Each year, malaria infects more than 200 million people and kills 400,000, most of them children. Public health officials have been searching for an effective vaccine against malaria. In 2021, significant progress was finally made in vaccine development. The researchers published their results in the Lancet last April. The report said a randomized trial of 450 children in Burkina Faso showed that a vaccine called R21 had a 77% protection rate against malaria and could be the first malaria vaccine to meet WORLD Health Organization standards.
Although the sample size was still relatively small, malaria was active in Burkina Faso for only six of the 12 months the subjects were followed. It is not clear whether the six-month absence of disease was related to the study. The international multi-centre team, which includes the University of Oxford, plans to follow the sample group for at least another year. In the meantime, the team will conduct trials in other countries where malaria is active year-round, looking for ways to improve the vaccine before it triggers a stronger immune response.
A new face and hands
In the summer of 2020, a team of 16 surgeons and 80 operating room staff successfully performed the world’s first full face and double hand transplants at NYU Langone Medical Center. The operation took 23 hours. Speed is of the essence in transplant surgery, because the sooner the organ is connected to the recipient’s vascular system, the less time it has to lose blood.
The recipient was Joe DiMeo, then 22, of Clark Township, New Jersey. In 2018, he was in a serious car accident that left him with third-degree burns on 80 percent of his body. The tips of his fingers were amputated and his face was so extensively damaged that even after 20 reconstructive surgeries, his lips and eyelids could not be restored. In 2019, Dimeo was assessed as a transplant recipient. Ten months later, a matching face and hand donor was found.
There have been only two previous attempts at face and hand transplants: in the first case, the patient died of complications; In the second case, his hands became infected after surgery and had to be amputated. Today’s technology is so advanced that computer modeling helps surgeons simulate surgery and 3D-printed osteotomy guides help align bones. In the months following the surgery, Dimeo gradually recovered and showed a new lease of life.
Psychedelic mushrooms and ecstasy in psychotherapy
The research indicates that the therapeutic effect of some psychoactive drugs should not be ignored. In April 2021, the New England Journal of Medicine published a comparative trial. In the trial, 59 depressed patients were divided into two groups: one took seroxibine, a hallucinogenic compound derived from psychedelic mushrooms; The other took escitalopram, a common antidepressant, along with a small dose of seloxibine that had no effect. Both groups received psychological counseling while taking medication. At the end of the six-week clinical trial, the seloxibine group fared better than the escitalopram group on a self-rating depression scale filled out by the patients, although the difference between the two groups was not statistically significant. In May of that year, Nature Medicine published the results of a Phase III clinical trial of MDMA, the active ingredient of ecstasy, for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Ninety PTSD patients were also divided into two groups: one took three doses of MDMA plus talk therapy; The other group received a combination of placebo. Results showed that 67 percent of patients in the MDMA group experienced a significant reduction in symptoms, compared with 32 percent in the placebo group. Several start-ups, such as Cybin in Canada and Compass Pathways in the UK, are planning to make these psychoactive drugs for treatment commercially available.
World’s first human chimeric monkey embryo born
In April 2021, Cell published an article announcing that Professor Juan Carlos Ispisua Belmonte had created the world’s first human-monkey chimeric embryo with both human and primate cells. The study had two main aims: first, to look at gastrula morphogenesis, the process by which embryonic cells differentiate into more than 200 different cell types in the body two weeks after conception; The second is to help scientists develop better systems to grow tissues and organs from embryos of other animals, such as pigs, for human transplants.
Bone marrow transplant cures AIDS
Leukemia patients who do not respond to chemotherapy may opt for a bone marrow transplant. One such patient in The UK was cured not only of leukemia but also of AIDS by a bone marrow transplant. The donor bone marrow came from a carrier of a mutation in the CCR5 gene, which protects against HIV. After the surgery, HIV was removed from the patient’s bloodstream. What’s more, 18 months after patients stopped taking antiretroviral drugs, the virus did not reappear. However, doctors involved in the operation stressed that the transplant was riskier than taking antiretroviral drugs alone.
Effective weight loss medicine
In March 2021, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that somarutide, a drug commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes, has a powerful weight-loss effect. The trial involved 1,961 obese people with a body mass index of 30 or greater. The subjects received either 2.4 milligrams of somarutide subcutaneously (a weekly dose for diabetes is 1 milligram) or a matching placebo each week, along with lifestyle interventions such as diet control and more exercise. At the end of the 68-week Phase iii trial, the sommarutide group lost an average of 14.9 percent of body weight, while the placebo group lost an average of 2.4 percent.
There is a real link between sleep and dementia
Insufficient or poor sleep has long been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, but no specific cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Studies tend to last less than a decade, making it difficult to track how sleep patterns work over decades. In a study published in Nature Communications in April 2021, researchers tracked the health and sleep patterns of 7,959 people in their 50s, 60s and 70s. The results were surprising: sleeping six hours or less was associated with a 30 percent higher risk of dementia than sleeping seven hours. Depression and other mental illnesses are also commonly thought to affect sleep quality and increase the risk of dementia, but when the researchers adjusted for these variables, they did not find that they affected the results. In addition, sociodemographic and cardiometabolic factors were excluded. While the researchers do not address the exact mechanism by which sleep deprivation triggers dementia, they speculate that sleep deprivation may be linked to neuroinflammation, atherosclerosis and obstructions in clearing amyloid plaques, one of the main pathological features of Alzheimer’s.
Polio eradication in Africa
In the 1990s, 75,000 children a year in Africa were paralysed by polio, also known as polio. As the last country in Africa to report confirmed cases of wild-type poliovirus, Nigeria declared wild-type poliovirus locally free in 2020, meaning the virus was eradicated from all of Africa. In 1996, Rotary International partnered with UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the United States Centers for Disease Control and others to launch the Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign, which has made such progress. Poliovirus was circulating in 125 countries in 1988 and has now been eradicated in almost all except two: Afghanistan had 56 cases of wild-type polio in 2020 and Pakistan had 86.
Stop the dengue virus at its source
Dengue viruses often hitch a ride with mosquitoes to enter the body. Unfortunately, there is no effective vaccine or treatment for the mosquito-borne infection. The dengue virus infects 50 million people worldwide each year. Global warming is spreading the mosquito that carries the virus, Aedes aegypti, to areas where it is less prevalent. Fortunately, a study led by the World Mosquito Program in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and released in August 2020, may provide a solution. Studies have shown that we can infect Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with Wolbachia and prevent them from transmitting dengue when they bite humans. In a 27-week trial, wolbachia-infected mosquitoes were released into the city of Yogyakarta, and dengue incidence was reduced by 77 percent. What’s more, infected mosquitoes can pass the bacteria on to their offspring when they lay eggs, meaning the solution is both effective and self-sustaining. Researchers believe the method could also be effective in preventing other mosquito-borne infections, such as Zika virus disease, Chikungunya fever and yellow fever.
Intestinal flora and Alzheimer’s disease
It’s no secret that our microbes have a profound impact on our health. Now, research is adding to the evidence that the trillions of bacteria and other microbes in the gut are just as important as alzheimer’s. The researchers looked at lipolysaccharides, a protein with pro-inflammatory properties on the membranes of gut bacteria, and certain short-chain fatty acids that have neuroprotective properties. Using PET imaging and blood tests, the researchers found that among 89 subjects aged 65 to 85, those with higher levels of intestinal flora and blood levels of liposaccharides and harmful fatty acids were more likely to develop amyloid plaques in their brains. They also found that those with protective fatty acids had fewer amyloid plaques in their brains. The results point to the possibility of manipulating the microbiome to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.