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.

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.”


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

Surveys from around the world show that men everywhere find it difficult to open up about mental health, though they are significantly more at risk of attempting suicide than women. In this Special Feature, we look at why this may be and how to address this issue.

In high-income countries, three times as many men as women die by suicide, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report from 2018.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also cite 2018 data, noting that in that year alone, “Men died by suicide 3.56 [times] more often than women” in the United States.

And Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit, reference data suggesting that more than 6 million men in the U.S. experience symptoms of depression each year, and more than 3 million experience an anxiety disorder.

Despite these staggering figures, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) report that men are less likely than women to have received formal mental health support in the past year.

Why is this the case? Recent research offers some explanations and proposes ways of remedying the situation.

Stigma around men’s mental health

In their 2018 report, the WHO emphasize that cultural stigma surrounding mental health is one of the chief obstacles to people admitting that they are struggling and seeking help.

And this stigmatization is particularly pronounced in men.

“Described in various media as a ‘silent epidemic’ and a ‘sleeper issue that has crept into the minds of millions,’ with ‘chilling statistics,’ mental illness among men is a public health concern that begs attention.”

Thus begins a study from The University of British Columbia (UBC), in Vancouver, Canada, published in 2016 in Canadian Family Physician.

Its authors explain that prescriptive, ages-old ideas about gender are likely both part of the cause behind the development of mental health issues in men and the reason why men are put off from seeking professional help.

Another study from Canada — published in Community Mental Health Journal in 2016 — found that, in a national survey of English-speaking Canadians, among 541 respondents with no direct experience of suicidal ideation or depression, more than one-third admitted to holding stigmatizing beliefs about mental health issues in men.

And among this group, male respondents were more likely than females to hold views such as: “I would not vote for a male politician if I knew he had been depressed,” “Men with depression are dangerous,” and “Men with depression could snap out of it if they wanted.”

Among 360 respondents with direct experience of depression or suicidal ideation, more male than female respondents said that they would feel embarrassed about seeking formal treatment for depression.

One contributor who spoke to Medical News Today also pointed out that it is not easy for men to be open with their peers about mental health struggles.

“Talking about mental health isn’t something that tends to come up readily in particular social environments, such as when playing football,” he told us.

“Often, the relationships there are tied into the game and little else away from the pitch, which is a real shame,” he added.

Further stumbling blocks for men of color

Men of color and men of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds face additional challenges when it comes to looking after their mental health.

According to Prof. Norman Bruce Anderson, former CEO of the American Psychological Association — in the U.S., Black and Latino men are six times more likely to be murdered than their white peers.

Prof. Anderson also notes that American Indian men are the demographic most likely to attempt suicide and that Black men are most likely to experience incarceration.

According to Dr. Octavio Martinez Jr., executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, the effect of these disparities on the mental health of people of color and of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds is “a double whammy.”

“Add the stigmatization of help-seeking behavior by men of all races to the unique stressors faced by men and boys of color, and it’s no wonder men and boys of color are at higher risk for isolation and mental health problems. These challenges can manifest as substance use or acting out through violence and aggression — which can lead to more stigma and a continuation of the cycle.”

On top of this, the authors of a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved point out that “Medical experimentation on African Americans during slavery laid a foundation of mistrust toward healthcare providers.”

All of these issues taken together lay a further barrier to people of color seeking and accessing care for mental health when they need it.

Men may have different symptoms

Specialists also point out that men and women can experience different symptoms of the same mental health issues. This, they say, may be partly a “side effect” of divergent views of mental health.

For instance, NIMH specialists explain that “Some men with depression hide their emotions and may seem to be angry, irritable, or aggressive, while many women seem sad or express sadness.”

They also note that some symptoms of depression are physiological, such as a racing heart, digestive issues, or headaches, and men “are more likely to see their doctor about physical symptoms than emotional symptoms,” according to the NIMH.

The organization also note that self-medicating with alcohol and other substances is a common symptom of depression among men and that this can exacerbate mental health problems and increase the risk of developing other health conditions.

So what can mental health professionals and policymakers do to ensure that men feel confident and comfortable seeking support and that they receive the appropriate care?

Better mental health education

The first step in addressing these issues, researchers argue, is enhancing education about mental health.

In the Canadian Family Physician study, the researchers emphasize the importance of “disrupting how men traditionally think about depression and suicide by breaking down the stigma that surrounds these topics” through nationwide campaigns.

They also explain that it is important to help men change the idea of receiving support from “a mark of weakness” to a necessary step in maintaining one aspect of health that is as important as any other.

Anecdotal evidence supports these suggestions. One MNT respondent, for instance, told us that:

“[One] area I feel needs improvement is education. […] I had spells of bad mental health in my childhood. It wasn’t until my teenage years, when I became aware of my mother’s and grandfather’s history of mental health problems, that I realised what was going on with me. As a child, feeling anxious and/or depressed for no apparent reason was terrifying and only made my symptoms worse.”

“Also, not knowing what was going on made me embarrassed, and I usually wouldn’t tell anyone what was going on with me,” this contributor went on to say.

“I don’t know for sure, but if there had been education about mental health in my childhood, I reckon my symptoms wouldn’t have scared me as much, and I would have been more open about talking about it with my parents, teachers, healthcare professionals, etc.”

Another step in providing better support for men, the UBC researchers say, is “changing the landscape” of care for mental health by offering community-based programs that help counter risk factors for mental health problems, such as a sense of isolation among older people.

But no intervention is complete until it accounts for the groups that face systematic marginalization, such as men of color and those of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Specialists have found that Black men in the U.S. are more likely to seek support in informal settings, such as places of worship. Based on this, they have suggested “community-based participatory research” as an important first step.

This approach will require researchers to gain trust and seek collaboration from Black Americans in finding out what needs to change to make formal support more accessible.

Dr. Martinez, referring to a report from 2014, also emphasizes the importance of community-based approaches.

He promotes interventions aimed to encourage men and boys of color and of diverse backgrounds to connect on a personal level. “Stigma fades when men and boys see resilience and mental health self-care modeled by their fathers, brothers, teachers, faith leaders, and friends,” he says.

“Seek ways to demonstrate the connection between individual mental health and popular traditions of mentorship, cultural pride, self-emancipation and community action among men.”

An estimated 1.7 billion people — more than 20 percent of the world’s population — risk becoming severely infected with COVID-19 due to underlying health problems such as obesity and heart disease, analysis showed Tuesday.

The novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 420,000 people globally during the first wave of the pandemic, adversely effects patients suffering from co-morbidities.

A team of experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analysed global data sets of illnesses including diabetes, lung disease and HIV used these to estimate how many people are at heightened risk of serious COVID-19 infection.

They found that one in five people have at least one underlying health problem putting them in greater danger.

While not all of those would go on to develop severe symptoms if infected, the researchers said around 4 percent of the global population — around 350 million) would likely get sick enough to require hospital treatment.

“As countries move out of lockdown, governments are looking for ways to protect the most vulnerable from a virus that is still circulating,” said Andrew Clark, who contributed to the study.

“This might involve advising people with underlying conditions to adopt social distancing measures appropriate to their level of risk.”

Clark said the findings could help governments make decisions on who receives a COVID-19 vaccine first when one becomes available.

Consistent with other studies about COVID risk, the authors found that older people are in greater danger of getting seriously unwell from the virus.

Less than 5 percent of people aged under 20 have an underlying risk factor, compared with two thirds of over 70s.

Countries with younger populations have fewer people with at least one underlying condition, but risks vary globally, according to the analysis.

Small island states such as Fiji and Mauritius have among the highest rates of diabetes — a known COVID-19 risk factor — on Earth, for example.

And countries with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS, such as eSwatini and Lesotho, also need to be vigilant, said authors of the research published in The Lancet.

In Europe, more than 30 percent of people have one or more health conditions, it showed.

Writing in a linked comment, Nina Schwalbe from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said the study showed “it is time to evolve from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that centres on those most at risk.”

The supply of safe blood is at risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, has said.

He said this was because regular blood donation drives had had to be postponed or deferred; while regulations for self-isolation, lockdown and fear of infection had hindered the usual blood donors from accessing blood donation centres.

He stated this in Abuja yesterday during a social media engagement with Nigerians to mark this year’s World Blood Donor Day.

He said transport and trade restrictions have also led to disruptions of global supply chains, putting countries at risk of shortages of critical supplies and equipment used for blood donation, processing, testing and transfusion to patients in need of blood.

He said the blood need of Nigeria with its over 200 million population was about two million units per year, but that much less than that was currently collected, leaving unmet needs that led to avoidable deaths, morbidities and ill-health.

He said his ministry was currently considering proposals for a major investment from public and private sectors to upgrade the capacity of the National Blood Transfusion Service to enable it to achieve its potential to produce blood components and plasma derived medicinal products at a commercial scale that meets international best standards.

Kingsley Odiabara, National Laboratory Manager, National Blood Transfusion Service, who represented National Coordinator Dr Oluwatoyin Smith, said voluntary blood donation among Nigerians was still very low.

Faulty regulation of copper levels in tissues plays a major role in a wide range of illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and motor neuron disease. An investigation of molecules that carry copper in the bloodstream has provided new leads for diagnosis and treatment.

The metal copper is crucial for a healthy metabolism, and yet, scientists know surprisingly little about how the body transports it and maintains optimum levels in tissues.

Bonded to protein molecules, copper is a vital component of numerous enzymes that catalyze key metabolic reactions.

“Biochemists have known about the importance of copper in the human body for a long time, but even they do not know, for example, how this element reaches from our food to the right destinations, i.e., various copper enzymes,” says Prof. Peep Palumaa, head of the Research Group of Metalloproteomics at Tallinn University of Technology in Estonia.

Copper is present in trace amounts throughout the body. The highest concentrations occur in areas of the body that have extremely high activity, such as the liver, brain, heart, kidneys, and skeletal muscle.

Multiple roles

Among its many roles, the metal is vital for producing energy during cell respiration, making red blood cells, mounting immune responses, and maintaining nerve cells.

In excess, however, it can trigger the production of destructive free radicals and contribute to inflammation.

Research has linked the faulty regulation of copper levels to several neurodegenerative illnesses, including Menkes syndrome, motor neuron disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

A study that Medical News Today reported on in 2013, for example, found that when copper accumulates in the brain, it promotes the development of the beta-amyloid plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study found that copper not only inhibits the removal of soluble beta-amyloid molecules from the brain but also encourages them to clump together to form insoluble plaques.

Biochemists have been trying to get a better grasp of how the body maintains optimum levels of copper in its tissues and what happens when this homeostatic process goes awry.

The knowledge could help them develop new ways to diagnose, monitor, and treat diseases that involve the breakdown of copper homeostasis.

As part of this endeavor, Prof. Palumaa and his colleagues wanted to find out how copper is transported around the body in the bloodstream.

Unusually for science, they discovered that the process was less complicated than they had expected. Previously, biochemists believed that three proteins play a role in transporting copper, but, according to the new study, only one is a major player.

Their results appear in Scientific Reports.

Affinity for copper

To measure each protein’s affinity for copper — meaning how tightly it binds to copper ions — the researchers developed a new and innovative approach called liquid chromatography and ICP-MS (inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry). These biochemical techniques separate and identify molecules that are present in trace amounts in a biological fluid, such as blood or cerebrospinal fluid.

The scientists found that in the blood, about 75% of copper ions are bound to an enzyme called ceruloplasmin, while about 25% are bound to an enzyme called albumin.

However, ceruloplasmin binds to copper so tightly that it is unlikely to play a role in transporting the metal to where it is needed. The enzyme’s main job appears to be helping another protein transport iron in the blood.

Albumin, on the other hand, binds to copper much less strongly and is likely to be the principal copper transporter.

The researchers found that a tiny proportion of copper in the blood (about 0.2%) also binds to an amino acid called histidine. They speculate that histidine acts as a catalyst, helping release copper from albumin when it reaches a destination such as the liver.

Biochemists had assumed that a further protein, called alpha-2 macroglobulin, also transports copper. However, Prof. Palumaa and his colleagues report that in their experiments, it did not bind to copper in blood plasma in significant quantities.

Regulating copper levels

The research is a product of collaboration between scientists at Tallinn University of Technology and the Swedish pharmaceutical company Wilson Therapeutics AB.

Wilson Therapeutics AB’s lead product is Decuprate, which is a promising therapeutic agent to treat Wilson’s disease, a rare genetic disorder that causes copper to accumulate in toxic quantities in the liver, brain, and other tissues.

By binding to copper, Decuprate promotes its excretion from the body.

In their paper, Prof. Palumaa and his colleagues say that their findings could make it possible to detect the disturbances in copper metabolism that characterize diseases such as Wilson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Their research could also provide new ways to monitor the effectiveness of drugs such as Decuprate in regulating copper levels.

“[Our] research findings can be used for various applications. First, they help to understand the normal copper metabolism in the body, which has a direct diagnostic value. Second, these results also help to identify disturbances in the body’s copper metabolism. The latter occur in several genetic diseases, such as Wilson’s and Menkes disease, as well as the most common neurodegenerative disease — Alzheimer’s disease.”

– Prof. Peep Palumaa

He continues, “In addition to specific diagnoses, the effect of pharmaceuticals normalizing copper metabolism that are used for the treatment of the abovementioned diseases can also be monitored through copper equilibrium in blood.”

Photo Taken In Oradea, Romania

A new study has identified how ketamine can combat difficult-to-treat depression.

New research has revealed the specific parts of the brain that ketamine affects when doctors use it to treat people with difficult-to-treat depression.

The study, which appears in the journal Translational Psychiatry, may open the door to new therapies in the treatment of depression.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, about 7.6% of people over the age of 12 have depression during any 2-week period. The CDC describe depression as a sad mood that extends for a long period and affects a person’s ability to live a normal life.

When severe, depression can have a serious negative effect on a person’s life, sometimes leading to suicidal thoughts.

Experts do not fully understand why some people experience depression, although the National Institute of Mental Health suggest that genetic, environmental, biological, and psychological factors may play a role. It is treatable with medication, psychological therapy, or a combination of the two.

Previous research has made it clear that the drug ketamine can be an effective antidepressant, and some scientists have proposed it as a treatment in cases of depression that do not respond to conventional treatments.

However, precisely how and why ketamine functions as an antidepressant is less clear. As a consequence, the authors of the present study wanted to identify precisely what effects ketamine has on the brain of a person who is not responding to conventional treatments. They hope that this research may lead to better treatment options for these individuals.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.

Looking at ketamine’s effect in the brain

To do this, the researchers gave participants doses of ketamine that were low enough not to have an anesthetic effect and then took images of their brains using a positron emission tomography (PET) camera.

According to the study’s first author, Dr. Mikael Tiger, a researcher at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet in Solna, Sweden, “In this, the largest PET study of its kind in the world, we wanted to look at not only the magnitude of the effect but also if ketamine acts via serotonin 1B receptors.”

“We and another research team were previously able to show a low density of serotonin 1B receptors in the brains of people with depression.”

By using a radioactive marker that binds to a person’s serotonin receptors, the PET images could highlight what effects ketamine was having on these receptors, which play a crucial role in depression by modulating the amount of serotonin that a person receives. Experts believe that low levels of serotonin correlate to more severe experiences of depression.

The authors of the study recruited people through internet advertising. After receiving 832 volunteers, the authors reduced this number to 30 to make sure that the participants were as relevant to the study as possible.

Other than having major depressive disorder (MDD), the participants were healthy. They had not responded to previous treatment for MDD.

The researchers split the participants into two groups, treating 20 people with ketamine and the other 10 with a placebo.

The study was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, meaning that neither the doctors nor the participants initially knew to which group each participant belonged.

Prior to the treatment, the researchers took a baseline scan of the participants’ brains. They took a second scan in the days following the treatment.

For the second phase of the study, 29 of the participants agreed to take ketamine twice a week for 2 weeks.

Serotonin reduced, dopamine increased

Using a rating scale for depression, the researchers found that 70% of the participants in the second phase of the study responded to the ketamine.

Furthermore, after analyzing the PET images, the authors found that the ketamine was affecting the participants’ brains in a previously unidentified manner, reducing the output of serotonin but increasing the output of dopamine, which is also important for mood regulation.

According to the last author of the study, Dr. Johan Lundberg, research group leader at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, “We show for the first time that ketamine treatment increases the number of serotonin 1B receptors.”

“Ketamine has the advantage of being very rapid-acting, but at the same time, it is a narcotic-classed drug that can lead to addiction. So it’ll be interesting to examine in future studies if this receptor can be a target for new, effective drugs that don’t have the adverse effects of ketamine.”

– Dr. Johan Lundberg