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Scientists reveal why Zika virus causes microcephaly

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Washington, Sep 29: Chinese researchers said on Thursday they might have solved the mystery of why the Zika virus causes microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.

In a study published in the US journal Science, a team led by Cheng-Feng Qin of the Beijing Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology reported that one single genetic change, likely acquired in 2013, gave the mosquito-borne virus the ability to cause severe fetal microcephaly.

“Our findings offer a reasonable explanation for the unexpected causal link of Zika to microcephaly, and will help understand how Zika evolved from an innocuous mosquito-borne virus into a congenital pathogen with global impact,” Qin said.

Zika was first identified in 1947 in Uganda, and until its recent emergence in the Americas, was a little known one that sporadically causes mild infections, Xinhua reported.

Then, it rapidly swept through South and Central America in 2015, and due to its link to congenital brain abnormalities, especially microcephaly during pregnancy, the World Health Organisation declared in early 2016 the current epidemics a public health emergency of international concern.

However, scientists remain unable to determine why the virus evolved into a pathogen triggering severe neurological syndromes.

By comparing contemporary Zika virus strains from the 2015 and 2016 South American epidemics with an ancestral Cambodian virus that was circulating in 2010, Qin and colleagues found one critical mutation that conferred the ability to cause microcephaly in mouse models of fetal infection.

That one change, S139N, which replaced a serine amino acid with an asparagine at the 139th position of a Zika protein called prM, also made the virus more lethal to human neuron precursor cells in culture compared with the ancestral form.

Zika accumulated numerous changes throughout its genome between 2010 and 2016, of which S139N caused substantially more severe microcephaly and embryonic lethality in mouse models.

Evolutionary analyses revealed that the S139N change likely arose sometime around 2013, which coincided with initial reports of microcephaly.

It was then stably maintained during subsequent spread to the US.

“The discovery should provide guidance for the study of pathogenetic mechanisms of the Zika virus and for the development of vaccines and treatments,” Qin said.

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Sunscreen can reduce skin cancer risk by 40% in youth: Study

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Sydney, July 20: Young adults who regularly use sunscreen to reduce their risk of skin cancer by 40 percent, a study has found.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between two and three million non-melanoma skin cancers and 1,32,000 melanoma skin cancers occur each year globally.

The global incidence of melanoma continues to increase, however, the main factors that predispose to the development of melanoma seem to be connected with recreational exposure to the sun and a history of sunburn. These factors lie within each individual’s own responsibility.

“The association of sun exposure and sunburn with melanoma risk, particularly in childhood, is well established and this study showed that regularly using sunscreen was protective against the harmful effects of sun exposure,” Xinhua news agency quoted lead researcher Anne Cust, Associate Professor at the University of Sydney in Australia, as saying.

Cust noted that it is still difficult to get people to regularly apply sunscreen, and that likelihood to do so depended on a number of factors.

“Regular users of sunscreen were more likely to be female, younger, of British or northern European ancestry, and have higher education levels, lighter skin pigmentation, and a strong history of blistering sunburn,” Cust said.

“People were less likely to use sunscreen if they were male, older, less educated, or had skin that was darker or more resistant to sunburn.”

For the study, the team analysed data of around 1,700 people aged between 18 to 40 years.

“This study confirms that sunscreen is an effective form of sun protection and reduces the risk of developing melanoma as a young adult,” Cust said.

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5 natural methods to beat stress

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New Delhi, July 19: A study of 200,000 respondents by Optum has found that 46 per cent of the Indian workforce reports suffering from some form of stress.

Stress is the body’s natural response to pressure. It can have a negative effect on your body, mood, as well as behaviour, with wide-ranging effects like headaches, anxiety, fatigue and irritability.

The causes of stress vary from one person to the next, and so do the effects. Stress can be harmful for the body, and is the cause of many health and lifestyle problems. Managing stress should be a priority, but is often difficult to achieve due to lack of time or effective and simple methods to do so.

Dr Hariprasad, Ayurveda Expert at The Himalaya Drug Company, recommends the following natural methods to cope with stress:

Unwind with physical activity: All forms of physical activity are useful in managing stress. Exercising has many benefits such as releasing endorphins and calming the mind, with a reduction in stress levels being an added bonus. Even 45 minutes of physical activity a day goes a long way towards managing stress levels.

Organise your life: Organising one’s workload leads to a sense of control and peace of mind, and there are many ways to achieve this. One way to do this is through adopting good time management, by prioritising tasks, and scheduling time to complete them. Switching between tasks and having them pile up often becomes an additional source of stress. Decentralisation of tasks or asking for help as and when required is also a good way to reduce stress levels.

Use herbs in daily diet: Herbs like Ashvagandha have been proven to be effective in managing the negative effects of stress. According to Ayurveda texts and modern research, Ashvagandha helps reduce the damaging effects of long-term stress by rejuvenating the mind and body. It is an adaptogen that helps the body stabilise physiological processes, maintain a healthy balance between different biological systems, and support better resilience to stress.

Eat the right food: Your eating habits have a significant impact on stress levels. Following a healthy diet with a good balance of different food groups and all the required nutrients is essential. A diet rich in different food groups such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy, fish, and poultry would help you get the carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins and minerals you need. A well-nourished body is better able to cope with the physical and emotional effects of stress.

Get enough sleep: Sleep is essential in stress management. Not getting enough sleep typically leads to irritability and fatigue. Oversleeping can make us sluggish, depressed — and puts our health at a higher risk. Getting the right amount of sleep, between 7-8 hours, is a good way to stay energised and effectively manage the challenges of the day.

In this busy and stressful life, these simple and natural methods can help you manage stress and maintain good mental and physical health.

IANS

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Decoded: How Omega-3 fatty acid helps inhibit cancer’s spread

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New York, July 16: While eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, certain nuts and seeds, have been known to prevent heart diseases and arthritis, a new research, led by one of Indian-origin, showed that omega-3 fatty byproducts may also have anti-cancer effects.

The new study, led by Aditi Das from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US, showed that when the human body metabolises omega-3 fatty acids, it produces a class of molecules called endocannabinoid epoxides, or EDP-EAs. These have anti-inflammatory properties and can inhibit cancer’s growth and spread.

The EDP-EAs have similar properties to cannabinoids found in marijuana — but without the psychotropic effects — and they target the same receptor in the body that cannabis does.

“We have a built-in endocannabinoid system which is anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing. Now we see it is also anti-cancer, stopping the cells from proliferating or migrating,” said study leader Aditi Das from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“These molecules could address multiple problems: cancer, inflammation and pain,” Das added.

For the study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, the team studied the effect of the molecule in mice with tumours of osteosarcoma — a bone cancer that is not only painful but also difficult to treat.

The results showed that the endocannabinoids slowed the growth of tumours and blood vessels, inhibited the cancer cells from migrating and caused cancer cell death.

The higher concentrations of EDP-EAs did kill cancer cells, but not as effectively as other chemotherapeutic drugs on the market. But, the compounds slowed tumour growth by inhibiting new blood vessels from forming to supply the tumour with nutrients. They also prevented interactions between the cells, and most significantly, they appeared to stop cancerous cells from migrating.

While dietary consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can lead to EDP-EAs, for those with cancer, something concentrated and fast acting is needed, Das said.

“That’s where the endocannabinoid epoxide derivatives come into play – you could make a concentrated dose of the exact compound that’s most effective against the cancer. You could also mix this with other drugs such as chemotherapies,” she added.

IANS
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