Friday, 31 January 2014

Blood Test Simplifies Diagnosis of Celiac Disease

A new blood test is being developed that can rapidly and accurately diagnose celiac disease without the need for prolonged gluten exposure, reports journal Clinical & Experimental Immunology.

The diagnostic test gave a result within 24 hours and preliminary findings indicated it could accurately detect celiac disease and it is hoped that larger studies will verify its role as a widely used tool for diagnosing celiac disease (CD).

Scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (Melbourne, Australia) recruited 27 patients being treated for CD, four with CD but were untreated and 17 non-CD controls. Blood for serology and cytokine release assays was drawn in the morning immediately before (d0) and on day six (d6) after commencing gluten challenge, or prior to commencing a gluten-free diet (GFD) in untreated CD patients.

The researchers concluded that the whole blood cytokine release assays appear to be sensitive and specific potential diagnostic test for CD patients following GFD. As an added benefit over current diagnostic tests being performed on patients already following GFD, the mobilization of gluten-reactive T-cells specific for CD into the bloodstream requires oral gluten challenge for only three days instead of the weeks or months required for diagnosis based on abnormal small bowel histology.

Jason Tye-Din, MBBS, PhD, FRACP, a gastroenterologist and a coauthor of the study says, “A test that simplifies diagnosis for patients is likely to significantly enhance disease detection. This new diagnostic approach is encouraging and we hope that larger studies can validate these findings and establish its role in the diagnosis of celiac disease, with the possibility of avoiding intestinal biopsies for diagnosis altogether.” The study is published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Immunology.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Automating the phlebotomy procedure

A team of researchers from VascuLogic have developed the world's first automated venipuncture medical device that automates the phlebotomy procedure, either for blood draws or the placement of IV lines. In validation studies on human subjects, the device demonstrated greater than 95% first stick accuracy, and additionally outperformed human phlebotomist controls.

56% of the adult population and 82% of pediatric population suffer from trypanophobia, the fear of needles. Trypanophobia is just one of the issues faced by clinicians when needing to draw blood. The researchers conducted their own intensive survey of over 200 phlebotomists, identified difficult venous access as a significant problem in small children, particularly in terms of pain, time, and patient and parent anxiety due to difficult/multiple needle stick(s).

One of the early challenges to the design of the device was the current vein imaging and modeling technology. The device relies on detailed and high quality images of the vein and its surrounding area to ensure the accuracy of the venipuncture. By improving the imaging technology with ultrasound and 3D reconstruction of the vein, the device is able to detect and perform the procedure in one stick. This negates the situation of having made multiple attempts for a successful venipuncture.

Though originally developed for pediatric hospitals, the device can also be applied to adult patients too. The only adjustment that needs to be made is the selection of the gauge needle based on the patient. This fully automated venipuncture device would greatly improve the entire procedure, save cost and above all, provide much needed relief to parents and patients facing difficult venipuncture procedures.

Monday, 27 January 2014

A test to determine how well the diabetes is being controlled

The Hemoglobin A1c test -- also called HbA1c or Glycated Hemoglobin Test is the blood test to determine how well the diabetes is being controlled. Hemoglobin A1c provides an average of the blood sugar control over a six to 12 week period and is used in conjunction with home blood sugar monitoring to make adjustments in your diabetes medicines.

Hemoglobin is a substance within red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body. When the diabetes is not controlled, sugar builds up in the blood and combines with your hemoglobin, becoming "glycated." Therefore, the average amount of sugar in the blood can be determined by measuring a hemoglobin A1c level. If the glucose levels have been high over recent weeks, the hemoglobin A1c test values will be higher.

For people without diabetes, the normal range for the hemoglobin A1c test is between 4% and 5.6%. Hemoglobin A1c levels between 5.7% and 6.4% indicate increased risk of diabetes, and levels of 6.5% or higher indicate diabetes. The higher the hemoglobin A1c, the higher the risks of developing complications related to diabetes.

People with diabetes should have this test every three months to determine whether their blood sugars have reached the target level of control. Those who have their diabetes under good control may be able to wait longer between the blood tests, but experts recommend checking at least 2 times a year.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Green Blood

Chlorophyll is a naturally occurring molecule that gives plants their green color. Chlorophyll is also the molecule that is responsible for facilitating photosynthesis- the process of converts sunlight energy, water and carbon dioxide into our primary source of fuel i.e. glucose. All animals and humans obtain their life-sustaining energy supply form plants, making photosynthesis to be (one of) the sources of all life.

One of the most interesting aspects of chlorophyll is how closely it resembles our red blood cells, known as hemoglobin, the pigment that gives our blood its red color as well as oxygen-carrying capacity. The hemoglobin of the red blood cell and the chlorophyll of the plant are virtually identical in molecular structure, with the only difference being the center atom.

The main difference is that hemoglobin is built around iron (Fe), where as chlorophyll is built around magnesium, (Mg). Hemoglobin is composed of four elements- carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. All four are organized around iron. Chlorophyll is composed of the same elements, which are organized around magnesium. Chlorophyll is even often referred to as ‘the green blood of plants’.

When ingested, chlorophyll is a powerful blood cleanser and blood builder. Chlorophyll delivers a continuous energy transfusion into our bloodstream, replenishing and increasing red blood cell count. And since hemoglobin carries oxygen to our cells, increasing hemoglobin thereby increases the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen and delivers us increased levels of oxygen.

The range of health benefits to gain from chlorophyll is nothing short of miraculous. Chlorophyll is known to improve the health of the circulatory, digestive, immune and detoxification systems of the body – leading to many different and overlapping health benefits.

The numerous health benefits of chlorophyll:
  • Cleanses and oxygenates and builds the blood
  • A powerful detoxification effect on the body
  • Rich in enzymes that promote quick rejuvenation of our cells
  • High in Amino acids
  • Extracts toxins form the liver and improves liver function
  • Regulator of calcium
  • Helps break addiction
  • Alkalizes the body
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Wound-healing properties
  • Fight infection
  • Anti-oxidant – neutralize free radicals
  • Promotes healthy intestinal flora
  • Helps reverse protein-deficient anemia
  • Protection from cancer
  • Helps skin disorders

Essentially, any green plant that we consume contains some level of chlorophyll as this is what gives it its green color. But some foods are higher in chlorophyll than others. Generally speaking, the darker the green color, the more chlorophyll, so dark leafy greens are a great source. Blue-green algae such as spirulina and chlorella are also especially high in chlorophyll, as are all sprouts. Wheatgrass has one of the highest sources of chlorophyll available. Juicing it on a regular basis can have powerful detoxification effects.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Grapes can reduce the chances of heart failure associated with hypertension

Heart failure is the leading cause of death in the aged. With more than 970 million hypertensive people worldwide, and more than double the number of people at risk for heart failure, scientists are now intensively looking for solutions. Untreated chronic high blood pressure leads to heart failure where the heart muscles become stiff and thickened (fibrosis) and are not able to fill up with blood.

Studies have shown that oxidative stress plays an important role in causing heart failure. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an excess production of reactive oxygen species in comparison with the levels of antioxidants. This imbalance is called impaired antioxidant defense. The levels of antioxidants in the heart need to be increased through intake of antioxidant rich diet to effectively intervene in this condition.

Researchers at University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center used whole grapes as a model of a antioxidant rich food and tested them on hypertensive heart failure-prone rats for 18 weeks. They found that grape intake reduced cardiac hypertrophy (thickening of heart muscle) and fibrosis, and also improved diastolic function. They also found that grape intake significantly increased gene activity related to antioxidant defense.

They have identified that the whole grapes will be superior to any individual grape component, in each of the areas being investigated. The whole fruit contains hundreds of individual components, which we suspect likely work together to provide a synergistic beneficial effect.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Google Announces Glucose-Sensing Contact Lenses

Google will be entering into the medical device foray with a stunner. It announced its plans for a new contact lens on its blog yesterday. However, this won’t be a more compact Google Glass – the advanced wearable is a medical device aimed at the management of diabetes.

Google is preparing the contact lens to measure glucose levels from the wearer’s tears and to beam the data wirelessly to a receiver (presumably a smart phone). Non-invasive continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) are seen as a holy grail for the management of diabetes, and Google claims its prototypes are capable of continuous readings at a rate of once per second, with less hassle and pain than current CGMs which are bulky and require needle sticks about once a week. Furthermore, Google plans on integrating tiny LEDs as instantaneous early warning systems for the user if the glucose level is out of range.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Detecting eye diseases by a simple eye scan

A team of international scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a new hand-held optical device that simply scans the retina to detect whether a person is suffering from eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

The tool, which is about the size of a hand-held video camera, scans a patient's entire retina in seconds and could aid primary care physicians in the early detection of a host of retinal diseases.

Although other research groups and companies have created hand-held devices using similar technology, the new design is the first to combine cutting-edge technologies such as ultrahigh-speed 3-D imaging, a tiny micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) mirror for scanning, and a technique to correct for unintentional movement by the patient. The instrument uses a technique called optical coherence tomography (OCT) that sends beams of infrared light into the eye and onto the retina. Echoes of this light return to the instrument, which uses interferometry to measures changes in the time delay and magnitude of the returning light echoes, revealing the cross sectional tissue structure of the retina-similar to radar or ultrasound imaging.

Tabletop OCT imagers have become a standard of care in ophthalmology, and current generation hand-held scanners are used for imaging infants and monitoring retinal surgery. The researchers were able to shrink what has been typically a large instrument into a portable size by using a MEMS mirror to scan the OCT imaging beam.

They tested two designs, one of which is similar to a handheld video camera with a flat-screen display. In their tests, the researchers found that their device can acquire images comparable in quality to conventional table-top OCT instruments used by ophthalmologists. By using multiple 3-D images of the same part of the retina, it is possible to correct for distortions due to motion of the operator's hand or the subject's own eye.

But the device is still relatively expensive, he added, and before this technology finds its way into doctors' offices or in the field, manufacturers will have to find a way to support or lower its cost.

Monday, 13 January 2014

SAGE test for Alzheimer's Disease

New research suggests that early symptoms of the Alzheimer’s disease could now be detected early with the help of a 15-minute home-based test, meaning potential treatments could be started much earlier. The new pen-and-paper-based test, called the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE), consists of four interchangeable forms and takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.

The test determines the cognitive abilities of each patient by assessing the following areas:

  • Orientation (the month, date and year)
  • Language (verbal fluency and picture naming)
  • Reasoning/computation (abstract and calculation)
  • Visuospatial (3D construction and clock drawing)
  • Executive (problem solving) and memory abilities

Patients can achieve a maximum of 22 points on the test, and missing six or more points may warrant a follow-up visit to a clinician, according to the researchers. This test can be carried out in almost any setting, such as at home, and prove useful in terms of early detection of cognitive impairment.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D deficiency is fast becoming a global and national health concern. It is estimated that around 75% of the Indian population has Vitamin D levels less than normal. However, the bigger concern is that the population at large is not even aware of Vitamin D deficiency and its consequences.

Vitamin D is a pro-hormone that influences the expression of more than 200 genes in the human body. Nearly every tissue in the human body has receptors of vitamin D, be it the brain, heart, skin, kidney, pancreas etc. Any deficiency of vitamin D in the human body is bound to affect normal functioning of all organs having Vitamin D receptors.

Earlier, vitamin D was thought to be responsible for maintaining calcium homeostasis to prevent osteoporosis and maintain bone health. But, in the past decade, research has established the strong association of vitamin D deficiency in diabetes, immunity, asthma, TB, high blood pressure, neuro-muscular function, etc. Low level of vitamin D is associated with higher incidence of type 2 diabetes and correcting Vitamin D deficiency improves insulin sensitivity and helps in better management of hyperglycemia. Also vitamin D deficiency has been associated with high incidence of type 1 diabetes.

As the mother is the sole source of vitamin D substrate for her developing foetus, vitamin D status is very important during pregnancy. Maternal deficiency of vitamin D is linked with abnormal foetal growth and gestational diabetes. Sunscreen lotions, staying indoors, clothing habits, pollution and minimal exposure to direct sunlight (during the period of 10am to 3pm) are the major reasons of such widespread deficiency in the Indian population.

Given the fact that vitamin D receptors are present in various organs and tissues of the human body, maintaining vitamin D levels in blood above 30 ng/ml may ensure normal functioning of the body organs and protect many from suffering from chronic ailments.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Scientists successfully grow artificial human 'mini-brains'

The researchers from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences have successfully grown complex human brain tissue from stem cells using a new 3D culture system.

They have modified an established approach to generate so-called neuroectoderm, a cell layer from which the nervous system derives. Fragments of this tissue were maintained in a 3D-culture and embedded in droplets of a specific gel that provided a platform for complex tissue growth. In order to enhance nutrient absorption, they later transferred the gel droplets to a spinning bioreactor. Defined regions of the brain - including a cerebral cortex, retina, meninges and a choroid plexus - developed after 20-30 days. After 2 months, full size "mini-brains" had been created that have continued to survive in a spinning bioreactor, and they are currently surviving at 10 months.

The researchers say that this method could potentially be used to create "model systems" for human brain disorders and will eventually allow for the study of a variety of neurodevelopment processes specific to human brain development.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Maternal vitamin D levels could affect child later in life

The investigators from University of Southampton in the UK suggest that mothers who have a higher intake of vitamin D during pregnancy are more likely to have children with stronger muscles.

Vitamin D is known to help regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the bloodstream, as well as help cells to communicate. Previous research has linked low vitamin D levels to decreased muscle strength in children and adults, but the researchers say there is little knowledge on how a child may be affected by their mother's vitamin D intake during pregnancy. To find out more, the researchers measured the vitamin D levels of 678 pregnant women at 34 weeks gestation. They found that mothers who had high levels of vitamin D had children with a much higher grip strength compared with the children of mothers who had low vitamin D levels.

Muscle strength peaks in young adulthood before declining in older age and low grip strength in adulthood has been associated with poor health outcomes including diabetes, falls and fractures. It is likely that the greater muscle strength observed at 4 years of age in children born to mothers with higher vitamin D levels will track into adulthood, and so potentially help to reduce the burden of illness associated with loss of muscle mass in old age. This work should help us to design interventions aimed at optimizing body composition in childhood and later adulthood and thus improve the health of future generations.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

A new method to detect malaria infection within seconds

An advanced, non-invasive technology can now accurately detect even the low levels of malaria infection through the skin within seconds using a laser scanner that doesn't need dyes, diagnostic chemicals, or needles. This technology is developed by the Dept. of Biochemistry and Cell Biology in Physics & Astronomy at Rice University, USA

Malaria, one of the world's deadliest diseases, kills more than 600,000 people each year, most of them being young children. An efficient epidemiological screening and early diagnosis of the disease is a major challenge in the countries affected by the disease.

This is the first through-the-skin method that's been shown to rapidly and accurately detect malaria in seconds without the use of blood sampling or reagents, It just requires a single person to place a finger on a laser apparatus.

The test involves passing a low-powered laser beam through the skin that creates tiny vapor "nanobubbles" inside malaria-infected cells. Due to a particular wavelength set in the apparatus the laser beam is absorbed only by malaria infected cells and subsequently the parasite bursts out. This device can be handled by non medical personnel and approximately 200,000 people could be screened in a year. In addition it's a painless method of testing which surpasses blood withdrawal requirement with 100% accuracy.

Vitamin E & Alzheimer's Disease

Vitamin E is a group of eight fat-soluble compounds and is naturally found in many foods, including eggs, fortified cereals, fruit, green leafy vegetables, meat, nuts, poultry and vegetable oils. New research suggests that a daily dose of vitamin E may help to slow functional decline for patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline. A neurodegenerative type of dementia, the disease starts mild and gets progressively worse.

According to the research team at Minneapolis VA Health Care System, vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in patients with severe Alzheimer's disease. The studies have shown that the vitamin was effective in slowing progression of moderately severe Alzheimer's disease. Results of the study revealed that patients who received the vitamin E had a 19% reduction in functional decline. This is the equivalent to a "clinically meaningful delay in progression" of 6.2 months.

However, Doug Brown, director of research and development of the Alzheimer's Society in the UK, says that patients should be aware that the dosage of vitamin E taken in this study is significantly higher than the adult upper recommended daily allowance of 1,500 IU/day and may be harmful for some."While this study into the link between vitamin E intake and reduction in functional decline is of interest, it is by no means conclusive. More research is needed to see if vitamin E really does have benefits for people with dementia, and whether it would be safe to be taking such a high dose on a daily basis," he adds.

But the researchers say their findings oppose previous studies suggesting that high doses of vitamin E may increase the risk of all-cause mortality."We found no significant increase in mortality with vitamin E. The annual mortality rate was 7.3% in the alpha tocopherol group vs. 9.4% for the placebo group," they add.