Weather forecasts can be a potential tool to help combat meningitis

Scientists are using weather-based surveillance to predict impending meningitis outbreaks in Sub-Saharan Africa, making weather forecasts a possible tool to help health services combat the disease.

Meningitis affects more than five million people globally each year, with one in ten dying and two in ten left with an impairment such as brain injury or amputation, according to Meningitis Research Foundation.

The early-warning system being piloted across Africa uses weather data to give up to two weeks' advanced warning of conditions that are likely to trigger a meningitis outbreak, project leaders say.

The technology is being tested by the African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD) in Niger, and the African SWIFT initiative led by the University of Leeds and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, both based in the UK.

Meningitis is affecting more than 30,000 people over Africa each year with several thousand deaths. Our key findings are to operationalise the production of an early-warning system on meningitis outbreaks over the African meningitis belt."

Cheikh Dione, research scientist at ACMAD and member of the African SWIFT project

The project, run jointly with the World Health Organization's regional office for Africa, is helping health staff understand how climate change is linked to meningitis outbreaks, according to Dione.

It also enables climate scientists to evaluate their forecasts and understand the response of health services to stop meningitis outbreaks.

"This collaboration between climate scientists and health services is allowing [us] to save lives," he explains, adding that the lead time allows health services to better plan in locations with limited resources and enables country-level health services to be aware of potential outbreaks.

Scientists involved in the project say that during the dry season, which occurs from January to June, episodic dust outbreaks develop over the Sahel and Sahara and are linked to meningitis epidemics.

Forecasts are being generated in the African meningitis belt, which covers 26 African countries including Senegal in West Africa and Ethiopia in East Africa, Dione explains.

Scientists are using forecast data from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts made available by the World Meteorological Organization.

"Based on weekly mean forecast of temperature, wind, relative humidity and surface dust concentrations, we are able to map areas where meningitis cases or outbreaks are expected to occur in the coming two weeks," he says.

The forecast is generated every Monday and sent to the WHO's regional office for Africa, which then shares the bulletin with the weekly reported meningitis cases to the health services in each country in the meningitis belt.

"Every two weeks, we have a meeting to discuss the forecasts, present the meningitis reported cases and make some recommendations based on the observed meningitis cases and the forecasts," Dione says.

Justin Bienvenu Eyong, an epidemiologist with Epicentre Africa, a research arm of Doctors Without Borders, tells SciDev.Net that monitoring climatic factors in regions at high risk can effectively predict meningitis outbreaks.

Eyong, says: "Being able to predict an epidemic outbreak implies that we have the possibility of better anticipating the response [that includes] vaccination, strengthening of diagnostic and management capacities."

In the context of global warming, considering the relationship between climate and meningitis can help anticipate any future additional burden to already fragile health systems on the continent, Eyong explains.



Posted in: Disease/Infection News | Healthcare News

Tags: Brain, Climate Change, Diagnostic, Health Systems, Meningitis, Research

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New genetically encoded sensor helps detect drugs of abuse

A genetically encoded sensor to detect hallucinogenic compounds has been developed by researchers at the University of California, Davis. Named psychLight, the sensor could be used in discovering new treatments for mental illness, in neuroscience research and to detect drugs of abuse. The work is published April 28 in the journal Cell.

Compounds related to psychedelic drugs such as LSD and dimethyltryptamine (DMT) show great promise for treating disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorder. These drugs are called psychoplastogens because of their ability to rapidly alter brain connections. But drugs that can cause hallucinations require very careful use and monitoring of patients.

Currently, the most effective way to test an experimental drug to see if it causes hallucinations is the "head twitch" assay in rodents.

Scientific studies on psychedelic drugs have been conducted since the 1940s, but we still don't have an effective cellular assay for them."

David Olson, Study Co-Author and Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, College of Letters and Science, UC Davis

The work grew out of collaboration between graduate students working with Lin Tian, associate professor at the UC Davis School of Medicine, and Olson's laboratory. "This collaboration was really driven by graduate students," Tian said.

Tian's lab develops fluorescent indicators for neural chemicals in the brain such as serotonin and dopamine. These neuromodulators allow the brain to react quickly to changing conditions, Tian said. Like neuromodulators, both psychedelic drugs and those used to treat mental illness either mimic or block the action of these neuromodulators, thus can have profound impacts on brain function.

Measuring chemicals in the brain

The psychLight biosensor is based on the serotonin 2A receptor (HT2AR). Within the brain, serotonin released from neurons and picked up by serotonin receptors on other neurons acts to regulate mood. Both psychedelic drugs and drugs used to treat psychiatric disorders act through the serotonin 2A receptor.

Jason (Chunyang) Dong, a graduate student in Tian's lab in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, worked with graduate students Calvin Ly and Lee Dunlap in Olson's lab to engineer a modified version of the HT2A receptor with a fluorescent component.

When psychLight binds to serotonin or a hallucinogenic ligand it changes its conformation, causing the fluorescence to increase. Non-hallucinogenic ligands can also bind to psychLight but lead to a different fluorescence profile.

Researchers can use psychLight to see how naturally occurring neuromodulators like serotonin, or hallucinogenic drugs, act on different parts of the brain. They could also use it to screen candidate drugs for those which activate the HT2A receptor and could cause hallucinations. When psychLight is expressed in cells and those cell cultures are exposed to a hallucinogenic drug, they light up.

The sensor can be used to look for pharmaceutical potential without the side effect of hallucinations, Tian said.

High-throughput screening

The researchers set up a high-throughput system to use cells expressing psychLight to screen compounds for hallucinogenic activity and for binding of the HT2A receptor. Using this, they showed that a previously untested compound, AAZ-A-154, activates the receptor but is not hallucinogenic. Subsequent tests in animal models confirmed that AAZ-A-154 shows promise as an antidepressant.

Seven Biosciences, a company founded by Tian and former graduate student Grace Mizuno, is working with UC Davis InnovationAccess to license the psychLight technology and develop it for commercial use. Delix Therapeutics, founded by Olson, is developing AAZ-A-154 and hopes to apply the psychLight assay to search for new pharmaceutical drugs.


University of California Davis Health

Journal reference:

Dong, C., et al. (2021) Psychedelic-inspired drug discovery using an engineered biosensor. Cell.

Posted in: Drug Discovery & Pharmaceuticals | Biochemistry | Fluorescence

Tags: Antidepressant, Assay, Biochemistry, Biosensor, Brain, Cell, Compound, Depression, Dopamine, Drug Discovery, Drugs, Fluorescence, High-throughput screening, Laboratory, Ligand, Medicine, Molecular Biology, Neurons, Neuroscience, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Receptor, Research, Serotonin, Stress, students, Substance Use Disorder, Therapeutics

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Chronic sinus inflammation appears to alter brain activity

Chronic sinus inflammation appears to alter brain activity

The millions of people who have chronic sinusitis deal not only with stuffy noses and headaches, they also commonly struggle to focus, and experience depression and other symptoms that implicate the brain’s involvement in their illness.

New research links sinus inflammation with alterations in brain activity, specifically with the neural networks that modulate cognition, introspection and response to external stimuli.

The paper was published today in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

“This is the first study that links chronic sinus inflammation with a neurobiological change,” said lead author Dr. Aria Jafari, a surgeon and assistant professor of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“We know from previous studies that patients who have sinusitis often decide to seek medical care not because they have a runny nose and sinus pressure, but because the disease is affecting how they interact with the world: They can’t be productive, thinking is difficult, sleep is lousy. It broadly impacts their quality of life. Now we have a prospective mechanism for what we observe clinically.”

Chronic rhinosinusitis affects about 11% of U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition can necessitate treatment over a span of years, typically involving antibiotics. Repeated cycles of inflammation and repair thicken sinus tissues, much like calloused skin. Surgery may resolve the issue, but symptoms also can recur.

The researchers identified a study cohort from the Human Connectome Project, an open-access, brain-focused dataset of 1,206 healthy adults ages 22-35. Data included radiology image scans and cognitive/behavioral measurements.

The scans enabled them to identify 22 people with moderate or severe sinus inflammation as well as an age- and gender-matched control group of 22 with no sinus inflammation. Functional MRI (fMRI) scans, which detect cerebral blood flow and neuronal activity, showed these distinguishing features in the study subjects:

  • decreased functional connectivity in the frontoparietal network, a regional hub for executive function, maintaining attention and problem-solving;
  • increased functional connectivity to two nodes in the default-mode network, which influences self-reference and is active during wakeful rest and mind-wandering;
  • decreased functional connectivity in the salience network, which is involved in detecting and integrating external stimuli, communication and social behavior.

The magnitude of brain-activity differences seen in the study group paralleled the severity of sinus inflammation among the subjects, Jafari said.

Despite the brain-activity changes, however, no significant deficit was seen in the behavioral and cognitive testing of study-group participants, said Dr. Kristina Simonyan, a study co-author. She is an associate professor of otolaryngology-head & neck surgery at Harvard Medical School and director of laryngology research at Massachusetts Eye and Ear.

“The participants with moderate and severe sinus inflammation were young individuals who did not show clinically significant signs of cognitive impairment. However, their brain scans told us a different story: The subjective feelings of attention decline, difficulties to focus or sleep disturbances that a person with sinus inflammation experiences might be associated with subtle changes in how brain regions controlling these functions communicate with one another,” said Simonyan.

It is plausible, she added, that these changes may cause more clinically meaningful symptoms if chronic sinusitis is left untreated. “It is also possible that we might have detected the early markers of a cognitive decline where sinus inflammation acts as a predisposing trigger or predictive factor,” Simonyan said.

Jafari sees the study findings as a launch pad to explore new therapies for the disease.

“The next step would be to study people who have been clinically diagnosed with chronic sinusitis. It might involve scanning patients’ brains, then providing typical treatment for sinus disease with medication or surgery, and then scanning again afterward to see if their brain activity had changed. Or we could look for inflammatory molecules or markers in patients’ bloodstreams.”

In the bigger picture, he said, the study may help ear-nose-throat specialists be mindful of the less-evident distress that many patients experience with chronic sinusitis.

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'Brain glue' may aid in functional neural repair after severe TBI

At a cost of $38 billion a year, an estimated 5.3 million people are living with a permanent disability related to traumatic brain injury in the United States today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The physical, mental and financial toll of a TBI can be enormous, but new research from the University of Georgia provides promise.

In a new study, researchers at UGA's Regenerative Biosciences Center have demonstrated the long-term benefits of a hydrogel, which they call "brain glue," for the treatment of traumatic brain injury. The new study provides evidence that not only does the gel protect against loss of brain tissue after a severe injury, but it also might aid in functional neural repair.

Brain damage following significant TBI commonly results in extensive tissue loss and long-term disability. There currently are no clinical treatments to prevent the resulting cognitive impairments or tissue loss.

Reported on March 5 in Sciences Advances, the new finding is the first to provide visual and functional evidence of the repair of brain neural circuits involved in reach-to-grasp movement in brain glue-implanted animals following severe TBI.

Our work provides a holistic view of what's going on in the recovery of the damaged region while the animal is accomplishing a specific reach-and-grasp task."

Lohitash Karumbaiah, Lead Investigator, Associate Professor, University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Created by Karumbaiah in 2017, brain glue was designed to mimic the structure and function of the meshwork of sugars that support brain cells. The gel contains key structures that bind to basic fibroblast growth factor and brain-derived neurotrophic factor, two protective protein factors that can enhance the survival and regrowth of brain cells after severe TBI.

In a prior short-term study, Karumbaiah and his team showed that brain glue significantly protected brain tissue from severe TBI damage. In this new research, to harness the neuroprotective capacity of the original, they further engineered the delivery surface of protective factors to help accelerate the regeneration and functional activity of brain cells. After 10 weeks, the results were apparent.

"Animal subjects that were implanted with the brain glue actually showed repair of severely damaged tissue of the brain," said Karumbaiah. "The animals also elicited a quicker recovery time compared to subjects without these materials."

To measure the glue's effectiveness, the team used a tissue-clearing method to make brain tissue optically transparent, which allowed them to visually capture the immediate response of cells in the reach-to-grasp circuit using a 3D imaging technique.

"Because of the tissue-clearing method, we were able to obtain a deeper view of the complex circuitry and recovery supported by brain glue," said Karumbaiah. "Using these methods along with conventional electrophysiological recordings, we were able to validate that brain glue supported the regeneration of functional neurons in the lesion cavity."

Karumbaiah pointed out that the RTG circuit is evolutionarily similar in rats and humans. "The modulation of this circuit in the rat could help speed up clinical translation of brain glue for humans," he said.

With support from UGA's Innovation Gateway, Karumbaiah has filed for a patent on the brain glue. He is also partnering with Parastoo Azadi, technical director of analytical services at the UGA Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, and GlycoMIP, a $23 million, National Science Foundation-funded Materials Innovation Platform, created to advance the field of glycomaterials through research and education.

"Doing the behavioral studies, the animal work and the molecular work sometimes takes a village," said Karumbaiah. "This research involved a whole cross-section of RBC undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty members from both UGA and Duke University."

The collaborative research effort provided five UGA RBC fellow undergraduates with an experiential learning opportunity and to publish their first paper. This is the first publication for Rameen Forghani, an aspiring M.D.-Ph.D. undergraduate working in the Karumbaiah lab.

Forghani said the undergraduate team "learned how to collaborate on this project" and about the impact of moving lab research to patients who need treatment.

"My fellow undergraduates and I were empowered to take ownership of a piece of the project and see it through from the planning stages of data analysis to writing and being published," said Forghani. "As an aspiring, early-career physician-scientist, working on a project that has translational impact and directly addresses a very relevant clinical problem is very exciting to me."

Charles Latchoumane, research scientist in the Karumbaiah lab and first author on the study, divides his time between UGA and Lausanne, Switzerland, where he works at NeurRestore, a research center aimed at restoring lost neurological function for people suffering from Parkinson's disease or from neurological disorders following a head injury or stroke.

"This study has been four to five years in the making," said Latchoumane. "Our collaborative research is so painstakingly documented that, after you read about it, you have to believe there is new hope for severe victims of brain injury."


University of Georgia

Journal reference:

Latchoumane, C.V., et al. (2021) Engineered glycomaterial implants orchestrate large-scale functional repair of brain tissue chronically after severe traumatic brain injury. Science Advances.

Posted in: Medical Science News | Medical Research News | Medical Condition News

Tags: 3D Imaging, Brain, Carbohydrate, Disability, Education, Fibroblast, Growth Factor, Head Injury, Hydrogel, Imaging, Medicine, Neurons, Parkinson's Disease, pH, Protein, Research, Stroke, students, Translation, Traumatic Brain Injury

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Distinct Parkinson’s disease symptoms tied to different brain pathways

Distinct Parkinson's disease symptoms tied to different brain pathways

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is well known as a debilitating disease that gradually worsens over time. Although the disease’s progression has been largely tied to the loss of motor functions, non-motor symptoms, including the loss of cognitive abilities, often emerge early in the disease.

Much less understood is the role that specific neural circuits play in these distinct motor and non-motor functions.

A new study led by neurobiologists at the University of California San Diego and their colleagues found that specific, identifiable neural pathways are charged with particular functions during stages of the disease. Their findings, published recently in Nature Neuroscience, can help form the basis for improving therapeutic strategies for precise symptoms of Parkinson’s at various levels of disease progression.

The researchers used a mix of approaches to shed more light on the anatomical and functional importance of a center of brain circuitry known as the basal ganglia, located deep in the cranium. Specifically, the researchers, working in mice, investigated circuit pathways tied to specific neurons in the external globus pallidus, or GPe, and their role in different Parkinson’s disease-related behaviors. The GPe is known for its strong output and influence on several downstream brain regions.

The investigations included a multi-pronged approach using electrophysiology, viral tracing and behavioral experiments. The researchers identified two populations of GPe neurons and their distinctive pathways tied to different behavioral symptoms.

“Our work demonstrates that the distinct neural circuitries in the basal ganglia are differentially involved in the motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinsonian-like behaviors that occur at different stages of the disease,” said Lim, an associate professor in the Neurobiology Section of the Division of Biological Sciences at UC San Diego. “This suggests that evaluation of the detailed circuit mechanisms is needed to fully understand the changes in brain during the progression of PD, and could provide better therapeutic strategies for the treatment of PD.”

Lim said the most surprising finding from the research was the fact that dopaminergic neurons, those that are gradually lost during Parkinson’s disease progression, could be linked so specifically to changes in different brain areas.

“Selective manipulation of specific changes can rescue one type of symptom—without affecting other symptoms—of Parkinson’s Disease,” said Lim.

With the new framework in hand, Lim and his colleagues are now looking deeper at the circuit pathways and how they are tied to different disease symptom stages, in particular with an emphasis on delaying the progression of the disease.

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Brain imaging may predict treatment outcomes for adolescents with anxiety disorders

As with any complex machine, sometimes a simple crossed wire or short circuit can cause problems with how it functions. The same goes for our brains, and even when the short circuit is uncovered, sometimes experts don't have a quick fix.

A new study reveals that an evidence-based treatment may "fix" this human short circuit and, with the help of brain imaging, might predict treatment outcomes for adolescents with anxiety disorders. University of Cincinnati researchers say this could determine medication effectiveness more quickly to help patients.

Study results showed that brain imaging was able to predict — after just two weeks of treatment with almost 80% accuracy — how much a patient would improve.

We also see [through imaging] that the medication in this study increases the strength of the connection between a brain area that generates anxiety and an area that serves as a 'brain brake' for the fear center. In essence, the medication allows the brain to dampen the overactivity of fear areas, and we see this dampening very early in the course of treatment using imaging."

Jeffrey Strawn, MD, Study's Senior Author, Associate Professor and Anxiety Expert, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at UC

In this National Institutes of Health-sponsored study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers used brain imaging (MRI) to see how 41 adolescents, ages 12-17, with anxiety disorders responded to a medication called escitalopram, versus a placebo, over eight weeks. Escitalopram is a medication known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for depression in adolescents and for both depression and anxiety in adults.

Strawn, who is also a physician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and UC Health, says SSRIs work by boosting the activity of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the chemical messengers that nerve cells use to communicate with one another and one that is involved in anxiety disorders. These medications block the recycling of serotonin into nerve cells, making more serotonin available to improve transmission of messages between neurons.

"These medications are an effective treatment for many adolescents with anxiety disorders. However, how much a specific patient will benefit is difficult to predict," he continues.

He says clinicians typically need six to eight weeks of the patient being on the medication in order to evaluate whether or not the treatment is going to work. "But with the brain imaging in this study, doctors could determine — after just two weeks — if they would need an alternative treatment. Knowing this early in treatment could greatly improve outcomes for patients," he adds. "This study helps clinicians understand how the medication — even early in treatment — changes brain circuits that are involved in anxiety and can help to get patients back to their normal lives more quickly."

Larger studies are needed to further test this, but the results are promising and, as Strawn notes, are really important for better treating adolescents with anxiety disorders.

"Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., with approximately 4.4 million children and adolescents affected," he says. "These disorders are not only common in children and teens, but, if untreated, result in considerable personal and economic cost over the lifetime.

"This study uncovers a way to predict how effectively a medication will treat anxiety in kids and reveals that brain changes occur within two weeks of starting the medication. Additionally, the changes that occur in the brain can predict treatment response and improvement over time which is incredibly beneficial for physicians and can help us determine promising biomarkers for drug development. While not necessarily a quick fix, this could be a quicker fix that could help patients tremendously and improve their quality of life."


University of Cincinnati

Journal reference:

Lu, L., et al. (2021) Acute Neurofunctional Effects of Escitalopram in Pediatric Anxiety: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial, California. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Posted in: Child Health News | Medical Science News | Medical Research News

Tags: Adolescents, Anxiety, Brain, Children, Depression, Hospital, Imaging, Mental Health, Nerve, Neurons, Neuroscience, Placebo, Psychiatry, Serotonin

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Researchers develop tools to detect chemical signals between the brain and immune system

If it seems like your stomach has a mind of its own, you're not wrong. University of Cincinnati assistant professor Ashley Ross says your body is full of neurons that regulate digestion, inflammation and a host of other biological processes. In her chemistry lab in UC's College of Arts and Sciences, she is studying the role they play in the immune system.

"I'm fascinated by the concept that immune system organs have neurons, too, and they're releasing neurotransmitters just like the brain to communicate to your immune cells," she said.

Ross is using one of two National Institutes of Health grants totaling $4 million to develop tools to detect and study chemical signals between the brain and immune system.

Brain signaling is incredibly fast. You blink your eyes, take a breath, your knee jerks — all of that is controlled by neurons firing at a rapid rate. We want to capture that as it happens."

Ashley Ross, Assistant Professor, University of Cincinnati

More than 3 million Americans have been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's, according to federal health figures. The diseases reflect an uncontrolled immune response to some trigger, but the exact causes are not completely understood. They are progressive, often lifelong afflictions with no known cure.

Hundreds of lymph nodes throughout your body filter germs and help fight infection. They are loaded with neurons that send signals to regulate your immune response. In her lab, Ross is developing new tools and sensors to record these messages in the gut. Using probes, she can measure signals at a very rapid time scale in the smallest tissue.

"That's really powerful because now we can look at the dynamics and mechanism of the transmission to understand what's going on," she said.

Ross is uniquely qualified to pursue these questions. She is an analytical chemist who has conducted extensive research in neuroscience. She holds a joint appointment in chemistry and UC's neuroscience graduate program.

"My lab is interested in inflammation and how neurons control the inflammatory response," she said. "Understanding how the nervous system plays a role could lead to new therapies."

UC professor and chemistry department head Thomas Beck said Ross has created a strong team of graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and undergraduates to tackle these questions in her lab.

"It's really fascinating science — using ultra-sensitive detection methods to study neurotransmitters," Beck said. "There is a lot of attention being paid about the interaction between the gut and the brain. The biota in your gut can impact your mood and general health."

There is still so much to learn about the communication between the nervous and immune systems, Ross said.

"It's almost overwhelming," she said. "It's not well understood how these neurons function. Researchers haven't made measurements on this time scale in intact immune organs before."


University of Cincinnati

Posted in: Device / Technology News | Medical Science News | Medical Research News

Tags: Brain, Digestion, Immune Response, Immune System, Inflammation, Knee, Lymph Nodes, Nervous System, Neurons, Neuroscience, Research, Stomach, students

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Researchers explore nanotechnology’s potential to deliver synergistic therapeutics for COVID-19

From public health to the economy, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has had a profound impact in nearly all spheres of life. This disease, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pathogen, has claimed over 2.7 million lives so far. Coupled with sickness and mortality issues, the lockdown measures, social distancing and isolation have impacted the mental health of people everywhere.

Anxiety, confusion and fear have taken a toll on the mental health of many people worldwide. To combat this, researchers exploited some naturally occurring antiviral and brain-boosting compounds that may provide new insight.

A team of scientists, from the University of Kashmir, India; Rutgers University, USA; and Prince of Songkla University, Thailand, reviewed the nanoencapsulation approaches of synergistic compounds (Lectins, Caffeine, Cocoa, Flavonoids, Quercetin) and the role of nanotechnology in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. They discussed the dual action of such compounds for their brain-boosting benefits and antiviral activities. This review was published recently in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules.

Study: Exploitation of polyphenols and proteins using nanoencapsulation for anti-viral and brain boosting properties – Evoking a synergistic strategy to combat COVID-19 pandemic. Image Credit: NIAID / Flickr

Currently, there are no targeted and safe therapeutic alternatives for COVID-19, exploring the brain-boosting compounds, possibly augmented with antiviral activities, is a prospective research approach. The reviewers here discussed some compounds, derived naturally, like quercitin, caffeine, lectins from banana (Banlec) and cocoa flavonoids. They summarized the natural compounds with their antiviral and brain-boosting properties in this review.

Previously, it has been reported that the COVID-19 situation triggered various mental issues like difficulty in sleep, social media distress and paranoia of acquiring this viral infection; 80% of the participants in the study needed mental healthcare. This state of mind may also result in oxidative stress and loss of immunity, aggravating other symptoms.

Quercitin might prevent the neurons from apoptosis (programmed cell death) and oxidative stress. While caffeine and lectin might provide anti-depressant effects, cocoa flavonoids act as a neuro-protectant.

These suggested compounds are reported to also have antiviral activities. Quercitin has inhibitory action against SARS and MERS, two closely-related pathogens to SARS-CoV-2. Caffeine has antiviral activity against human immunodeficiency virus type I (HIV-1), lectin against influenza virus and the flavonoids can inhibit the fusion of viral membrane with that of the lysosome.

The emerging field of nanotechnology has made a significant impact on the target delivery of nutraceuticals and therapeutics.”

For effective delivery of these compounds to the target sites, nanoencapsulation is a novel tool. It has been established that nanotechnology's application enhances the thermal stability, oral bioavailability and water solubility of the drug. Nanoencapsulation may confer benefits to the drug by modifying the pharmacologically active part of these compounds.

The engineered nanoparticles possess high surface to volume ratio, good absorption properties and many bioactive components including resveratrol, curcumin, polyphenols, genistein, lycopene, anthocyanins and quercetin have been subjected to nanoencapsulation to combat the poor water solubility, low oral bioavailability and low taste profiles.”

Lots of synthesis methods and techniques are available for the nanoencapsulation process. For example, nanotransporters like yeast cells, nanogels, nanofibres and nanosponges are fabricated from polysaccharides and lipids to be employed for nanoencapsulation. Starch nanocomposites and chitosan-coated liposomes, superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles, alginate microparticles and gold nanoparticles are some of the possible nanocarriers. The reviewers recommend the suitable nanoencapsulation approach for each of the compounds discussed here in the review.

The reviewers discussed the issues in drug delivery and how nanotechnological based approaches may help overcome them. For example, they discussed the mechanism of action of an antiviral vaccine named, Nuvec®, which are silica-nanoparticles surface-functionalized with polyethylenimine for carrying nucleic acids. An ideal delivery system for vaccines and medicines, these nanoparticles protect the cargo from nucleic acid enzymes and do not cause any inflammatory response.

Theranostic nanoparticles, classified as inorganic, organic and virus-like self-assembling protein nanoparticles, are excellent tools in the application of nanotechnology to combat COVID-19. Also, the quantum dots (the semiconductor nanomaterials) ranging from 1 to 10 nm with tunable optical wavelength, are novel imaging probes.

The researchers report that owing to their nano size and shape, the quantum dots penetrate the SARS-CoV-2 with sizes ranging from 60 and 140 nm, and the quantum dots also sequester the S protein of SARS-CoV-2 due to their positive surface charge. It can also interact with the negative RNA strand of the virus, creating reactive oxygen species within SARS-CoV-2.

It is established that the nanoparticles can deliver a range of antiviral moieties and target both the adaptive as well as the innate immune system. With nano-dimensions, high surface-to-volume ratio, flexibility and option of administration via alternative routes, the potential of nanotechnology in fighting COVID-19 has not only been realized in the context of developing a nano-vaccine, but by delivering the nano-based antiviral agents, the reviewers explain.

This review has summed up some of the brain-boosting as well as antiviral compounds and highlighted the nano-encapsulating of these synergistic compounds; this may pave a way in strategizing the formulation of therapeutics for combating the adverse conditions of COVID-19.

Journal reference:
  • Nairah Noor, Adil Gani, Asir Gani, Asima Shah, Zanoor ul Ashraf. (2021) Exploitation of polyphenols and proteins using nanoencapsulation for antiviral and brain boosting properties – Evoking a synergistic strategy to combat COVID-19 pandemic, International Journal of Biological Macromolecules.

Posted in: Medical Research News | Disease/Infection News | Healthcare News

Tags: Antiviral Drug, Anxiety, Apoptosis, Banana, Brain, Caffeine, Cell, Cell Death, Chitosan, Coronavirus, Coronavirus Disease COVID-19, Curcumin, Drug Delivery, Gold Nanoparticles, Healthcare, HIV, HIV-1, Imaging, Immune System, Immunodeficiency, Influenza, Lipids, Liposomes, Lycopene, Macromolecules, Mental Health, Microparticles, Mortality, Nanoparticles, Nanotechnology, Neurons, Nucleic Acid, Oxidative Stress, Oxygen, Pandemic, Paranoia, Pathogen, Programmed Cell Death, Protein, Public Health, Quantum Dots, Quercetin, Research, Respiratory, Resveratrol, RNA, SARS, SARS-CoV-2, Severe Acute Respiratory, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Sleep, Stress, Syndrome, Therapeutics, Vaccine, Virus, Wavelength, Yeast

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Written by

Dr. Ramya Dwivedi

Ramya has a Ph.D. in Biotechnology from the National Chemical Laboratories (CSIR-NCL), in Pune. Her work consisted of functionalizing nanoparticles with different molecules of biological interest, studying the reaction system and establishing useful applications.

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Study suggests role of sleep in healing traumatic brain injuries


Sound sleep plays a critical role in healing traumatic brain injury, a new study of military veterans suggests.

The study, published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, used a new technique involving magnetic resonance imaging developed at Oregon Health & Science University. Researchers used MRI to evaluate the enlargement of perivascular spaces that surround blood vessels in the brain. Enlargement of these spaces occurs in aging and is associated with the development of dementia.

Among veterans in the study, those who slept poorly had more evidence of these enlarged spaces and more post-concussive symptoms.

“This has huge implications for the armed forces as well as civilians,” said lead author Juan Piantino, M.D., MCR, assistant professor of pediatrics (neurology) in the OHSU School of Medicine and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. “This study suggests sleep may play an important role in clearing waste from the brain after traumatic brain injury—and if you don’t sleep very well, you might not clean your brain as efficiently.”

Piantino, a physician-scientist with OHSU’s Papé Family Pediatric Research Institute, studies the effects of poor sleep on recovery after traumatic brain injuries.

The new study benefited from a method of analyzing MRIs developed by study co-author Daniel Schwartz and Erin Boespflug, Ph.D., under the direction of Lisa Silbert, M.D., M.C.R., professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine. The technique measures changes in the brain’s perivascular spaces, which are part of the brain’s waste clearance system known as the glymphatic system.

“We were able to very precisely measure this structure and count the number, location and diameter of channels,” Piantino said.

Co-author Jeffrey Iliff, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of neurology at the University of Washington and a researcher at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, has led scientific research into the glymphatic system and its role in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. During sleep, this brain-wide network clears away metabolic proteins that would otherwise build up in the brain.

The study used data collected from a group of 56 veterans enrolled by co-authors Elaine Peskind, M.D., and Murray Raskind, M.D., at the Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center at the VA Puget Sound between 2011 and 2019.

“Imagine your brain is generating all this waste and everything is working fine,” Piantino said. “Now you get a concussion. The brain generates much more waste that it has to remove, but the system becomes plugged.”

Piantino said the new study suggests the technique developed by Silbert could be useful for older adults.

“Longer term, we can start thinking about using this method to predict who is going to be at higher risk for cognitive problems including dementia,” he said.

The study is the latest in a growing body of research highlighting the importance of sleep in brain health.

Improving sleep is a modifiable habit that can be improved through a variety of methods, Piantino said, including better sleep hygiene habits such as reducing screen time before bed. Improving sleep is a focus of research of other OHSU scientists, including Piantino’s mentor, Miranda Lim, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology, medicine and behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine.

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Depression risk higher among stroke survivors, especially female patients

Stroke patients were nearly 50% more likely than heart attack patients to develop depression, and female stroke patients had a higher risk of depression than their male counterparts, according to two preliminary studies by the same research group to be presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2021.

The virtual meeting is March 17-19, 2021 and is a world premier meeting for researchers and clinicians dedicated to the science of stroke and brain health.

In what researchers described as one of the largest study of post-stroke depression to-date, they conducted two investigations using the same U.S. Medicare dataset of patients ages 65 or older hospitalized for ischemic stroke or heart attack from July 2016 to December 31, 2017.

Among more than 11 million Medicare beneficiaries who were admitted during the two-year study period, there were 174,901 with admission for ischemic stroke and 193,418 with admission for heart attack.

Patients were followed for 1.5 years, and patients with prior history of depression in the six months preceding their stroke or heart attack were excluded.

Depression following stroke is almost three times as common as it is in the general population and may affect up to a third of stroke patients. Patients with post-stroke depression also experience poorer quality of life and outcomes."

Laura K. Stein, M.D., M.P.H., Study Lead Author and Assistant Professor, Neurology, Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai

Stein is also a attending neurologist at Mount Sinai and Mount Sinai Queens Stroke Centers in New York City.

In the first study (Presentation 22), researchers found:

  • The risk of depression was about 50% more likely among patients who had a stroke (174,901) compared to patients who had a heart attack (193,418).
  • History of anxiety was found in 10.3% of ischemic stroke patients and 11.8% of heart attack patients. Ischemic stroke patients with a history of anxiety were 1.7 times more likely to develop depression than patients without anxiety.
  • History of anxiety was the strongest predictor of post-stroke depression, while being discharged home resulted in less depression.
  • White patients were 1.33 times more likely to be diagnosed with post-stroke depression.
  • Patients 75 and older were 0.79 times less likely to be diagnosed with post-stroke depression.

"We did not expect that the cumulative risk of depression would remain so persistently elevated. This finding supports that post-stroke depression is not simply a transient consequence of difficulties adjusting to life after stroke," Stein said.

In another analysis by the same researchers (Presentation 21), female stroke patients (90,474) had a 20% higher risk of developing depression than male stroke patients (84,427).

Drawing from the same Medicare pool of patients, a comprehensive inpatient, outpatient and subacute nursing follow-up helped to detect new-onset depression more accurately compared to studies that don't have follow up from multiple settings where depression may be tracked.

Researchers calculated the increasing risk for depression in females vs. males over 1.5 years of follow-up. "Our current findings highlight the need for active screening and treatment for depression in the time period immediately and well after the stroke and the importance of screening all stroke patients for post-stroke depression, including women and those with a history of mental illness," Stein said.


American Heart Association

Posted in: Medical Research News | Medical Condition News | Women's Health News

Tags: Anxiety, Brain, Cerebrovascular Disease, Depression, Disability, Health Insurance, Heart, Heart Attack, Ischemic Stroke, Medicare, Medicine, Neurology, Nursing, Pathophysiology, Public Health, Research, Stroke

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