U.S. study sheds light on how Zika causes nerve disorder



CHICAGO (Reuters) – A new study sheds light on how the mosquito-borne Zika virus causes a rare neurological condition, and the findings could have implications for companies working on Zika vaccines, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

The Zika outbreak that swept through the Americas in 2015 and 2016 showed the virus could, in rare cases, cause Guillain-Barre, an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks itself in the aftermath of an infection.

Since the Zika virus attacks nerve cells, scientists were not sure whether the Guillain-Barre cases they had seen in Zika patients were caused by an autoimmune response to the Zika infection or a direct attack by the virus on nerve cells.

In pregnant women, the virus infects fetal brain cells, resulting in the birth defect known as microcephaly.

To study the nerve disorder, Dr. Tyler Sharp of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dengue Branch in San Juan and colleagues in Puerto Rico examined the rare case of a 78-year-old man from San Juan who had been infected with Zika in 2016, developed Guillain-Barre and subsequently died.

An autopsy showed inflammation and erosion of the protective sheath known as myelin in two nerves, but no evidence of the Zika virus in nerve cells.

“In this case, it looks like it was antibodies that led to destruction of that myelin sheath,” said Sharp, whose study was published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, the CDC’s public health journal.

Although it was just a single case, Sharp said it suggested the mechanism that causes Guillain-Barre after a Zika infection was the same as in other cases of the nerve disorder.

Sharp said the study raised a caution flag, however, for companies testing experimental Zika vaccines. Although Guillain-Barre typically occurs in the aftermath of an infection, it has been known to occur in response to a vaccine.

via U.S. study sheds light on how Zika causes nerve disorder


Peter Sands appointment to the Global Fund brings hope and optimism in Africa’s malaria fight


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Dar es Salaam (15 November 2017) – The Executive Secretary of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) has today welcomed the appointment of Peter Sands as the new Executive Director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The Global Fund is a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector and people affected by the diseases. It was founded in 2002.

Responding to the news of Mr Sands’ appointment, Joy Phumaphi said: On behalf of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance, I congratulate Peter Sands on his appointment as the next Executive Director of the Global Fund.

She added Sands “brings with him a wealth of expertise from the private sector”. She expressed optimism that his strategic leadership and experience will help push forward the Global Fund’s ambitious goals at this critical juncture in the fight against malaria. The Global Fund has been instrumental in mobilising new resources and building innovative partnerships, leading to historically low levels of malaria worldwide.

She said however, malaria still remains a serious threat to the well being of millions worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africa still carries the highest burden, with 92 percent of the 212 million new malaria cases reported in 2015.

As the incoming Executive Director, Sands will oversee and guide the implementation of the Global Fund’s 2017-2022 strategy, designed to maximize impact against HIV, TB and malaria and build resilient and sustainable systems for health. The Global Fund raises and invests nearly US$4 billion a year to support programs run by local experts in countries and communities most in need.

Aida Kurtović, Board Chair of the Global Fund said: “Peter Sands brings exceptional management and finance experience, and a heart for global health. At a time when we face complex challenges, his ability to mobilize resources while managing transformational change is exactly what we need. We expect him to take the Global Fund to the next level.”

Sands served as Chief Executive Officer of Standard Chartered PLC from 2006 to 2015, having joined the bank in 2002 as Group Finance Director. During Sands’ tenure as CEO, Standard Chartered focused its corporate responsibility initiatives on health issues, including avoidable blindness, AIDS and malaria. Sands served on the board of the Global Business Coalition on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and was Lead Non-Executive Director on the board of the United Kingdom’s Department of Health.

After stepping down from the bank in 2015, Sands deployed his skills and experience in international finance on global health. Sands served as Chairman of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine’s Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future, which published the influential report on pandemics entitled The Neglected Dimension of Global Security: a Framework to Counter Infectious Disease Outbreaks. Sands is also serving on the U.S. National Academy of Science’s Forum on Microbial Threats and Committee on Ensuring Access to Affordable Drugs. Sands has published articles on global health and epidemics in various peer-reviewed journals.

“I am deeply honored to join this extraordinary partnership,” Sands said. “Infectious diseases today represent one of the most serious risks facing humankind. If we work together to mobilize funds, build strong health systems and establish effective community responses we will be able to end epidemics, promote prosperity and increase our global health security.”

Sands graduated from Brasenose College, Oxford University with a First Class degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He also received a Master’s in Public Administration from Harvard University, where he was a Harkness Fellow.


About ALMA

Founded in 2009, ALMA is a ground breaking coalition of African Heads of State and Government working across country and regional borders to achieve a malaria-free Africa by 2030. All African Union member countries are members of ALMA. The ALMA Scorecard for Accountability & Action and the ALMA 2030 Scorecard towards Malaria Elimination are important tools which track progress and drive action.

Painless biomaterial plaster for wounds and wrinkles wins science award

Falling Walls 2017

PHOTO / Falling Walls

Berlin, 10 November 2017. German start-up Jenacell has been named the “2017 Science Start-up of the Year”. Its product, a wound dressing made of pure cellulose, is the first of its kind to quickly and painlessly treat extensive burns.

Unlike conventional dressings, the Jenacell plasters are made of a moist, semitransparent and completely natural material that doesn’t adhere to wounds. The company’s nanocellulose, which is biotechnologically produced by bacteria, is also used for aesthetic treatments, such as smoothing wrinkles.

“Jenacell impressed the jury with its incredibly innovative product, which plays a particularly important role in the field of medicine. Each year in Germany, around 30,000 people are treated for burns, including many children. Rapid and painless treatment using Jenacell’s wound dressing represents a tremendous step forward,” said Dr Stefan von Holtzbrinck, CEO of the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group and head of the Falling Walls Venture Jury, explaining the jury’s choice of the start-up from Jena.

A total of 24 science based start-ups from around the world were invited to present their business ideas at Falling Walls Venture in Berlin. Among the participants were companies based in Canada, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Austria, Great Britain, the United States and Germany. Each company had five minutes to present their business model to the international jury of entrepreneurs, scientists and journalists.

The 24 finalists at Falling Walls Venture had been nominated by leading universities and venture capital firms: Evonik Industries, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the University of Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Engineering, London, among others, sent their best science based start-ups to compete for the title of Falling Walls Science Start-Up 2017. In 2017, both New York University and Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, held preliminary competitions and sent their winners to Berlin.

Falling Walls Venture is an initiative of the Falling Walls Foundation and generously supported by its global partners Siemens, Boehringer Ingelheim and Evonik and takes place in cooperation with international partner universities and research institutions.

About the Falling Walls Foundation
The Falling Walls Foundation is a non-profit organisation in Berlin which holds the international Falling Walls Conference each year on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the Conference, around 20 leading scientists from around the world are each given 15 minutes to present their breakthroughs in the natural and social sciences, business and technology. The Falling Walls Foundation also coordinates the Berlin Science Week. For the second year in a row, the event will bring scientists from institutions all over the world to Berlin from 1 to 10 November. The Falling Walls Foundation is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the Berlin Senate, as well as by numerous scientific institutions, foundations and companies. More information can be found at www.falling-walls.com.

Children raised by a single parent after divorce more likely to be stressed


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Children who live full time with one parent, following separation or a split in their family, are more likely to feel stressed than children in shared custody. The new study from Stockholm University’s Demography Unit attributes this to the fact that these children “lose resources like relatives, friends and money.”

Further, the children become more stressed because they may worry about the parent they rarely meet says Jani Turunen, researcher in Demography at Stockholm University and Centre for research on child and adolescent mental health at Karlstad University.

The research specifically shows that the children from single-parent homes have a higher likelihood of experiencing stress several times a week, than children in shared physical custody. This generally applies even if the parents have a poor relationship, or if the children don’t get along with either of them. Here, shared physical custody means that the child actually lives for equal, or near equal, time with both parents, alternating between separate households.

Inversely, children who share residence equally with both parents have a lower likelihood of experiencing high levels of stress. This is regardless of the level of conflict between the parents or between parent and child.

This is because children in shared physical custody can have an active relationship with both their parents, which previous research has shown to be important for the children’s well-being. Primarily because the relationship between the child and both of its parents becomes stronger, the child finds the relationship to be better and the parents can both exercise more active parenting. This can be interpreted as evidence for a positive effect of continuing everyday-like parental relationships after a family dissolution.

Sweden, where the study was conducted, is a forerunner in emerging family forms and behaviors like divorce, childbearing and family reconstitution. Therefore, the researchers believe the results of the study are relevant in most European countries. This can also lend some insight into Africa’s family set ups where divorce, separation, and single parenthood exist. A 2015 study by McGill University researchers found out that divorce rates across 20 African countries—including Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda —over the past 20 years have remained stable or declined.

Divorce, said the researcher of the McGill study Shelley Clark, comes with dire consequences for the health and education of children. Clark’s previous research in 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa showed that while children of all single mothers tended to be disadvantaged (compared to children whose parents were married), children whose mothers were divorced were more likely to die than were children of never-married or widowed mothers.

The data for the Swedish study is from the Surveys of Living Conditions in Sweden, ULF, from 2001-2003, combined with registry data. A total of 807 children with different types of living arrangements were surveyed by answering to questions about how often they experience stress and how well, or badly, they get along with their parents. The parents have answered how well they get along with their former partner.

Study details: Shared Physical Custody and Children’s Experience of Stress, Jani Turunen Stockholm University, Journal of Divorce and Remarriage Volume 58, 2017 – Issue 5.

Link: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10502556.2017.1325648



A fingerprint test will tell if you have used cocaine

Scientists have developed a highly sensitive fingerprint test that can take less than a minute–about 30 seconds–to confirm whether someone has used cocaine.

The breakthrough from the University of Surrey, is a result of the first large scale study of cocaine users and could pave the way for the detection of a range of other Class A substances such as heroin, ecstasy among others.

finger printThe non-invasive technology could greatly improve routine drug testing by law enforcement agencies such as the police, prisons, courts among others. It will likely be more portable and more hygienic than testing blood, urine or saliva is currently done in drug abuse detection.

Cocaine is an addictive stimulant made from the coca plant native to South America. It produces a short­-term euphoric feeling of energy and talkativeness. Physical effects include a potentially dangerous increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

The study published today (September 22) involved taking fingerprints from a group of patients seeking treatment at drug rehabilitation centres, as well as a larger group not known to be drug users. All of those taking part washed their hands before the test in a variety of ways, and then samples were collected on a prepared chromatography paper. The paper chromatography is a method for separating dissolved substances such as colours and dyes from one another.

The fingerprint is developed using chemicals, so that the ridges of the fingerprint (and therefore the identity of the donor) can be established prior to analysis.  Cocaine users excrete traces of two chemicals benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine. Both are excreted by the body’s sweat glands when it metabolizes or break down the cocaine. These chemical are present in fingerprint residue and these traces can still be detected even after hand washing.

The research published in Clinical Chemistry, was carried out with partners from the Netherlands Forensic Institute and Intelligent Fingerprinting. The team, led by Dr Catia Costa and Dr Melanie Bailey from the University of Surrey, developed a new technique to analyse the levels of cocaine detected in the fingerprints. They used chromatography paper to take the sample as part of a technique known as paper spray mass spectrometry.

Dr Costa said: “Paper spray mass spectrometry is gaining increasing popularity in forensic circles because it is incredibly sensitive and is very easy to set up a testing system – the units will save laboratories time.

“This is the first time it has ever been used to detect the presence of drugs in fingerprints, and our results show the technique was 99% effective in detecting cocaine use among the patients.”

Dr Bailey said: “This is a real breakthrough in our work to bring a real time, non-invasive drug-testing method to the market that will provide a definitive result in a matter of minutes – we are already working on a 30 second method.”

“And, as with previous methods we have developed, it is non-invasive, hygienic and can’t be faked – by the nature of the test, the identity of the subject, and their drug use, is all captured within the sample itself.”

“This exciting research clearly demonstrates the important role that fingerprints can play in simplifying drug screening, and complements our own parallel developments in portable, point-of-use diagnostic tests. These activities confirm the value of a fingerprint as a diagnostic matrix,” added Dr Jerry Walker, Intelligent Fingerprinting’s CEO.

“We have supported the University of Surrey research programmes for the last four years, and Dr Bailey and her team have shown time and again that they are the world’s leading group in fingerprint diagnostics research using mass spectrometry. We congratulate them in continuing to expand knowledge in the revolutionary field of fingerprint-based diagnostics.”

At a glance:

Title of the study: Rapid, Secure Drug Testing Using Fingerprint Development and Paper Spray Mass Spectrometry.

Authors: Catia Costa, Roger Webb, Vladimir Palitsin, Mahado Ismail, Marcel de Puit, Samuel Atkinson, and Melanie J. Bailey.

Published: Clinical Chemistry on 22nd September 2017.