mental health

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.

A new study has shown that three-Quarters of the 200 million Nigerians are at risk of Non-Communicable Diseases, NCDs, amidst coronavirus pandemic.

The study also found that men are more at risk than women.

The year-long study which commenced in 2019, by WellNewMe in collaboration with Novartis was aimed at determining Nigerians risks for developing chronic diseases as part of the disease activities for World Hypertension Day.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), people with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, or cancer are at higher risk of complications of COVID-19.

The result of the study released weekend revealed that a total of 1,900 people were enrolled for the pilot, and 1,269 of them completed the assessment as part of the pilot.

The participants were drawn from different parts of Nigeria including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, which majority of them coming from Lagos 30 percent, Oyo 8 percent, Abuja FCT 8 percent, Ogun 7 percent, and Rivers 5 percent.

Three-quarters of those who completed the assessment were found to have an increased risk of developing a chronic disease.

It was also found that risk increases as the age increases, while all of those aged 50 and above have an increased risk.

The results also showed that 43 percent of women seem more at risk than 36 percent of men for developing hypertension, while the risk increases as the age of the pilot enrolee increased.

With diabetes, it was found that almost three-quarters of those assessed had an increased risk of having diabetes with 10 percent having a high risk while men were more at risk than women. The diabetes risk also increases as the age of the pilot enrolee increases.

Some of the other interesting anecdotes from the pilot revealed that men were four times more likely to be at risk for developing the cardiac disease, and in Rivers, 85 percent of the adults assessed had an increased risk for developing chronic disease.

Commenting on the study, Co-founder of WellNewMe and author of the pilot report, Dr. Obi Igbokwe, said:” report of the pilot, while not extensive does lends importance to considerations by the Nigerian health authorities when designing the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, that they need factor in NCDs as well.”

Igbokwe further explained that “As patients with chronic diseases are at greater risk of the coronavirus, that in itself presents an extra burden on our already struggling health services across the country. It is also of great importance, that even when the pandemic has passed, we will still have to deal with the burden of tackling these chronic diseases which by all accounts are here to stay.”

Meanwhile, WellNewMe has designed an algorithm-based health risk assessment platform that encompasses psychological, physical, and social domains that are known to influence NCD risk and prognosis in cases of established disease.

Being a global leader in the cardiovascular healthcare space, Novartis is mobilizing the setup of these cardiovascular risk assessment stations at various pharmacies across the country with the aim of reaching a thousand patients.

The platform incorporates the ability for healthcare providers (HCPs) to standardize their approach to cardiovascular disease management by using an algorithmic process and harnessing relevant data to ensure a set of potential outputs that result in better outcomes for the patient.

WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge had also said that the prevention and control of NCDs have a crucial role in the COVID-19 response and if not adapted to encompass prevention and management of NCD risks, countries will fail many people at a time when their vulnerability is heightened.

With many people falling ill from COVID-19 and other ailments, experts have advised the public to ensure good nutrition for maximum protection. They said unhealthy diets contribute to pre-existing conditions that put many more at risk.

A Nutritional Health Consultant, and founder of AskDrNne, Dr Nnedimma Iwueke, said nutrition plays a crucial role in overall health and wellbeing.

She said good nutrition ensures the proper functioning of organs and systems of the body while aiding the regrowth and replenishment of body tissues.

She said carbohydrates required for the energy needs of the body, protein needed for a formidable immune system, fats and oils for various functions and vitamins and minerals needed for different processes all contribute to the role of nutrition.

“In the face of the current coronavirus pandemic ravaging the whole world, the importance of proper nutrition is further emphasised. A stronger immune system is essential in resisting the viral infection; therefore, a proper nutrition is a basic need in this battle against COVID-19.”

Dr Iwueke said in fortifying the immune system, good nutrition helps to provide the building blocks of body cells that play important roles in immunity.

“For instance, antibodies are proteins that help in the recognition and elimination of viruses and infectious microorganisms from the body while macrophages attack and destroy viral particles. Similarly, certain food components such as Vitamin D boost the immune system against viruses and even some types of cancer.”

The nutrition expert also said for a healthy diet during this coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advises on the need for a combination of strategies which includes adequate amount of water, sufficient amount of fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables, moderate amount of fats and oils; preferably unsaturated fats, limiting sugar and salt as well as eating at home to avoid contact with crowds.

“Alcohol and drug abuse should be avoided during this period as they also weaken the immune system. Those that consume alcohol should desist and consume more of vegetables and fruits to help them build strong immune system against any form of disease.

She said all forms of canned and carbonated drinks and fruit juices contain large amounts of sugar and should be avoided because such drinks significantly increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and others.

Dr Iwueke also advised that fruits be taken in their fresh form and that vegetables should not be overcooked to ensure that nutritional contents were intact to supply vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” The notion that nutritious and safe diets support good health has been around at least since antiquity, as this quote, often mis-attributed to Hippocrates

Let not thy food be confused with thy medicine: The Hippocratic misquota…

The link between food and health has been documented since Antiquity.

What to eat and not to eat regularly grab news headlines, as consumers try to balance scientific advice and marketing trends with their own culinary traditions, pocketbooks, and local food options.

“Now, with so many people falling ill from the COVID-19, unhealthy diets are contributing to pre-existing conditions that put them more at risk. And in much of the world, illness also means loss of income,” she said.

The Founder and Product Developer, Moepelorse Bio Resources, Mojisola Karigidi, said as the coronavirus death toll continues to rise all over the world, it is definitely not a good time to visit the hospital for mild, non-COVID-19 conditions, adding that, “To the best of everyone’s ability, whether in Africa or elsewhere, it is crucial to maintain good health to avoid the risk of exposure to the disease.”

She said the nature of COVID-19 highlights the need to strengthen the immune system to limit the severity of the disease in the event that one is at risk of infection even as we maintain distance from other people, regularly wash hands and maintain general hygiene.

“The role of the immune system, which involves several interconnected parts like the white blood cells, antibodies, spleen, bone marrow, lymph nodes, and lymphocytes, among others – is to protect the body against diseases.

Studies have revealed that regular consumption of fruits and vegetables can keep one healthy and prevent sicknesses from becoming severe. Orange, grape, carrot, apple, banana, leafy greens are rich in vitamins, and are important for proper immune function. Malnutrition can impair the body’s ability to fight infections and illnesses, thereby, increasing the risk of death from diseases, including COVID-19.

Mrs Chuka Helen said the vegetable garden she cultivates within her compound has been helping her and her family over the years. She said it enables her feed her family with fresh and healthy meals.

She said she learnt from her parents that vegetables and fruits were good for the body and always included them in their meals.

“We also have lots of vegetables in our compound so, I get used to planting them wherever I live for my family consumption but for fruits, we buy from the market.”

Experts said good nutrition means eating varieties of food that give you the nutrients you need to maintain your health, feel good, and have energy. These nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals. It also means considering balance, variety and moderation in everything that you eat.

Women doing warm up before fitness training in Berlin.

A new study in mice has revealed that muscle mass may help maintain a strong immune system.

New research in mice has revealed that strong skeletal muscles play an important role in maintaining an effective immune system. This is particularly the case during severe chronic illnesses, which can otherwise wear the immune system down.

In addition, skeletal muscles may combat the process of cachexia. This refers to the wasting away of muscle and fat that often accompanies severe chronic illness, alongside a weakening of the immune system.

The research, which scientists at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg have now published in the journal Science Advances, lays the groundwork for future studies to determine if the same is true in humans.


According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), cachexia typically accompanies severe chronic illnesses such as cancer. It is characterized by the wasting away of the body’s muscle and fat.

Cachexia may be responsible for up to a third of cancer-related deaths. It can also affect people with other serious conditions, such as AIDS, chronic kidney diseases, and heart failure.

According to Dr. Alfred Goldberg — of the Harvard University School of Medicine in Cambridge, MA — cachexia may be due to the body overcompensating when it attempts to take energy from muscle and fat to help fight a severe illness. However, exactly why and how this happens are still largely unknown.

Despite cachexia’s link to mortality, researchers have not yet developed any effective therapies for it. However, according to the NCI, there is a growing awareness of the need to research cachexia in the hope that scientists can find effective therapies.

Alongside cachexia, people with severe illnesses can also experience a weakened immune system. This is because their T cells, which are central to the immune system’s response to illness, become exhausted.

Scientists have also linked these T cells to cachexia. According to senior study author Dr. Guoliang Cui: “It is known that T cells are involved in the loss of skeletal muscle mass. But whether and how, in turn, skeletal muscles influence the function of the T cells is still unclear.”

Precursor T cells

In this context, the researchers developed a study to explore the relationship between cachexia, skeletal muscle mass, and T cells.

First, they transmitted the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus to mice. They then studied the gene expression in the skeletal muscle of the mice. They noticed that in response to the chronic infection, the mice’s muscle cells released more of the messenger substance interleukin-15.

Interleukin-15 attracts the precursors of T cells — in this case, to the skeletal muscle. This places these precursor T cells away from the infection that is wearing down the T cells combating the infection.

“If the T cells, which actively fight the infection, lose their full functionality through continuous stimulation, the precursor cells can migrate from the muscles and develop into functional T cells.”

– Lead study author Dr. Jingxia Wu

“This enables the immune system to fight the virus continuously over a long period,” she adds.

Significantly, the study revealed a relationship between muscle mass loss and T cell exhaustion. This has implications for the strength of the immune system.

As Dr. Cui notes: “In our study, mice with more muscle mass were better able to cope with chronic viral infection than those whose muscles were weaker. But whether the results can be transferred to humans, future experiments will have to show.”

The study focused on skeletal muscle, but cachexia also causes fat tissue to waste away. As a consequence, the study authors suggest that future research could explore whether or not a similar relationship exists between fat tissue and the protection of T cells.

The researchers also note that it is not yet clear how these T cell precursors form in skeletal muscle mass.

The hope is that as further studies answer these questions, scientists can develop effective therapies that specifically target cachexia in humans.

Lagosians have been urged to embrace cycling as a sport and means of exercise to generally overcome the effects of ill health through interaction with their environment.

Speaking during a webinar organised by the Cycology Riding Club & African Cycling Foundation in Collaboration with the United Nations Information Centre, UNIC, Lagos, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, described cycling as an enjoyable sporting activity that is aimed at contributing to the State’s One Health Agenda.

The webinar themed: “Bicycles as Drivers of Post COVID-19 Green Economy”, was a conversation among key stakeholders in Lagos State geared towards getting more people to start riding for health, environment, transport, and socioeconomic benefits.

Abayomi said: “I encourage cycling whenever I can because it is a noble sport. Cycling enables you have fun and exercise at the same time. Cycling in the context of Lagos State One Health Initiative addresses the holistic view of health, that is, human beings living in the biosphere which means you can only be as healthy as the environment you in life in and as the food you eat, and the activity you engage in. Enjoyable sports activity can contribute to One Health Agenda looking at the statistics around the world.”

Highlighting some of the benefits of cycling he said it includes improvement of cardiovascular and respiratory health among others.

“Up to 28 percent of trips in Europe are made by cycling but in Nigeria, the percentage is less than 5 percent. Cycling is an aerobic exercise it helps to build the muscle, expand the cardiovascular and respiratory agility it enables you to keep fit.

“The Lagos State Government has embarked on smart city agenda which is to create an environment for cyclists and pedestrians to enjoy free movement across the city, this involves urban planning, creating cycle lanes, areas for normal vehicular movements, areas for pedestrians and cyclists.

“This is an important aspect of urban planning we need to take into consideration in the future. It is our responsibility as the Lagos State Ministry of Environment, road traffic protection agency, Ministry of Transportation, and Lagos State Ministry of Health to ensure that we do indeed turn into a smart healthy city, a green city, a city where we are mindful about how much carbon we put into the environment, how much space we create for recreation, for sport, the quality of the water system, toxicity in the environment, the greening of the city, like other megacities around the world.”


A 30-year-old woman in Kolkata has just discovered she is a man after doctors say she is suffering from a rare health condition.

For thirty years, she has lived a normal life with no complications, until recently, when doctors in Kolkata diagnosed her with a very rare condition that can be found in one out of 22,000 people. She was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer.

The 30-year-old woman, who is a resident of Bengal’s Birbhum and has been married for the last nine years, had visited the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Cancer Hospital in Kolkata with severe pain in lower the abdomen a couple of months ago. Dr. Anupam Dutta and Dr. Soumen Das conducted her medical tests and found her “true identity” during treatment. In the words of Dutta:

From her appearance, she is a woman, starting from her voice, developed breasts, normal external genitalia. However, the uterus and ovaries have been absent since birth. She has also never experienced menstruation,” Dr Dutta told PTI. We conducted clinical examinations, after she complained of abdominal pain, and found out she has testicles inside her body. A biopsy was conducted, following which she was diagnosed with testicular cancer, also called seminoma. As her testicles remained undeveloped inside the body, there was no secretion of testosterone. Her female hormones, on the other hand, gave the appearance of a woman.

When the doctor was asked about how the woman reacted to the news, he said:

The person has grown up to be a woman. She is married to a man for almost a decade. Currently, we are counselling the patient and her husband, advising them to continue living life as they have been.

The couple has also been trying to conceive to no avail.

It was also discovered that her 28-year-old sister, who underwent necessary tests following the revelation, was also diagnosed with “Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome”, a condition in which a person is genetically male but has all physical traits of a woman.

Also, The patient’s two maternal aunts have also been diagnosed with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome in the past. This has led the Oncologist to believe that the condition is most likely in the gene.

Currently, she is undergoing chemotherapy and her health condition is stable according to a report by NDTV.

Worried about the unique threats and challenges posed by the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on human reproduction, fertility experts have instituted several studies on the impact of the virus.

The fertility experts under the aegis of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), and the International Federation of Fertility Societies (IFFS) are collaborating to advocate for patients and to gather data and resources to enhance the understanding of COVID-19 as it pertains to reproduction, pregnancy, and the impact on the feotus and neonate.

They affirmed in a joint statement made available to The Guardian by the President of IFFS, who is also the joint pioneer of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in Nigeria and Medical Director of Medical Art Centre (MART) Maryland, Lagos, Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, the importance for continued reproductive care during the COVID-19 pandemic. They said lessons learned from these experiences would be useful as humanity deals with future pandemics.

According to the joint statement, in addition to helping patients, reproductive medicine practices are uniquely positioned to gather data and help to further COVID-19 research.

They noted: “Reproductive medicine professionals and practices are essential front-line resources for screening, monitoring, and assessing the prevalence and impact of the disease on patients and their progeny through Point-of-Care data collection.

“ESHRE, ASRM and IFFS are committed to continuous monitoring of the effects of COVID-19 on gametes and reproductive tissues, collecting data on pregnant patients infected during the pandemic, and assessing the outcomes of mothers and neonates.”

Examples of these research and registry efforts by the fertility experts are:

In the United States of America (U.S.A.), the ASPIRE (Assessing the Safety of Pregnancy In the Coronavirus Pandemic) Study is a nationwide prospective cohort study of pregnant women and their offspring during the COVID-19 pandemic. All patients under the care of a reproductive medicine specialist who conceived spontaneously or with assisted reproductive technology (ART) between March 1st and December 31st are encouraged to participate.

ESHRE is gathering global case-by-case reporting on the outcome of medically assisted reproduction (MAR) conceived pregnancies in women with a confirmed infection (

The affiliate society of ASRM, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies (SART) is including mandatory COVID-19-related questions in their Clinic Outcome Reporting System (CORS) registry of ART, which accounts for over 95 per cent of all ART cycles in the U.S.A.

ESHRE is gathering data and mapping MAR/ART activity during the pandemic, country by country whether and /or when they stopped offering treatment and when they have resumed care.

IFFS is conducting COVID-19-related periodic surveys to assess global trends in access to MAR/ART services.

The fertility experts concluded: “Reproductive care is essential and reproductive medicine professionals are in a unique position to promote health and wellbeing. In addition, ASRM, ESHRE and IFFS are collaborating to advocate for patients and to gather data and resources to enhance the understanding of COVID-19 as it pertains to reproduction, pregnancy, and the impact on the fetus and neonate. The lessons learned from these experiences will be useful as humanity deals with future pandemics.”

They said reproduction is an essential human right that transcends race, gender, sexual orientation, and country of origin: a human right to which the COVID-19 pandemic has posed unique threats and challenges. Reproductive health care professionals are in a special position to provide advocacy for this right and promote the health and well being of their patients.

The fertility experts said COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique global challenge on a scale not previously seen and the infectivity and mortality rates are higher than previous pandemics and the disease is present in almost every country. They also said the propagation and containment has varied widely by location and, at present, the timeline to complete resolution is unknown.

In the earliest stages of the pandemic, ASRM and ESHRE, independently recommended discontinuation of reproductive care except for the most urgent cases. More recently, with successful mitigation strategies in some areas and emergence of additional data, the societies have sanctioned gradual and judicious resumption of delivery of full reproductive care.

Senior man getting an eye exam at a clinic

Scientists have recently found that mice with diabetes that received treatment with a vitamin A analog had significantly improved eyesight.

New research has shown that a single dose of the chromophore 9-cis-retinal, an analog of vitamin A, can significantly improve reduced visual function in mice with diabetes.

The research, which appears in The American Journal of Pathology, may help scientists develop effective treatments for visual loss associated with early diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy

According to the National Eye Institute, diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that can result in the loss of vision for people with diabetes.

In its mid to late stages, the condition occurs due to damage to the blood vessels in a person’s retina.

People with diabetes are at risk of having too much sugar in their blood. The sugar can cause blood vessels to block, resulting in bleeding. The eye can develop new blood vessels, but these typically do not function well and can also easily bleed.

Treatment can take the form of injections, laser treatment, or eye surgery, depending on a person’s circumstances.

Although diabetic retinopathy in its later stages is characterized by damage to the retina’s blood vessels, recent research has suggested that in its early stages, a person can still experience loss of vision without any apparent blood vessel damage.

Vitamin A is crucial for the normal functioning of vision. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, it helps in the development of a protein that enables the retina to absorb light, which is linked to the chromophore 11-cis-retinal the eye needs to continually produce for optimum vision.

The authors of the new study note that there is evidence to suggest that diabetes can lead to deficiencies in vitamin A, and that 11-cis-retinal is lower in rats with diabetes.

Because of this, the researchers hypothesized that there may be a link between diabetes, vitamin A deficiency, and the early loss of vision characteristic of some cases of diabetic retinopathy.

In the words of Dr. Gennadiy Moiseyev, from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, “In an earlier study we found that diabetes causes vitamin A deficiency in the retina, which results in deterioration of vision, even before any vascular changes can be seen.”

“That finding led to the assumption that early changes in vision in diabetes are probably caused by vitamin A deficiency in the retina.”

9-cis-retinal injection

To determine whether or not this was the case, the researchers looked at the effectiveness of the chromophore 9-cis-retinal in the treatment of vision loss in mice with diabetes.

They used 9-cis-retinal rather than 11-cis-retinal produced by the body, as the latter is highly unstable and not commercially available. However, the two are closely related.

For the study, the researchers used three groups of mice: two that scientists created to have diabetes, and one that matched the age and sex of the mice with diabetes but did not have it themselves (the control group).

One group of mice with diabetes received an injection of a single dose of 9-cis-retinal, while the other received a placebo. The team then analyzed the state of vision for all the mice by measuring electroretinogram responses, retinal cell death, and retinal oxidative stress.

Significant improvement

The study authors found that the mice that received treatment with 9-cis-retinal had significantly improved vision across all measures.

According to Dr. Moiseyev, “This work supports our novel hypothesis that diabetes-induced disturbance of the vitamin A metabolism in the eye is responsible for reduced visual function in early stages of diabetic retinopathy.”

“Currently, there is no available therapy to prevent the development of the retinal complication in [people with] diabetes.”

“This study suggests that the delivery of visual chromophore to the diabetic eye may represent a potential therapeutic strategy for the early stages of diabetic retinopathy to prevent vision loss in [people] with diabetes.”

– Dr. Gennadiy Moiseyev

As the world grapples with the harsh realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, some special educators have called on governments, teachers and caregivers to help reduce the educational inequalities of children with special needs

A special educator and former Head, Department of Special Education at the University of Ibadan, Professor Olufemi Fakolade, made the appeal while speaking at the recent webinar on Supporting Children and Persons with Special Needs During COVID-19 Pandemic, hosted by a Lagos-based frontline non-governmenal organisation on special education, the Inclusive Education and IEP Centre (IEIEPC).

“In a health crisis as COVID-19, persons with disabilities are often provided with less help. But it is the collective responsibility of governments, teachers and caregivers to help reduce educational inequality for students with disabilities, especially during a time of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Fakolade, while noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the education of special needs children, decried the lack of ICT skills and knowledge by special educators, a development which currently hampers their effectiveness.

“They are negatively affected by the classroom shutdown because of the unavailability of resources such as equipment, internet access, specially designed materials and trained manpower support. Again, they cannot relate and socialize with their friends, which is equally important for their learning and development.”

Speaking also, Dr. John Oyundoyin of the Department of Special Education, University of Ibadan, said government at all levels must play active roles in ensuring the development, training and general wellbeing of people living with disabilities especially in the COVID-19 era.

The renowned special educator tasked the federal and state governments to urgently look into all factors that hamper access to quality education of special needs individuals, including policy legislation, financing, human resources and data.

Oyundoyin also called on the government to recognise caregivers as essential service providers.

“There should be recruitment of caregivers and disability organisations workers into the COVID-19 taskforce because they have a better understanding of these categories of people. Government at all levels- local, state and federal should involve the caregivers in homes, institutions and organisations as part of the systemic, long-term plan to improving the quality of life of these categories of people,” he stated.

Other notable special education professionals, who spoke at the webinar were: Mr. Oyeyinka Oluwawumi, Director, IEIEPC and Prof. Tolu Eniolorunda, President, International Association of Special Education (IASE), Nigerian chapter

The IEIEPC is a non-governmental organisation devoted to improving lives of special needs children and persons through advocacy and enlightenment campaign for inclusion, providing services, training teachers, parents and other stakeholders on issues of inclusive education, special education and individualised educational planning in unique ways that improve the quality of life and maximise the learning potential of persons with special needs.

A bacterial strain adapted to life in our noses may help prevent the painful, chronic inflammation of sinusitis. This discovery could lead to the development of a probiotic nasal spray to treat the condition.

“Friendly bacteria” from the genus Lactobacillus are known to have beneficial effects in the gut, genital tract, and skin, where they protect against infection and modify immune responses.

Lactobacilli are rod-shaped bacteria that ferment sugar, producing lactic acid as a byproduct, which can inhibit the growth of other microorganisms. This type of bacteria usually prefers to grow in conditions with either no oxygen or tiny amounts.

Little is known, however, about the potential benefits of Lactobacilli that live in our noses.

Now, research in the journal Cell Reports suggests that a strain of Lactobacillus adapted to living in the nose could protect against chronic rhinosinusitis.

Also known as sinusitis, this painful condition results from inflammation of the sinuses and nasal cavity, and 1 in 8 adults in the United States experience symptoms.

Senior study author Prof. Sarah Lebeer, of the University of Antwerp, in Belgium, previously studied gut and vaginal probiotics.

Probiotics are “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”

Prof. Lebeer became interested in bacterial communities in the nose when her mother underwent surgery for recurrent headaches and chronic rhinosinusitis. “My mother had tried many different treatments, but none worked. I was thinking it’s a pity that I could not advise her some good bacteria or probiotics for the nose,” says Prof. Lebeer. “No one had ever really studied it.”

Healthy strains

The professor of applied microbiology and biotechnology and her team began by comparing nasal bacteria from 100 healthy people with samples from 225 people with chronic rhinosinusitis.

Using sensitive genetic sequencing methods, the researchers discovered that the healthy people had up to 10 times more Lactobacilli in some parts of their noses.

The team then identified strains of bacteria only found in the healthy subjects.

To rule out any that could have originated in fermented foods or commercial probiotics, the scientists looked for bacteria with genetic and structural adaptations to life in the nose.

One substrain, called L. casei AMBR2, seemed particularly well-adapted. The casei strain of Lactobacillus has recently been given its own group name, Lacticaseibacillus, due to its distinctive characteristics, such as being able to live in oxygen-rich environments.

Most Lactobacilli prefer to grow in places like the gut, where oxygen is scarce and there is less risk of oxidative damage. But L. casei AMBR2 have a unique genetic profile that enables these bacteria to survive the high levels of oxygen in the nose.

The researchers also noticed that this type of bacteria is covered in flexible, hair-like tubes called fimbriae — which they believe may allow the bacteria to stick to the inner surface, or epithelium, of the nose.

In the lab, the team grew L. casei AMBR2 with epithelial cells from the upper respiratory tract, together with certain pathogens that commonly infect this part of the body. They found that the bacteria not only inhibited the pathogens’ growth but also reduced the cells’ inflammatory response.

Probiotic nasal spray

Finally, the team developed a probiotic nasal spray containing the bacteria to see whether it could colonize the nose. This was a critical hurdle because the nose is adapted to filter out airborne foreign substances, which it usually clears in less than 15 minutes.

Crucially, the researchers first checked that the strain was not resistant to commonly used antibiotics.

Twenty healthy volunteers used the spray twice a day for 2 weeks, resulting in successful colonization of their noses by the bacteria. They experienced no adverse effects, and the bacteria were still there 2 weeks later.

Our study showed that L. casei AMBR2, which was isolated from the [upper respiratory tract] and shown to have superior properties in terms of oxidative stress tolerance and fimbriae structures, was able to adapt to and colonize the human nasopharynx and was well-tolerated. This highlights the importance of Lactobacillus taxa in the [tract] and the potential of L. casei AMBR2 as a probiotic for the [tract].

— Sarah Lebeer et al.

The next step will be to explore the strain’s anti-inflammatory properties and identify any other antimicrobial molecules that it produces in addition to lactic acid.

This proof-of-concept study showed that it is possible and safe to introduce L. casei AMBR2 into the microbiome of healthy volunteers.

The team’s ultimate goal is to develop and clinically test a probiotic treatment for sinusitis. “Sinusitis patients don’t have a lot of treatment options,” Prof. Lebeer explains.

Moreover, existing treatments can cause side effects, and those based on antibiotics can eventually lead to nasal bacteria developing resistance.

“We think that certain patients would benefit from remodeling their microbiome and introducing beneficial bacteria in their nose to reduce certain symptoms,” says Prof. Lebeer. “But we still have a long way to go with clinical and further mechanistic studies.”