Tag Archives: bacterium

Myanmar eliminates trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness

Trachoma is caused by the bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis. In its early stages, trachoma causes conjunctivitis (pink eye) with symptoms appearing within five to 12 days of exposure to the pathogen. As the infection progresses, it causes eye pain and blurred vision.

World Health Organization (WHO) simplified system. (a) Normal conjunctiva, showing area to be examined. (b) Follicular trachomatous inflammation (TF). (c) Intense trachomatous inflammation (TI) (and follicular trachomatous inflammation). (d) Conjunctival scarring (TS). (e) Trichiasis (TT). (f) Corneal opacity (CO).

If left untreated, scarring occurs inside the eyelid leading to the eyelashes turning inward toward the eye (a condition called trichiasis). As the eyelashes scratch against the cornea, it becomes irritated and eventually turns cloudy and can lead to corneal ulcers and vision loss. Generally, it takes years before trachoma can cause vision loss. In the early stages of the disease, antibiotics are very effective but more advanced cases may need surgery to help limit further scarring of the cornea and prevent further loss of vision. A corneal transplant can help if the cornea is so clouded that vision is significantly impaired.

Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness globally and has long been considered a major public health problem in the Southeast Asian nation, with the first Trachoma Control Project initiated in 1964 by the Ministry of Health and Sports, with support from WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 

In 2005, trachoma was responsible for 4% of all cases of blindness in Myanmar. From 2010 to 2015, the annual period prevalence of blindness from all causes in the total population was very low in all regions and states, ranging from 0% to 0.023%. By 2018, this prevalence dropped to 0.008%. The WHO Weekly Epidemiological Record in July also reported the number of people at risk of trachoma has been reduced by 91% — from 1.5 billion in 2002, to 136.9 million in May 2020.

In order to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem, there is a WHO-recommended “S.A.F.E.” strategy which includes: Surgery for trichiasis, Antibiotics to clear Chlamydia trachomatis infection, Facial cleanliness, and Environmental improvement to reduce transmission. Community-based interventions also include improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and health education promoting behavior change to decrease transmission.

“This remarkable achievement reminds us of the importance of strong political commitment to implement integrated disease elimination measures, public engagement and disease surveillance,” said Dr. Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, WHO Director, Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases. “The new neglected tropical disease road map for 2021–2030, which will foster these processes globally, should allow us to anticipate more such success stories from countries using WHO-recommended strategies.”

Myanmar is the tenth country worldwide following Cambodia, China, Ghana, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, and Oman to reach this milestone. It remains a public health problem in 44 countries and is responsible for the blindness or visual impairment of an estimated 1.9 million people, most of whom are extremely poor. Regular post-validation trachoma surveys are also planned to provide post-validation surveillance. Successful validation of elimination of trachoma as a public health problem in Myanmar will encourage other health ministries and their partners to continue their efforts against this painful blinding disease.

Remote-controlled microrobots could be the future of medicine

One of the primary goals in the modern medical field is to create microrobots that can enter the human body and replace invasive and complicated surgery procedures. These robots could optimize the field of medicine by giving scientists and doctors the ability to deliver drugs at specific locations and perform precise operations.

Image credit Pixabay

Image credit Pixabay

Along with researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ), scientists from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have created such devices. The team created soft, flexible and motor-less microrobots that mimic the Trypanosoma brucei bacterium. The unique devices are composed of biocompatible hydrogel and magnetic nanoparticles that give them their unique shape and allow them to move and swim in the presence of an electromagnetic field.

The team begins the manufacturing process by placing nanoparticles inside layers of a biocompatible hydrogel. Afterwards, they apply an electromagnetic field, which results in the orientation of the nanoparticles at different regions of the robot.

Polymerization follows in order to “solidify” the composition of the hydrogel and the robot is then placed in water, where it folds into a unique shape that is dependent on the orientation of the nanoparticles inside of the gel. The final form represents the 3D architecture of the microrobot.

After the final step of the manufacturing process, these microrobots can be exposed to an electromagnetic field to make them swim or to heat to cause them to change shape and unfold. Ultimately, the final product – which possesses a bacterium-like flagellum – mirrors the T. brucei bacterium that is responsible for causing sleeping sickness.

“We show that both a bacterium’s body and its flagellum play an important role in its movement,” said Selman Sakar of the EPFL and co-author of the study. “Our new production method lets us test an array of shapes and combinations to obtain the best motion capability for a given task. Our research also provides valuable insight into how bacteria move inside the human body and adapt to changes in their microenvironment.”

Much more research is still needed until these microrobots are ready to traverse the human body to determine any potential side effects, but the promise and benefits that they could bring to the field of medicine is immense.

Journal Reference: Soft micromachines with programmable motility and morphology. 25 July 2016. 10.1038/ncomms12263

NASA’s conference on arsenic eating microbe that could rewrite biology books

As I was telling you before, NASA got everybody hyped when they announced a big conference on the topic of finding alien life; of course everybody’s mind started flying to aliens and ET and all that, but more realistic people realized that something like this is extremely unlikely. However, pretty much everybody was shocked when they heard what it was all about.

On the bottom of a Californian lake, water is filled with arsenic; and that bottom of the lake is filled with bacteria – nothing too uncommon so far. But the thing is that a particular bacteria is able to substitute phosphorus with arsenic in some of it’s most basic physical processes – basically fluorishing from what was considered to be universal poison. You have to not make a confusion about this – there are numerous organisms that use arsenic in redox reactions, but this is something totally different, because the bacteria incorporates arsenic in its very DNA.

“I can see you’re disappointed, that some of you were expecting walking, talking aliens,” said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA astrobiology researcher and co-author of the study that had attracted much buzz before its release.

This suggests a totally different biochemistry from our own, which as a result means that life could exist in environments previously thought unhabitable by researchers. Scientists have long believed that all living organisms need phosphorus in the building blocks of life, and even science fiction writers would be reluctant to write about a being that relies on arsenic for it’s most basic processes, but this is indeed the case here.

Ok, so we aren’t talking four eyed martians or whatever, but the magnitude of this discovery is absolutely huge ! Practically, we are just tapping into a world nobody has even dreamed of, and this opens up huge possibilities of finding alien life, so NASA wasn’t overreacting at all.

In addition to questioning the long-held assumption that phosphate is absolutely required for life, the existence of the bacterium “provides an opportunity to really pick apart the function of phosphorus in different biological systems”, researchers note. Still, the works here is just beginning, and it will be quite a while before we can effectively track down arsenic based life in the universe.