Monday, January 31, 2022

Frog limbs regrown - research study

US scientists have regrown the legs of frogs after a brief drug treatment, marking a significant advance for regenerative medicine.

The team at Tufts University, in collaboration with colleagues at Harvard University,  both Massachusetts, used a combination of five drugs applied in a wearable silicone cap that was placed over the stump of the frog leg, that previously had been amputated.

Each drug had a different purpose, including reducing inflammation, promoting growth of blood vessels and muscle, and stopping scar tissue.

The findings, in Science Advances, showed that after an 18-month period of regrowth, frogs restored a functional leg able to respond to stimuli such as touch.

“The fact that it required only a brief exposure to the drugs to set in motion a months-long regeneration process suggests that frogs and perhaps other animals may have dormant regenerative capabilities that can be triggered into action,” said Nirosha Murugan, first author of the paper.

Source: EARA News Digest

Gene-environment interactions that drives autism evidence revealed for the first time

Scientists have provided the first evidence of the close interactions between genes and the environment in the social dysfunctions typical of autistic disorders.

For the first time a team from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, within the framework of the Synapsy National Centre of Competence in Research, has deciphered how a change in cell environment triggers the onset of autistic symptoms in mice with a genetic vulnerability. 

While a link between the inflammatory process and autism was suspected, an imbalance in the expression of a series of genes caused by a massive inflammation — resulting from an immune response to the administration of a pharmacological product —leads to the hyperexcitability of neurons of the reward system" says a press release from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland.

The results of the research are published this month in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The research team led by Camilla Bellone, a professor in the Department of Basic Neurosciences at the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and director of the Synapsy National Centre of Competence in Research, had already demonstrated the role of the reward system in the social interaction deficit in autistic mice. 

Indeed, the motivation that drives individuals to interact with their peers is closely linked to the reward system, through the activation of the neuronal networks that make it up. 

But what are the cellular and molecular mechanisms at the origin of the deficits in social interaction? To understand this process and thus decipher how the symptoms appear, the scientists studied so-called heterozygous mice, i.e. mice carrying a deletion of only one of the two copies of the SHANK3 gene, but not showing social behavioural disorders. With 1-2% of all autism cases, this is indeed one of the most common monogenic causes of the disease.

“Humans carry a mutation in only one of the two copies of SHANK3, a gene that is essential for the functioning of synapses and communication between neurons,” points out Camilla Bellone. 

“In animal models of the disease, however, mutation of a single copy of SHANK3 only slightly affects the behaviour of mice, which explains why the behavioural phenotypes observed are not homogeneous”.

The role of neuronal hyperexcitability
The researchers first inhibited the expression of SHANK3 in the neural networks of the reward system in order to identify the other genes whose expression was modified. Several genes related to the inflammatory system were detected, including one of them, Trpv4, which is also involved in the functioning of communication channels between neurons. 

“By inducing massive inflammation, we observed an overexpression of Trpv4, which then led to a neuronal hyperexcitability concomitant to the onset of social avoidance behaviours that our mice did not exhibit until now,” stresses Camilla Bellone. Moreover, by inhibiting Trpv4, the scientists were able to
restore normal social behaviour.

“This provides evidence that autistic disorders are indeed the result of an interaction between a genetic susceptibility and an external trigger - in this case, massive inflammation. Neuronal hyperexcitability disrupts communication channels, thereby altering the brain circuits governing social behaviour.”

This would also explain why the same genetic predisposition can lead, depending on the environmental factors encountered and the type of inflammation they trigger, to a diversity of symptoms of equally variable severity.

Irreversible damage during development?
In this study, the inflammation was induced in adult animals. The resulting deficit in social behaviour was not only reversible, but also disappeared naturally after a few days. “We now need to replicate our research during the critical phases of neurodevelopment — i.e. during gestation and immediately after birth — in order to observe the impact of hyperexcitability on the developing neural networks.

This could damage the construction of neural networks beyond repairs,” says Camilla Bellone. This study constitutes a proof-of-principle of a direct causality between inflammation and the appearance of behavioural symptoms in the presence of genetic vulnerability, and highlights the importance of environmental factors, which have been largely underestimated until now. 

It also highlights the fact that the understanding of the mechanisms behind autistic disorders still needs to be refined in order to intervene effectively. Indeed, depending on the gene-environment interactions and inflammatory mechanisms specific to each patient, it would be possible to identify a treatment that would correspond exactly to the cellular and molecular modification at stake in the brain circuits.

People with autism spectrum disorders all have characteristic behavioural difficulties. Nevertheless, the important heterogeneity of their symptoms remains one of the major questions for scientists and physicians.

DOI: 10.1038/s41380-021-01427-0

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Uganda Polio mass vaccination roll out: vaccine carriers, cults and health workers

About 270 health workers were trained to roll out the vaccination against Polio for six days in Arua City.

The Wild Polio 2 virus was detected from two samples last year at two sewage treatment sites. This type of polio can lead to permanent paralysis or even death in some cases.

Uganda was named free of Wild Polio 2 virus in 2015 and it was removed from the routine immunization schedule in 2016. As such the country doesn't store vaccines for it anymore. 

As a result the government through the Ministry of Health decided to roll out mass vaccination for children below five years targeting to vaccinate at least 8.7 million children, countrywide scheduled three days.

7.2 million children were targeted to be vaccinated by Monday 17, leaving a deficit of 1.5 million children yet to receive the vaccine. But due to limited vaccine carriers the Ministry of Health extended the date for the mass polio vaccination to Wednesday, 19th.

Vaccine carriers are insulated containers where vaccines are kept cold during transportation.

In Arua, City Health officials extended days for Polio vaccination over a shortage of vaccine carriers forcing health officials to conduct the campaign in two phases from Monday up to Wednesday.

According to Peter Aziku the Deputy Health Officer Arua City, they needed 890 cold boxes but they received 469. 

Aziku said they have decided to divide the health staff into two with the first one starting vaccination in the areas of Pajulu, Adumi, and Ayivuni all in Ayivu West while the second group of health workers will resume on Monday in the areas of Arua Hill, Oli Division, Oluko Dadamu, Manibe, and Aroi.

Pader district had a target of 50,777 children under five to be vaccinated but only 45,780 received the vaccine.

Justine Ocen the LCV Vice-Chairperson, said that the district received fewer vaccines because the Ministry of Health relied on the district report about the target population, yet the figure is now different. 

Ocen said the district is liaising with other neighboring districts to get vaccines and vaccinate the remaining children.

In Mukono district, the lack of medical workers stalled the polio vaccination campaign. The district dispatched 108 medical workers to carry out the exercise in the entire district with each parish receiving one medical worker. Mukono district target was to vaccinate 147, 000 children. 

Sarah Nassaka, a health worker said that during the previous mass vaccination exercises, four medical workers were allocated to Bagala zone but this time round only one was assigned for the polio vaccination.

Stephen Mulindwa, the District Health Officer-DHO advised parents with busy schedules to take their children to the district general hospital and health center IVs where were designated immunization centers and enough staff.

The issue of lack of vaccine carriers:

As the government rolled out the national mass polio vaccination, vaccine carriers stalled the process. The exercise which was slated to commence on Thursday January 13th, 2022, and end on Sunday, 16th January was extended for three more days. 

According to a Ministry of health survey carried out prior to commencement of the exercise only 24,000 cold chain carriers were available in the country. Hence, about 56,000 out of the 80,000 teams deployed to conduct the polio vaccination exercise nationwide didn’t get carriers to safely carry the vaccines. 

The ministry then used a staggered approach, where vaccination teams shared the carriers. Dr. Immaculate Ampaire, the deputy program manager of the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunization (UNEPI) said the campaign exposed the need of investing in door-to-door cold storage equipment. 

"When it comes to other cold storage equipment we are okay but we do not have enough vaccine carriers. In this ongoing campaign, we had a shortfall of over 50,000 and that is why districts were asked to do passed implementation," Ampaire said.

Extension of the campaign was a necessity and the Ministry of Health also halted COVID-19 vaccination from taking place to free up cold chain boxes that would otherwise have been used to store COVID-19 vaccines. 

The Health Ministry Spokesperson, Emmanuel Ainebyoona, said that the ministry is in the long term working towards increasing the capacity of cold chain storage equipment in the country. Recently the health ministry received equipment worth US$ 8.3million. 

Using the sub-country approach: 

As a means to reach all the children the government changed to a sub-county approach from the district approach. The door to door also consists of teams visiting each household and school which will achieve the target of reaching every child. 

On Friday, Luwero district embarked on the door-to-door immunization campaign against polio among children aged five years and below.  The district targeted to immunize 106,000 children within six days and 65 centers were gazetted to coordinate the campaign.

The health workers kicked off by immunizing children in daycare and nursery schools before they move door to do together with LCI Chairpersons.

According to preliminary data released by the immunization program, Busoga has emerged as the best performing region in this campaign with 484,809 children vaccinated followed by South Central with 450,260 children. 

Ampaire attributes Busoga's excellent performance to a change in the models used. Figures from the health ministry show that the region normally scores less than 50 percent vaccine coverage on average when it comes to routine immunization. 

“This time around we had a plan that catered for all parishes. We used village teams to move from one village to another and parish to parish. This helped us plan for all hard-to-reach areas like mountains, islands, and even some cities," she said.

"We are urging parents and school administrators to go and get children under five vaccinated. This vaccine was removed from the routine immunization schedule. We got resources from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to carry out this campaign and parents must take up this opportunity," Ampaire said.

The health officials have also involved the cultural, religious, and local council leaders in addition to the VHTs to popularize the vaccination campaign. 

Hellen Alimo a Village Health Team-VHT Officer in Luwero said parents responded positively to the exercise although there was a challenge of inadequate health workers.

Ismail Tuku the Prime Minister of Lugbara Cultural Institution said the government should consider sharing polio vaccines with the Neighboring DRC and South Sudan because of the eminent polio risk in these countries.

Cult culture inhibit uptake of polio vaccines;

Luwero district health officials are facing a challenge to reach children of cult members that are against any form of immunization. Over 50 children could be affected.

When Luwero district embarked on the door-to-door immunization campaign, parents of children who belong to the Abajiri Christian cult in Luwero rejected it.  The families are spread at villages of Kakoola, Makokonyigo, Kikandwa, and Nakasejjere village in Kamira sub-county.

Local Leaders say the cult believes that the immunization campaign is satanic and a plan to enforce the new world order.

Abdullatif Serugo the LCI Chairman of Makokonyigo village said that during the registration of families whose children are eligible for immunization, 10 families that follow the cult in his area indicated that they won’t participate in the campaign and hence refused to volunteer any information.

He said that in the past parents have been arrested and jailed for rejecting government programs but this has not deterred their beliefs.

Ronald Mulumba the LCI Chairman of Nakasejjere village said that whenever cult followers learn about such campaigns, the children are hidden in makeshift houses in the swamps until the exercise ends.

Ponsiano Kabaale the LC 1 Chairperson of Kakoola village said he was secretly gathering information about the total number of children in the families and they intend to round them for immunization during their prayers on Saturday.

The Chairpersons have since asked the District Leadership to take up the matter and force the parents to surrender the children for immunization.

Doctor Innocent Nkonwa the Luwero District Health Officer said they were privy to information on the existence of the group and they intend to use security personnel to ensure they access children for immunization.

Erastus Kibirango the LCV Chairperson of Luwero said they would visit the villages to persuade and sensitize communities to participate in the campaign.

Sheikh Ramadhan Mulindwa the Chairperson of Inter-Religious Council in Luwero district said that immunization is not against religious faiths and parents should embrace it. It's believed that the followers of the cult have also shunned COVID 19 vaccination exercise.

In 2014, more than 300 followers of Abajiri cult in Luwero and Nakasongola districts fled their homes to evade arrest after rejecting the national population and housing census.

In 2010, the same cult followers were arrested and jailed for blocking their children from attending school but their attitude didn’t change. It is believed that they're over 500 followers of Bajiri cult in Luwero and Nakasongola districts. 


Friday, January 21, 2022

Instead of coercing, nudges prove their effectiveness

Our choices are not only determined by our ability to reason, but are also influenced by certain biases such as our emotions, our memories, the opinions of others or the configuration of our environment.

This is based on a  theory termed as  «nudging» developed by American economist Richard Thaler in the late 2000s. Focusing on these elements can therefore be more effective in getting us to change certain behaviours than a ban or an awareness-raising campaign.

In the behavioral sciences, researchers call this a modification of the 'choice architecture'. This is done, for example, when in a company cafeteria the healthiest dishes are deliberately placed at the top of the menu to encourage customers to select the option that is most beneficial to their health, without infringing on their freedom to choose. 

As a result, this type of intervention is attracting increasing interest from both the scientific community and public authorities.

Over 450 strategies analyzed
Despite the growing popularity of nudges, their performances had not yet been studied in their entirety. By performing a meta-analysis (a statistical approach aimed at synthesizing the results of numerous studies), a research team from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) has succeeded in demonstrating the effectiveness of “nudges” and identifying the areas in which they are most relevant. 

"We have collected more than 200 scientific articles published over the last 15 years on the subject, which represent more than 450 ‘nudge’ strategies," says St├ęphanie Mertens, the study’s first author and a researcher at the Consumer Decision and Sustainable Behavior Laboratory of the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at the UNIGE.

Inciting instead of coercing, «nudges» prove their effectiveness

A team from the UNIGE demonstrates that certain soft incentive techniques, known as «nudges», are effective in getting people to change their behaviour. To get through challenges such as the pandemic or the climate change, citizens must change their habits and behaviors. 

But how can this be achieved without resorting to coercive measures? The answer to this question may be the «nudges» that have been gaining popularity over the last decade. By making small changes in our environment, these interventions aim to encourage changes in our behaviour, while preserving our freedom of choice. 

From adding informative labels to reorganising the food offer in a cafeteria, the overall effectiveness of these interventions has now been demonstrated by a scientific team from the University of Geneva (UNIGE). 

Their results can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. To carry out this study, the researchers classified the nudges described in this scientific literature into three groups: «information», «structure» and «assistance». 

In the first set, they grouped interventions whose objective is to inform individuals in order to motivate them to make certain choices, such as the «nutri-score» labels found on certain food products. In the second set, they grouped techniques that deal with the structure of an environment. This is the example (cited above) of highlighting certain meals in a cafeteria menu.

In the third set, they classified nudges involving a form of commitment, as in the case of a person who stops smoking and informs those around him or her. When informed, the people around him or her take on the function of a 'safeguard' in the choice architecture of the abstinent smoker.

Highly effective for food choices

The scientific team concluded that all three groups of nudges are effective. They note, however, that the techniques in the second group («structure») are the most effective. 

"Within these groups, we also compared different areas of application, such as health, finances or energy consumption. In the end, we found that nudges work best in the area of food", explains Tobias Brosch, Director of the Consumer Decision and Sustainable Behavior Laboratory. 

Tobias Brosch and his team have also observed disparities in the quality of the studies produced on the subject over the years. "It is imperative that the overall study quality increases because of the impact that nudges can have on the daily lives of citizens," he explains. 

All of the synthesized data is now available to researchers. But this study is also intended to become a reference document for policymakers who wish to implement these new practices. 

"However, it is important to bear in mind that nudges are powerful tools, as our research shows. Nudges must therefore be used wisely and within the framework of democratic and transparent processes," concludes the researcher.


Monday, January 3, 2022

World Mobile plans to launch balloons across Africa to connect hundreds of millions of people

World Mobile, the first mobile network built on blockchain and run by the people has partnered with Altaeros, developers of the world’s first autonomous aerostats, to connect the unconnected. 

World Mobile and Altaeros have united to bring internet to unconnected areas in Africa,  leading to mass digital inclusion.  

Through this partnership, Altaeros and World Mobile will provide low-altitude aerostats (tethered balloon platforms) with a coverage area of approximately 8,000 km^2 each, forming part of World Mobile Dynamic Network. 

World Mobile plans to launch these balloons across Africa to connect hundreds of millions of people. Several aerostats will launch in Zanzibar anchoring the network and delivering connectivity near to 100% of the island. 

Each aerostat will connect hundreds of thousands of subscribers and each subscriber on the network will create a blockchain wallet. World Mobile will be deploying thousands of aerostats across the continent.

The aerostat system consists of a helium-filled envelope and stabilising fins. The unique 3-tethered architecture limits the aerostat's movement in the air (pitch, roll and yaw), which is essential in stabilizing telco coverage so connectivity doesn't drop in and out. 

The aerostat is attached to a movable mooring platform with built-in software that adjusts the balloon's position depending on wind conditions. The onboard communication system, using beam forming technology (a technique that focuses a wireless signal towards a specific receiving device) will allow 3G, 4G and 5G handsets to connect directly and will also connect WM AirNodes in the vicinity via traditional and alternative spectrums.

“We’re on a journey to bring modern infrastructure to billions of un-served and under-served people around the world. We’re driven by a belief that business and technical innovation are the keys to creating a positive, scalable impact. World Mobile is the perfect partner to work with to deliver our vision as they strive to connect the unconnected, everywhere,” says Altaeros CEO/CTO Ben Glass.

“World Mobile is on a mission to connect the unconnected and build the first mobile network powered and run by the people. Working with leading tech partners who share our values will make us stronger, says World Mobile Founder and CEO Micky Watkins.

World Mobile is the first mobile network powered and run by the people. Their fearless commitment to community, the environment, and technology will help them go where no telecom has gone before. 

By joining forces with their users, they’ll connect billions of unconnected people worldwide—allowing everyone the freedom to explore the world. 

Altaeros is on a mission is to help bring connectivity to those who need it most. Founded at MIT in 2010, Altaeros is focused on developing and deploying innovative real-world infrastructure solutions to bring affordable services anywhere needed, helping businesses and communities access the basic building blocks to allow for prosperity. 

Altaeros is headquartered in Somerville, MA.