Saturday, 30 June 2012

Women health: Radiation causes more harm to breast cancer patients than the disease itself

While cancer takes many years to develop, radiation leads to changes in the DNA profile in a fraction of a second. In breast cancer patients radiation therapy is often used to destroy any remaining breast cancer cells in the breast, chest wall or underarm area after surgery. Occasionally, radiation therapy is used before surgery to shrink the size of tumour.

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  Breast cancer patients suffer more from radiation
therapy than from the disease itself.
According to a research conducted by the Human Genetics Division
of the Department of Zoology, Osmania University, radiation
therapy, commonly followed in breast cancer patients after surgical
removal of the affected breast, leads to mutations or changes in the
DNA profile of the individual. The severity of the mutation and its
consequential impact on the overall health and genetic profile of the
breast cancer patient depends on the intensity of the radiation used in
the therapy.
The study conducted by C Kusum and K Rudrama Devi of Osmania
University revealed chormosomal aberration in peripheral blood
lymphocyte of the breast cancer patients treated with ultraviolet
In radiation therapy involves dosages many thousand times higher
than those used in diagnostic x-rays. Ionising radiation has been
shown to induce cancer in many different species of animals and in
almost all parts of the body. It is one of the few scientifically proven
carcinogens in human beings, although it appears to be a relatively
weak cancer-causing agent compared to many chemicals.
It was found in the study that ionising  radiation was capable of
penetrating cells and causing ionisation in different parts of the cell.
Since ionised molecules are unstable and quickly undergo chemical
changes, they will form free radicals that can damage the molecule
or other molecules around.
One type of molecule that is sensitive to ionising radiation is DNA,
the part of the cell that contains the genes for each person's
characteristics. "ionising radiation can lead to mutation in a cell's
DNA, which could contribute to cancer, or to the death of the cell.
Al cells in the body can be damaged by ionising radiation. The
amount of damage is related to the dose of radiation received by the
cell," the study points out.
While cancer takes many years to develop, radiation leads to
changes in the DNA profile in a fraction of a second. In breast
cancer patients radiation therapy is often used to destroy any
remaining breast cancer cells in the breast, chest wall or underarm
area after surgery. Occasionally, radiation therapy is used before
surgery to shrink the size of tumour.
Treatment with radiation usually begins one month after surgery,
allowing the breast tissue adequate time to heal. Radiation therapy
may occasionally be recommended for women to destroy remaining
cancer cells after mastectomy or to shrink tumours in patient with
advanced breast cancer.

Women health: Fishing industry harms women more, makes them sick often

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  Women employed in fish processing units suffer from a myriad of health problems including 
premature ageing.
According to a research study carried out by the National Institute of Occupational Health, many women, who work for long hours in fish processing companies spread across the country including Andhra Pradesh, have complained of premature ageing even before they cross 30 years.
According to NIOH scientist Pranab Kumar Nag, the study surveyed the health conditions of women, mostly contract labour, working in fishing harbours and processing units with poor sanitation. Women from Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat as also from other States were studied as part of the research project.
It was found during the study that women from one State have migrated to other States to work in the fishing 
industry. Since they spend as much as 14 hours every day in unhygienic conditions in fishing units, they contact several health related problems. The heavy work is telling on their health, he pointed out.
The common health problems they encounter include severe pain in the back, skin and ENT disorders. Some of them have complained of asthma. They are also susceptible to a problem called, "Raynaud's Phenomenon" which affects skin exposing the bones.
Dr Nag said the study revealed that most of these women work in freezing temperatures. He said the institute 
would take up detailed studies in Andhra Pradesh which has a long coastline extending up to 1000 km dotted with a number of fishing harbours and fish processing units.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The agricultural gain by Bt cotton farmers seems to be at the cost of other ryots. The bollworm, which used to feed on cotton before the Bt variety was introduced, has now found new hosts for survival

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: The agricultural gain by Bt cotton farmers seems
to be at the cost of other ryots. The bollworm, which used to feed on
cotton before the Bt variety was introduced, has now found new hosts
for survival.

Bt cotton is poisonous for the cotton bollworm and it cannot survive
on its leaves. To avoid death in Bt cotton fields, the insect, which
belongs to the butterfly family, has cleverly migrated to new plant
hosts for survival.

The bollworm is now attacking crops like tomato, pigeon pea, chickpea,
sorghum and maize. The agricultural loss, which cotton growers
suffered earlier, has shifted to farmers growing food crops. This has
led to increase in use of pesticides by non-Bt cotton farmers to
reduce the additional loss.

“Cotton bollworm has about a dozen plant hosts including the wild
varieties. The mother insect is a long flier and in the absence of
cotton, it lays eggs on new plant hosts for its larvae to feed on. It
is a smart insect and its survival tactics has led it away from
poisonous Bt cotton to non-poisonous plant varieties grown in the
vicinity,” said senior researcher MA Qayyum.

There are no reports of reduction in the population of cotton bollworm
and this indicates that it has adapted to non-bt cotton crops to lay
eggs and populate its species.

There have been no scientific studies on the additional loss to
farmers growing other crops. However, field observations show that the
shifting of bollworm from Bt cotton to food crops has resulted in
farmers losing at least 20 per cent of their yields. Thanks to the
pest migration, the bollworm has found a continuous life, from one
season to other, pointed out Qayyum, who had conducted field research
studies on Bt cotton for about a decade now.

Dr PV Satheesh, national convenor of Southern Action on Genetic
Engineering, said given the choice between cotton and red gram, the
bollworm prefers red gram. “If you control the pest using Bt
technology, it will find new sources of food for survival. We have to
access the damage caused to other crops with the shift in plant
hosts,” he added.

Red gram seems to be the most affected crop with the shift in pest’s
preference. Earlier, farmers used to grow a few layers of red gram
plantation along with cotton to detract the attention of bollworm from
cotton to red gram. Farmers stopped this practice after the
introduction of Bt cotton. Red gram once served as a “trap crop” for
cotton farmers, but now it has turned into a target crop by the

After failing to control the spread of sexually transmitted diseases including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) through medical interventions, scientists will now take psychological and sociological routes to demystify this major health problem in the country. They will also find out if interrelationship of domestic violence has anything to do with the spread of HIV

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: After failing to control the spread of sexually
transmitted diseases including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
through medical interventions, scientists will now take psychological
and sociological routes to demystify this major health problem in the
country. They will also find out if interrelationship of domestic
violence has anything to do with the spread of HIV.

Since the spread of HIV and other STDs is largely linked to
behavioural issues, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has
sought the help of scientists to explore psychological, social and
structural issues to bring down the incidence. The study is part of
the Indo-US joint research initiative on reduction of STDs and HIV in

Calling for development of new approaches, the ICMR in its latest
circular noted that “psychological, social and structural issues
increase HIV transmission and acquisition risk”. The country’s premier
medical research body has also sought the help of scientists in
evaluating the interrelationships of domestic violence and HIV
transmission in
longstanding relationships. Behavioural and social interactions will
be the focus of the study.

Apart from finding solution to the problem of STDs and HIV
transmission from psycho-sociological perspectives, scientists will
also take a multi-faceted approach, which includes the role of other
microbes like viruses and bacteria, epidemiological factors and
co-morbidities associated with HIV transmission.

The ICMR’s proposal on new research asks scientists to look into viral
pathogenesis and immunology of HIV/AIDS for development of advanced
diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics. There will be preclinical
research to establish clear evidence of physiologically relevant
anti-HIV activity.

Scientists will carry a broad range study of populations including men
and women, who are at-risk for HIV/AIDS infection and uninfected. They
will also study HIV or STD-infected infants and children.

The ICMR will assess the efficacy of newer anti-retrovirals and
anti-retroviral therapy-based approaches to prevent HIV transmission
effectively in India. “The development of safe, effective and
acceptable prevention strategies must integrate efforts to understand
how biochemical, pharmacological and biophysical factors affecting
susceptibility and progression to HIV/AIDS disease interact with the
implementation of a prevention strategy,” the proposal note pointed out.

Specific pathogens of interest for research include drug sensitive and
drug resistant M. tuberculosis complex, parasites including malaria,
viruses such as Herpes Simplex Virus
(HSV), Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV),
Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), and other
AIDS-related oncogenic (cancer-causing) viruses.

In a startling revelation the US State Department’s annual report of human trafficking 2012 points out that foreign labour including those from India are subjected to forced labour and a lesser extent, forced prostitution

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Saudi Arabia is one of the favourite destinations
for illiterate and unskilled workers from India, but in a startling
revelation the US State Department’s annual report of human
trafficking 2012 points out that “they are subjected to forced labour
and a lesser extent, forced prostitution”.

Men and women from India and other countries voluntarily travel to
Saudi Arabia as domestic servants or other low-skilled labourers. Some
of them subsequently “face conditions indicative of involuntary
servitude, including nonpayment of wages, long working hours without
rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and
restrictions on movement such as withholding of passports or
confinement to the workplace.”

Saudi Arabia has one of the largest contingents of Indian migrant
workers in the Arabian Gulf. A considerable number of unskilled or
low-skilled workers are from Andhra Pradesh. Women domestic labour is
largely from cities like Hyderabad, notorious for minor girl child
marriages with elderly Arab nationals.

“Although many migrant workers sign contracts delineating their
rights, some report work conditions that are substantially different
from those described in the contract. Other migrant workers never see
a contract at all, leaving them especially vulnerable to forced
labour, including debt bondage,” the report said.

Saudi Arabia has legislation which states that foreign workers receive
permission from their employer to get an “exit visa” before they are
able to leave the country. This provision has come handy for
unscrupulous Arab employers to force migrant labourers to work for
months or years beyond their contract term because their employer will
not grant them an exit permit.

“Women, primarily from Asian and African countries, are believed to be
forced into prostitution in Saudi Arabia. Some female domestic workers
are reportedly kidnapped and forced into prostitution after running
away from abusive employers,” the report said.

Referring to the menace of minor girl marriages with the elderly Arab
nationals, the US report said Saudi nationals travel to destinations
including India to solicit prostitution. Some Saudi men used legally
contracted “temporary marriages” in countries including India as a
means by which to sexually exploit young girls and women overseas.

The report accuses the government of Saudi Arabia of not fully
complying with the minimum standards for the elimination of
trafficking, and not making significant efforts to do so.

Domestic workers – the population most vulnerable to forced labour –
remained excluded from general labour law protections, and employers
continued to regularly withhold workers’ passports as a means of
keeping them in forced labour, despite this practice being prohibited
by a 2000 Council of Ministers’ decision. There have been hundreds of
incidents of women from Andhra Pradesh held captive or forced to
return wages.

The report suggested reforms in the sponsorship system and enforcing
existing laws to discourage employers from withholding workers’
passports and restricting their movements, including arbitrarily
denying permission for exit visas, as a means of preventing
trafficking abuses. It also suggested that authorities significantly
increase efforts to prosecute, punish, and stringently sentence
traffickers, including abusive employers and those culpable of
trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.

Loss of forest cover in India: Threat to cockroaches is threat to ecology and survival of animals, plants and human beings, says Dr Srini Kambhampati

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: The loss of forest cover in India is threatening
the very survival of not only big animals, but also small creepy
creatures like cockroaches, which play a vital role in recycling
nutrients in the woods.

According to Dr Srini Kambhampati, Hyderabad-born American biologist,
cockroaches are fast losing their natural habitat in the country, and
this threatens their very survival. “Considering that there is very
little forest left in India, two issues are of concern. First,
cockroach habitat is being destroyed and they, like many other
species, are either threatened or endangered. Second, the role of
cockroaches in recycling nutrients in forests becomes even more
critical to maintain the health of the remaining forest”.

Dr Srini is the chair in the Department of Biology, The University of
Texas at Tyler, USA. He told this correspondent that India has a
remarkable diversity of cockroach species, like many tropical
countries. Of the few thousand species of cockroaches, only four have
become a major nuisance for human beings.

“Unfortunately, little research has been done on Indian species.
Almost all the research is on a handful of species that are associated
with humans - such as American, German, and Oriental cockroaches - all
of which are cosmopolitan and thought to have originated in Africa. I
do not know the number of species that are native to India. But I
suspect their ecological role is similar to those species found in
other tropical countries,” he points out.

Dr Srini has often stressed the importance of cockroaches, the creepy
creatures that many consider useless, in the ecology of forests and
the survival of animals and human beings. While cockroaches that live
in the greenery play a vital role in the nutrient management of the
forests, those that inhabit kitchens are a problem for human beings.

“Of course, domestic cockroach species - especially the American
cockroach - are a huge problem in India. They are not like mosquitoes
in that they spread a lot of disease. Mostly they mechanically
transport bacteria and other pathogenic organisms from one environment
to another,” he observes.

Dr Srini said cockroach skin and body parts also are a major source of
allergic reactions in people. But given the many breeding places and
abundant food available to cockroaches in India, this will continue to
be a problem. Only thing people can do is to keep their homes clean,
do periodic treatment for cockroaches (there are some non-toxic
alternatives), and place barriers to prevent cockroaches from entering
their homes.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Human monkeys? If rogue scientists have their way, there could be monkeys with human brain and grass-feeding lions and tigers

 Work on “tamed lions” is going on clandestinely and if it succeeds, the big cats will besimply herbivorous or small carnivores.
By Syed Akbar
Super intelligent monkeys and tamed lions will become a reality soon, if 
scientists working on genetic engineering have they say.
Experts in stem cell technology and genetic engineering believe that the
day is not far off when the Earth will be populated by monkeys with human
brains and lions that simply “meow” without harming others.
Scientists are now looking beyond genes and genetic engineering.

But if this is misused, there could be animals who could compete with
human beings. Unscrupulous scientists may develop monkeys with human
brains or humanlike monkeys.
Nobel laureate Dr Roger Kornberg says monkeys with human intelligence has
almost become a reality but such creations will lead to debate on human
ethics. “There are two sides of genetic engineering and stem cell
technology. Good and bad. Use of the technology for therapeutic uses will
result in saving the lives of millions. But a small misuse of the facility
will lead to ethical issues,” he pointed out.
What’s all about this conceptualized human-monkey? It’s nothing but a
reversal of the Darwin’s theory which believes that human beings have
evolved from monkeys. If the researchers have their say, there will
monkeys evolving virtually from the modern man. This can be achieved by
injecting human brain cells into monkey brains or through transplantation
of embryonic stem cells of a human embryo into the womb of a monkey. As
the stem cells grow in the womb of a monkey, the resultant offspring will
be a monkey with human intelligence, the scientists hope.
The concept of super monkeys gains significance in the backdrop of
creation of genetically-engineered cats, by Korean scientists, which glow
in the dark. The scientists have also created rats that have no “fear
genes” in them and can roam freely in front of a cat. Work on “tamed
lions” is going on clandestinely and if it succeeds, the big cats will be
simply herbivorous or small carnivores.
While it is quite “easier” to create super monkeys with human qualities,
the major ethical problem that crops up before society is should such
creatures be considered “human subjects” or simply “intelligent animals”,
he argues. If such creatures are considered human subjects then they will
have to be protected by ethical guidelines that govern research on human
And more importantly, when a monkey turns “human” will it be subjected to
all legal rules. If yes, can it sue the “rogue” scientists who created it
through “unethical” genetic engineering?

Traditional eating habits prevent heart diseases

In patients suffering from ischemic heart disease the flow of blood to the heart is obstructed and thus the heart is deprived of oxygen. This leads to death if not attended to immediately.

By Syed Akbar

Aping the West in food habits and lifestyle is proving
to be dear to people in Andhra Pradesh with heart diseases linked to food habits
emerging as the leading cause of death.
According to a recent survey published by the Central Bureau of Health
Intelligence, ischemic heart disease characterised by reduced blood supply to
the heart has been killing 13.21 per cent of people in Andhra Pradesh. It is
the cause of death in 12.2 per cent of women and 14.08 per cent of men.
Incidentally ischemic heart disease tops the 10 important causes of death in
people of the State.
Doctors link the disease to smoking, diabetes, hypertension, obesity,
excessive use of hydrogenated fats (vanaspathi) and foods containing high
cholesterol levels. So far, ischemic heart disease has been the major
cause of death in the US and Europe.

That it has emerged as the top killer in Andhra
Pradesh is a cause for concern, says senior cardiologist Dr PC Rath.
In patients suffering from ischemic heart disease the flow of blood to the
heart is obstructed and thus the heart is deprived of oxygen. This leads to
death if not attended to immediately. According to Dr Rath, a little
change in lifestyle and food habits will help in controlling cardiovascular diseases.
Cerebrovascular disease (bleeding in brain or cutting supply of blood or
oxygen to the brain) is the second leading cause of death in Andhra Pradesh,
though it is the third leading cause of death in the West. Cancer or
malignancy, which is the second leading cause of death in the West, is
incidentally the 10th cause of death in Andhra Pradesh.
While lower respiratory (lung) infections is the third over all leading
killer in the State, diarrhoeal diseases occupy the third position in case of women and
tuberculosis in case of men. Self-inflected injury is the seventh leading
killer both among men and women while asthma and stomach cancer is the eighth
major cause of death among men and women respectively, according to the
CBHI report.
Road accidents occupy the 10th slot in case of men and dementia (group of
disorders relating to brain) is the 10th cause of deaths among women.
Cirrhosis of the liver is the cause of 2.19 per cent of deaths among men but
incidentally it is absent among women. Cirrhosis is linked to alcohol.
Women tend to be more prone to unintentional injuries than men. Statistics
show that 4.09 per cent of deaths in women and 3.81 per cent of deaths in
men are attributed to unintentional injuries.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Tuberculosis is capable of attacking the heart muscle, making it enlarged and puffy and causing fast irregular heart beat

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: A team of city doctors has found that tuberculosis
is capable of attacking the heart muscle, making it enlarged and puffy
and causing fast irregular heart beat. Earlier, it was thought that
tuberculosis does not attack the heart muscle but causes damage to the
outer layer. The finding by city doctors, however, negates this
age-old medical belief. The damage to the heart muscle by myocardial
tuberculosis often leads to sudden death.

“Our scientific work involved studying myocardial tuberculosis causing
heart rhythm disorder called ventricular tachycardia. This is a
serious life-threatening disorder leading to blackouts and even sudden
cardiac arrest and death. Treatment often requires expensive devices
as medicines are not fully protective. We have identified a cohort of
patients in whom tuberculosis of the heart muscle has been responsible
for this condition. This is the largest spectrum of such patients in
the world,” said Dr K Sarada, cardiologist and electro-physiologist,
Care Hospital. Dr Sarada and her team for the first time noticed that
tuberculosis is capable of damaging the heart muscle.

The problem, if detected early, can be reversed through a combination
of anti-TB drug therapy and immuno-suppressant drugs, she said adding
that as many as 70 per cent of the patients recovered. The enlarged
and puffy heart as also the rhythm became normal.

The study was presented at the plenary session of the prestigious Heart Rhythm

Society at Boston, USA held in May. Dr C Narasimhan and Dr C Sridevi are
the other two members of the research team.

The team also found that besides myocardial tuberculosis, patients
with cardiac sarcoidosis are at increased risk for sudden death from
ventricular arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythm).  In this
multi-center retrospective cohort study of 235 patients, the
researchers found that patients with cardiac sarcoidosis and
implantable cardiac assist devices (ICDs) were at high risk for
ventricular arrhythmias, with 36 per cent of patients receiving an
appropriate ICD therapy over a mean follow-up of 4.2 years.

Patients also had high rates of inappropriate shocks and
device-related complications. Patients receiving appropriate therapies
were more likely to be male, have a history of syncope (loss of
consciousness), have a lower left ventricular ejection fraction, have
had the ICD implanted for secondary prevention, and have ventricular
pacing on baseline ECG.

Simple tips to preserve nutritional value of milk: Do not boil it intermittently. Do not dilute milk with water. Do not remove the fat layer

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Milk loses much of its nutritional value when
heated intermittently. Dilution of milk with water and removal of fat
layer robs it of vitamins important for the healthy growth of

A team of researchers has found that boiling milk brings down the
content of vitamins to a significant extent. Each step adopted during
household practices plays a significant role in varying the
concentration of nutritional components, which affect the quality of

Though boiling of pasteurized milk is not advisable from nutritional
point of view, the team from Punjab suggested boiling of milk once as
prevention of food-borne diseases remains a priority in the Indian

“Dilution of milk significantly affects the nutritional profile which
might lead to insufficient nutrient deliveries especially in infants and young
children. Milk should not be diluted before consumption and the
practice of storage and intermittent heating of milk should be avoided
to prevent the vitamin loss,” reveals the research study by senior
scientists S Bahman, N Yadav, A Kumar, S Ganguly, V Garg and SS Marwaha.

Boiling of milk increases the concentration of most of the components and
minerals but reduces the level of vitamins A (by 21 per cent), B3 (13
per cent), B5 (three per cent) and B12 (21 per cent). Addition of
water also decreases the concentration of minerals and vitamins.
Storage of milk leads to a decrease in total solids by 19 per cent and
vitamins A, B3, B5, and B12 by 26 per cent, 17-19 per cent, 23 per
cent, and 18-26 per cent respectively.

“Milk contains over a hundred biochemical compounds of which the majority has
substantial nutritional values. When boiled milk is stored at
different conditions (room temperature and refrigeration), and unboiled milk under
refrigerated conditions, the level of total solids decreased up to 19
per cent. After storage for 24 hours, when the deposited the fat layer
at the top was removed, 71-76 per cent loss of fat was
observed,” the researchers said.

Storage of milk at low temperature results in the deposition of the
fat layer on the wall of the storage utensil/pouch carrying away fat-soluble vitamins
resulting in their substantial quantitative loss. Also, exposure to light during storage has a
deleterious effect on water-soluble vitamins. An appreciable loss in
their contents during storage at lower temperature has been reported.

Adding sugar to milk leads to reduction in the concentration of
calcium and magnesium. However, an appreciable increase in total solids, SNF (solids not fat)
and carbohydrate contents was found.

Zoological Survey of India: Animal discoveries 2012 - 193 new animals found in India

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  India continues to unravel the secrets of its
biodiversity with 193 new animal species discovered in the last one
year. These animals are completely new to the world of science. The
discovery, ahead of the biodiversity summit in Hyderabad during
October, puts India in a unique position and gives it an added
advantage on the biodiversity front.

During the period, 66 animal species, hitherto unknown in this part of
the world, were also discovered. These animals, though known to
science, are found in different parts of the world. It is for the
first time that these 66 animal species were found to exist on the
Indian terrain. Interestingly, none of these newly discovered animals
is from Andhra Pradesh, though other southern States contributed a
considerable number. However, zoologists from Andhra Pradesh are
involved in some of the discoveries.

According to the latest report on animal discoveries by the Zoological
Survey of India, zoologists from different parts of the country
discovered the new species that included worms, insects, starfish,
reptiles, fish, frogs and other amphibians, corals, molluscs, spiders
and leeches. The largest find was from the Insecta, the animal class
to which insects belong. In all 135 new species of insects were
discovered from forests, hilly tracts ad water bodies.

There were 23 new discoveries from Amphibia, the class to which frogs
and salamanders belong. An interesting discovery was in the Indian
Ocean where zoologists noticed 34 species of corals thriving near the

The ZSI report feels that the discovery ahead of the biodiversity
summit would boost India’s image. India has just two per cent of the
world’s total land surface, but it has over 7.50 per cent of the
species of animals that the world holds. This percentage accounts for
92,034 species so far known, of which insects alone include 61,375

It estimates that about two times this number of species remains to be
discovered on the Indian terrain.

Emerging zoonotic diseases: New type of filaria causing concern

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Even as sustained efforts are on to eliminate the
common filariasis, a new type of filaria, human dirofilariasis, is now
emerging as a health issue in certain parts of the country including
Andhra Pradesh.

Dirofilariasis, which was hitherto limited to dogs and other animals,
is occasionally reported in human beings. Human dirofilariasis, like
the normal filarial infection, is transmitted by mosquitoes. Since the
reservoir of dirofilariasis is mostly dogs, the disease is carried to
human beings when mosquitoes that feed on infected canines bite them.

Analysis of medical data by scientists at the Vector Control Research
Centre, Puducherry, shows that cases of human dirofilariasis, caused
by Dirofilaria immitis and Dirofilaria repens, are more common in
areas where stray dog and cats live in large numbers. The analysis was
published in the scientific journal, Tropical Parasitology.
Dirofilaria are small nematode worms. But unlike the common filaria,
most of the cases of dirofilariasis are not properly reported.

“Since classical cases of filariasis are common, they are dealt at
epidemiologic scales. Uncommon infections are largely neglected and
reported rarely. When one searches for the reports in the literature,
it is not uncommon to find a few thousands of such reports. This is
only a tip of iceberg and indicates the occurrence of large number of
cases that go unreported,” points out VCRC senior scientist Dr SL Hoti.

He suggests that data on such cases should be generated in a
systematic epidemiologic study, as it will help in assessing the
dimension of the problem and devising strategies for the control.

Dirofilariasis is an emerging zoonosis (disease transmitted by animals
to man). This worm is capable of causing subconjunctival infection. It
is present in the form of periorbital and subconjunctival cysts. The
common filarial worm causes elephantiasis leading to swelling of lymph
glands, mostly those in the legs.

The emergence of dirofilariasis may thwart the attempts of health
planners to eliminate the common lymphatic filariasis caused by mostly
by W bancrofti. India accounts for 40 per cent of lymphatic filarial
cases in the world.

Bitter gourd that is not bitter: Good news for diabetics

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  Diabetics, who want to keep their blood glucose
level under check the natural way, can now comfortably drink karela
juice. Vegetable scientists have developed a bitter gourd, which is
not bitter, but highly palatable.

A team of Indian and Taiwanese researchers is now conducting clinical
trial on the efficacy of bitterless bitter gourd in controlling blood
sugar levels. The Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre
(AVRDC), which has successfully removed bitterness from karela, has
tied up with Avinashlingam University for Women, Coimbatore, for the

The AVRDC has a centre in Hyderabad and it is part of the Project
Bitter gourd, aimed at developing a bitter gourd variety that has the
ideal content of momordicin, a chemical that gives bitterness to this

“The clinical trials will help us to identify whether bitter gourd,
which is robbed of its bitterness, will be able to control the blood
sugar in diabetics. We have received samples of the bitterless bitter
gourd powder from AVRDC, Taiwan. Our team will visit Taiwan before we
launch the trials in India,” said Dr S Premakumari, dean,
Avinashlingam University for Women.

Dried powder of nonbitter bitter gourd for preparation of juice has
been developed by researchers Hsin-I  Wang and Sandra Habicht of
AVRDC. This will be used for an intervention trial with diabetic
patients to manage type 2 diabetes, and promote health in developing

Data collected during the intervention trial will help determine the
anti-hyperglycemic properties of bitter gourd, and will be used to
develop evidence-based dietary strategies for managing the disease.
“The bitter taste of the vegetable powder had to be masked to avoid
bias and guarantee a blind study design. During the trial the powders
will be dissolved in drinking water and consumed by participants, who
will not know
which juice is which,” she said.

The Indian team will also develop bitter gourd recipes and evaluate
them for nutrient retention and anti-diabetic activity.

Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology: Deactivation of a gene WDr13 helps in growth of Beta cells in pancreas - could be potential genetic therapy for diabetes

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: In a major breakthrough that could help in
fighting diabetes, a team of researchers from the city-based Centre
for Cellular and Molecular Biology has successfully deactivated a gene
to regulate the functioning of beta cells in pancreas.

The malfunction of these beta cells leads to non-production of insulin
or production of ineffective insulin. In either case, the problem is
manifested in the form of diabetes. The CCMB team could regulate the
mass of beta cells in pancreas in the mouse model. The medical
implications of this research are many, the prime being the successful
management and control of diabetes. The quantity of pancreatic beta
cells determines whether a person is diabetic or normal.

The research team comprised Dr Satish Kumar, D Partha Sarathi, Shalu
Singh and Vijay Pratap. The researchers created a mouse model without
the presence of the gene, Wdr13 (WD-repeat protein), using genetic
engineering technology. The team inactivated or knocked out the gene
by disrupting it through insertion of an artificial piece of DNA in
the embryonic stem cells.

The removal or inactivation of the gene WDr13 in mouse model led to
formation of more pancreatic mass in the islets of Langerhans. This
showed that the knocking of the gene would lead to formation of more
beta cell mass in pancreas. The mouse showed higher levels of insulin
in blood serum, and thus better management of blood glucose. This in
other words means knocking off the gene WDr13 will help diabetics to
clear blood glucose quite effectively.

According to CCMB team, the protein could be helpful in finding a
potential drug target to treat diabetes, which is becoming a major
health problem in the country. Hyderabad has already emerged as the
diabetic capital of India.

The team is now busy studying the health implications of the knocking
off the gene WDr13 as the person ages.

Miracles of microspheres: And now you can listen to what transpires between the cells in your body

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad,: Scientists can now eavesdrop and listen to the
talks between different cells in the body.

Researchers from the city-based University of Hyderabad (UoH), and the
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata,
have used high power near-infrared laser light to secretly listen to
what transpires between the living cells. The research has great
medical significance, as it will provide an insight into the
happenings between health cells and killer cancerous cells.

The work was selected as a research highlight by the prestigious
science journal, Nature. Using high power near-infrared laser light,
the team trapped very small particles (microspheres) of polystyrene
beads. This could find use in probing the interactions between
biological cells. The minute particles that range between one milli
micron to 1000 milli micron were trapped in a tiny chamber formed by a
cover slip and a glass slide.

Prof. S Dutta Gupta of the School of Physics, University of Hyderabad,
formed part of the research team. Dr Ayan Banerjee from the department
of physical sciences, IISER-Kolkata, was the lead researcher.

"The ring pattern can be useful for studying tiny interaction forces
between micro-particles and the controllable study of biological
cell-to-cell interactions, such as that between cancer cells and
natural killer cells," said Dr Ayan Banerjee.

The Nature report said in recent years, focused laser beams have
emerged as handy tools for trapping and studying minute (micrometre)
materials. The tiny force exerted by such a beam induces random
self-assembly of micro-particles, thus providing an insight into the
dynamic of particles in a well-understood force environment.

“The researchers explored ordered self-assembly by employing a single
pure Gaussian beam emitted by a near-infrared laser. They used an
inverted microscope to focus the beam onto a sample chamber formed by
a cover slip and a glass slide. The sample chamber contained spherical
beads of polystyrene dispersed in water,” the research highlight
published in Nature said.

Slight manipulation of the microscope focus caused spherical
aberrations in the cover slip that pushed the beads towards the edge,
leading to the formation of well-defined closed ring structures.
Switching off the optical trap caused the beads to diffuse away, only
to reassemble almost instantaneously in the same ring structure after
the trap was switched on again.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Private space travel: Fantasy or reality - Buy tickets and travel in a space shuttle to demystify the outer world

By Syed Akbar

With space tourism being dubbed as the most lucrative travel industry of
the future, space scientists, astrophysicists and astrobiologists are now
busy exploring the ways and means of colonising the moon and the earth's
neighbouring planet, Mars.

Though establishing human colonies on the moon and Mars may take at least
three to four decades, travel to the outer space has already become a
reality. The next 10 years is going to witness a major boom in space
tourism, which of course is restricted to holidaying in the outer space.
The moon and the Mars mission will, however, continue to be out of the
reach of man till the next generation. But studies are already underway
and this is soon going to be a reality.

Space experts from across the globe including the USA's National
Aeronautics and Space Administration, European Union's European Space
Agency and India's Indian National Space Research Organisation, are
researching theoretically what steps they should take to ensure a
comfortable space tourism project. They are also discussing the
feasibility of establishing human colonies on the moon and Mars.
Space scientists are enthusiastic about the space tourism to outer space
but are divided over the human tour packages to natural satellites and

This is because scientists do not know the short term or long term effects
of atmosphere of the moon and Mars on human beings. Sub-orbital vehicles
and orbital cities are being planned to boost space tourism to outer space
by 2020. Space tourism, though a recent phenomenon, is fast catching up
among private individuals who could afford the journey. The  cost is
highly prohibitive, about 30 million US dollars for a week long stay in
outer space.

The space scientists are also thinking of measures to bring down the space
tourism price so that more and more people could avail
of the facility. Some scientists foresee a reduction in the over all fares
by at least 10 per cent in the next two decades.

Presently, only the Russian Space Agency is offering space tourism packages
for the general public. Russia takes the enthusiast space tourists to the
international space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. It is the thrilling
experience that has attracted at least half a dozen civilians to venture
into this new tourism package.

Since the space tourism package is limited to Russian space agency, one has
to wait for at least two years after purchasing the "ticket" to enjoy the
beauty of the earth and its atmosphere, from outside while circulating the
globe in outer space. Space tourism flights are already reserved for the
next few years.

"Tickets" are now available for beyond 2014 journeys.To ensure that
the nascent space tourism project clicks well, "spaceports" are being
planned at various locations including the United Arab Emirates, Sweden,
Singapore and at a few cities in the USA including California, Alaska and

So far only five individuals have availed of the space tourism facility.
They are Americans Dennis Tito, Gregory Olsen and Charles Simonyi, South
African Mark Shuttleworth and American of Iranian descent Anousheh Ansari.

While private space travel firms are busy devising strategies to woo space
tourists by building the required infrastructure, NASA and ESA have
launched a research on the atmospheric effects of Mars on human health.
NASA has already developed an advanced life support programme. It uses
plants to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen in closed chambers.

"To live safely on Mars, which has 95 per cent carbon dioxide in its
atmosphere, we'll have to create a lot of technology tricks like that to
survive," explains NASA scientist Douglas Ming. Explorers visiting Mars
will have to live in habitats where the oxygen is regenerated, wear
spacesuits with oxygen masks, drive radiation-proof vehicles, and grow
food by adding nutrients to the "topsoil" that currently seems unable to
nourish plants.

But before space tourists can do all of these activities on Mars, robots
need to teach humans where and how to land, where to build, and how to
survive in the harsh martian environment.

NASA is also studying the chemical composition of the soil on Mars to find
out what chemicals might be detrimental to humans if they inhale the dust.
For example, trace metals could be toxic to lungs, and dust could also
affect electronic devices like computers and vehicles that humans will need
on Mars.

NASA administrator Michael Griffin points out that it wants to build a
space civilisation on the Mars. "We have a long-term plan to put man on
Mars by 2037, Griffin says adding that Nasa is looking beyond the moon and
Mars into the inter-planetary system.

Environment matters: The biodiversity wealth of India

By Syed Akbar

* The forest cover is estimated at 6.73 lakh square kilometres or just 20.64
per cent of the total geographic area of the country. But the percentage of
very dense forest is just 1.56.

* India's biodiversity wealth extends to 80,000 known species of animals and
45,000 species of plants including 15,000 medicinal plants.

* Almost 3,200 wild relatives of agricultural crops and 131 wild relatives of
domesticated animals are found in India.

* India has several endemic species (that are present only in India and not
elsewhere in the world). They include 5,150 plant and 1,837 species. One-
third of all these species are facing the threat of extinction.

* Endemic species like Narcondom hornbill, Andaman teal and Nicobar
megapod will be lost for ever, if immediate conservation measures are not

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This Day In History

Mother's Care

Mother's Care
Minnu The Cat & Her Kittens Brownie, Goldie & Blackie

Someone with Nature

Someone with Nature
Syed Akbar in an island in river Godavari with Papikonda hills in the background

Recognition by World Vegetable Centre

Recognition by World Vegetable Centre

Under the shade of Baobab tree

Under the shade of Baobab tree
At Agha Khan Akademi in Kenya

Gateway to the Southern Hemisphere

Gateway to the Southern Hemisphere

Convention on Biodiversity

Convention on Biodiversity
Syed Akbar at the 11th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity