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Medical Milestones

Three stories, the first more interesting, the next two much better than all the other depressing stuff smothering the news. (None of these are up-to-the-minute. I’ve been offline, not to say out of it, for a while.)

(J. Pathol., abstract, and ScienceDaily.) Professor Ruth Itzhaki and her team at the University [of Manchester's] Faculty of Life Sciences have investigated the role of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) in [Alzheimers Disease] ….

Most people are infected with this virus, which then remains life-long in the peripheral nervous system, and in 20-40% of those infected it causes cold sores. Evidence of a viral role in AD would point to the use of antiviral agents to stop progression of the disease.

The team discovered that the HSV1 DNA is located very specifically in amyloid plaques: 90% of plaques in Alzheimer’s disease sufferers’ brains contain HSV1 DNA, and most of the viral DNA is located within amyloid plaques. The team had previously shown that HSV1 infection of nerve-type cells induces deposition of the main component, beta amyloid, of amyloid plaques. Together, these findings strongly implicate HSV1 as a major factor in the formation of amyloid deposits and plaques, abnormalities thought by many in the field to be major contributors to Alzheimer’s disease.

This is a major breakthrough against Alzheimers, if the results hold up on further research.

Two huge triumphs, quietly happening:

BBC NEWS | Health | ‘End in sight’ for elephantiasis
A painful and disfiguring disease affecting more than 100 million people worldwide could be wiped out by 2020, say experts. Lymphatic filariasis (LF), often called elephantiasis, is caused by parasitic worms and causes grotesque swelling of the limbs, breasts and genitals. A World Health Organisation-sponsored drive has delivered 1.9 billion doses of a simple cure since 2000. Pharmaceutical firms have offered drugs free, keeping costs minimal. The success of the programme was highlighted in a paper in the Public Library of Science Neglected Tropical Diseases journal.

The project, masterminded by the Global Programme to Eliminate LF, has so far prevented an estimated 6.6 million children from catching the condition, and stopped it from progressing in another 9.5 million people who already have it. It is thought to be the most rapidly expanding drug administration programme in public health history.

Dr Mwele Malecela, who chairs the programme, said: “We are on track to accomplish our goal of elimination by 2020. When we do, this programme will be a leading case study for how to scale up disease elimination programmes globally”.

Guinea worm disease may be eliminated within two years, former US president and anti-disease campaigner Jimmy Carter has said.

It would be only the second time in human history, after smallpox, that a disease had been completely wiped out.

[I]nfections of the painful debilitating disease have dropped by 99%, [from 3.5m cases in 20 nations that were reported when the eradication campaign began in 1986 to] 4,410 cases … reported worldwide during the first ten months of this year.

For those of you not up on your parasitology, the infection starts with contaminated water. Once the larval worms have grown, they chew through the host’s tissues and emerge, slowly, as full grown worms up to a meter long. When it says “painful and debilitating,” it means painful and debilitating. Getting rid of this scourge is a huge deal.

(And after that, you may be hoping that I’ll go back to posting very little.)

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