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Archive for August 4, 2013

Biting back: Taking the sting out of spider venom

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The brown recluse spider has a nasty bite

 

Brown recluse spiders bite more than 7,000 people in Brazil every year causing serious skin lesions and even death. The anti-venom used as treatment comes at the expense of many animal lives. But could a breakthrough in synthetic spider venom lead to a more humane solution?

“The first time I was bitten, I nearly died,” says Adelaide Fabienski Maia, a school assistant from Curitiba.

“I put my shorts on in the morning and felt a bite but didn’t realise what it was. It wasn’t until the evening that my face started burning up. I looked at the bite area and it was red.”

Adelaide was soon rushed to hospital with the classic target-shaped lesion caused by the venom eating away at her skin.

It was only thanks to a dose of anti-venom that she’s still around to tell the tale.

But the anti-venom currently available comes with its own risks – mostly to the animals involved in the production process.

Venom is milked from thousands of brown spiders before being injected into horses. This triggers an immune response that creates life-saving anti-venom for humans – while drastically reducing the horses’ own lifespan.

Now scientists in Brazil have come up with a synthetic venom alternative that could save many of those lives.

Not so incy-wincy

The Loxosceles family of venomous brown and recluse spiders is found in North and South America, Africa, Australia and some parts of Europe.

At 6-20mm long, they are by no means the world’s biggest spiders. Even their bite is almost painless. But their venom can cause large sores and lesions through dermo-necrosis – literally “death of the skin”.

It is the only family of spiders in the world to cause the skin to die in this way. Scientists have linked it to a rare enzyme in the venom called sphingomyelinase D, which damages and kills skin tissue.

In a small percentage of cases where anti-venom is not administered quickly enough, people can die through organ failure.

But many more deaths – of spiders and horses – are caused through the anti-venom production itself.

“We milk the spiders once a month for three to four months,” says Dr Samuel Guizze, a biologist at the Butantan Institute, Sao Paulo’s pioneering centre for anti-venom production.

It involves one technician gingerly picking up a spider and giving it an electric shock while a second scientist rushes to draw the venom into a syringe.

As only a tiny squirt of venom is surrendered each time, it means that tens of thousands of individuals must be bred for milking.

“The amount of venom obtained per spider is very small,” says Dr Guizze. “We then inject the venom into horses and after 40 days the horses are bled and the antibodies [anti-venom] separated from the blood.”

Unsurprisingly, being injected with brown spider venom has an effect on the horses’ health over time. Their lifespan is reduced from around 20 years to just three or four.

Sadly, the spiders fare even worse – dying after just three or four venom extractions.

Alternatives to animals

Six hundred miles away at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, a breakthrough in venom technology promises to greatly reduce the anti-venom industry’s reliance on animals.

Dr Carlos Chavez-Olortegui is a senior biologist and spider venom specialist.

“We identified the parts of the venom responsible for creating antibodies, and we made a protein chain containing only these parts,” he told the BBC.

By making a man-made copy of the active venom ingredient, it means that real spiders could soon be completely superfluous to the process,

And, although horses will still be needed for the foreseeable future, the synthetic venom is non-toxic. This means that horses will still make the right anti-venom in their blood but without experiencing the poisoning effects of being injected with real venom.

Dr Chavez-Olortegui says this new technique will enable horses to be retired after a few years and go on to live a full life

Indeed in the future, he hopes animals can be removed from the process altogether.

A vaccine for the future?

But the study has also shown tantalising possibilities for creating a vaccine.

Trials have shown that animals injected with synthetic spider venom start to produce antibodies that protect them from the effects of real brown spider bites.

Chavez-Olortegui hopes that these results could eventually pave the way for a human vaccine.

“More tests are required to see if the level of immunisation is maintained long-term, but we believe we are on the right path to making a human vaccine soon,” says Chavez-Orortegui.

The potential vaccine is seen as a major breakthrough for science but could have only limited applications in the real world – as the cost of developing the vaccine is weighed against the chance of being bitten.

But in a country where 26,000 spider bites were reported in 2012 alone – 7,000 of which involved brown spiders – there could well prove to be quite a demand.

Adelaide Fabienski Maia, who has the dubious honour of living in the “brown spider capital” of Brazil, has since been bitten a second time.

Although they’re not naturally aggressive, brown spiders have a nasty habit of sleeping inside people’s clothes.

Unsurprisingly, Adelaide doesn’t fancy taking any more chances.

“If there were a vaccine, I’d take the whole family today.”

 

World’s Most Dangerous Spiders

Brazilian Wandering Spider
  • Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria fera– (pictured) According to the Guinness Book of Records it has the most active neurotoxic venom in the world. Just 0.006mg is enough to kill a mouse. If you’re lucky enough to survive then a bite can cause extreme pain for days, including a painful erection which can lead to impotence.
  • Brown recluse spider (Loxosceles spp.) –Found on all continents except Antarctica, this spider bites causes necrotic wounds (see main article).
  • Southern black widow spider (Latrodectus mactans) – The spider that kills most people each year in the US, it has venom 14-15 times more powerful than that of a rattlesnake.
  • Sydney funnel web spider (Atrax robustus– They have one of the most toxic venoms to humans of any spider, but there have thankfully been no known deaths since the introduction of anti-venom. They are aggressive when threatened. They also have a habit of falling into swimming pools where they can survive for many hours.
  • Red back spider (Latrodectus hasseltiiRed backs are one of the most recognisable species in Australia. It is the female that is most likely to bite. Children and the elderly are most at risk of succumbing to the venom and should seek immediate medical attention.

via BBC News – Biting back: Taking the sting out of spider venom.

Ultrasound ‘may stop kidney injury’ from surgery

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Blood flow problems in surgery can cause kidney injury

Ultrasound treatments could be used to prevent a common kidney complication than can arise after major surgery, researchers suggest.

The work, published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, was carried out on mice.

But the researchers said there could be a “rapid translation” to human studies because the treatment for acute kidney injury (AKI) was simple and routine.

Experts said the study suggested potential for new therapies.

AKI is the sudden loss of kidney function, which can easily develop in any sick person through infection such as pneumonia, diarrhoea or a heart attack.

AKI can develop after major surgery, such as some kinds of heart surgery, because the kidneys can be deprived of normal blood flow during the procedure.

Once it has developed, there are few treatment options.

‘Protection’

The University of Virginia team exposed anesthetised mice to ultrasound using a routine clinical imaging system 24 hours before disrupting the blood supply to the kidneys.

They then found the mice still had healthy kidneys after blood flow was restored.

But in other mice, who were given a “sham” ultrasound, the same disruption led to significant kidney injury.

The researchers suggest the ultrasound treatment stimulated an anti-inflammatory response from the spleen that then protected the kidneys.

Dr Mark Okusa, who led the study, said: “Our studies using non-invasive ultrasound now provide us with an active treatment that appears to be simple, effective, and nontoxic for the prevention of acute kidney injury.

“To our knowledge this has never been described for the prevention of tissue or organ injury.

“Interestingly, we suspect that similar mechanisms that lead to kidney injury may also lead to lung, heart, and liver damage and that this form of therapy might be effective for prevention of injury in other organs as well.”

Prof Donal O’Donoghue, the former national clinical director for kidney care, who has called for action over the level of AKI, said the paper was interesting.

He added: “It suggests that there are protective strategies over and above good basic fluid and medicines management care that are the cornerstones of prevention.

“Studying the animal model further is the next step . But we also need to invest in AKI research in the UK.”

via BBC News – Ultrasound ‘may stop kidney injury’ from surgery.

C. diff test to predict patients most at risk

A test to predict which patients are most at risk from the Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection has been developed.

The “accurate and simple” test could benefit patients, hospitals and health services around the world, scientists and doctors in Devon have said.

C. diff is a bacterial infection of the digestive system.

In 2011, there were about 2,000 C. diff-related deaths, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The research was carried out by the University of Exeter and the Royal Devon and Exeter (RD&E) NHS Foundation Trust, with the National Institute for Health Research in the South West.

In a paper published by BMC Infectious Diseases it said growing concern about the number of C. diff strains resistant to drug therapies meant the findings were exciting.

‘Better chances’

Dr Steve Michell, senior lecturer in molecular microbiology at the University of Exeter, said: “They identify a simple, accurate and robust method to identify those patients who are at risk of dying from a C. diff infection.”

The benefits to patients and potential savings to the NHS and other health services “would be immense”, he added.

The test’s “comparative simplicity” means it could be used by non-specialists within 48 hours of diagnosis, allowing earlier treatment.

Dr Ray Sheridan, consultant physician at the RD&E, said: “This really simple and quick tool, which any junior doctor could use in the middle of the night, quickly and easily flags up those who need a speedy and intensive treatment regime or more senior help.

“The quicker we get on with the right treatment for the right patient the better their chances of recovery are.”

via BBC News – C. diff test to predict patients most at risk.

Fallopian operation ‘may cut ovarian cancer risk’

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Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women in the UK.

A doctor has raised the idea of women at high risk of ovarian cancer having their Fallopian tubes removed as a precaution.

Cancer Research UK said there was no evidence how effective it would be.

The Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting breast cancer after finding out she had a faulty BRCA gene.

The same mutation can also cause ovarian cancer. Prof Sean Kehoe said removing fallopian tubes might help.

Some people with the mutation do have their ovaries and the connecting fallopian tubes removed to prevent ovarian cancer.

‘Avoiding earlier menopause’

Prof Kehoe, of the charity Wellbeing of Women and the University of Birmingham, argues that just removing the tubes could help many women.

He said: “The main advantage of this approach would be hopefully giving some protection but avoiding earlier menopause, as normally the ovaries would be removed.

“Recent studies suggest that the fallopian tubes may be the source of up to 50 per cent of so-called ovarian cancers, though research is ongoing.”

However, patients would still need to have a second operation later to remove the ovaries and Prof Kehoe admitted there was a “need to research this in much more detail”.

About 7,000 women develop ovarian cancer annually, making it the fifth most common cancer in women in the UK.

Taking contraceptive pill

Dr James Brenton, an ovarian cancer expert at Cancer Research UK, said: “Removing the fallopian tube from women with a BRCA fault could reduce their risk of developing ovarian cancer without the side-effects that removing the ovaries would have.

“But there have been no studies to show how effective this could be.

“Any woman who carries a BRCA fault should speak to her doctor to discuss the possibilities for them.

He said there were other things women could do to reduce their risk, such as taking the contraceptive pill for three years before the age of 30.

via BBC News – Fallopian operation ‘may cut ovarian cancer risk’.

狂犬病7縣市淪陷 單日鼬獾13例

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今天確診鼬獾病例已達到13例,創下單日新高紀錄。(圖片/取材自疾管署)

狂犬病疫情有擴大趨勢,今天確診鼬獾病例已達到13例,創下單日新高紀錄。累積到今天為止,染病地區已經擴增為7縣市25個鄉鎮,新增1縣(嘉義縣)、7鄉鎮。

昨天農委會家畜衛生試驗所檢驗33件動物樣本,其中有13例鼬獾被檢測出罹患狂犬病陽性。分別來自台中市大里區、南投縣(魚池鄉、信義村)、嘉義縣(阿里山鄉、竹崎鄉、番路鄉)、台南市(六甲區、南化區、楠西區)、高雄市旗山區2例及台東縣東河鄉2例。

至目前為止,狂犬病疫情已蔓延台中市、南投縣、雲林縣、嘉義縣、台南市、高雄市及台東縣,共計全台7縣市、25鄉鎮都淪陷,有35例鼬獾及1例錢鼠確診染病。

疫情指揮中心呼籲,雖然人類狂犬病發病後死亡率很高,但先進國家因能於被動物咬傷後就醫、打疫苗,故死亡個案並不多,因此民眾不需恐慌。

 

染病地區已經擴增為7縣市25個鄉鎮,新增1縣(嘉義縣)、7鄉鎮。(疾管署提供)

染病地區已經擴增為7縣市25個鄉鎮,新增1縣(嘉義縣)、7鄉鎮。(疾管署提供)

 

為確保國人健康,政府已建構狂犬病防治四道防線:

第一道防線:請民眾配合政府,事先做好動物疫苗接種等預防工作、不棄養家中寵物。

第二道防線:從事第一線執行動物防疫的人員(執行與野生動物有直接接觸或捕犬者、動物收容所相關人員及開業獸醫師),事先接種狂犬病疫苗。

第三道防線:民眾如遭動物抓咬傷,請儘速就醫,並由醫師評估是否接種疫苗。

第四道防線:實施「鼬獾咬抓傷保平安專案計畫」,以保護過去一年內曾遭鼬獾抓咬傷且未曾接種疫苗的民眾健康。

指揮中心強調,政府已備妥足量人用疫苗與免疫球蛋白,並持續採購中,符合接種需求建議對象之受傷民眾或第一線防疫人員,絕對可以打得到疫苗,民眾無需擔心或搶打疫苗。

via 狂犬病7縣市淪陷 單日鼬獾13例 | 20130803 | 華人健康網.

孕期貧血別緊張 謹記每日補鐵

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既然新生兒的鐵質來自胎兒時期的「儲蓄」,孕媽咪在懷孕時就必須特別留意攝取足夠的鐵質,行政院衛生署建議孕媽咪在懷孕後期,每天要攝取鐵質45毫克,供應母體和胎兒所需;要特別注意的是,孕婦補鐵除了量要足夠,補對時機也很重要。

陳姿吟營養師表示,在懷孕初期,胚胎正在發育階段,主要營養和需要都從臍帶向媽咪取用,即使到了中期胎兒的器官開始分化發展,但此時需要的鐵質量不多,依靠母體的供給即可。中期以前孕婦若補充大量的鐵質,因為胎兒還用不到,多餘的鐵質會和食物結合成為沉澱物,會出現孕期便秘的狀況,因此孕媽咪不需從初期就補充太多。

直到懷孕後期,胎兒所有的器官組織都成形,在為離開母體準備,身體就需要開始練習運作,肝臟也必須儲存足夠的鐵質量以供出生後使用,加上孕婦在懷孕後期的血流量變大,需要消耗更多氧氣,對鐵質的需求較迫切,造成「媽咪要鐵,寶寶更要鐵」的狀況,孕媽咪在後期就要積極補鐵。

假性貧血別緊張

每次產檢時都會測量血紅素,成年女性正常的血紅素是12至14,到了懷孕後期可能會有血紅素略降的情形,例如:從12掉到11.5。這時孕媽咪不必太緊張,由於懷孕後期全身液體量變多(羊水、血液、水腫的水分滯留等),測量的基數也變大,血紅素的數值會被稀釋掉,指數便會略降一些,但並不表示血紅素真的不足。

陳姿吟營養師提醒,若孕媽咪發現自己的血紅素微降,不必急著吃鐵劑,建議詢問過婦產科醫師的意見再決定要補充多少,當然,如果血紅素的測量結果驟降到10以下,就一定要提高警覺請醫師檢查。

via 孕期貧血別緊張 謹記每日補鐵 | 20130804 | 華人健康網.

打鼓能燃脂!先做手部拉筋動作

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打鼓對於提升心肺能力、肌耐力、燃燒脂肪也有不錯的效果。(圖片提供/高雄市政府觀光局)

你可能沒有學過打鼓,但你一定對優人神鼓、鬼太鼓這兩個名詞不陌生。這年頭孩子學鋼琴已不盛行,親子共同學習打鼓卻正紅。根據美國「科學日報」報導,瑞典研究人員一項調查發現,打鼓出色、跳舞節奏精準的人,在智力測試中得分也最高,顯見高智商和良好的節奏感有密切關係。

打鼓好處多 能燃燒脂肪

打鼓的好處很多,雙手輪流敲打鼓面的動作,可以開發孩童的肢體協調度,促進右腦的潛能開發、提升人體的平衡能力。而配合音樂節奏打擊的方式,更能提高孩童的專注力、耐力,以及節奏感。

打鼓除了對開發幼童肢體協調度、專注力有一定影響外,對於成年人的身體健康也有相當的助益。在打鼓技法中,有許多大量的肢體動作,對於提升心肺能力、肌耐力、燃燒脂肪也有不錯的效果,能夠達到減重的效果。另外,藉由敲擊的動作可以發洩日常生活壓力,達到紓壓的效果。

為響應即將到來的父親節,高雄市政府觀光局在高雄橋頭十鼓文創園區舉辦的「海克力斯擊鼓分貝賽」活動,特別以希臘神話最著名的大力士-海克力斯(Hercules),代表現代父親在家庭扮演重要的力量的角色。

各地前來參加活動的父親,參加「擊鼓大賽」,拿起鼓棒用力擊鼓,展現爸爸的power。主辦單位也提倡親子一起學習打鼓,培養共同興趣,提升親子關係,

打鼓防運動傷害 做手部拉筋動作

打鼓有許多動作會大量使用手臂肌肉,因此建議民眾在打鼓前,先做手部拉筋暖身動作,以免受傷。除此之外,打鼓時也需要注意自己的坐、站姿勢,避免肌肉僵硬,才能避免運動傷害。

via 打鼓能燃脂!先做手部拉筋動作 | 20130803 | 華人健康網.

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