Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Can Sound Be Used To Assess One’s Brain’s Health?

Though it may seem counter intuitive from the layperson’s perspective, but can sound be used as a brain analysis tool?

By: Ringo Bones 

It is now a well-accepted physiological fact that one of the serious side effects of brain disorders is impaired hearing. That fact was put to work by Arnold Starr and two other researchers from the University of California at Irvine, who developed a way to make use of psycho-acoustical hearing impediment to locate disorders in the brain. Would such a method prove to be a very useful new diagnostic tool - as in using sound as a brain analysis tool -  to assess how healthy one’s brain is? 

The procedure is begun by placing electrodes on the patient’s scalp and earlobes. A series of loud clicks is then sent in rapid succession through earphones worn by the patient. As the nerve impulse generated in the inner ear by each click travels through the brain circuitry, it is detected by a super sensitive tracking system, isolated from each other activity in the brain by a computer and recorded. The result is a graph whose peaks represent the activity level at seven critical relay points along the auditory route. If there is brain damage near a relay point, that peak will be missing. In a person of normal hearing there would be no missing peaks, therefore showing negative results for brain disorders. 

The system has several advantages over other methods of diagnosis: it does not require the patient to describe what he or she hears – or even to be conscious during the procedure. But most important, says Arnold Starr, Irvine’s chief of neurology and one of the developers of the technique says that “for the first time we can get information from the depth of the brain, and with a procedure that takes about four minutes.”   

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ebola: The Savior of the American Tobacco Industry?

With the tobacco sourced ZMapp as the leading reliable candidate for stopping the current Ebola pandemic, has Ebola inadvertently saved the embattled American tobacco industry? 

By: Ringo Bones

With the recent 23-billion US dollar lung cancer settlement of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and the anti-tobacco use campaign of former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop during the Reagan Administration, making the conclusion that the American tobacco industry is currently embattled may be a bit of an understatement. But with the current Ebola pandemic sending fear and panic to the world’s global public health policymakers, could Ebola not only save the embattled American tobacco industry because of ZMapp – the current tobacco sourced sole reliable cure for Ebola – but might make the American tobacco industry a prospective leader in the global healthcare industry?  

As of late, the second-largest tobacco company in the United States – the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company – is currently paying the widow of a lung cancer victim a settlement worth 23 Billion US dollars, which, at present, is the largest court-approved wrongful death settlement payout. Add to that the increasing legislation of “generic packaging requirements” of brand-name cigarettes replete with graphic picture warnings of how deleterious tobacco cigarette smoking can be to ones health, it’s a no-brainer that America’s leading tobacco firms, and probably the rest of the world, are now probably hard at work retooling their company’s image and future outlook. But will the current Ebola epidemic, ironically, thrust America’s and the rest of the world’s leading tobacco companies into the healthcare and pharmaceutical business? 

Though negotiations between the top brass of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Prof. Charles J. Arntzen, Ph.D. – the inventor of the Ebola cure ZMapp while working at Mapp Biopharmaceutical.Inc. – is probably yet to happen or yet to get the press coverage it rightfully deserves, it is now a well-known fact that the tobacco plant derived ZMapp is, at present, the most effective and most economically viable to produce cure for Ebola. Thanks to Professor Arntzen “toying with the tobacco mosaic virus – the virus that causes the tobacco mosaic disease – during the last eight years that was originally intended as a cure for cystic fibrosis, the genetically modified tobacco sourced ZMapp has recently proved its worth for saving the lives of Ebola infected healthcare volunteers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. 

From the global pharmaceutical industry’s perspective, even though Ebola the disease was discovered back in 1976, the search for a cure / vaccine was never pursued with the current fervor because only a handful people got affected by the disease in the extremely remote parts of Africa and the unfortunate Ebola sufferers at the time died before they managed to infect other people. In short, making an Ebola vaccine / cure back in 1976 is considered not economically viable by the world’s pharmaceutical industry. Even though the next batch of ZMapp are yet to be “pharmed” from the next harvest of genetically modified tobacco plants, the “competing” Ebola vaccine that has a planned 3,000 doses for 2015 has an effectiveness that is still in question in comparison to ZMapp.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Will MERS Ruin This Year’s Hajj Pilgrimage?

Will an emerging viral disease ruin this year’s Hajj proceedings?

By:Ringo Bones 

Even though it was discovered near the end of 2012, Saudi authorities were criticized for its delayed handling of MERS – Middle Eastern Respiratory Virus – which is also prevalent across the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, etc. and now threatens to disrupt the 2014 Hajj pilgrimage. Given the relatively “silent” spread of the virus, it was only as recently as July 2013 that the structure and histology of the MERS virus was fully documented.

Caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV which in humans will result in severe acute respiratory illness, symptoms of which includes cough and shortness of breath and in the advanced stages of the disease results in severe pneumonia and kidney failure. About 30 percent of people confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection have died. As of the middle of September 2014, there are 855 cases of MERS-CoV worldwide and 333 deaths so far. The virus was traced back to camels, but the way Middle Eastern public health authorities “downplayed” the urgency of the risk of the virus – which was way cavalier in comparison to the way public health authorities in East Asia handled the 2003 SARS coronavirus outbreak – resulted in the sacking of various health officials that included the health minister of Saudi Arabia which was personally sacked by HRS The King of Saudi Arabia himself for downplaying the risk of the MERS outbreak since 2013.

Due to the recent public health revamp, hospitals in Saudi Arabia has since taken more sensible precautions to avoid inadvertently spreading the MERS-CoV virus by having their nurses and other medical personnel to wash with disinfectant soaps before seeing other patients while doing their rounds on suspected MERS virus infected patients. Due to the increased urgency, Prof. Tariq Madani – the Saudi government’s scientific advisor on MERS recently spoke to the BBC back in the middle of September of 2014 that even though they still currently know very little of the MERS-CoV virus, safeguards are already implemented to avoid the spread of the virus during the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca which is slated to greet a little over 2-million pilgrims this year. And Saudi Arabia’s acting health minister Adel Bin Muhammad Fakeih are urging camel merchants on the outskirts of Jeddah to take the necessary precautions on wearing masks and gloves when handling their camels. Though the camel merchants across the Middle East are still adopting a cavalier attitude when it comes to taking the necessary precautions against the MERS virus.

Even though Saudi Arabia’s public health authorities are doing the best they can to tackle the current MERS outbreak, the world narrowly averted a similar pandemic of a relatively unknown virus that was killing horses and their trainers in Australia during the mid-1990s. Back in September 1994, health authorities in Australia were worried. More than a dozen prize racehorses at the Hendra stables, outside of Brisbane in Australia’s northeast, were ill, running temperatures of up to 41 degrees Celsius. The animals had difficulty breathing and were emitting a bloody froth from their mouths and noses. Some began to die a ghastly, wheezing death. Within days, the worst fears of the public health authorities were realized: both the trainer and his stable-hand had collapsed, also suffering from respiratory problems.

The symptoms matched those of the African horse virus, or of equine influenza, both of which could spread from the Hendra stables and wreak havoc across Australia. But the infection of the two men raised another, more sinister possibility – that the health authorities were dealing with an unknown organism not only fatal to horses, but also capable of affecting humans as well.

Samples of horse spleen, lung and blood were sent to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong – an imposing concrete structure outside Melbourne that houses one of the world’s most advanced infectious disease centers. Blood samples were from the two infected men were also rushed to the infectious diseases “hot labs” of Melbourne Fairfield Hospital and to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.

Electron microscopy later revealed that the virus grown in the media had similarities with a large family of viruses called Paramyxoviridae, which includes measles, canine distemper and a then newly identified disease first seen to affect seals back in 1994, But it had an array of protrusions like no other paramyxovirus and no Paramyxoviridae are known to cause serious disease in both horses and humans. Not long after, scientists in Brisbane also isolated a virus which matched that found by the Geelong group. Sadly though the trainer died and equine morbillivirus still flare up time and time again in that region, the virus’s relatively high fatality rate seems to be its own containment mechanism that prevents equine morbillivirus from becoming a global pandemic.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Can The Ebola Epidemic Be Stopped?

Even though we know more about the virus – and recently developed newfangled cures – when we first discovered it back in the 1970s, but will we be able to control the spread of the Ebola virus? 

By: Ringo Bones 

The Ebola virus’ co-discoverer David Heymann was quite optimistic in a recent press interview that it is not yet too late to stop the spread of Ebola. The medical community even managed to just recently develop a novel cure against the virus that saved the lives of two American doctors that volunteered in the area where the recent Ebola outbreak – as in the 2014 Ebola outbreak - flared up. And even though we have a lot more to be optimistic about compared to 19 years ago when the last major epidemic of the virus occurred, can the Ebola epidemic ever be stopped? 

Part of the problem of developing an effective and / or practical cure against Ebola is due to the fact that it is a relatively recently discovered virus. Filoviruses – a family of viruses where Ebola belongs – were utterly unknown before 1967, where the first member of the family, Marburg virus, arrived in Germany in a shipment of African green monkeys. While the Marburg virus appears less dangerous to humans than the worst forms of Ebola, it shares a number of peculiarities with its more lethal cousin, including a puzzling mode of interaction with the human immune system. For reasons not yet clear, animals – and this include laboratory animals – infected with a filovirus typically seem not to become immune to it for long, which make it hard to imagine and effective vaccine or other forms of cure. 

The first ever documented major outbreak of Ebola happened back in 1976 in Zaire where the pathology of the virus was first discovered. It was the 1995 Ebola outbreak in Zaire that first raised global concern and concerted research for the cure of the disease. The fatality rate of the disease approached 90-percent, though horrendous to the infected, it’s the very characteristic of Ebola that limits its spread – i.e. infected individuals die before they can pass on the disease. The only consolation is that the Ebola virus is relatively hard to transmit, apparently requiring either exposure to infected blood products or very close contact with a sick individual. 

ZMapp drug has just recently proving its effectiveness in curing the early stages of Ebola after an American health worker working in Liberia named Kent Brantly received the first dose of the drug nine days after falling ill. ZMapp drug is being developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc. ZMapp is composed of three humanized monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that combine the best components of MB-033 (Mapp) and ZMab (Defyrus /PHAC) each of which were combinations of mAbs.  

Even though the latest monoclonal antibody based Ebola cure called ZMapp proved to be very effective in curing Ebola, it is quite expensive and slow to manufacture because its production involves farming / as in “pharming” its active components from a genetically modified tobacco plant and is still largely untested. Not surprising since the company who developed it is so small it is only composed of nine individuals. Given our current lack of knowledge on the nature of filoviruses, it might be awhile before medical science can develop an Ebola vaccine that is as inexpensive and as effective as the polio vaccine currently in widespread use. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Norovirus: A Looming Public Health Threat?

Given that this “stomach flu virus” makes 20 million people fall ill to it just in America alone, is the norovirus the greatest public health threat to the global restaurant industry? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Even the exemplar hygiene standards of America’s Italian restaurants – given they are statistically the least likely to give their customers food borne illnesses in a recent study – whenever that rare but inevitable food born illness incidence finally occurs, chances are it is caused by the norovirus, commonly known as the “stomach flu virus” or gastroenteritis in people. Primarily spread whenever restaurant workers still report to work even if they are sick with the virus and therefore have a full-blown infection of the virus because they badly need the money that they can’t avoid to skip reporting to work and recuperate at home just because of a bearable yet very contagious viral infection. Given the prevailing austere economic environment of America and the rest of the world, will norovirus infections in major metropolitan areas across the world likely to reach epidemic proportions sooner rather than later? 

Given the notoriety of most restaurant proprietor’s inability to compensate their workers during sick leave – even mandatorily required ones by prevailing public health codes – norovirus “stomach flu” or gastroenteritis incidences across America’s major metropolitan areas and the rest of the world could reach epidemic proportions. Making norovirus the current least discussed public health threat by policymakers. Lack of proper sick leave compensation is the very reason why the norovirus is currently very prevalent in the United State’s restaurant industry since the September 2008 global financial crisis. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Latest Ageing Reverse Research: Fountain of Youth Finally Found?

Did the latest anti-aging research finally discover the proverbial “Fountain of Youth” in the blood plasma of younger organisms? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Since Spanish explorers had been searching for the Fountain of Youth in 16th Century America without signs of success, contemporary medial science have since written off studies into physiological age-reversing as nothing more than a “Quixotic Task”, but not anymore. Research authors of an ongoing study on age-reversing in the United States’ West and East coasts are finally confident of their latest results showing that they might be a way to physiologically reverse the biological aging process. 

Saul Villeda, Ph.D. of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research – one of the research authors of an ongoing research done on the US West and East coast on injecting blood plasma from younger mice into the hippocampuses of older mice have shown to reverse most of the damage done by Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray of Stanford University School of Medicine – one of the scientists involved in the Ageing Reverse Research – have experimental results showing older mice becoming stronger both physically and mentally after injecting their hippocampuses with blood plasma from much younger mice suggests that “younger blood plasma” recharges the brain. Though to the layman, the research results could suggest the physiological explanation of “vampirism”. 

Despite the research results suggesting the physiological explanation of “vampirism” and of “Bram Stroker’s Dracula”, repeatable lab results have shown that blood plasma of younger mice shows an observable improvement of the brains of older mice compared to the control group. Stronger reaction in the improved performance of the hippocampuses – the part of the brain involver in learning and memory - of older mice injected with blood plasma of younger mice suggests that the procedure could serve as a possible cure in reversing the damage done by Alzheimer’s to the brains of affected humans. The encouraging results point to the possibility of human trials in a few years time.