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Today, we hear about dangerous viral infections around the world on a regular basis. Social media and internet access may be an obvious explanation for their seeming increase.
But it doesn’t just seem this way. The number of viruses and the infections they cause are truly increasing. Scientific advances, the way humans live today and virus biology all contribute to the rise of viruses.
New viruses, all the time
It seems viral infections are everywhere these days. Starting from January 2018, Nigeria has been experiencing an unusually large outbreak of haemorrhagic fever caused by Lassa virus.
There have been more than 400 confirmed infections and 100 deaths to date.
The Brazilian outbreak of viral yellow fever that began in late 2017 has moved into highly populated areas near São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. One-third of the 723 people with confirmed infections have so far died from the illness.
We’re no doubt more aware of such serious diseases after the unprecedented 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that claimed more than 11,000 lives. And then the 2015-2017 Zika virus outbreak that closely followed during which 3,500 babies were born with nervous system or eye damage.
The first report of human virus infection was yellow fever in the US army at the turn of the 20th century. And now, estimates suggest three to four new species of human viruses are found each year and around 250 human virus species are yet to be discovered.
Discovery of a new virus today is complex and requires many steps. Typically, it involves describing its complete genetic code with a combination of intensive molecular sequencing work in the laboratory and computational analyses using enormous reference databases.
Medical epidemiological studies (that look at the distribution of disease) and biological experiments are then needed to understand any virus as a dangerous human pathogen. It may then take some time to link a virus with a particular human disease.
And relatively large Australian epidemics since 2013 have highlighted their link to a serious sepsis-like illness and potential for developmental complications.
How humans contribute
Modern humans contribute to the success of dangerous viruses. A virus replicates only when inside the cell of a living being, and spreads most efficiently when there is contact between two individuals.
The United Nations measures current world population growth at more than 1% per year. From the virus’ perspective, potential incubators are increasing.
The world’s population is also urbanising, which means people living in closer proximity, which is conducive to spread of a virus.
Domestic and international mass transport permit viruses to move between regional populations.
Many dangerous virus infections are zoonoses, which are diseases transmitted to humans from other animals. Bats are a common culprit – one theory is that a unique low-grade immune system allows them to carry a relatively high number of viruses without developing disease.
Epidemics caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus probably began through bat-human contact.
Expanding settlement towards wilderness areas provides more opportunities for viruses to meet people. Domesticated livestock may carry viruses that infect humans, and the growing human population dictates increasing and more compact livestock production.
Influenza virus infects pigs, cattle and poultry as well as humans. The H7N9 strain that has infected more than 1,500 people in China and resulted in the death of one-third since 2013, first moved to humans from diseased poultry.
When it comes to numbers though, the most important viral transporter is the mosquito. The bite of certain Aedes mosquitoes, for instance, is the primary route for infection with dengue, Zika and chikungunya viruses.
Queensland, Australia, is home to these mosquitoes, so outbreaks of dengue occur annually, usually due to an infected traveller arriving from an endemic region.
Research conducted in the Amazon has linked expansion of the mosquito range in endemic areas to deforestation and low re-vegetation. Resistance to the relatively few available insecticides may also contribute to their population growth.
Why viruses are sneaky
The basic biology of viruses contributes to their capacity to cause disease. Most human viruses replicate almost instantaneously and in huge numbers. As a result, mutations arise at a high rate in the genetic code of a virus.
This allows the virus to adapt quickly to an adverse environment, such as the human immune system or drugs. It may also allow a virus to jump from an animal host to humans.
Some viruses establish a chronic infection, which extends the potential for transmission. After acute illness, Ebola virus hides for many months in parts of the body that generate weak inflammatory responses, such as the sexual organs, the brain and/or the eye.
And although human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may cause an acute illness, there is usually a long delay between infection and the onset of any disease. Consequently infected people may pass on HIV for years before being aware that they carry the virus.
There are no specific drugs for most dangerous human viruses. This is in part because viruses are a fast growing and diverse group, with no common drug targets to exploit, as has been possible with antibiotics for bacteria.
But another challenge relates to the viral life cycle, which uses the infected person’s cell machinery. Drugs that target the growth of viruses therefore have effects on the person’s cell, which may result in drug side effects.
Also, the capacity of a virus to adapt implies the potential to develop resistance to a drug. Drug treatment for HIV infection involves a combination of drugs with different actions to address this problem.
Despite the many challenges associated with dangerous viruses, research continues to yield even more innovative solutions. The World Mosquito Program, run out of Monash University, is one example.
This program is based on the discovery that a safe and natural bacteria, Wolbachia, stops viral growth in the mosquito. Insects in regions endemic with mosquito-borne diseases are being infected with Wolbachia to break the transmission cycle.
Ultimately, the cunning strategies used by dangerous viruses are no match for the wide breadth of human ingenuity.
CSIR partners with Zydus Cadila for development of newer drugs for drug-resistant infectious diseases
The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)- Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTECH), a premier microbial institute under the aegis of the ministry of science and technology, government of India, recently signed a collaborative research agreement with Zydus Cadila to identify new drug candidates for treatment of drug-resistant infections.
The agreement between CSIR-IMTECH and Zydus, an innovation-driven global healthcare group, will see scientists from both organizations working closely together on microbiology & genomics to identify new lead candidate as novel anti-tuberculosis compounds. For this project, scientists at IMTECH will utilize their expertise and scientific knowledge in microbiology while Zydus Cadila will provide its expertise in medicinal chemistry & pharmaceutical drug development with an aim to develop new drug combinations against drug-resistant pathogens which causes severe diseases in India and across the world.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi is a serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society. Emergence of multi drug-resistant (MDR)/extremely drug-resistant(XDR) tuberculosis is a big challenge in India and across several other countries in the world. WHO’s Global Antimicrobial Surveillance System reports occurrence of AMR among 500,000 people with suspected bacterial infections across several nations. The cost of health care for patients with resistant infections is higher than care for patients with non-resistant infections due to longer duration of illness, additional tests and use of more expensive drugs.
Speaking on the sidelines of agreement signing, Dr. Anil Koul, director, IMTECH said, “With limited investment in discovery of urgently needed new drugs, collaboration with Zydus opens up new opportunities in discovery of novel and new antibiotic classes. I am glad that IMTECH as a premier public R&D organization is forging new alliances with industry to address the national issue of AMR including tuberculosis.”
Pankaj Patel, chairman of Zydus Cadila group on this occasion said, “We are committed to support the End TB Strategy. Given the vast scientific experience of CSIR-IMTECH in microbial related research, and Zydus’s expertise in drug discovery and development, we welcome this opportunity to partner with CSIR- IMTECH and hope to deliver new therapies for the nation”.
A positive outcome from such collaborative efforts could define the way drug discovery would be carried out in future in India via public-private partnerships.
CSIR-IMTECH is a national center for excellence in microbial sciences and was established in 1984. IMTECH’s vision is to discover and develop translational products and new drugs to address key unmet medical needs. While Zydus Cadila is a fully integrated, global healthcare provider, with strengths all along the pharmaceutical value chain. With a core competence in the field of healthcare, Zydus has successfully developed novel therapies that have provided people in India an access to new and hitherto unavailable drugs.
Psychopathy typically hovers on the border somewhere between a mental disorder and a moral judgement.
A new study on incarcerated volunteers adds vital detail to what is a complicated condition, suggesting those with psychopathic tendencies have impaired abilities to integrate sections of the brain that are essential for maintaining attention.
Nathaniel E. Anderson from the of The Nonprofit Mind Research Network and Lovelace Biomedical and Environmental Research Institute sees psychopathy as “wildly misunderstood”.
“The public tends to view psychopaths as monsters and lost causes,” Anderson told Eric W. Dolan at PsyPost.
Tests used to diagnose psychopathy tend to look for specific combinations of behavioural patterns, personality traits, and cognitive features.
To most of us, the term is relatively synonymous with a chronic lack of empathy, often resulting in manipulative behaviour that serves the individual. Put simply, psychopaths aren’t regarded as nice people.
Importantly, the label isn’t usually viewed as a mental illness grounded in biology, but rather as a morally corrupt personality trait – a fact that can make all the difference when applied in prosecuting a suspect.
Evidence has piled up over the years emphasising fundamental differences in the neurology of those who have a psychopathy diagnosis, such as variations in the prefrontal cortex.
To better understand the neurological underpinnings of the condition, Anderson and his team turned to research that suggested impaired attention played a role in psychopathic behaviours.
As compelling as such studies are, they suffer from several critical limitations.
One is they’ve relied largely on measuring changes in brain waves in response to a set of stimuli, which is a little like listening to the buzz of a crowd in gauging the response to a piece of news.
What Anderson wanted was a clearer understanding of the voices themselves, which means using tools that can zoom in on activity in different parts of the brain.
A second problem is most studies make use of individuals who have merely been identified with psychopathic traits according to a criteria list, such as the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.
This is a pretty straightforward process, but it doesn’t necessarily imply these characteristics result in a pathology, making them fairly weak subjects to test.
Anderson’s team put a call out for psychopathic volunteers who had landed in prison, and settled on 168 adult males at two medium-security state correctional facilities in New Mexico.
These inmates underwent something called an auditory oddball task, where they were required to listen to a sequence of sounds and click a button whenever they heard a specific high pitched tone.
This was all conducted inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, which captured information on which parts of the brain were most active.
The end result backed up previous studies, confirming there were correlations between certain types of psychopathy checklist score and activity in certain brain pathways.
Regions involved in attention stood out, including zones in the ‘decision making’ prefrontal cortex and a part of the brain understood to play a role in memory called the anterior temporal cortex.
The study shows that while we might think psychopathy is all about empathy and emotion, there’s a lot more to it.
“Specifically, the way the brain encodes differences between what is important and what is not, even without emotional content involved – and this has more to do with attention,” says Anderson.
Since it focusses on a specific component of psychopathy, the study shouldn’t be taken to be the final word on how it manifests.
The sample was also gender exclusive, which could mean we’re missing a bigger picture.
Rather than excuse potentially criminal behaviour, studies like these could help reduce the risk of it developing in the first place by providing additional measures that reliably curb psychopathic tendencies.
Psychopathy needn’t be a one-way ticket to evil. But if we’re to reduce the potential harm caused by those who find it hard to pay attention to their emotions, we’re going to need to know a whole lot more about it.
This research was published in Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience.
CDSCO sets up panel to weigh ‘trace and track’ mechanism for top 300 drug brands, report expected in 4 months
The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) will constitute an expert sub-committee to weigh the pros and cons of a ‘trace and track’ mechanism proposed for the top 300 drug brands in the country, it is learnt. The fate of the initiative, aimed at weeding out counterfeits from the market, now depends on the report of this panel which includes representatives of drug manufacturers.
The decision to form an expert sub-committee was taken at a meeting between regulators and representatives of drug manufacturers on June 25. The proposed initiative allows consumers to check the genuineness of a medication they have bought with just a text message.
“The sub-committee includes an office bearer and a technical expert each from all drug manufacturers’ associations. The panel will submit its report in four months which will be a deciding factor whether it is practically possible to introduce this system or not,” Federation of Pharma Entrepreneurs (FOPE) president BR Sikri told Pharmabiz.
The industry had expressed concerns over the financial strength of small and medium drug manufacturers to adopt the mechanism if it was extended to all brands. However, the regulator allayed their fears saying the mechanism would be for top 300 brands only.
The CDSCO has also made it clear that the proposal is for an authentication system, which is cheaper than a ‘trace and track’ mechanism. “We’re also assured by the regulator that the initiative won’t be made mandatory and will be implemented on a voluntary basis,” Sikri added.
Cleared by the Drugs Technical Advisory Board during a meeting in May, the plan is to print a 14-digit number on the labels of the top 300 pharmaceutical brands along with a mobile number of the manufacturer. Since the numbers will be unique to each strip and bottle sold in the market, a consumer can easily check the genuineness and quality of a drug by sending a text message to the given number and get details of the manufacturer, batch number, expiry data etc.
Counterfeit or spurious drugs are a widespread problem in India. Expressing concern over the issue, Niti Ayog, the country’s policy think-tank, has recently proposed a plan to put the entire drugs inventory made and consumed in the country on blockchain. The technology stops the entry of fake drugs into the supply chain, mainly the part between the manufacturer and consumer. It uses a highly scalable transparent protocol to assign every manufactured product an asset. The assets are then added to the blockchain and assigned a unique identification number, commonly referred to as hash. The technology then verifies the hashes to find out whether or not the product in question is counterfeit or legitimate.
The national drug regulatory body identified the top 300 brands on the basis of moving annual total data obtained from AIOCD AWACS. The list of manufacturers include Abbot India with 13 brands, Cipla Limited with 17, Sun Pharma with 22 brands and Pfizer Limited with 15 products.
The possibility of using brain stimulation to help prevent future violence just passed a proof of concept stage, according to new research published Monday in the Journal of Neuroscience.
In a double-blind, randomized controlled study, a group of volunteers who received a charge to their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that lies directly behind the forehead and is responsible for planning, reasoning and inhibition were – were less likely to say they would consider engaging in aggressive behavior compared to a similar group that received a sham treatment.
The experiment looked at aggressive intent as well as how people reasoned about violence and found that a sense of moral wrongfulness about hypothetical acts of aggression was heightened in the group receiving the transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).
This form of brain stimulation delivers targeted impulses to the brain through electrodes placed on a person’s scalp.
“Zapping offenders with an electrical current to fix their brains sounds like pulp fiction, but it might not be as crazy as it sounds,” said Adrian Raine, a neurocriminologist at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the study’s investigators.
“This study goes some way toward documenting a causal association by showing that enhancing the prefrontal cortex puts the brakes on the impulse to act aggressively.”
In the experiment, 39 volunteers were given direct current stimulation to their prefrontal cortex for 20 minutes. A placebo group was given a low current for 30 seconds.
On the following day, both groups read two stories, one depicting an act of physical aggression and the other an act of sexual aggression.
Both groups of volunteers were then asked to rate their likelihood of performing similar acts on a scale of one to 10, with one being the least likely and 10 most likely.
To gauge their sense of morality, subjects were asked to rate on a scale of zero (not at all) to 10 (very) how morally wrong it would be to act the same way as the protagonist in both stories.
For a third task measuring aggression, subjects were shown a computer-generated image of a doll and told that it represented a partner or close friend.
They were then told they could relieve themselves of any negative energy toward that person by inserting zero to 51 pins into the doll. The higher the number used, according to this metric, the greater the level of aggression.
The researchers found a 54 percent reduction in aggressive intentions in the group receiving the stimulation and a 31 percent jump in their sense of moral wrongfulness about acts of aggression. There was no significant difference between the two groups in the voodoo-doll-like test measuring behavioral aggression.
Lead researcher Olivia Choy, a criminologist who teaches in the psychology department at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said, “While this is certainly an early step in the study of tDCS and antisocial, aggressive behavior, it may inform future approaches to reducing aggressive intent and behavior through a noninvasive, relatively benign intervention that targets a biological risk factor for crime.
“If these findings can be replicated and extended, it may be that use of tDCS on offenders is not entirely out of the question.”
The study’s scientists caution that this is still very early in the game and more studies need to be completed before an application is considered possible.
Roy Hamilton, the third scientist involved in the study and director of the laboratory for cognition and neural stimulation at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, says the experiment shows complex influences on a dangerous human trait.
“The study also suggests that violent thought and action are not wholly preordained by one’s brain wiring, since they can be influenced by outside inputs,” he said.
“In this study the outside input was electrical stimulation, but typically the outside circumstances that can influence the brain’s machinery for controlling violence include the entire spectrum of lived experiences.”
The study’s participants included adults 18 and older, evenly split between male and female, and ethnically diverse.
Before participating, all were given a series of tests and questionnaires measuring such things as personality, criminality and childhood social adversity.
Tom Hummer, an assistant research professor of psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine, says the study should be understood more as an experimental manipulation than an early treatment study, especially because the doll-pin part of the experiment showed no difference in that lab measure of aggressive behavior.
“The biggest limitation is a lack of a behavioral effect,” he said.
“It is difficult to measure actual aggression in the laboratory, but even in their measure they find no difference between groups in actual aggression. So it’s hard to say whether subjects are just saying they would act differently or if real-world behavior would change.”
Delaney Smith welcomes the new study and what it might portend down the road.
Smith is a forensic psychiatrist in Columbus, Ohio who helps treatment-resistant depressed patients with FDA-approved transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is weaker and less targeted than direct transcranial direct current stimulation.
“Right now we’re limited in dealing with aggression and don’t have very good interventions – just talk therapy, off-label medications,” she said. “So anything we can add to the armamentarium to counter future acts of violence, the better.”
2018 © The Washington Post
This article was originally published by The Washington Post.