Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance: Now family planning is just a jab away for men, as India's indigenous male contraceptive is ready

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Birth control is now just an injection away. Take an injection and stay infertile for as long as 10
years. The process can be reversed to fertility anytime through another injection. India's first indigenously
developed male contraceptive is all set to be launched in the market in the next few months.
The wait for a safe, hassle-free and "anytime-reversible male contraceptive" has been quite long and
arduous. Almost three decades after it was first developed, the injectible male contraceptive is now ready
for general use in India.
At present men, who prefer family planning, have only two major options - condom or vasectomy, while
women have more than a dozen including pills and jabs. While condom cannot be relied upon always,
vasectomy is largely irreversible. The new male contraceptive is more reliable than condom and more
temporary than vasectomy. This is the first non-hormone based male contraceptive, and thus safe and
IIT Kharagpur's Prof Sujoy Kumar Guha, who developed the famous female contraceptive CopperT, is the
brain behind the reversible male contraceptive that works on the principles of "Reversible Inhibition of
Sperm Under Guidance".
During advanced clinical trials as many as 200 men have undergone the procedure with quite encouraging
results. The Indian technology has attracted world-wide medical attention with experts from the USA ready
to licence it. Since clinical trials done in India are not recognised by the Food and Drug Administration of
the US, it will take a couple of years for the male contraceptive to enter the United States of America.
"Every few weeks we get people coming from the West. A lot of them write to us, and a number of them
even come and sit in our hospital, asking for the injection," Prof Sujoy Guha said.
An injection containing a non-hormonal polymer is given in the vas deferens or the sperm tube. Vasectomy
involves cutting of the vas deferens, so sperm though produced in testes does not come out. But, this non-
hormonal polymer stays in the vas deferens and makes the sperm less active by taking away its natural
energy. Since the injection is given in the vas deferens, there may be temporary swelling of the scrotum.
Except for this temporary swelling, there are no side-effects.
The spermatozoa though produced in millions, do not make way to the egg thanks to their de-activated
motility. Since testes continues to produce sperm, it does not affect the biology of the person like
maintenance of muscle mass and male hormonal levels. Another injection (sodium bicarbonate) in the same
region makes the polymer ineffective, and thus the person turns fertile once again. Both the injections are
given under local anaesthesia.
A non-profit organisation, Parsemus Foundation, is trying to purchase the rights outside India to utilise the
RISUG technology in the USA. The male contraceptive faced a number of hurdles, both bureaucratic and
technical, in the last 30 years before the dream could become a reality.
When the contraceptive was in phase-III trials, it was stopped abruptly thanks to Central government
intervention. Now that all the hurdles have been cleared, India's own anytime reversible male contraceptive
is ready to make waves in the medical world.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Antibiotics in honey: FSSAI wants States to check honey samples to make it antibiotics free

By Syed Akbar

Hyderabad, June 14: All honey consignments imported into the country will henceforth be tested for presence of antibiotics and other contaminants before they are released into the market for public consumption.
Even the local honey brands will be subjected to stringent food quality norms in view of reports of honey being contaminated by antibiotics meant for veterinary use. As many as two dozen antibiotics have been found in different honey samples across the country. Presence of antibiotics in honey will create severe health complications, particularly in children and the aged.
The Food Safety and Standards Control Authority of India has dashed off letters to all State governments to ensure that honey sold in the market is pure  and clean, free of antibiotics. In its advisory to State governments the FSSAI, which ensures that the food distributed in the market is healthy, has directed
them to keep a "strict vigil" on the quality of honey. Since honey is a natural food that can be fed even to infants and the feeble, the FSSAI through new guidelines asks State governments to ensure that only pure honey is available to consumers.
"All honey consignments imported into the country or being sold in States should be free of antibiotics. Honey should adhere to the quality parameters prescribed under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. The FSSAI has also sought details on the number of contaminated honey samples seized," said Dr Dhir Singh, FSSAI's assistant director-general.
The FSSAI wants honey to be just natural honey without any additives, whether deliberate or accidental. Honey itself is a natural antibiotic and has several curative properties. But the presence of artificial
antibiotics will rob honey of its natural goodness and turn it into a dangerous potent, even causing cancers and aplastic anaemia, doctors warn.
Antibiotics make their way into honey if apiculturists use veterinary antibiotics to treat diseases among bees. Major antibiotic traces found in honey include macrolides, tetracyclines, quinolones and  sulfonamides. In some samples erythromycin, tylosin and sulfachlorpyridazine have been noticed. Antibiotics like chloramphenicol cause cancer if consumed in large doses.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

E coli threat: Indians safe from new strain of Escherichia coli threat thanks to gobar

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, June 13: About 5000 years of association with agriculture through natural manure has made Indians immune to outbreaks of Escherichia coli, though India is a refectory to this gut pathogen, points out the Indo-German team involved in unravelling the mystery of this dangerous bacterium.
The dung of cows and buffaloes contain enterohaemorrhogic E coli (EHEC), which is more harmful and virulent than the ordinary strains of E coli that live in human beings. But thanks to handling of natural manure in India in the form of gobar (cow dung) for almost five millennia, Indians have developed immunity to this virulent strain. It is the mutant of EHEC that is causing havoc in Germany and other European countries.
The team allays the fears of a possible spread of the new German strain of E coli in India through vegetables and fruits. "What is baffling is that India has never witnessed outbreaks of E coli though it could in fact be a refectory to
the pathogen because of unhygienic conditions," points out Dr Lothar Wieler, director of the Institute of Microbiology and Epizootics, Freie University, Germany.
Dr Lothar is involved with city research teams including those from the University of Hyderabad, CCMB and Mahavir Hospital on E coli research. India has witnessed regular outbreaks of cholera, but never institutionalised outbreaks of gastroenteritis caused by E coli unlike in Europe and the Americas. There have been only sporadic or isolated cases of E coli infections, though the compromised hygienic conditions in India could have actually triggered E coli outbreaks.
The inherent immunity in Indians to E coli has now forced the German teams to trace the history of the bacteria by taking to the fields going after cows, trash and soil to know the natural descent of the outbreak strain. The German
researchers hope to find out the "kinship" of the new strain in their continent. The new killer strain has evolved from the two German strains (01-09591 originally isolated in 2001 and TY2482 from the 2011 outbreak) though accumulated mutations/plasmids that conferred ability to resist many additional types of antibiotics.
"As there have been no institutionalised outbreaks, Indians could actually be immune to the EHEC like strains - so no worries," Lothar pointed out. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Escherichia coli: The new strain of E coli that is three times more powerful than normal strains has been finally linked to Europe

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, June 6: The new strain of Escherichia coli that is three times more powerful than normal strains has been finally linked to Europe. The new strain has evolved in Germany after a strain detected in 2001 there underwent complex mutations to emerge into a superbug, resistant to as many as eight antibiotics.
Incidentally, this is the first time in two years that a new superbug has not been linked to India. European researchers created a flutter after they linked the NDM-1 superbug to New Delhi and blamed India for producing multi-drug resistant bacteria and infecting foreigners visiting the country for medical treatment. This time too, a group of scientists linked the German outbreak to an African strain of E coli in a bid to save the "good health" image of Europe.
But a team of Chinese scientists at the Beijing Genomics Institute, which has sequenced the genome of the new E coli strain, has linked its evolution to Europe, thus absolving India and Africa of any likely false accusations. Scientists have also clarified that the new strain is not a product human intelligence.
"The new strain is quite complex and such complex events takes place only in a natural setting. It cannot be genetically engineered in a laboratory," said Dr Niyaz Ahmed of University of Hyderabad.
Dr Ahmed, who was in Germany last week to collaborate E coli research with a team of German scientists at the famous Robert Koch Institute, told this correspondent that the new strain has triple action against infected human beings. While normal E coli strains cause loose motions and vomiting, this strain is capable of damaging kidneys and triggering seizures too.
"What is baffling is that it is attacking women in particular. Most of the victims are women and further studies need to be done to understand the new strain," he added.
Analysis of the genome of the new strain indicates that it has identical profile of the German strain (01-09591 originally isolated in 2001). At some point over this 10-year period the new strain seems to have developed the ability to resist many additional types of antibiotics. The Chinese team rejected the claim that it has evolved in Africa (strain 55989). The new strain has evolved fast and gained more genes in the last one decade to emerge three times more powerful.

Pheohyphomycosis is a new human pathogen - Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences finds fungal infection as root cause of death in 10 per cent of patients

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, June 5: The seemingly harmless fungi can be as dangerous as the superbug bacteria or killer viruses, as new fungal species of human pathogen have emerged making diagnosis quite difficult.
Doctors at the city-based Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences have found a new silent killer in fungi, the organisms that are difficult to be detected when infected people are live. They have found that pheohyphomycosis has emerged as a new human pathogen in recent times.
Digging into post-mortem reports of over 20 years, the NIMS team has found that fungal infections were responsible for one out of every 10 deaths without a definitive clinical diagnosis.
The fungal infections are capable of damaging the brain, heart, blood vessels, kidneys, spleen, liver, lungs and digestive tract. Invasive and disseminated fungal infections leading to involvement of multiple
organs and central nervous system caused the deaths.
These infections can be diagnosed only in a post mortem examination as existing diagnostic modalities are not sensitive to detect them while the patients are alive. Thus, in a majority of such cases neither the
treating doctor nor the patient knows what actually is the health issue and which organism is responsible for the disease.
The team of pathologists including Dr C Sundaram and Dr Aruna K Prayaga studied as many as 401 autopsies done over a period of two decades and identified fungal infections in 35 (8.7 per cent) of these
cases. Leukaemia was the commonest risk factor while the commonest pathogen in the study, published in the Indian Journal of Pathology and Microbiology, emerged out to be Aspergillus sp. The commonest
single organ involved was brain.
The doctors found newer fungal pathogens like non-albicans Candida, various species of Zygomycetes and Penicillium species as being increasingly reported over the last 10 years. In a majority of the patients, fungal infection was not suspected ante-mortem (before death). 
Though there was no change in the fungi species reported during the last 20 years, infections due to P. jirovecii, Rhodotorula glutinis and Pheohyphomycosis were encountered of late, indicating the change
in trend of the infections.
The NIMS team attributes the rising trend in fungal infection to variability of climatic conditions in the country. The newer chemotherapeutic and antibiotic modalities, transplant facilities, stay in critical care units are additional factors which contribute to the overall increase in the incidence of fungal infections.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

New strain of Escherichia coli: Threat looms large over India

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, June 3: The threat of new strain of Escherichia coli superbug, which is resistant to antibiotics and more aggressive than the normal strains, looms large over India as thousands of people travel daily between India and European countries.
The new strain could be imported to the country via Indians visiting Europe or European tourists visiting India. Doctors here fear that given the aggressive virulence of the new strain of E coli bacterium and high mortality rate it causes in humans, its spread in the country may trigger a health emergency.
"There are high chances of the new strain of E coli being spread in the country from Europe. If some person infected by E coli strain visits India during the incubation period and develops the disease here, he or she will release the new strain through stools and in bad sanitary conditions the disease could spread locally," points out senior physician Dr Aftab Ahmed of Apollo Hospitals.
The E coli outbreak that started in Germany has already spread to 10 other European countries and crossed the continent to the USA within a span of just 10 days. Given the highly compromised sanitation in India
and the daily movement of a large number of people between India and Europe, the spread of the new strain in India is just a matter of time, doctors fear. Incidentally, three Americans, who visited Germany, developed the disease after they returned home.
Ironically, most of the laboratories in the country are not equipped to identify the new serotype (strain) of E coli. The treatment could be mainly based on symptoms. But since diarrhoeal cases are not referred for stool tests, unless the problem is severe, it will be difficult for doctors to treat the health problems thrown up by the
new strain.
"Though there's a high possibility of the new strain being imported to India, the problem may not be as severe as in Europe, as people here do not prefer processed foods including meat. In case of processed foods, the outbreak can be severe as a large section of people who consume it will get the disease. But, many doctors in the country may not be able to identify the new strain," says infectious diseases expert Dr Suneetha Narreddy.
India has one of the highest number of deaths in the world due to diarrhoea and E coli is one of the main culprits, besides Vibrio cholerae, rotavirus, Shigella species and Salmonella species. According to National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, India alone contributes about 20 per cent of all global under-5 diarrhoeal deaths. In this scenario, the new strain, if it enters India, may create severe health problems.
The new strain (0104:H4)is a combination of Shiga-like toxin-producing E coli (STEC), which secrete toxins leading to bloody diarrhoea and often haemolytic-uraemic syndrome damaging kidneys, and entero-aggregative E coli. While STEC lives mainly in the guts of cattle, entero-aggregative E coli is known to live only in human beings.
Doctors advise that anyone who develops bloody diarrhoea and abdominal pain, and who has had contact recently with Europe, should seek medical advice urgently. They should indicate their visit to Germany
or other European countries to help doctors identify the serotype.

GM crops: Bt gene is harmful to plants too

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, June 2: A team of Indian scientists has found that genetic modification will have a detrimental effect on the growth and development of plants. This is the first time that scientists have found that Bt gene will trigger major problems in plants like stunted growth and sterility. Thus far, studies have centred around the
toxicity the Bt gene would cause in animals and human beings.
There has been considerable interest and activity in genetically engineering insect-resistant crop plants using "Cry genes" encoding insect toxins from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt for short. The proteins encoded by these genes are called Bt-toxins and are thought to specifically affect only certain insects and not
other organisms, including plants themselves.
However, the team from the laboratory of Dr Pradeep Burma (Department of Genetics, University of Delhi South campus) has found that expression of the Bt-toxin "Cry1Ac" in cotton and tobacco is detrimental to growth and development of the plants. The study was published in the June issue of Journal of Biosciences.
"Many of the transgenic plants obtained showed developmental defects comprising abnormal growth (stunting) and/or sterility. These symptoms suggest that expression of Cry1Ac could be causing growth defects in plants," the team observed.
Consistent with this explanation, the researchers found that a majority of transgenic plants had very low or undetectable levels of Cry1Ac and that all plants having appreciable levels of Cry1Ac showed developmental abnormalities indicating a correlation between the levels of Cry1Ac expression and the developmental defects in the plants.
It was found that plants release defence-related molecules to fight the toxicity induced in them through Bt technology. Though studies have not been conducted whether these defence-related molecules will cause harm to human beings when they are consumed, scientists here feel that the toxins released may also be detrimental to human and animal health.
The authors went on to show that if the Cry1Ac is now modified so as to be located in one part of the cell –  the chloroplast which is the site of photosynthesis in plant cells, they are now able to recover plants that show higher levels of expression of Cry1Ac and the plants do not show developmental abnormalities.
Thus compartmentalisation of Cry1Ac within the plant cell so that it is confined to chloroplasts seems to alleviate the detrimental effects and the authors suggest that targeting Cry1Ac to chloroplasts can lead
to plants expressing higher levels of Cry1Ac and better insect resistance.
At the same time the finding that expression of a Bt-toxin is detrimental to plants is unanticipated since the toxin is thought to be very specific to certain insects. The reason for the detrimental effects of Cry1Ac on plant growth and development is not known and its understanding would require further investigation, they pointed out.

Indian government stops research on oral indigenous anti-rabies vaccine because it does not want to hurt dogs

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 31: Edible (oral) anti rabies vaccine could have become a reality bringing down the number of human deaths due to rabies in the country had the Central government not refused clinical trials on dogs.
Research work on the anti rabies vaccine derived from plants like musk melon and tobacco came to an abrupt halt as the Centre did not want to hurt dogs by subjecting them to trials. Plant-derived vaccine was
developed by the neurovirology department of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences. It could also have become an edible vaccine to fight rabies, as the researchers had planned vaccine for
both intra-muscular and oral routes.
India has the highest number of rabies deaths with about 25000 people succumbing to the virus. With sure shot death once rabies develops, the only way to prevent rabies is through vaccination. Since the
vaccine is based on plant, there would be no shortage of anti rabies vaccine.
"We have to shelve down the project due to lack of clearances. We could not conduct tests on dogs," a researcher associated with the project told this correspondent. NIMHANS is also a coordination centre
of the World Health Organisation for rabies studies and prevention.
The plant-derived vaccine was tested on mice with successful results, but before it could be used on human beings the preventive medicine had to be tested on dogs. In the absence of ethical clearances, the vaccine could not be tested on canines and the project was shelved. Almost a decade has passed since the trials on mice were conducted, but the need for indigenous anti rabies vaccine now gains significance as there are allegations of shortage of vaccine in government hospitals, and spurt in the number of dog bite cases. Though the vaccine is available in private hospitals, the high cost makes it beyond the reach of a vast section of society.
Unlike cell culture and tissue culture vaccines, which are injectible, the plant-derived vaccine can also be consumed orally. Since these plants are harmless, they can be genetically engineered to produce
vaccine-carrying tissue, which once consumed prevents rabies.
The indigenous anti rabies vaccine would have brought down the cost of vaccination to a great extent, making it within the reach of the common man. Moreover, since it can be edible, the pain associated with needles could have been reduced. Moreover, it does not require refrigeration and can be stored under room temperature.

Doubts over rabies virus mutation

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 30: Has the rabies virus in Andhra Pradesh mutated shortening the incubation period for development of full blown rabies symptoms? This question haunts scientists and doctors as quite a few
number of recent rabies deaths in the State have occurred within a month of being bitten by rabid dogs.
Usually the incubation (the period between dog bite and manifestation of symptoms) of rabies in human beings is sufficiently long, and often ranges between one and two years, though there are also cases of full
blown rabies within six months of exposure to the virus.
It is thanks to this long incubation period that most of the dog bite cases go unnoticed. But with rabies now being manifested between a fortnight and a month of being bitten by rabid dogs, many people feel
that there's a spurt in rabies cases in the State.
The rabies virus now circulating in India is of genotype-1 and many health experts in the country argue that the rabies virus is stable unlike the influenza virus or HIV. Some experts, however, feel that there has been some minor mutations in the virus. Unfortunately, both the claims are not backed by scientific studies.
"Rabies takes its time before going from incubation to infection, so post-exposure rabies vaccinations tend to be effective at stopping the virus. We have found only one strain of rabies in India, though there may be some minor amino acid changes. But these changes are inconsequential," points out NIMHANS neurovirologist Dr SN Madhusudhana, who is also the WHO co-ordinator for rabies control.
However, the argument that rabies virus, long thought to be stable, is capable of mutating to reduce the incubation period gained significance in the backdrop of a study by a team of American scientists in Arizona, which says if the genetic code of the rabies virus experienced enough changes, or mutations, its incubation time could be reduced dramatically.
"We have no reports of the rabies virus undergoing mutations. It is a stable virus. There were deaths due to rabies and they still occur. You can say the virus has mutated if there were no deaths earlier," argues Dr Lalit Kant, former head of epidemiology and communicable diseases, Indian Council of Medical Research. No studies have thus far been conducted in the country on the shortened incubation period.
In contrast, laboratory studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA, revealed that the rabies virus is capable of mutating. "If a rabies virus can mutate fast enough, it could cause infection within an hour or a few hours. That's entirely plausible," according to senior virologist Samita Andreansky.
Dr H Poojani, senior scientist at the National Centre for Diseases Control, New Delhi observed though there's no evidence of the rabies virus taking to mutation, a thorough study need to be conducted to
assess the problem. As many as 25,000 people die in the country every year due to rabies and about 1.5 crore people are bitten by various animals, mostly dogs.
Ironically, India has just one centre - Pasteur Institute of India in Coonoor, to exclusively deal with rabies research and laboratory tests. Even the famous National Institute of Virology in Pune does not deal with rabies studies.

Tummalapalle in Cuddapah Basin: Uranium resources in India: Andhra Pradesh to contribute 25 per cent of India's uranium needs

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 29: With exploration in new areas indicating the presence of uranium resources, Andhra Pradesh is poised to become a major uranium hub, contributing almost 25 per cent of nuclear fuel for
India's future nuclear energy needs.
Tummalapalle and adjoining areas in Cuddapah Super basin may well emerge as one of the major uranium provinces in the world as almost a dozen new places with vast uranium resources have been identified
there, according to a former senior official of the city-based Atomic Minerals Directorate.
Of the six priority areas identified in the country for uranium exploration, three fall within the State. They are Tummalapalle in Cuddapah Super basin, Srisailam sub-basin and Bhima basin. Ranga Reddy and Mahbubnagar districts fall under Bhima basin which extends to over 5,200 sq km. If uranium resources found in  new areas are to be included, Andhra Pradesh will account for almost 25 per cent of total
uranium resources in the country.
It is estimated that as much as five lakh tonnes of uranium resources is hidden in Cuddapah super basin. Uranium mineralisation in Vempalle extends over 160 km belt from Maddimadugu to Chelumpalli and this area may soon turn into a potential zone for uranium exploitation.
As many as 10 new blocks have been identified within a radius of 30 km around Tummalapalle. "Five to eight years from now, AMD will establish substantial resources of uranium, mainly in Cuddapah basin, which will
cater the requirements of our country's nuclear power programme," the official pointed out. A number of mines may be opened in Cuddapah-Vempalle belt in near future to produce uranium.
The AMD teams have thus far identified three types of uranium mineralisation in Cuddapah basin. Investigations in Srisailam and Palnadu sub-basins have resulted in establishing four low grade uranium deposits at Lambapur, Peddaguttu, Chitrial and Koppunuru. Further explorations are being planned in these areas.

Diet therapy to keep secondary diabetes complications at bay

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 28: As medicines, including the costly ones, fail to control or prevent secondary health complications in people suffering from diabetes, the city-based National Institute of Nutrition has
suggested a sort of "dietary therapy" for a long and healthy life.
Though diabetes can be controlled through medication, the health problems it throws up in later part of life are very hard to manage. Most of the secondary complications linked to diabetes like heart, kidney, blood vessel and eye diseases cannot be controlled or prevented even though the blood sugar levels are maintained at normal level through medicines.
The NIN has selected a variety of fruits, vegetables and spices and tested them in animals to find out whether they are capable of preventing or controlling secondary complications linked to diabetes. The NIN studies have found that apple, amla (Emblica), spinach, cumin, fennel, tulsi (basil), black pepper, turmeric, lemon, bitter gourd, cinnamon, green tea, ginger and  garlic have special properties that could check major health issues in diabetics like cataract, and damage to optic nerves, kidneys, heart and nervous system.
"Although there have been major advances in the control of hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar levels) through dietary changes, hypoglycaemic agents, insulin and islet transplantation, the long term complications of diabetes remain serious problems to be dealt with," according to Dr G Bhanuprakash Reddy.
NIN researchers Dr P Suryanarayana, Mr P Yadagiri Reddy, Dr P Anil Kumar, Ms Mega Saraswat and Mr P Muthenna carried out studies to screen and test new aldose reductase-2 inhibitors (ARI) and antiglycating compounds from natural sources, particularly from food material. The presence of ARI and antiglycating compounds helps in fighting secondary health complications in diabetics.  The NIN scientists screened a large number of dietary agents and spices for their ability to inhibit ALR2 and protein glycation using laboratory
The NIN is presently seized with further studies to develop molecular target-based nutraceuticals against diabetic complications. Since most of the dietary agents are expected to be free from adverse effects,
testing them for their ARI and antiglycating potential may lead to a better management of secondary complications of diabetes.
"This will help us to understand their role in the regular diet and as a preventive measure. These diets may be prescribed as adjunct dietary therapy for controlling the diabetic complications," he added.