of the United Nations. It was formed back in May 1965 and is headquartered in Lyon, France. The IARC categorizes agents, mixtures and exposures into five categories. Note that the classification is based only on the strength of evidence for carcinogenicity, not on the relative increase of cancer risk due to exposure, or on the amount of exposure necessary to cause cancer. For example, a substance that only very slightly increases the likelihood of cancer and only after long-term exposure to large doses, but the evidence for that slight increase is strong, would be placed in Group 1 even though it does not pose a significant risk in normal use. 

Group 1: carcinogenic to humans: There is enough evidence to conclude that it can cause cancer in humans.
Group 2A: probably carcinogenic to humans: There is strong evidence that it can cause cancer in humans but at present it is not conclusive.
Group 2B: possibly carcinogenic to humans: There is some evidence that it can cause cancer in humans, but at present it is far from conclusive.
Group 3: not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans: There is no evidence at present that it causes cancer in humans.
Group 4: probably not carcinogenic to humans: There is strong evidence that it does not cause cancer in humans. Only one substance – caprolactam – has been both assessed for carcinogenicity by the IARC and placed in this category. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Modified T-Cell Cancer Therapy: The Future of Cancer Therapy?


With extremely positive results on trials in terminally ill patients, does modified T-cell cancer therapy represent the future of effective cancer therapy?

By: Ringo Bones 

Though it is yet to be peer reviewed by other researchers but extremely positive results in early trials had the medical science community hailing T-cell therapy as the future of cancer therapy and some even said that it has put cancer on the run for the first time in the history of cancer treatment. “This is unprecedented” said one researcher after more than half of terminally ill blood cancer patients experienced complete remission in early clinical trials.  Scientists are claiming “extraordinary” success with engineering immune cells to target a specific type of blood cancer in their first clinical trials. 

Among several dozen patients who would typically have only had months to live, early experimental trials that used the immune system’s T-cells to target cancers had “extraordinary results”. In one study, 94-percent of participants with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) saw symptoms vanish completely. Patients with other blood cancers have response rates greater than 80-percent and more than half experienced complete remission. Speaking at an annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), researcher Stanley Riddell said: “This is unprecedented in medicine, to be honest, to get response rates in this range in these very advanced patients.” 

Modified T-cell cancer therapy is a multi-step process that starts when a sample of the patient’s T-cells (a type of white blood cell involved in fighting infection) is taken from their blood. In the lab, these cells have genetically modified sensor cells (antigen receptors) added to them that can seek out certain cancers. The modified T-cells are then allowed to multiply and then the genetically modified T-cells are infused back into the patient where the new antigen receptors allow them to target and destroy the cancer cells. 

“There are reasons to be optimistic, there are reasons to be pessimistic,” said Stanley Riddell of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Washington State. He added that the researchers believe that lowering the dose of the modified T-cells can reduce the risk of side-effects. Modified T-cell cancer therapy is often considered an option of last resort because reprogramming the immune system can come with dangerous side-effects, including cytokine release syndrome (sCRS) – and overload of defense cells.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Zika Virus: It Came from Uganda?



Even though the “face of Zika virus” presented by the press has so far been microcephaly afflicted infants from Brazil, but did you know that the Zika virus was originally from a Ugandan forest? 

By: Ringo Bones 

At the moment, the “face of Zika virus” or the overall picture of it presented by the world’s main news providers has been so far microcephaly afflicted infants from Brazil – mainly from Rio de Janeiro – which has so far raised fears that this year’s Summer Olympic Games which will be held this coming August could potentially trigger a pandemic that could help spread the Zika virus across the world or at least something akin to the previous Ebola virus epidemic across West Africa during the latter half of 2014. The Zika virus in current affected regions are mainly transmitted by daytime-active mosquitoes and has been isolated from a number of species in the genus Aedes, such as Aedes aegypti and various arboreal mosquitoes such as Aedes africanus. Despite of the current anxiety over the Zika virus, does the general population know that the virus originally came from a remote jungle in Uganda and that it was first discovered almost 70 years ago? 

In 1947, scientists researching yellow fever placed a rhesus macaque in a cage in the Zika Forest (zika meaning “overgrown” in the Luganda language), near the East African Virus Research Institute in Entebbe, Uganda. The monkey then developed a fever and researchers isolated from its serum a transmissible agent that was first described as Zika virus in 1952. It was subsequently isolated from a human in Nigeria in 1954. Thanks to the increased travel due to the 1960s "Jet Age", the Zika virus is now widely distributed in tropical equatorial regions across the world. From its discovery until 2007, confirmed cases of Zika virus infection from Africa and Southeast Asia were extremely rare, thus explains why no work was ever done in developing a Zika virus vaccine since the virus’ discovery back in 1947. And health authorities have announced that an effective vaccine against the Zika virus won’t be available for at least 10 or even 12 years. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Brazilian health authorities reported more than 3,500 microcephaly cases between October 2015 and January 2016. Some of the affected infants have has a severe type of microcephaly and some have died. The full spectrum of outcomes that might be associated with infection during pregnancy and the factors that might increase risk to fetuses are not yet fully understood. More studies are planned to learn more about the risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy. In the worst affected region of Brazil approximately 1 percent of newborns are suspected of microcephaly. The current Zika virus epidemic in Brazil had caused debilitating health problems in newborns hitherto unseen since the teratogenic effects of thalidomide surfaced back in the 1960s. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Gene Editing: Legitimate Therapeutic Tool Or Designer Baby Enabler?


Despite its promise, will gene editing be used as a legitimate therapeutic tool or as a mere way to manufacture “perfect” designer babies?

By: Ringo Bones 

The promise of effectively curing inheritable diseases and the dangers of indiscriminately manufactured designer babies is now a step closer thanks to gene editing – which is an improved version of gene therapy. Techniques to edit human DNA for therapeutic means have been around for some time. One method is gene therapy which was already in regular use for the past 15 years. Gene therapy involves using a disabled virus – known as viral vector – to deliver a synthetic functioning copy of gene into cells. Sadly, this method has a glaring disadvantage because there is no way for scientists to know where the gene will end up amidst the billions of letters of DNA code in the nucleus of cells. 

The latest improved method of “gene therapy” dubbed as gene editing or genome editing offers something far more precise – adding the gene in an exact location. And unlike older gene therapy methods, gene editing can also be used to snip out a faulty section of DNA. 

There are currently several types of gene editing schemes, but the technology really took off three years ago when a cheap and efficient method was developed by Prof. Jennifer Doudna of University of California, Berkeley and Prof. Emmanuelle Charpentier, now at the Helmholtz Center for infectious Research in Germany. Known as Crispr-Cas9, it has been adopted by scientists around the world. 

Crisprs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) are sections of DNA, while Cas9 (crispr-associated protein 9) is an enzyme. They are found in bacteria which they use to disable attacks from viruses. Rather like a GPS sat nav, Crispr scans the genome looking for the right location and then use the Cas9 protein as “molecular scissors” to snip through the DNA. Prof. Doudna and Prof. Charpentier realized that this bacterial cut-and-paste system could be used to edit human genes. Almost immediately Crispr became the gene editing technique of choice because of its speed, accuracy and simplicity. It has caused a quiet revolution in research labs across the world. Experiments which once took months can now be done in weeks and the potential is vast. 

Last month, scientists said they had used it to create a mosquito that can resist malaria. Plant breeders are using Crispr to create disease-resistant strain of crops. Back in April 2015, researchers in Mainland China edited human embryos to try to correct a faulty gene that caused an inherited blood disorder. The embryos used were never destined to be implanted, but the research rang alarm bells about the implications of gene editing – i.e. the “specter” of perfect blond blue-eyed designer babies and editing out mental disorders like manic depression, which unfortunately, is a prerequisite mental disorder for brilliant poets, authors, musicians and playwrights.