A Milestone to Curing Alzheimer’s

Among the diseases most people are afraid of, Alzheimer’s is on the top of the list. This debilitating disease affects many people at old age and can pose difficult situations for the people concerned and their family. Last month scientist at the University of Rostock/ Germany made a spectacular discovery. A scientific group of 20 scientist led by Prof. Dr. Jens Pahnke discovered a new gene which plays a central role in the aetiology of this feared disease.

It is known that Alzheimer’s is concomitant with the development of plaques in the brain, i.e. areas of dying brain cells in the grey matter of the organ. These in turn have been suggested to be linked to amyloid fibres which are protein remnants that get deposited during life. It is therefore believed that Alzheimer’s is caused by the inability of the body to remove these naturally occurring amyloid fibres from the brain.

The researchers found that mice lacking the newly discovered gene have a 12-fold increased of the protein responsible for causing the disease. Thus it is now believed that this gene could be responsible for the regulation of this deleterious process. One of the great advantages of working with mice is that one can observe in a simple animal model in a few months what takes 60-80 years in human brains.

In addition to this new and magnificent discovery, the research group is also already actively involved in trying to find ways to control this gene, i.e. potentially finding therapeutic strategies for Alzheimer’s. Because this discovery is so novel, these therapeutic strategies are completely new and open a new avenue in order to treat Alzheimer’s disease. The group from Rostock University already actively co-operates with a pharmaceutical company in the United States to develop such strategies. In particular a drug already on the market to treat pain and nausea has been very promising in their studies and collaborations. This drug might be able to be developed into a substance actively reducing the risk to develop Alzheimer’s.

In addition, some natural products (i.e. products isolated from plants, corals, fungi etc.) also seem promising in controlling this novel gene. This interdisciplinary research is very important and necessary to advance the medical sciences in our modern society.

The gene concerned might also be exploited as a marker to diagnose the disease early and thus either help the patients to cope with the onset of Alzheimer’s or suggest other preventive measures to postpone the onset by up to 5 years. Until now we do not have such a marker, and it could be the first step for a diagnosis and also a potential treatment.

Such a success is overdue. The exact cause of the disease is still unknown in 99% of the patients and by 2050 between 100 and 360 million people are expected to have dementia. Alone in Britain more than half the population will be above 50 years old and up to 6 million could then have Alzheimer’s disease.

Recently, the new highly successful blockbuster movie “Planet of the Apes – The Beginning” exploited the idea of an Alzheimer’s vaccine for its own purposes. The film was not just successful because of the wonderful CGI and effects, but also because the debate about this disease is a very hot topic.

We at City Connect are looking very carefully what advances will be made on this subject and will report as soon as we hear more news.

If you are interested in getting involved in Charity events regarding Alzheimer’s, contact Alzheimer Research UK, with which City Connect has close ties. It is also represented on our charity section.

Image reproduced from http://www.rostock-heute.de and http://www.fullissue.com

What to Do when the Winter Bug Hits You?

Winter is getting close, it is getting colder and wetter and students from all over the world flock to the universities in Britain. All of this is great news for germs and bad news for us. Many of us get ill at this time of the year and we want to get rid of the bugs as quickly as possible. But what are the best things to do?

Not every bug is the same

Of course, there are many different diseases out there. From a simple cold to stomach bugs or the flu virus, being ill does not mean the same thing in every case. Also, many of us react very differently to different diseases, depending on age, the state of the immune system, the types of stress we have been exposed to or simply, what bacterial or viral strain infect us.

Bacteria and viruses are different things

Bugs can broadly divided into two completely different organisms. Bacteria are small single celled organisms that often infect the gastrointestinal tracts, the stomach and the respiratory system. They can also infect the blood, but that is rare. Viruses on the other hand, are not cellular in nature, but contain DNA or RNA enveloped in a protein capsule, that they inject into human cells to produce more viruses and kill the host cell. Viruses can infect many parts of the body and migrate quickly. Whereas we have chemicals (antibiotics) to treat bacterial infections, viral infections are more difficult to treat and not many antiviral drugs exist or are not very efficient. Influenza (flu) is a virus and the symptoms are usually dire and infected people often can literally not move out of bed for days or weeks. A cold or sore throat is usually caused by bacteria with phlegm building up in the respiratory tract. Stomach bugs are often bacteria but can also be viruses. That is often difficult to know without proper analyses by your doctor.

I have the flu – I have to stay at home!

The flu is something very serious and luckily not many of us get it. If you have a simple cold, you will be able to work and besides a stuffy nose and a headache, your health won’t be impaired too much. If your limbs hurt, you have problems with your digestion, headache and symptoms in your nose and throat, you will have something more serious. This could indeed be the flu and you should definitely see your doctor. However, I have seen many people exaggerate with the word flu and I really hope fewer people have it that claim to have it.

Stomach bugs – ouch!

Stomach bugs can hit us at any time of the year, but usually hit more people during winter due to compromised immune systems. Most people have strong reactions for 1-2 days and then the symptoms subside. Symptoms often include vomiting, diarrhoea and headaches. If symptoms persist too long, you might have a more serious infection and should definitely not wait until you see your doctor. Eating can be difficult when you have a stomach bug. Often people do not eat for a while and then introduce food again slowly after a day or two. That is a good strategy, but you should keep drinking plenty of water and electrolytes, to allow proper hydration and not deplete your body of salts. Of course, teas such as camomile or mint tea, can help soothe and calm down your stomach. Furthermore, really try and listen to your body. Your body will tell you what foods to reintroduce. often blunt food, such as bread, is a good way to start and your body will also often grave for yoghurt once the worst is over. Yoghurt is a great remedy to help restore healthy bacteria in your stomach.

Vitamins, vitamins, vitamins

Vitamins, in particular vitamin C, are very important for your immune system. You can ingest it in forms of fruit or food supplements. Also, zinc is crucial for your body to fight off diseases and can also be ingested effectively and efficiently using supplements.

Pain killers – what to take?

If you are in pain, you should really see your doctor. However, against light pains, remedies such as paracetamol are  a great way to get through the day. Be careful not to overdose! Against headaches, ibuprofen can also be used, but it is quite dangerous for the stomach and should only be used after you have eaten. Some people also like to use aspirin but it is not very efficient for pains caused by infectious diseases. In any case, professional advice by your doctor should be sought if you experience pain.

Stay at home and do not spread the germs

It is always a difficult decision what to do when we are ill. Do not try to be a hero and stay at home and rest. This will help you get over the illness quicker and not put your colleagues and other people on public transports at risk. However, a conscientious decision is always needed.

Please let us know if you found this advise useful or if you have other suggestions concerning this topic.

Image reproduced from http://healthvene.com and http://www.apotheke-mayr.com

Film Review: Contagion

Recently, a film entered the main stream cinemas, which attracted large crowds of people as it covers a topic that really hits the spirit of the time. Contagion is a film about a world-wide outbreak of a disease. Being a research scientist myself, I am always very sceptical about such movies as they are often very far from the truth.

I was uncertain if the film would be a reincarnation of other films of the catastrophe genre such as Outbreak, or if it would really captivate me with some scientific accuracy.

With a star cast including Matt Daemon, Kate Winslet and Jude Law, the film is bound to attract many people to the cinema and I was scared that it would not live up to its expectations as Hollywood often sacrifices reality and superimposes its own take on things to enhance entertainment value.

But the film was bound to be somewhat special as they had scientific advisors to create a scenario as accurate and truthful as possible and present it to the public. Epidemiologists as well as cell biologists advices the producers of the film and I was thrilled to see if Hollywood could get it right this time.

The film started off well and very factual. An outbreak of a mysterious disease in Hong Kong and other places in the world quickly made it into the media. The disease had a mortality rate of over 30% and seemed to spread quickly with cohorts all over the world. The science was actually explained really well  in the film and I got ecstatic when they showed the labs in the film, which actually contained equipment that I am using in my research. That aspect was highly realistic and accurate.

Furthermore, the film explained really accurately how the disease can be transmitted and the way the disease spread and how people died in the move was also very realistic and truthful. Moreover, many of the protagonists died in the film, making it less of a happy Hollywood film.

The story had several parallel plots. There was a story of a father loosing his wife in the United States, there was the story of an officer of the World Health Organisation trying to pinpoint the outbreak of the disease, the story of government officials in the USA combating the scientist trying to find a cure and an apparently ruthless free-lance journalist representing the public media. These different aspects gave the film a good flavour of what could happen if such an outbreak occurred.

Scientists finally found a vaccination for the virus that already killed millions of people all over the world and again, the way this is explained in the film is highly realistic.

The film is a mixture of a narrative and a news report, which in my opinion gives it a very captivating flavour. It is less sensational than other movies and more factual, which I absolutely loved. People who like sensational films might get disappointed, as the truth is a little colder and has less feelings attached than the fantasy worlds some other films portrait.

The topic in this film is scary. We need not forget that large parts of the human population were killed by the plague during the medieval ages and that the last huge pandemic, the Spanish flu, was as recent as 1918. The Spanish Influenza killed an estimate of 50 million people and over 500 million people (a quarter of the world population at the time) was infected.

The plague in contrast was caused by a bacterium (Yersinia pestis), luckily it can now be treated by common antibiotics.

Against a virus we have few weapons and if we do not have vaccinations, they can very easily be deadly. Antibiotics can only be used against bacterial infections.

The debates about misusing and overusing antibiotics these days are serious and our weapons against billions of years of evolution are limited.

Maybe the film will raise some awareness in people…

Image reproduced from http://images.moviepostershop.com