GM plants can cut cancer-causing pollutants from home

Agencies
December 26,2018

Washington, Dec 26: Scientists have genetically modified a common houseplant to remove cancer-causing pollutants from our homes.

While a variety of air filters in our homes can keep allergens and dust particles at bay, some hazardous compounds are too small to be trapped in these filters.

Small molecules like chloroform, which is present in small amounts in chlorinated water, or benzene, which is a component of gasoline, build up in our homes when we shower or boil water, or when we store cars or lawn mowers in attached garages.

Both benzene and chloroform exposure have been linked to cancer.

Researchers at the University of Washington in the US have genetically modified a common houseplant pothos ivy to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it.

The modified plants express a protein, called 2E1, that transforms these compounds into molecules that the plants can then use to support their own growth, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

"People haven't really been talking about these hazardous organic compounds in homes, and I think that's because we couldn't do anything about them," said Stuart Strand, a research professor at University of Washington.

"Now we've engineered houseplants to remove these pollutants for us," said Strand.

The team decided to use a protein called cytochrome P450 2E1, or 2E1 for short, which is present in all mammals, including humans. In our bodies, 2E1 turns benzene into a chemical called phenol and chloroform into carbon dioxide and chloride ions.

However, 2E1 is located in our livers and is turned on when we drink alcohol. So it's not available to help us process pollutants in our air.

"We decided we should have this reaction occur outside of the body in a plant, an example of the 'green liver' concept," Strand said.

"And 2E1 can be beneficial for the plant, too. Plants use carbon dioxide and chloride ions to make their food, and they use phenol to help make components of their cell walls," he added.

The researchers made a synthetic version of the gene that serves as instructions for making the rabbit form of 2E1. Then they introduced it into pothos ivy so that each cell in the plant expressed the protein.

Pothos ivy does not flower in temperate climates so the genetically modified plants won't be able to spread via pollen.

Plants in the home would also need to be inside an enclosure with something to move air past their leaves, like a fan, Strand said.

The team is currently working to increase the plants' capabilities by adding a protein that can break down another hazardous molecule found in home air: formaldehyde, which is present in some wood products, such as laminate flooring and cabinets, and tobacco smoke.

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National Bone and Joint Day | Bone and joint problems in obese

Dr G K Sudhakar Reddy
August 4,2020

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Being overweight or obese is now recognised as a serious cause of ill health and disability. There is a significant positive association between orthopaedic disorders and the level of obesity causing pain, deformity and difficulty in walking.

Excess body weight accumulation increases pressure on joints, particularly the hips, knees and ankles.

Here are a few type of  arthritis:

Osteoarthritis

It is a condition of damage/ wear and tear of the joint lining or cartilage. Obesity triggers this by loading excessive weight on the weight bearing joints like the knee and the hip. 

Knee Osteoarthritis

This is the most common arthritis especially in the Indian subcontinent.

While walking, an individual exerts 3 to 6 times pressure that of the body weight on the weight-bearing knee joint, which means in an obese with excess body weight, larger forces are exerted, which lead to higher risk of deterioration of cartilage.

In addition, there are excessive fat tissues that produce hormones and other factors that affect the joint cartilage metabolism and cause inflammation of the joints giving rise to joint pathology.  Leptin is one of the hormones causing knee osteoarthritis. 

Hip osteoarthritis

The force exerted across the hip is 3 times that of body weight. Hip osteoarthritis is caused by factors such as joint injury, increasing age and being overweight.    

Hand osteoarthritis

The observation that obese individual has a higher risk in having hand osteoarthritis has led to a hypothesis that the metabolic effect produced by fat tissue is the underlying factor. 

Osteoporosis

It is a progressive bone condition of decrease in bone mass and density (Bone Mineral Density or BMD) which can lead to an increased risk of fracture. Recent research suggests that obesity may accelerate bone loss. It is the amount of muscle mass which is seen in an active person, which accounts for bone strengthening effects and not due to the fat seen in a heavy person.

Low back pain

Low back pain from degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine is one of the most disabling conditions in the community and overweight and obesity have the strongest association with seeking care for low back pain.

Managing Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis

Life style changes

If one is overweight, try to lose weight by doing more physical activity and eating a healthier diet. Regular exercise keeps you active and mobile and builds up muscle, thereby strengthening the joints and can improve symptoms. 

Pain Killers

Painkillers help with pain and stiffness for short term. They don’t affect the arthritis itself and won’t repair the damage to your joint. Creams and gels can be applied directly onto painful joints.

Nutritional Supplements

Glucosamine and chondroitin are nutritional supplements. Animal studies have found that glucosamine can both delay the breakdown of and repair damaged cartilage. However, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of glucosamine in humans and one can expect only a mild-to-moderate reduction in pain

Joint injections

If pain from osteoarthritis is severe joint steroid injections are injected into the joints that can reduces swelling and pain. The injections can start working within a day or so and may improve pain for several weeks or months. 

Hyaluronic acid injections, which help to lubricate your knee joint also give short term relief. In early stages. Stem cell treatment or cartilage regeneration procedures are being tried in young people with small defects, however it is still experimental and lacks long term evidence.

Surgery

May be recommended if you have severe pain or mobility problems.

Arthroscopy

If one has frequent painful locking/stiffening episodes especially in the knee joint, an operation to wash out loose fragments of bone and other tissue as joint can be performed by a minimally invasive key hole procedure called Arthroscopy.

Arthrodesis

If hip or knee replacement is not suitable, especially in young people who do heavy manual work, one can consider an operation known as an arthrodesis, which fuses your joint in a permanent position. This means that your joint will be stronger and much less painful, although you will no longer be able to move it.

Osteotomy

In young, active people in whom a knee joint replacement would fail due to excessive use one can consider an operation called an osteotomy. This involves adding or removing a small section of bone either above or below your knee joint.  This helps realign your knee so your weight is no longer focused on the damaged part of your knee. An osteotomy can relieve your symptoms of osteoarthritis, although you may still need knee replacement surgery eventually as you grow old

Joint replacement surgery

Joint replacement therapy is most commonly carried out to replace hip and knee joints. It involves replacing a damaged, worn or diseased joint with an artificial joint made of special plastics and metal.

For most people, a replacement hip or knee will last for at least 20 years, especially if it is cared for properly and not put under too much strain.

Dr G K Sudhakar Reddy is a Sr Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Citizens Speciality Hospitals, Hyderabad

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COVID-19 | Govt warns against use of N-95 masks with valved respirators

Agencies
July 21,2020

New Delhi, Jul 21: The Centre has written to all states and union territories warning against the use of N-95 masks with valved respirators by people, saying these do not prevent the virus from spreading out and are "detrimental" to the measures adopted for its containment.

The Director General of Health Services (DGHS) in the Ministry of Health, in a letter to the Principal Secretaries of health and medical education of states, said it has been observed that there is "inappropriate use" of N-95 masks, particularly those with valved respirators, by the public other than designated health workers.

The DGHS referred to the advisory on the use of homemade protective cover for face and mouth available on the website of the Ministry of Health.

"It is to bring to your knowledge that the use of valved respirator N-95 masks is detrimental to the measures adopted for preventing the spread of coronavirus as it does not prevent the virus from escaping out of the mask. In view of the above, I request you to instruct all concerned to follow the use of face/mouth cover and prevent inappropriate use of N-95 masks," DGHS Rajiv Garg said in the letter.

The government had in April issued an advisory on the use of homemade protective cover for face and mouth, asking people to wear it, particularly when they step out of their residences.

The advisory stressed such face covers must be washed and cleaned each day, as instructed, and stated that any used cotton cloth can be used to make this face cover.

The colour of the fabric does not matter but one must ensure that the fabric is washed well in boiling water for five minutes and dried well before making the face cover. Adding salt to this water is recommended, it said.

It also listed the procedures of making such homemade masks, asking to ensure it fits the face well and there are no gaps on the sides.

It urges people to wash hands thoroughly before wearing the face cover, switching to another fresh one as the face cover becomes damp or humid, and never reusing it after single use without cleaning it.

"Never share the face cover with anyone. Every member in a family should have separate face cover," the advisory stated.

India's COVID-19 case tally crossed the 11-lakh mark on Monday, while the total number of recovered patients increased to over seven lakh, according to Union health ministry data.

The death toll due to the disease rose to 27,497 with 681 fatalities reported in one day.

The ministry data updated at 8 am on Monday showed that a record single-day jump of 40,425 COVID-19 cases had taken the total number of cases to 11,18,043.

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First COVID-19 vaccine tested in US poised for final testing

Agencies
July 15,2020

The first COVID-19 vaccine tested in the US revved up people's immune systems just the way scientists had hoped, researchers reported Tuesday -- as the shots are poised to begin key final testing.

No matter how you slice this, this is good news, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious disease expert, told The Associated Press.

The experimental vaccine, developed by Fauci's colleagues at the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., will start its most important step around July 27: A 30,000-person study to prove if the shots really are strong enough to protect against the coronavirus.

But Tuesday, researchers reported anxiously awaited findings from the first 45 volunteers who rolled up their sleeves back in March. Sure enough, the vaccine provided a hoped-for immune boost.

Those early volunteers developed what are called neutralizing antibodies in their bloodstream -- molecules key to blocking infection -- at levels comparable to those found in people who survived COVID-19, the research team reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This is an essential building block that is needed to move forward with the trials that could actually determine whether the vaccine does protect against infection, said Dr. Lisa Jackson of the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle, who led the study.

There's no guarantee but the government hopes to have results around the end of the year -- record-setting speed for developing a vaccine.

The vaccine requires two doses, a month apart.

There were no serious side effects. But more than half the study participants reported flu-like reactions to the shots that aren't uncommon with other vaccines -- fatigue, headache, chills, fever and pain at the injection site. For three participants given the highest dose, those reactions were more severe; that dose isn't being pursued.

Some of those reactions are similar to coronavirus symptoms but they're temporary, lasting about a day and occur right after vaccination, researchers noted.

Small price to pay for protection against COVID, said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a vaccine expert who wasn't involved with the study.

He called the early results a good first step, and is optimistic that final testing could deliver answers about whether it's really safe and effective by the beginning of next year.

It would be wonderful. But that assumes everything's working right on schedule, Schaffner cautioned.

Moderna's share price jumped nearly 15 percent in trading after US markets closed. Shares of the company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have nearly quadrupled this year.

Tuesday's results only included younger adults. The first-step testing later was expanded to include dozens of older adults, the age group most at risk from COVID-19.

Those results aren't public yet but regulators are evaluating them. Fauci said final testing will include older adults, as well as people with chronic health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus and Black and Latino populations likewise affected.

Nearly two dozen possible COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of testing around the world. Candidates from China and Britain's Oxford University also are entering final testing stages.

The 30,000-person study will mark the world's largest study of a potential COVID-19 vaccine so far. And the NIH-developed shot isn't the only one set for such massive U.S. testing, crucial to spot rare side effects. The government plans similar large studies of the Oxford candidate and another by Johnson & Johnson; separately, Pfizer Inc. is planning its own huge study.

Already, people can start signing up to volunteer for the different studies.

People think this is a race for one winner. Me, I'm cheering every one of them on, said Fauci, who directs NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

We need multiple vaccines. We need vaccines for the world, not only for our own country. Around the world, governments are investing in stockpiles of hundreds of millions of doses of the different candidates, in hopes of speedily starting inoculations if any are proven to work.

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