Athletic young man rubbing muscles of lower back after jogging

Researchers have discovered a possible way to increase levels of natural opioids in the brain. The new approach involves blocking an opioid receptor that normally inactivates these molecules.

Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, naloxone, and morphine, are powerful pain relief medications. They can also cause dependence, are highly addictive, and potentially fatal in overdose.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, every day in the United States, 128 people die after overdosing on opioids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that the total economic burden of prescription opioid overdose, abuse, and dependence in the U.S. was $78.5 billion in 2013. The figure includes costs investigators associate with healthcare, criminal justice, and lost productivity.

While efforts to develop a nonaddictive synthetic opioid are making progress, an international team of scientists, which the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) leads, is working on a radically different approach.

They have discovered a potential way to increase levels of the body’s own opioids. These natural opioids help to relieve pain and can also alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression.

Endogenous opioids

There are three types of endogenous opioid — endorphins, enkephalins, and dynorphins. Endorphins are responsible for the ‘runner’s high’ that people can experience after vigorous exercise.

Endogenous opioids inhibit the transmission of pain signals in the central nervous system by binding to one of the four kinds of opioid receptors on nerve cells.

Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, bind to the same receptors, but they bind much more strongly than endogenous opioids.

LIH, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Bonn in Germany and the University of Liège in Belgium, has now identified a fifth opioid receptor that behaves differently.

The researchers believe that one of the functions of the receptor known as ACKR3 is to regulate or “fine-tune” levels of opioids in the brain.

In laboratory experiments with nerve cells, they discovered that when opioids bind to ACKR3, the receptor “scavenges” them, dragging them inside the cell.

The researchers believe that by removing opioid molecules and preventing them from binding to the other four receptors, ACKR3 indirectly increases pain signaling.

“Interestingly, we found that ACKR3 does not trigger the distinctive chain of molecular signaling events that results in painkilling effects,” explains Max Meyrath of LIH, who is co-first author of the study.

“Instead, ACKR3 functions as a ‘scavenger’ that sequestrates the opioids that would otherwise bind to the classical receptors.”

Receptor blocker

In further experiments, the team designed a molecule it calls LIH383 to block ACKR3 selectively and prevent it from scavenging endogenous opioids.

Using brain tissue from rats, the scientists confirmed that LIH383 could boost levels of opioids, and hence reduce pain signaling.

“Our findings essentially brought forward a new and previously unknown mechanism to fine tune the opioid system and modulate the abundance of natural opioids by manipulating the fifth member of the opioid receptor family, ACKR3. We, therefore, set about developing a molecule that would be able to tightly bind to and block ACKR3, with the aim of potentiating the natural, beneficial effects of opioids on pain and negative emotions. This is how LIH383 was conceived.” – Dr. Martyna Szpakowska, co-first author

The scientists published their research in the journal Nature Communications.

Dr. Andy Chevigné at LIH, who is the senior author of the study, says: “We expect LIH383 to act as a precursor for the development of a new class of drugs against pain and depression, thus offering an innovative and original therapeutic strategy to tackle the opioid crisis.”

Dual role

Remarkably, LIH383 may also have potential as an anticancer agent.

Long before biologists found ACKR3 to be an opioid receptor, they were familiar with it as a receptor for chemokines. These are a family of immune signaling molecules; some of them are involved in controlling the migration of cells during normal development.

They are also involved in promoting cancer growth and ‘metastasis,’ which is the spread of tumors around the body.

High concentrations of the receptor occur in tumors, such as breast cancer and an aggressive form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma. Scientists associate them with resistance to chemotherapy and poor prognosis.

“As an ACKR3 modulator that interacts and ‘interferes’ with ACKR3, LIH383, therefore, also holds promise for the treatment of metastatic cancers, leveraging on our remarkable discovery of the dual chemokine-opioid ‘scavenging’ activity of this receptor,” says Dr. Chevigné.

The team’s research was a lab-based proof-of-principle study. Much more work remains before they can test a drug that blocks ACKR3 on people in clinical trials.

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OPay has donated 300,000 medical face masks to hospitals and healthcare centres in Nigeria as part of its #DoMore initiative.

The donation is part of OPay’s recently announced N50 Million fund set up to provide medical supplies to frontline health workers as well as relief support for the less privileged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June, the fintech company donated 100,000 medical face masks to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) as part of the Nigerian Stock Exchange’s #MaskForAllNg campaign. The supplies were received by the Chief Medical Director of LASUTH, Prof. Adetokunbo Fabamwo.

In his remarks, Fabamwo noted: “For public-spirited companies like OPay, who have made this very generous donation, we say thank you. We are very excited; this will go a long way.”

OPay has also donated that 150,000 medical face masks to the Lagos State Primary Healthcare Board that delivers essential health care to over 25 million people. They will oversee the distribution of the health supplies to 309 primaries healthcare centres; across 57 Local Government Areas in Lagos state.

50,000 medical face masks were donated to the Ogun State Hospital Management Board.

In his remarks, Ogun State Commissioner for Health said: “We are surprised but grateful for the donation from OPay. This is a huge contribution that will go a long way to support our efforts to protect our frontline health care workers who are daily exposed to the risks that COVID-19 poses.”

Speaking about the donations recently made, Country Manager, OPay, Iniabasi Akpan said: “We at OPay, consider it a duty of ours to support our frontline medical workers. They are our brothers, sisters, and mothers and fathers working tirelessly during this pandemic, they are the real heroes.

“One effective way to protect ourselves from the virus is with the use of face masks. As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure.’ We hope with this donation we can continue to achieve this.”

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The federal government has raised the alarm over the rising cases of COVID-19 in the country, charging Nigerians to brace up for higher numbers.

The country thursday recorded 626 new cases of COVID-19, bringing to 27,110 the number of confirmed cases in the country.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said Lagos recorded 193 new cases; Federal Capital Territory (FCT), 85; Oyo, 41; Edo, 38; Kwara, 34; Abia, 31; Ogun, 29; Ondo, 28; Rivers, 26; Osun, 21; Akwa Ibom and Delta, 18 each; Enugu, 15; Kaduna, 13; Plateau, 11; Borno, eight; Bauchi, seven; Adamawa, five; Gombe, four; and Sokoto one case.

It said: “Nigeria has recorded 27,110 cases of COVID-19. 10,801 persons have recovered and discharged, while 616 persons have died.”

Federal government is, however, stepping up efforts on public enlightenment to check the rising rate of infection by engaging the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar, and the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Samson Olasupo Ayokunle.

The Sultan and Ayokunle, along with other religious leaders, are to spearhead the task of sensitising the public on the need to comply with the protocols and guidelines on the control of COVID-19, particularly on the mandatory use of face masks in the public, social distancing and washing of hands with soap and sanitisers.

The federal government also said preliminary findings from the analysis of Madagascar’s herb called ‘COVID Organics’ showed the mixture contains largely anti-malaria constituents.

Speaking yesterday at the bi-weekly briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja, the Chairman of the task force and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, said the federal government was striving to build a synergy with both the Sultan and Ayokunle, who incidentally are the Co-chairmen of Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) on the spiritual intervention in the control of the virus.

Mustapha warned that the daily rise of the disease was on the upscale in the country and could only be slowed down provided all the guidelines and protocols were followed.

“I am almost running out of words as to how I can drive the message off because I see the figures and I see the people and as I often say on the podium that the 603 is not a statistic. I can place faces to the substantial number of that 603 that have died,” he said.

Mustapha said the former Governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, paid him a visit in his office before he died, adding that for anybody to say that coronavirus is not real is the height of insensitivity.

He said: “When Governor Ajimobi came for the last meeting of the National Working Committee of the APC, he visited me because he is a very good friend. He was here in this building; we shared pleasantries. The Chief Judge of Kogi has been a friend of 44 years, same with the Chief Judge of Yobe, a friend and a classmate for 44 years. I can place faces on these figures. For anybody to say COVID- 19 is not real is the height of insensitivity.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the early days of the extension of the second phase of eased lockdown and we shall always remind ourselves of the reason for these uncommon times facing humanity. This is the time to comply with the guidelines, it is the time to be vigilant and to take responsibility.

“In furtherance of the synergy being built, the Co-chairmen of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), His Eminence, Alhaji Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar, CFR, the Sultan of Sokoto/President General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, and His Eminence, Rev. Samson Ayokunle, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). The NIREC will announce the details and we urge all Nigerians to participate in this effort to seek divine intervention.”

Also speaking, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, urged Nigerians to brace up for an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases as a result of the easing of the lockdown nationwide.

He said more cases of the virus were expected, especially as a result of the lifting of the ban on interstate travels, urging Nigerians not to assume it is safe to move about yet.

According to the minister, “The COVID-19 statistics are expected to rise further with improved testing, but also as a sign that COVID-19 is actually expanding faster than our systems are handling it.”

Enahire said: “I have directed the deployment and activation of GeneXpert machines to treatment centres at National Hospital, Abuja and University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, so that they can now conduct testing on site. The GeneXpert machine allows results within one hour.

“Over the last few days, I have also received reports of very sick persons being rejected at our hospitals. Many have died outside or on the way, having been denied attention in more than one hospital.

“It is not acceptable that persons lose their lives to health conditions, which could possibly have been cured, or may not even have been COVID-19 related.”

Madagascar Herb Majorly Anti-malaria, Says FG

Ehanire also said findings from the analysis of Madagascar’s herb called ‘COVID Organics’ showed that the mixture contains largely anti-malaria constituents.

He added that although the plant component of the herb grows in Nigeria and is of a higher efficacy for treating malaria, relevant government agencies will continue the process of evaluation to determine its effectiveness in treating COVID-19.

He said: “Preliminary results of the analysis of so-called Madagascar herbs by the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) show that it is the same as the plant Artemisia anua, which is grown in the NIPRD farm. Further research on its efficacy will be conducted when the grants for research is approved.

“The so-called Madagascar herb is one component of the malaria treatment medicine. Some years ago, the government actually imported this plant and has a plantation of it in trying to develop its own production of the artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT). The plantation is still there but the process has not gone that much further.

“We are looking into seeing what has held it up but the plant is here; it was intended for producing anti-malarial, and the type we have here has a very high yield of artemisinin – which is actually the active ingredient.”

NCDC Issues Health Advisory for Elderly

At the briefing, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the emerging concern in the efforts to contain COVID-19 pandemic in the country was how to protect the elderly and those with underlying diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma from being infected by the virus during this community transmission phase.

He stated that NCDC had published additional guidelines and health advisory against COVID-19 for the elderly and vulnerable people.

According to him, the advisory is contained in a four-page booklet obtainable at the hospitals and treatment centres.

On whether the NCDC will be able to meet its earlier set target of 50,000 sample testing in three months’ time, Ihekweazu said the target was not set for NCDC as a body but for Nigerians to help the country to scale up testing for COVID-19.

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The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, says the Federal Government is waiting for a grant to conduct further research on the Madagascar herbal formula for COVID-19.

According to him, preliminary results of the analysis of the Madagascar herb by the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development show that it is the same as the plant Artemisia anua grown in the NIPRID farm.

“Further research on its efficacy will be conducted when the grants for research is approved,” he said in Abuja yesterday during the briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.

Ehanire also disclosed that all government hospitals in FCT would become COVID-19 sample collection sites so that walk-in cases could have samples taken for testing.

He said this was to scale up the number of daily tests conducted in the country daily.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation and PTF Chairman, Boss Mustapha, clarified that the school reopening was for only primary six pupils as well as JSS three and SSS three students requiring revision before examinations.

He said virtual meetings should be encouraged to minimise congregation of civil servants as much as possible.

He said government offices should restrict visits by those not on very essential businesses to their premises.

He also said a new rise in COVID-19 cases was to be expected in view of the eased restrictions.

He, however, said the government would proceed with caution and would not hesitate to change course when the need arose.

“What this means is that Nigerians should never mistake the relaxation by government as a signal that the COVID-19 battle had been concluded,”

He emphasised that the best way to manage the COVID-19 pandemic is the comprehensive approach of observing physical distancing, keeping personal hygiene, wearing face mask, avoiding large gathering and “staying at home if you should.”

He urged that as domestic flights resumed on July 8, the new airport protocols be strictly adhered to.

Orders arrest of FMC Lokoja attackers

He appealed to all health workers and authorities of health care facilities to help reduce avoidable fatalities occurring from non-coronavirus-related conditions by attending to all patients while still observing the COVID-19 protocols.

He disclosed that security agencies had been ordered to fish out “the criminal elements” behind the Wednesday’s attack on the Federal Medical Centre Lokoja and bring them to justice.

Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said Nigerian youths between the ages of 20 and 40 were majorly responsible for the spread of coronavirus; while majority of those bearing the brunt were 50 years and above.

He reminded Nigerians that despite the eased restrictions, the government had not relaxed the guidelines on mass gatherings.

A farm worker picks strawberries from raised beds in modern poly tunnel farm.

A new analysis argues for the need to address food insecurity by recognizing the interconnected nature of global food systems.

In a commentary for the journal One Earth, Franziska Gaupp, Ph.D., a research scholar at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), argues that global food insecurity is increasingly susceptible to shocks because of the interdependence of the parts that make up the global food system.

For Gaupp, shocks to the supply of food — for example, extreme weather events that may damage or destroy crops — are challenging.

However, in our increasingly interconnected, globalized world, these shocks can come from events not directly related to growing food and can have far reaching consequences.

Gaupp — who is working jointly with IIASA’s Ecosystems Services and Management and Risk and Resilience programs — points to the COVID-19 pandemic as one such shock that is not directly related to food but has had a significant effect on global food systems.

Global shocks

Despite the world producing more than enough food for everyone on the planet, around one-quarter of the world’s population does not have access to food that is nutritious and sufficient.

Gaupp argues that this extreme inequality will get worse as there is increased demand for food from growing, affluent populations, placing more stresses on the environment that secure food systems depend upon.

Climate change has also placed severe stress on global food systems, destroying the quality of land, increasing desertification, disrupting conventional rainfall patterns, and causing sea levels to rise.

These stresses will get worse if temperatures significantly increase, as scientists predict.

However, while these are pressing concerns for the world’s ability to produce food, the interconnected nature of global food systems means that many other factors can affect food security.

According to Gaupp, the global supply chain of food is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer companies.

Even so, interconnected sectors that depend on many others to be able to function properly increasingly make up this global chain.

This means that while the system functions within conditions understood as “normal,” efficiency may be increased for those populations who have access to these markets and the wealth to engage with them.

However, if conditions are anything other than “normal,” the interconnectedness of the global food system means that it is increasingly susceptible to shocks from events not directly related to food.

These shocks can have a bigger negative effect, as global supply chains cease to function if parts of the chain break.


In Gaupp’s words, “[t]rade networks are more interconnected and interdependent than ever, and research has shown that they can be intrinsically more fragile than if each network worked independently because they create pathways along which damaging events can spread globally and rapidly.”

Just as the global supply chain can be affected by events not directly related to food, so can major negative effects on the global supply chain affect other social, cultural, economic, or political issues.

Gaupp’s commentary highlights the relationship between the failure of wheat crops due to 2010 droughts in Russia, the Ukraine, and China, and the 2011 civil unrest in Egypt.

Other shocks that occur at the same time can also amplify individual shocks around the world.

Again, the global interconnection, and climate change, make these shocks more likely to coincide because of their increased frequency, and their ability to generate other simultaneous shocks themselves.

The COVID-19 crisis

For Gaupp, the COVID-19 crisis has been exemplary at demonstrating the vulnerability the world faces due to interconnected food systems and the concentration in ownership of the markets that make up these systems.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis first, but its effects have also shaken global food systems.

According to Gaupp, “[a]lthough harvests have been successful, and food reserves are available, global food supply chain interruptions led to food shortages in some places because of lockdown measures.

“Products cannot be moved from farms to markets. Food is rotting in the fields as transport disruptions have made it impossible to move food from the farm to the consumer. At the same time, many people have lost their incomes, and food has become unaffordable to them.” – Franziska Gaupp, Ph.D.

How to respond?

To respond to these challenges, Gaupp argues, it requires first understanding the way the global food system is deeply interconnected with various other systems operating across the world.

Improving the models that can predict the complex effects of significant shocks to interconnected systems may help populations avoid the worst consequences.

Having the tools to predict and understand the effects of major shocks better could also help in the development of taxes that accurately reflect the damage done by the actions of major businesses and corporations, Gaupp writes.

This intervention might, hopefully, ameliorate some of this damage and dissuade these businesses from causing the harm in the first place.

However, while recognizing the complexity of the global food system is necessary for solving global food insecurity, it is unlikely to be sufficient on its own.

Understanding the political economy of global food systems — that is, the structural effects that economic systems have on both the efficient distribution of food and the justice of this distribution, as well as the chances of governments and international institutions holding large companies to account — is also likely to be a part of the puzzle.

Overall, the paper calls for collaboration: “We need global collaboration to work toward better management of trade barriers to ensure that food value chains function even in moments of crises.”

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Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has cautioned against the reopening of schools, insisting that it’s not ripe for schools to reopen.

The union said the federal government’s directive for schools to reopen across the federation amidst the COVID-19 pandemic could endanger the lives of poor Nigerian pupils.

ASUU’s National President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, made this position known yesterday while featuring on Channels Television’s programme, Sunrise Daily.

Ogunyemi said: “What we are trying to do now is a crash model – an experimental approach. We want to experiment with the lives of poor Nigerians – children of the poor. Many of us in my bracket – maybe middle class – our children don’t fall into that category. And that is probably why we cannot appreciate why we need to do the basic minimum.

“Are we saying that we should open schools without decontaminating the schools? For a government that could go openly to decontaminate streets, to decontaminate markets? Are lives in the schools not as valuable as those working on the streets? We need to do the basic minimum. It is not about income for teachers, income for workers here – it’s about what we need to do to avert disaster.”

But also speaking on the programme, the National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, maintained that the reopening of schools for graduating pupils (Primary 6, JSS 3, SSS 3) is imperative because the examinations are set by external bodies.

Aliyu explained: “We have a large number of students that are in the exit classes and they need to move on. These are not exams that are specific only to Nigeria but Africa – the WAEC exams. We need to find a way to safely get these students to write their exams and move on. Otherwise, we will have a serious spillover when it comes to education.

“COVID-19 will go away eventually. Yes, it will go away, it may take a year, it may take longer but what we don’t want is to have a significant impact on our educational programmes.”

To find and treat more tuberculosis cases in Nigeria, the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) and the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP) have launched a mobile application for screening and notifying TB cases by private healthcare providers.

Announcing this recently, the IHVN Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Patrick Dakum, said that the application, Mobile Application for Tuberculosis Screening (MATS), launched in June was a game changer in the provision of real-time and online information on progress made by private-for-profit facilities, faith-based organisation facilities, patent medicine vendors, community pharmacists, private laboratories and other TB referral entities.

He said: “The application is already being used in Edo, Delta, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Oyo, Ondo, Osun, Ogun, Kogi, Niger, Sokoto, Plateau, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Anambra, Enugu, Rivers, Imo, and Abia states.

“Since MATS was launched on June 1st, 2020, there has been an increase in the TB screening efficiency and linkage between facility and community-based units. More than 19,000 people have been screened resulting in the identification of 1,286 TB presumptive individuals and 52 confirmed TB cases enrolled on treatment,” he said.

The IHVN CEO explained that individuals who visit private health providers in the community are screened with standard TB symptom checklist on the app.

Thereafter, appropriate referral of clients or samples for diagnosis and treatment is initiated.

“Private providers can download the app from the Google Play Store or via a web link, register as a user and start using the app once activated by a TB treatment facility. All screening data from the various referral entities can be viewed on the treatment facility’s dashboard and a summary on the mobile app,” he said.

NTBLCP Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, Dr. Obioma Chijioke- Akaniro added that the app simply shows the efforts directed towards finding tuberculosis cases. “The simplicity of MATS makes it attractive to the private sector especially as they may not oblige to filling cumbersome tools,” she said.

Dr. Chijioke-Akaniro said that MATS will be continually upgraded based on feedback from its users.

The application was developed and redesigned by PharmAccess to suit the peculiarities of private health providers in line with the national algorithm for TB screening and diagnosis.

Upgrade and deployment of the application is implemented by IHVN under the Public Private Mix (PPM) grant funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

“The private sector in Nigeria contributed 14% to the total national TB case notification in 2019. It is expected that the MATS app will contribute immensely to the actualization of the goal of the grant which aims to improve public private sector contribution to the national TB case notification from 11 per cent in 2017 to 35 per cent in 2020” Dr Dakum said.

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Nigeria has recorded 790 new cases of COVID-19, bringing to 26,484 the number of confirmed cases in the country.

The latest number of infections is Nigeria’s highest daily spike of COVID-19 cases.

Announcing this Wednesday, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said Delta recorded 166 new cases; Lagos, 120; Enugu, 66; Federal Capital Territory (FCT), 65; Edo, 60; Ogun, 43; Kano, 41; Kaduna, 39; Ondo, 33; Rivers, 32; Bayelsa, 29; Katsina, 21; Imo, 20; Kwara, 18; Oyo, 11; Abia, 10; Benue, six; Gombe, four; while Yobe, Kebbi and Bauchi recorded two each.

It said: “Nigeria has recorded 26,484 cases of COVID-19. 10,152 persons have been discharged, while 603 persons have died.”

Macro shot of mid 20's brown eyed woman having her eyes examined at optometrists office. Her head is placed into tomography machine and light beam is shining through her retina and lens.

An eye scanner that Boston University Medical School developed can detect molecular aging in people. The new technique provides an accurate measure of age-related damage and could, one day, play a role in routine clinical practice.

Everyone ages, but not in the same way. Two people of exactly the same age may be in very different states of health.

In other words, chronological age and biological age are different. But while chronological age is very easy to measure, biological age is more difficult to assess.

Although scientists know that there is wide variation in the processes of aging — for example, in the deterioration of cells and tissues — among individuals, there is currently no universally accepted measure of biological aging.

In a new study that appears in The Journals of Gerontology: SerieA, researchers led by Boston University Medical School describe a tool that could fill this gap.

The researchers have developed a new eye scanner that detects molecular signatures of aging in the lens and is entirely noninvasive. Doctors could use it clinically to assess an individual’s aging process and then suggest personalized interventions.

The eyes have it

The dearth of tools to assess aging accurately puts a limit on scientific understanding, senior author of the paper Dr. Lee E. Goldstein explains.

“The absence of clinical tools and metrics to quantitatively evaluate how each person is aging at the molecular level represents a major impediment to understanding aging and maximizing health throughout life.”

To address this, Dr. Goldstein and a team of investigators from institutions including Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School looked to the eye.

The eyes are a good measure of aging because they contain cells that are generated in the fetus and not replaced. This means that the cells that a person is born with remain with them for life.

These cells are called primary fiber cells, and they occur in the lens, which focuses light onto the back of the eye. Incidentally, these cells also contain the highest concentration of protein in the human body.

Importantly, these proteins do not regenerate, so they accumulate damage throughout life. This damage could provide a molecular readout of the aging process. As Dr. Goldstein puts it, the lens proteins provide a “permanent record” of a person’s life history.

Decoding the molecular record

To decode this molecular information, the researchers used a technique called quasi-elastic light scattering, or QLS, which uses lasers to measure the size of particles.

The technique works because the molecular damage that occurs to lens proteins over time causes the proteins to change shape and stick together. This aggregation of altered proteins changes the scattering of light in a way that QLS can detect.

The team first tested the technique in isolated lens proteins that they had incubated in a test tube for different lengths of time — up to almost a year — to mimic the way these proteins would age in people aged 12, 30, and 53. They found that, over time, the molecular signature of the proteins changed as they expected and that this was detectable using the QLS scanner.

They then tested the scanner, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have deemed a “nonsignificant risk device,” in a trial of 34 people aged between 5 and 61. Impressively, the scanner was able to detect the same age-related changes that the researchers saw in the lab.

Precision medicine

Although further testing is necessary, the authors say that these results support the use of the scanner to track molecular aging in people.

They state that the tool could work in a similar fashion to other clinical biomarkers, such as brain imaging for Alzheimer’s disease and blood tests for diabetes.

“[E]ye scanning technology that probes lens protein affords a rapid, noninvasive, objective technique for direct measurement of molecular aging that can be easily, quickly, and safely implemented at the point of care. Such a metric affords potential for precision medical care across the lifespan.” – Dr. Lee E. Goldstein

Doctors could eventually use the tool in routine clinical practice to provide an individual measure of molecular aging and perhaps even help identify interventions to extend the healthy period of a person’s lifespan.

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The European Union has donated N18.7m palliatives to shelters operated by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and the Network of CSOs against Child Trafficking, Abuse and Labour to cushion the effect of COVID-19 on the vulnerable and victims of human trafficking.

The items included personal protective equipment, foodstuffs, disinfectants, hygiene products, beverages and others.

The EU Ambassador to Nigeria, Ketil Karisen, said: “We must not forget the victim of human trafficking, the victim of rape and gender based violence at this time and other people living under difficult circumstances at this time.”

NAPTIP Director-General, Julie Okah-Donli, said the items would reach the right people.