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Diseases cured with CRISPR gene therapy

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The possibility of using the popular genome-editing tool CRISPR to treat a number of diseases in humans is becoming a reality. Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) are DNA sequences in prokaryotes (unicellular organisms). CRISPR is one laboratory method of altering the DNA and can be used as a tool for gene therapy, whereas standard gene therapy is a complete domain of treating genetic disorders by using a number of techniques of genetic manipulation. CRISPR tools were first identified in E. coli in 1987 by a Japanese scientist, Yoshizumi Ishino, and his team. 

In 2012, George Church, Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuelle Charpentier, and Feng Zhang discovered that by designing guide RNA to target a specific region in the genome, “the CRISPR system” can be used as a “cut-and-paste” tool to modify genomes. As a DNA-editing tool, CRISPR can remove or introduce new genes as well as inactivate or activate genes. George Church and his team also predicted that in the near future, the CRISPR tool may also be used to cure genetic disorders in humans such as sickle-cell anemia and cystic fibrosis. A team of researchers from Boston used CRISPR technology to treat sickle cell patients by editing a strand of DNA in the host body. With the use of this tool, they were able to disable fetal hemoglobin.– a big step towards gene therapy for sickle cell diseases. Scientists have also cured cystic fibrosis by replacing the defective gene with the wild-type gene using the CRISPR system. 

The development of cancer therapy using gene editing has become one of the latest focuses of CRISPR technology. By editing cells to remove genes that can allow cells to be inactivated by cancer cells, adding genes that allow immune cells to better target cancers, researchers provide a way to harness the body’s own defense mechanisms to better treat various cancers. In 2016, Chinese researchers treated the first cancer patient with CRISPR therapy. With the technology, researchers extracted the blood of the patient, disabled the gene that codes for a protein that keeps the immune system in check, and hence shielded cancer cells in the process. The scientists then reinjected the cells and cured the patient.

The medical technology of CRISPR gained further popularity in 2019 when more results appeared from testing the tool in people, and then more studies were launched. Researchers decided that they will look ahead to more applications of CRISPR genome editing that could lay the foundation for treating a couple of diseases ranging from blood disorders to hereditary blindness

  Many scientists believe CRISPR is a much easier tool for locating and cutting DNA at a specific spot, so interest in the new research is very high. Patients of Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) are good candidates for this treatment. LCA is caused by a gene mutation that keeps the body from making a protein required to convert light rays into signals to the brain, which enable vision. These patients are often born with low vision and this can even deteriorate within a few years. Scientists can’t treat it with standard gene therapy because it is too big to fit inside the disabled viruses that are used to ferry it into cells. In 2020, researchers aimed to edit or delete the mutation in LCA patients by making two cuts on either side of DNA that would reconnect and allow the gene to work as it should. They scheduled several LCA patients for an hour-long surgery to treat the visual impairment. 

Last week, researchers revealed the first evidence that the tool appears to be working and improving vision for patients with the condition of LCA. Carlene Knight was one of those patients and her vision was so bad that she couldn’t even do her job in the call center where she worked using her cane. “I was bumping into the cubicles and really scaring people that were sitting at them,” says Knight, who was born with the rare genetic eye disease. Knight was one of seven patients who volunteered to let doctors modify their DNA by injecting gene-editing tool CRISPR directly into cells that are still in their bodies. Her life completely changed as a result of volunteering for a landmark medical experiment. Her vision has improved enough for her to make out doorways, see objects, sunsets, and colors. The therapy was successful for everyone in the trial and the treatment proved far from curing the patients, and the changes they experienced are significant to have a positive impact on their daily lives.”It’s a really amazing technology and very powerful,” says Dr. Mark Pennesi, professor of ophthalmology at the Casey Eye Institute at the Oregon Health & Science University. He presented the results at an International Symposium on Retinal Degeneration in Nashville, Tennessee. Pennesi cautioned that more patients need to be treated and followed longer to confirm if the approach is safe and to determine just how much it can help visually impaired patients. But the current results are so promising that the researchers have given a green light to move on to the next group of patients. CRISPR genome editing has proved to be a remarkable method to restore vision to the people. It is the kind of advancement which is motivating researchers to come up with new ways to treat hereditary diseases. CRISPR genome editing has revolutionized biological research. The treatment is still in the early phase, but many scientists indicate that CRISPR mediated therapeutic innovation absolutely holds immense promise.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Quest of breaking the fourth wave: Germany’s new Covid restrictions

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Kuhlmann /MSC, CC BY 3.0 DE https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons. Changes to the photo was made for this article.

With the rising number of Covid cases in Germany, the German government has announced a new set of restrictions. These restrictions will directly influence unvaccinated people. The decision came on Thursday as one of the last announcements made by the outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In the announcement, she called for an “act of national solidarity” to fight the fourth wave of Covid in the country which is being predicted to get worse during winter. German Vice-Chancellor and incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged the nation to get vaccinated to prevent more loss of lives and to control this “very difficult situation”

According to the latest report of the Robert Koch Institute Germany, more than 300 new deaths have been reported taking the national incidence rate to 442.1 cases per 100,000 population. 71% of the total population is vaccinated while 14.7 % have received a booster vaccination. 

The German Federal Minister for Health Jens Spahn raised his concerns over the growing number of Covid cases in the country and warned in a press conference that the situation kept growing “By the end of this winter everyone in Germany will either be vaccinated, recovered or dead.” In his recent press briefing, his last as a Health Minister, Spahn told the press that Germany has enough stock of vaccines to reach its goal of providing 30 million booster doses.

The new covid restrictions will limit the activity of the unvaccinated people in Germany and will put them in lockdown. The unvaccinated people will be barred from entering “cultural and leisure institutions and events (cinemas, theatres, restaurants, etc.) is only possible for those who are vaccinated or recovered (2G), irrespective of the incidence rates.” The new actions will also include changing the duration period of the vaccination status which will be valid for nine months after getting the second dose of vaccine unless a booster shot has been received. 

The number of participants and attendees of the community events has also been limited. Masks have been made mandatory in the classrooms of the schools. New restrictions will also affect the new year celebrations where gatherings and large crowds have been banned,

Germany is the second European country after Austria to take measures specifically against unvaccinated people. Both countries are currently dealing with anti-vaccination protests and resistance from people – as a result of which vaccine rates remain low while Covid cases are rising. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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The Omicron variant – a wake up call for vaccine equity?

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As the world has been preparing to gear up to bid adieu to 2021, the last week of November brought much-dreaded news after an arduous but brave fight with the pandemic. The emergence of the new B.1.1.529 SARS-CoV-2 variant left global leaders and scientists perplexed and tense. The variant, which was subsequently named the Omicron variant after the fifteenth letter of the Greek alphabet, was rapidly declared a Variant of Concern (VOC) by the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE). 

The Omicron variant, which was first reported on 24th November in South Africa, presented evidence of a staggering 32 mutations in the spike protein, an enormous leap from its preceding Delta variant (nine mutations in the spike protein). The whirlwind of infection surges and accelerated spread is indicative of these mutations being in favour of the virus. These characteristics are only inferential and have yet to be corroborated by conclusive scientific evidence. 

The past waves of Covid-19 infections sent ripples of havoc around the world, and they only further underscored the unpreparedness of countries to deal with the raging number of cases. In this situation, one might wonder what value the vaccination efforts have to provide and why, despite the large number of doses administered globally, there are still new variants emerging. 

While there are many questions being raised about the credibility of vaccines, the truth of the matter lies somewhere else. Viruses are one-of-a-kind organisms that quickly adapt to changes in order to increase their chances of survival. Covid isn’t any different. The selective allocation of vaccines in some populations while others remain largely unvaccinated has left a giant loophole in the system, allowing the viral replication to not just escalate, but also change the way it interacts with antibodies, letting it thrive. 

The consequences of vaccine inequity can hardly be overstated. It goes much beyond a failure to provide essential protective measures fairly. The current vaccine distribution structure is distinctly skewed, with only 6% of the population in low-income countries (LICs) having received the first dose so far, while some of the high-income countries (HICs) have already started rolling out booster doses to the masses. This heavy imbalance has dampened the global efforts to fight Covid and left countries that have not been able to procure sufficient doses vulnerable. 

“More than 80% of the world’s vaccines have gone to G20 countries; low-income countries, most of them in Africa, have received just 0.6% of all vaccines.” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, at the Special Session of the World Health Assembly. 

Lack of equity in global vaccine manufacturing and distribution is not a new concept. But with a pandemic like Covid, the monopolization of vaccine production by certain countries or companies is a dangerous tactic, threatening the overturning of the progress made towards recovery. 

This phenomenon has broadly been reflected in the reluctance to recognising vaccines produced locally in LICs. The case in point is Covishield, the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. Individuals who received both doses of the vaccine in the country or other countries in the region were not considered fully vaccinated and thus weren’t allowed to travel freely to many countries where the primary vaccine was of other brands. It was only in late September, after incessant uproar and backlash, that the United Kingdom included it in the accepted list of vaccines

Advocates for global vaccine equity strongly condemn the obscuring of vaccine designs and call for the open exchange of valuable information that will allow countries to produce the vaccines locally instead of offering it to them as donations or charity. 

Experts believe that even if pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna reveal their vaccine designs, manufacturing plants will be unable to produce the vaccines on a large scale while maintaining their integrity. A major reason behind that is the absence of the tightly controlled production line that many plants will not be able to execute due to a lack of highly specialised resources and personnel. 

However, these points are counteracted by the advocates as they are of the opinion that the points raised by the companies and their spokespersons are just a way of exempting themselves from “…relinquish[ing] their control over their patents and technology, even at the cost of millions of lives,” says Achal Prabhala, coordinator at AccessIBSA, a medicine-access initiative in Bengaluru, India. 

In his opening remarks at the Special Session of the World Health Assembly, Dr. Ghebreyesus reiterated the importance of transparency in sharing vital information regarding the virus. “The time has come for countries to agree on a common, binding approach to a common threat that we cannot fully control nor prevent – a threat that comes from our relationship with nature itself.” He went ahead to commend South Africa and Botswana to report the detection of the new variant in a swift manner, and expressed his concern about the relaxation of regulations in countries that have already vaccinated the majority of their population. 

The future of global health and the course of the pandemic still remain uncertain. The current circumstances must be taken into consideration when re-evaluating protective measures against Covid. Increased access to vaccines, through responsibly allocated manufacturing, should take precedence amongst other mitigation efforts. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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November: Epilepsy awareness month

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As we exit November, while there are different festivities that are celebrated, it is important to be aware of different health issues as well. In particular, in the United States, November is National Epilepsy Month. Let’s take a look at what epilepsy is, its range of symptoms and treatments, and how you can get involved. 

Statistics on Epilepsy 

It’s estimated there are 470,000 children currently living with epilepsy in the United States. Approximately 1 out of 10 citizens will experience a seizure and approximately 1 out of 26 citizens will develop epilepsy throughout their lifetime. However, epilepsy is 10 times less funded as other neurological disorders, thus reinforcing the need to increase awareness of this disorder. 

Epilepsy: What is it? 

Epilepsy is a disorder that is chronic, meaning that it persists for a long period of time in individuals and tends to be recurrent. A characteristic of this disorder is recurring seizures with seemingly unidentifiable causes. Further research is needed to identify the specific causes but sometimes genetics or brain injuries may trigger the condition. Most individuals with epilepsy have more than one category of seizure and may have symptoms of other neurological disorders. Treatment options are further complicated by the sheer variance at how the condition affects different people in different ways – location of seizures and how they spread in the brain; how much of the brain is affected and the subsequent short and long-term effects on the individual. 

Diagnosis of epilepsy 

Epilepsy can be diagnosed by a number of ways including using neurological exams or blood tests. To determine if there are abnormalities present in the brain, other tests like an electroencephalogram (EEG) can be used to conduct electrodes on the patient’s head. The EEG detects brain waves, and abnormal brain waves are used to determine the presence of epilepsy and the type of seizure. Another type of high density EEG can detect more precise locations within the brain where seizures are occurring Computerized tomography (CT) scans involve the use of X-rays to produce images of cross-sectional slices of the brain and can determine potential causes for epilepsy, such as bleeding. Furthermore, analysis techniques, such as electrical source imaging (ESI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG), can also be used to locate seizures in the brain. 

Treatment options for epilepsy

There are different options available for treating epilepsy. For instance, there are over 20 different types of anti-seizure medicine. However there may be significant side effects including fatigue, speech issues, weight gain, and loss of coordination. More severe risks – though rare – may also include severe rashes, depression, and inflammation of certain organs. 

When the condition can no longer be managed by medication, surgery is an option if the location of the initial trigger of seizures in the brain are well-marked and confined to a small area. This involves removing the portion of the brain that causes seizures. Of course, there’s always a risk of developing complications during or post-surgery. Vagus nerve stimulation is another interesting form of therapy. This involves a vagus nerve stimulator being implanted under the skin of the patient’s chest which then sends electrical energy in bursts to the brain and vagus nerve. Remarkably this has been found to reduce seizures by 20% – 40%. Deep brain stimulation also works in the same way by sending electrical pulses regularly to the brain at timed intervals to reduce epileptic fits. And if all that seems too much hard work, a ketogenic diet which is high in fats but low in carbohydrates may also reduce seizures. 

How you can get involved 

There are multiple ways to get involved with raising awareness about epilepsy. For instance, you can contact the Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) Institute and find out how to raise awareness about the condition. Or you could join your local Epilepsy Foundation and take part in events such as a 5K run/walk. You could also get involved in other national initiatives within the United States, such as, Lemonade for Livy, Purple Pumpkin Project, Kids Crew, and Stream for Epilepsy. By joining a seizure first aid program you can learn how to administer first aid to someone experiencing a seizure. There are plenty of advocacy and epilepsy groups you could volunteer for or just by donating to an epilepsy organisation you would certainly be doing your bit to build awareness and raise the issue’s profile. Even wearing a purple ribbon, and planting purple flowers outside the home are simple ways to show your support to combat this debilitating illness. 

How does this show up in real life? 

Although it may not seem like epilepsy is prevalent or relevant to those who are unaware of the condition, it massively impacts those living with the condition and their families. It subtly influences everything a family can do and sometimes outright rears its head and causing pain for the child and family. As a result, the family attempts to raise awareness through activities such as community walks, in an effort to give voice to their pain and raise awareness about epilepsy. 

It is important for everyone to know that epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterised by seizures. While there are multiple ways to diagnose it, it still remains to be seen what causes epilepsy, and to produce more effective methods of treatment. However, there are many ways that you can join the effort to raise awareness about epilepsy and assist those in need. Therefore, it is important to contribute towards raising awareness and improving the lives of those with epilepsy and their loved ones.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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The Omicron Variant begins to sweep over the world pushing leaders to make tough decisions

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U.S. Secretary of Defense, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The story of the Omicron variant began a week ago, when researchers in southern Africa discovered a new version of the coronavirus. Scientists and world leaders have responded to the latest variant, Omicron, more quickly than to any other. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified Omicron a variant of concern two days after South Africa reported it and stated on Monday that it presented a very serious risk to public health. As the current variant swiftly spreads around the world, Britain has already recorded 32 cases of the Omicron variant, which appears to be extremely contagious. Moreover, several countries, including the United States, have imposed travel bans on South Africa, where the quickly circulating new strain was discovered on 24th November, as well as seven other southern African countries.

Extra testing and self-isolation precautions are also in place for passengers from those nations. Concerns about the variant’s rapid spread have resulted in travel bans from numerous southern African countries. Beginning Monday, the Biden administration announced restrictions on non-US citizens travelling from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. The State Department also published do not travel warnings to American citizens. In addition, the European Union announced plans to prohibit travel from South Africa and other southern African countries. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a news conference on Saturday announced new restrictions for tourists. Additional steps proposed by Johnson include wearing face coverings in shops and on public transport, as well as isolating all contacts of anyone who tests positive for the omicron variant for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status. Moreover, anyone coming into the country will be compelled to undergo a PCR test by the end of the second day, and will be expected to self-isolate until they get a negative result. 

On the other hand, WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, has supported the South African and Botswanan governments in bringing the new variant to attention. “The WHO stands with African countries which had the courage to share life-saving public health information, helping to protect the world against the spread of Covid-19,” added Moeti. The omicron variant is the first new concern since the delta variant swept the world earlier in the summer. Thus, In the meanwhile, people should continue to take precautions to reduce their risk of infection and the spread of the virus. This involves wearing a mask and receiving the vaccine when it’s your turn.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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“Omicron: The sound of concern and chaos reaches the USA”

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After circling the globe for two years, Coronavirus has picked up a new identity. This time it has been speculated to have been first identified in South Africa on the 24th November 2021. Omicron, named after a Greek alphabet, and has the phonic of shorter “o”, and has alarmed the world with “an increased risk of reinfection”. World Health Organization has warned the world to continue following the “measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19”, which included social distancing, hygiene, use of masks in crowded places and getting vaccinated, to avoid getting infected. 

Although the virus was first detected in South Africa just a few days back, it has already put various countries around the world in lockdown including the Netherlands. Several countries, including Germany, the UK and the USA have updated their travel restrictions with their focus mainly on limiting travel from African countries. In his press conference, while announcing the travel ban on eight African countries, US President Joe Biden said that these travel restrictions “gives us time to take more action to move quickly to make sure people understand you have to get vaccinated”. He called the newly identified variant as a cause of “concern” and not of “panic”. Later that day, President Biden also brought the attention of the world to have “global vaccinations” by donating vaccinations to the underdeveloped countries of the world to stop the mutations and spread of the virus. 

About 59% of the US population is fully vaccinated while 11% is partly vaccinated against covid. These statistics put President Biden’s “concerns” over Omicron more in perspective. Dr Anthony Fauci has also emphasised the need of getting booster shots to increase the body’s immunity to fight covid: “We know from experience that even with variants that are not specifically directed at by the vaccine, such as the Delta variant if you get the level of antibody high enough, the protection spills over to those other variants.”

While the US expands its search for Omicron cases at the four major International Airports, seven Omicron cases have been reported in its neighbouring country Canada four of which were detected in Ontario. This new variant can be detected through a standard PCR test in a patient experiencing symptoms including “aches and pains” with “cough, a fever and loss of taste or smell” as the main symptoms to look out for.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Monoclonal Antibodies as Treatment for COVID-19 – The Health Report

What are monoclonal antibodies and how effective are they at treating COVID-19?

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All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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