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Pharmaceutical companies are often seen promoting multivitamin and mineral supplements to pregnant women as a means of giving their child the best possible start in life. However, a review of the available evidence published recently in an issue of the ˜Drug and Therapeutics' concludes that they are unlikely to be needed by most mums-to-be and are an unnecessary expense.

The report says it will be in the best interest of the pregnant women and her baby to steer clear of such claims as such pills don’t do any good to the mother or the baby. Focus should be on improving the overall diet and in taking folic acid and vitamin D supplements. These are available at a reasonably low cost. Nourishment before and during pregnancy is utmost important for the wellbeing of the mother and her unborn child good. If there is deficiency of any key nutrients, there is an increased chance of complications of pregnancy and birth such as pre-eclampsia, restricted fetal growth, neural tube defects, skeletal deformities and low birthweight.

It is common to see that a number of such multi-vitamin and mineral supplements are promoted to women for all stages of pregnancy to keep all such problems at bay. Typically, such supplements contain 20+ vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C, D, E, K, folic acid, iodine, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc and selenium, at a cost of around £15/month.

In order to critically examine the current UK guidance for vitamin supplements recommended for pregnant women, and the evidence behind it, the published research on folic acid, vitamin D, iron, vitamins C, E, and A, and multivitamin supplements was reviewed by the dtb. Their review revealed that folic acid had the strongest evidence to support national UK guidance. It is recommended that women take 400 ug of folic acid daily from before, until 12 weeks of, pregnancy. In case a woman is at a greater risk of having a child with neural tube defects because of a family history of the condition, or because of diabetes, a daily dose of 5 mg is recommended. The data on vitamin D supplementation was also studied – the evidence were not strong enough to support the claim that it reduces the risk of complications of pregnancy or birth. Still, a daily dose of 10 ug is recommended throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The review found that if a woman is well nourished, there was no evidence of any clinical benefit from any other supplements. On the contrary, high doses of vitamin A may harm the developing fetus. The available data don’t support the use of multi-vitamin supplements in most pregnant women either, says dtb.

The report says that the researchers found no reason to recommend all pregnant women to take prenatal multi-nutrient supplements beyond the nationally advised folic acid and vitamin D supplements. The dtb also points out that much of the evidence which forms the basis of marketing claims for multi-vitamin supplements are studies carried out in low income countries, where women are more likely to be undernourished or malnourished than women in the UK.

The dtb finally concludes their report by aging that most women who are planning to become pregnant or who are pregnant, complex multivitamin and mineral preparations promoted for use during pregnancy are unlikely to be needed and are an unnecessary expense. Pregnant women are typically vulnerable to messages about giving their baby the best start in life, regardless of cost. However, the marketing of such supplements does not seem to be supported by evidence of improvement in child or maternal outcomes. The only supplements recommended for all pregnant women are folic acid and vitamin D and they would do well by just taking them.

Since you’re already here, we’d like to share with you some holistic remedies for natural childbirth here.






Diet Pills, Medication, Pharmacy, Sick, Disease

The way the importance of zinc is emphasized, it is likely that zinc supplementation is overdone in many cases. In a recent study that was published in the journal Nature Medicine, the adverse effect of the consumption of dietary supplements and cold therapies containing high concentrations of zinc has been highlighted.

Eric Skaar, Ph.D., MPH, professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at Vanderbilt University remarked that it is important to understand that multivitamins and other supplements are really only needed by those with a particular nutritional deficit in their diet. So, one should be very vigilant about what they are putting into the body. The team of researchers which included Skaar’s colleague Joseph Zackular, Ph.D., discovered that high levels of zinc alter the micro biome of the gut. This change is such that it mimics antibiotic treatment, and that very much is the primary risk factor for C. diff infection.

This study doesn’t just highlight the concerns about multivitamin consumption, it also points out some vital findings that are of importance for patients who are hospitalized or taking antibiotics and who are also receiving zinc-supplemented nutrition. According to the findings of the study, such people are at an even greater risk for C. diff infection.

Skaar, who is also the Ernest W. Goodpasture Professor of Pathology opined that it is important to consider how much zinc these patients have in their diet “ and maybe other trace nutrients that might also have an effect on the micro biome. There is an increasing trend of C. diff infection in people in the United States who haven’t been hospitalized or treated with antibiotics. The findings of the study point towards a probable connection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C. diff infects about a half million people each year, in the United States, causing disease ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon (colitis).

Mouse models were used by Skaar and colleagues to explore the impact of dietary metals on susceptibility to infectious diseases. The researchers demonstrated that mice put on a high-zinc diet had altered gut micro biota and were susceptible to C. diff infection at lower antibiotic doses as compared to mice on a normal zinc diet. It was also noted that C. diff caused more severe disease and lethality in mice on a high-zinc diet.

Skaar explained that intake of antibiotics has a strong influence as it makes one susceptible to C. diff. Antibiotics kills many of the healthy organisms in the gut and decreases microbial diversity, which allows C. diff to take hold. A diet high in zinc changes the structure of the microbial community in a similar way and reduces the threshold of antibiotics that are needed to convert a resistant microbial community to one that is sensitive to C. diff.

In their research the investigators also found that calprotectin – which is a zinc-binding protein has an important role to play in combating C. diff. It works by limiting the availability of zinc during an infection. These findings also point to the fact that diet play a crucial role in maintaining the micro biome of the gut and also strongly suggests that just an ideal mix of microbes are not going to be sufficient to treat C. diff infections.

The process of fecal transplant has proven to be effective in treating recurrent C. diff colitis. In this method stool from a healthy donor is transferred to the gastrointestinal tract of a patient suffering from C. diff infection. This process prompted the use of a small number if microbes to treat C. diff. However, the first clinical trial failed recently.

Skaar Remarked that everyone’s micro biome is unique, and each micro biome is differentially affected by environmental factors, such as diet.

There is a need to first understand the factors that shape our micro biome. That knowledge will be instrumental in designing successful therapeutic strategies that target important community of microbes. The findings also have implications for the agriculture industry, which uses zinc supplementation to grow bigger animals, Skaar noted.












Researchers at the University of Alabama of Birmingham have found that the infant airway is already colonized with bacteria or bacterial DNA when a baby is born. This finding hold true for even babies who are born at 24 weeks gestation. These findings are in contrast to the general belief that the airways of an infant are sterile until after birth. It is not known how microbes get into the airways and what is the purpose of  this pre-birth colonization, but the pattern of colonization seem to have an important link to later severe neonatal lung diseases.

A microbial imbalance at such an early age is predictive of the development of bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or BPD, a disease of prematurity. In this study, the researchers observed that the extremely low birth weight (ELBW) infants who went on to develop life-threatening BPD exhibited abnormal microbial colonization patterns at birth, as compared to pre-term infants who did not get BPD.

BPD is the most common lung pathology of ELBW infants and a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. Adults and children who had BPD as infants typically have lungs that failed to develop properly and are more susceptible to worse lung function, asthma, lung infections and pulmonary hypertension.

Charitharth Vivek Lal, M.D., lead investigator of the study and assistant professor in the UAB Pediatrics Division of Neonatology remarked that an infant’s respiratory microbiome at the time of birth can possibly predict his risk for BPD. The findings of the study were published in the journal -Scientific Reports. It says that it seems likely that the early airway microbiome may prime the developing pulmonary immune system, and set the stage for subsequent lung disease. In that case it is important to develop novel therapeutic interventions.

Lal opined this is the first unbiased study of its kind. All the early saline aspirates from the tracheas of the newborns were collected at or within six hours of delivery. The infant airway microbiome analysis was also validated at a second medical center. A group of 23 ELBW infants and 10 full-term infants were studied at the Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, UAB Women & Infants Center. The second group of 14 ELBW infants was studied in collaboration with Vineet Bhandari, M.D., at Drexel University College. It was seen that half of the ELBW infants at both sites, later developed BPD. It was also noted that the differences in the microbiomes between infants who were BPD-resistant and BPD-predisposed were similar for infants in both Birmingham and Philadelphia.

To further the study, the researchers also looked at the airway microbiomes of 18 ELBW infants with established BPD. There was a significant difference in the diversity and pattern from those of ELBW infants shortly after birth or full-term infants at birth. It was noted that the phylum Proteobacteria, which includes E. coli, is involved in BPD pathology, and the genus Lactobaccillus, part of the phylum Firmicutes, seemed to be protective.

The researchers observed that there was a decrease in the abundance of Lactobacillus in the airway microbiomes of 10 infants born to mothers who had chorioamnionitis. Chorioamnionitisn is an infection of the membranes of the placenta and it is an independent risk factor for BPD. In some other research, researchers had suggested a beneficial role for Lactobacillus against airway diseases and for lung development. Lal opined that the use of respiratory probiotics and the role of the gut-lung microbiome axis will be subjects of research in coming days.

Lal and colleagues remarked that it is a common belief that colonization of neonates originates in the birth canal. So, it was a surprise for the researchers to find that the airway microbiome of vaginally delivered and caesarean section-delivered neonates were similar. These findings suggest that it is likely that the microbial DNA in the airways is transplacentally derived. Since, the placenta has a rich micro biome, the transmission of bacteria or bacterial DNA could be via blood or amniotic fluid.





Hands, Walking Stick, Elderly, Old Person, Cane

A new protein has been designed in a University of Sussex laboratory that will help scientists to understand when nerve cells die in people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). AD is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that typically has a slow start but as time passes it gets worse. It is considered to be the cause behind 60 to 70% dementia cases. The earliest symptom of AD is that is short term memory loss “ the person have difficulty is remembering recent events. As the disease progresses, symptoms get worse which includes disorientation, loss of motivation, behavioral issues, etc. Patients eventually withdraw into a shell and gradually bodily functions detoriate. The speed of progression varies from person to person and the life expectancy after diagnosis can be anywhere between three to nine years.

Researchers have discovered that in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease Amyloid-beta (Abeta) proteins stick together which forms amyloid fibrils and which eventually gives birth to clumps between neurons in the brain. The scientists believe that due to the build-up of these proteins, the brain cells die thereby leading to the cognitive decline in patients suffering from the disease. Researchers have not been able to find a reason why this particular protein’s “stickiness” causes cells to die. Also, there have been no tests to ascertain if the sticky clumps of Abeta proteins have different effects, compared with individual proteins that are not stuck together.

The study ‘A critical role for the self-assembly of Amyloid-?1-42 in neurodegeneration’ has been published in the open access Nature Publishing Group journal, Scientific Reports.

The report reveals that University of Sussex scientists have created a new protein which is almost similar to the Abeta protein in size and shape, but contains two different amino acids (amino acids are the building blocks of protein). The significance of these two extra amino acids is that the new protein does not form amyloid fibres or sticky clumps, and, unlike Abeta, is not toxic to nerve cells.

The researchers working on understanding the causes and role of Abeta proteins are of the opinion that this new protein is going to be an important laboratory tool in their research work. In order to research commercial opportunities for the protein, the scientists who designed it are now working closely with the Sussex Innovation Centre, the University’s business-incubation hub.

Understanding how the brain protein Abeta causes nerve cell death in Alzheimer’s patients is important in order to find a cure for this disease opined Dr. Karen Marshall, who leads on the study. The study reveals that the aggregation of Abeta into bigger species is critical in its ability to kill cells. If the protein could be stopped from aggregating in people suffering from Alzheimer’s, the progression of the disease’s symptoms could be slowed down. The researchers' next aim is to find a way of doing so in the lab and reverse the damaging effects of toxic Abeta.

Another senior author on the study, Professor Louise Serpell, also the co-director of the University of Sussex’s Dementia Research Group said that this newly designed protein is an exciting new tool that will contribute to research to uncover the causes for Alzheimer’s disease. She is hopeful that it will enable tangible progress in finding targets for therapy. Peter Lane, Innovation Support Manager at The Sussex Innovation Centre remarked that the center is thrilled to be working alongside Professor Serpell to make sure the benefits offered by this new laboratory tool can be widely available to the Alzheimer’s research community in the very near future.

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Brain, Biology, Abstract, Cerebrum, Science, Anatomy

Have you ever wondered how our brain interprets a difficult social situation? For example: some people have a penchant of saying offending things smilingly. In such cases should our brain interpret it as a genuine smile or as an offense? Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and the University Of Haifa, Israel, have identified neural mechanisms that help in understanding whether a difficult social situation is emotionally positive or negative.

When we are complimented, we get a positive vibe. Similarly, when someone attacks us, we know for sure that the situation is negative. But, we often come across more complex social situations – like someone may pass a cynical remark or the tone of voice when saying something is not positive. In such cases, our brains must have the know-how of processing the meaning of the emotional conflict properly“ else we might find ourselves responding happily when someone passes a negative remark or getting offended unnecessarily and that is not how it should be.

For their study, the researchers used emotionally confusing scenes from movies like Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs.” Christiane Rohr of the Max Planck Institute who is the study’s leader revealed that they identified two areas in the brain that act like ‘remote controls’. They together determine how a situation should be evaluated, and accordingly which other brain areas should be switched on or off.

The participants of the study were made to watch emotionally conflicting movies while lying in a magnetic resonance scanner. The movie included scenes of a person torturing another while smiling, dancing, and talking to his victim in a friendly manner, etc. The participants were then asked if each of the scenes watched in the movie included a conflict and according to them how much was the positive or negative element and whether the scene was pleasant or unpleasant to watch.

When the neuronal signals obtained via functional magnetic resonance imaging and the participants’ responses were analyzed, the researchers discovered that the brain switched between the two different neural networks whereby one is triggered when we perceive a situation as positive, and another is activated when we see it as negative. The superior temporal sulcus of the brain is used for the interpretation of positive situations and the inferior parietal lobule is active for the interpretation of negative situations. These areas were also activated when the participants felt that the movie scene represented an emotional conflict.

Hadas Okon-Singer, researcher at the University of Haifa remarked that it seemed that the two areas seem to ‘speak’ to each other and evaluate the situation in order to decide which one will be switched on and which one will be switched off. The results imply that these parts of the brain have the ability to influence the value, positive or negative, and they decide what will be dominant value in an emotional conflict.

While most people’s brain can manage to process such emotionally conflicting situations, but, there are some people who find it difficult and they can over time suffer from depression, anxious rumination, and a tendency to avoid social situations. Neuroscientists Rohr and Okon-Singer are hopeful that their study findings will help in facilitating further research into finding out why this mechanism does not function properly in some people. The researchers are hopeful that this study will help in developing therapies for people who find it difficult to deal with emotionally conflicting situations adequately.





Old People, Couple, Together, Connected, Rock

Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease has baffled researchers since long due to its incredibly complex nature. The complexity is attributed to the fact that it is not caused due to fault in one neurological mechanism but is a result of several associated mechanism in the brain.

In a pioneering study published recently in the journal ˜Nature Communications', researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital have used a powerful tool that can help in better understanding the progression of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (LOAD), and identify its first physiological signs. In this research which is led by Dr. Alan Evans, a professor of neurology, neurosurgery and biomedical engineering at the Neuro, more than 7,700 brain images from 1,171 people in various stages of Alzheimer’s progression were analyzed. The techniques used in this analysis include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET). Also, the level of cognition of the subjects involved and their blood and cerebrospinal fluid were analyzed.

It was believed that an increase in amyloid protein was the first detectable sign of Alzheimer’s. However, this research revealed that a decrease in blood flow in the brain is the first physiological sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Undoubtedly, amyloid does play a role, but, this study has revealed that changes in blood flow are the earliest warning sign of Alzheimer’s. It was also found that changes in cognition start earlier in the progression than previously known.

Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of human dementia. Hence, it is necessary to understand the interactions between its various mechanisms in order to develop viable treatments.

Previous studies on LOAD were limited in their scope and didn’t shed light on various facets of this complex disease. This study is the most exhaustive research that has factored in the pattern of amyloid concentration, glucose metabolism, cerebral blood flow, functional activity and brain atrophy in 78 regions of the brain, covering all grey matter.

Yasser Iturria Medina, first author of the paper and a post-doctoral fellow at the MNI opined that lack of an integrative understanding of LOAD pathology, its multifactorial mechanisms, is a hindrance in the path of developing effective, disease-modifying therapeutic agents.

For this research, the trajectory of each biological factor of LOAD was recorded using data from each patient taken over a 30-year period. This process was then repeated 500 times to improve robustness of estimations and stability of the results. In order to compute such mammoth data thousands of compute hours were spent. It was all possible with the help of sophisticated software and terabytes of hard drive space. Evans opines that such a data-driven approach to neurology is important in today’s time. He adds that all the data about the brain will be useful only if we can deduce information from it and make sense of it. This creates complex mathematical and statistical challenges but that’s where the future of clinical research in the brain lies.

Another important thing this research underlines is the necessity of data sharing across institutions, known as the Open Science model. For this study, patient data came from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), a partnership of more than 30 institutions across Canada and the United States. Had it not been for data sharing, the knowledge that this study has added to the understanding of LOAD would still be undiscovered.

This study is perhaps one of the most thorough works ever published on the subject of Alzheimer’s disease progression. But, it just scratches the surface “ there is a need to delve further, to determine the causes of each mechanism, which could be the key to unlocking better treatments. Evans adds that it is a computational, mathematical challenge that goes beyond anything they have done so far. Their goal is to go to a high-level, causal modeling of the interactions amongst all of the factors of disease, but you need huge computational power to do that. Development of hardware that is capable of doing it is crucial.

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Tiger Mosquito, Mosquito, Asian Tigermücke, Sting


We look forward to summer months as this is the time of the year we like enjoy our time in the sun. But, these months are also notoriously known for the increase in mosquito borne diseases like the Ross River fever and dengue fever.

Travelers from Australia venturing through Southeast Asia are also exposed to dangerous mosquito-borne viruses like chikungunya virus and Japanese encephalitis. If these diseases successfully establish themselves in Australia, it will be a major health concern. The impact can be far reaching and can impact the economy, tourism and way of life. In the recent times, there has been an expansion in outbreak of mosquito-borne the diseases, both globally and within Australia. Increased urbanization, increased travel, trade and changing climate contribute to it as it enhances the suitability of environments for mosquitoes.

Extensive research are going on globally to identify treatments to protect people from the tiny beasts, however none have been clinically approved for use to date. A dengue vaccine (Dengvaxia) was approved for use in Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines last December, but its effectiveness is still a question mark. Mosquito population control measures have been effective for a limited time only. As per an estimate from WHO, some 390-million dengue infections occur annually, of which 100-million people fall ill leading to some 25,000 deaths.

The need for alternate means to control these deadly diseases is urgent. Recently, mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia bacteria have been used to dramatically reduce the potential of mosquito population to transmit dengue infections. Field trials are underway in Australia, China, Vietnam, Brazil and Thailand, and the results so far have been promising. However, the long-term success and effectiveness against other infections still need to be tested.

In an innovative step, Oxitec – a British biotech company, has altered the DNA of male mosquitoes such that offspring die as larvae or pupae. Some other laboratories have experimented to ensure that only male mosquitoes are produced, so that the entire population collapses. Only further field tests can validate the effectiveness and ecological impact of such measures.

The threat is from female mosquitos only as only they bite people or animals to obtain the blood proteins needed to develop and lay their eggs. When these female mosquitoes bite an infected being, the virus enters their gut via the blood-meal and infects them too. The virus gets transmitted further when these infected mosquitoes bite another susceptible host.

It is interesting to note that the viruses which can cause severe disease in people have no physical ill-effects on the infected mosquito. It seems that mosquitoes are capable of protecting themselves against disease when infected by these serious viruses. If we delve deeper into how it happens, it may provide important insights that will enable the development of new disease intervention strategies.

In a research last year that used an RNA-sequencing approach a number of genes from multiple cellular pathways that play integral roles in protecting mosquitoes from the viruses they carry were identified by the researchers. Previous researches had identified a new protein Vago that showed the ability to restrict the spread of viral infection in mosquitoes. In another recent research, it was shown that a virus increases production of a mosquito gene, Cullin4, which shuts down the immune response of mosquitoes by blocking the action of Vago. It lets the virus to multiply in mosquitoes and be transmitted to the next person.

It is for the first time that the existence of an immune evasion mechanism has been demonstrated in mosquitoes or any other insect. These results provide new insights into how virus reproduces in mosquitoes. It has also provided us with a large dataset of mosquito genes, which play a role during the infection process. These findings show that it is possible to reduce a mosquito’s capacity to transmit viruses by manipulating its immune system.

Even though the mosquitoes spread viruses and infections, they are necessary evil as they act as pollinators as well as food source for birds and fish. So, instead of suppressing the mosquitoes, a better approach is to make them resistant to infection. This can be done by increasing production of antiviral proteins or decreasing production of proteins that help viral growth. Another way is to block entry of the virus into the mosquito by modifying proteins present in its gut.

Gaps in our understanding of the complex relationship between mosquitoes, viruses, people and the environment need to be investigated to use the information in preventing the spread of disease.

Reference Links:




Medical Reseach2014 has been a year of new discoveries and advancement in the medical field. Here are eight of the top medical research discoveries made in 2014

  1. When, how & where AIDS originated?

This question had been baffling the scientific community for quite a while now. Researchers from several countries including the United States and many European nations have now been able to piece when, where and how the first case of AIDS came into being using statistical analysis. It is now understood that it happened in Kinshasa, the capital of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo”sometime during the 1920s and was contracted form a chimpanzee. The study was published in the journal “˜Science'.

  1. Cesarean section may cause epigenetic changes:

Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have carried out a study that reveals that delivering babies via cesarean section can result in changes in the baby’s stem cells. These changes are responsible for an increased risk of immunological diseases such as asthma, diabetes type 1, celiac disease, etc. The findings of the study were published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

  1. What triggers stress processes in the brain:

A team of researchers working at the Center for Brain Research at MedUni in Vienna and colleagues from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden discovered an important factor that triggers stress. They revealed that the protein secretagogin acted as a trigger in the brain by releasing the stress hormone CRH. The team has published the findings in the EMBO Journal.

  1. Identification of the first steps in pancreatic cancer:

Bio-researchers at the Mayo Clinic have identified the initial processes that lead to pancreatic cancer. This finding is crucial as it could lead to therapies that can prevent the cancer from getting started. The findings were published in the journal Cancer Discovery.

  1. How to switch off autoimmune diseases discovered by scientists:

Researchers at the University of Bristol have achieved a major breakthrough in finding a cure for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. They have discovered the way how cells convert from an attacker to a protector cell. In the paper that was published in Nature Communications, the researchers showed hope that they would be able to stop the immune system from attacking healthy tissue.


  1. Genetic marker behind stroke and cardiovascular disease:

A paper published in the journal PLOS Genetics said that researchers at the University of Virginia have found a genetic variant that is tied to an increased risk of stroke and certain types of cardiovascular disease. The study included analyzing the genomes of over 5000 people.

  1. Memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s reversed for first time:

A paper published in the journal ˜Aging' by a combined team of researchers with UCLA and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging revealed that a 36-point therapeutic program they had developed had reduced signs of dementia in nine out of ten patients who volunteered in the study.

  1. Human clinical trial of drug shown to completely reverse diabetes in human islets, mice:

Researchers working at the University of Alabama reported that studies they had conducted testing the drug blood pressure medicine verapamil yielded results. They said that it had completely eliminated any signs of diabetes in lab animals. The success of their research has led to $2.1 million grant to them from Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

These were 8 of the top medical discoveries of 2014. Hope our scientists continue to strive for a deeper understanding of the human body and to find ways to prevent and treat ailments.






Tiger mosquitoes are native to Africa and Asia. However, due to climate change and globalization, they are discovering new territories and are increasingly being found around the Mediterranean. With them they bring a host of diseases including dengue. Till date, there has been no full proof antibody test for detecting this virus. The good news is researchers have now developed a cost-effective and fail-safe test for detecting the virus.

Tiger mosquito

About 20,000 people die from dengue every year, with hot areas such as Africa and Asia being the worst hit. Now that the tiger mosquitoes are also spotted around Mediterranean, several cases of people being infected with dengue virus are being reported in the south of France and in Croatia.

Due to lack of a full proof test, it is somewhat difficult to say for sure whether someone is suffering from dengue fever or are infected from another flavivirus, like yellow fever, West Nile virus or TBEV (tick-borne encephalitis virus). The tests available in the market cannot tell the difference between these individual flaviviruses. For a definitive diagnosis a sample of the patient’s blood has to be sent to a high-security laboratory for analysis. With handful of such labs in each country, it’s not practical to test everyone making it impractical to conduct tests at all.

Dr. Sebastian Ulbert, Head of the Working Group on Vaccine Technologies at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI said that they have succeeded in developing the first ever antibody test for dengue infections that can distinguish between dengue and other flaviviruses. As this test is also based on detecting antibodies, it is cheap and can easily be integrated into existing test setups without any extra cost to manufacturers.

For conventional antibody tests the doctor draws the patient’s blood. In case, it is infected with the dengue virus, the blood will contain specific antibodies which the body produces to attack the intruder. A test platform is applied to the blood with dengue antigens that systematically bind with these antibodies. If after a set reaction time, antibodies are found on the platform, the doctor will assume that the patient has been infected with the dengue virus. The catch is other flavivirus also do the same. So, even if someone tests positive, one can't say for sure if it is a case of dengue.

Ulbert explained that for their test, they produced special antigens. Using certain point mutations, they altered the area of the antigens that is the same for all flaviviruses, effectively shutting them off. Antibodies are then unable to bind at these now non-specific sites, with the exception of the dengue-specific antibodies.  If the test comes back positive, it is a 100% case of dengue infection.

It is understandable that demand for such a system is huge “ the reason is clear – dengue fever is one of the most commonly occurring diseases in the world, with some two-thirds of all people living in dengue danger zones.

The researchers are hopeful that their test will hit the market in a year time. To further their endeavor, the researchers are working on ways to differentiate between the four strains of the dengue pathogen. This breakthrough could be significant because anyone who has survived a dengue-related illness acquired immunity against that specific pathogen, but to the other three strains, that person is at even larger risk. This is due to the fact that the antibodies they produced to combat the first bout of dengue fever help the new virus to spread and make it much harder for that person to recover. Ulbert is of the opinion that their test is capable of differentiating between the four viral strains and it is time to put the theory into practice.






Using antidepressants during pregnancy can have a detrimental effect on the developing baby. Professor Anick Bérard of the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital revealed that the use of antidepressant during pregnancy increases the risk of autism for the baby by a whopping 87%. The findings were published recently in JAMA Pediatrics.

Taking antidepressants during pregnancy poses risk for autism

Taking antidepressants during pregnancy poses risk for autism

Prof. Bérard, an internationally renowned expert in the fields of pharmaceutical safety during pregnancy, studied data from 145,456 pregnancies before coming to this conclusion. She remarked that the variety of causes of autism remains unclear, but as per the studies so far both genetics and environment can play a role. She further added that her recent study has established that taking antidepressants during the second or third trimester of pregnancy almost doubles the risk that the child will be diagnosed with autism by age 7. This is particularly true if the mother takes selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, often known by its acronym SSRIs.

As a part of this study, Bérard and her colleagues reviewed and studied the data from the Quebec Pregnancy Cohort and studied 145,456 children between the times of their conception up to age ten. Other factors that were included in their study were the mother’s use of antidepressants and the child’s eventual diagnosis of autism. There was a wealth of details in the data that enabled the team to tease out the specific impact of the antidepressant drugs. Certain factors were quite significant “ like some people are genetically predisposed to autism because of a family history of it; maternal age and depression are known to be associated with the development of autism.

As per the World Health Organization depression will be the second leading cause of death by 2020. That's why researchers are of the opinion that antidepressants will likely to remain widely prescribed, including during pregnancy.

Prof. Bérard said the exposure to antidepressants was defined as the mother having had one or more prescription for antidepressants filled during the second or third trimester of the pregnancy. Since, this period is critical for infant’s brain development, this period was chosen. She added that amongst all the children in the study, children who had been diagnosed with a form of autism like childhood autism, atypical autism, Asperger’s syndrome, or a pervasive developmental disorder were identified by looking at hospital records. The team then looked for a statistical association between the two groups, and found a very significant one: an 87% increased risk.

The findings are very significant as six to ten percent of pregnant women are typically treated for depression with antidepressants. In the current study, 1,054 children were diagnosed with autism (0.72% of the children in the study), on average at 4.5 years of age. There is an increased trend in prevalence of autism amongst children – from 4 in 10,000 children in 1966 to 100 in 10,000 today.

Some attribute that increase to both better detection and widening criteria for diagnosis, however, the role of environmental factors cannot be ignored. It is quite possible on a biological level that anti-depressants are causing autism when they are used at the time of brain development in the womb. Serotonin is critical for numerous pre- and postnatal developmental processes, including cell division, the migration of neuros, cell differentiation and synaptogenesis – the creation of links between brain cells. Certain classes of anti-depressants (like SSRIs) work by inhibiting serotonin which can certainly have a negative impact on the ability of the brain to fully develop and adapt in-utero.

Prof. Bérard remarked that this study contributes to a better understanding of the long-term neurodevelopmental effects of anti-depressants on children when they are used during gestation. Since, antidepressants are widely used; uncovering the outcomes of these drugs is a public health priority.