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Cancer spreading in Bihar due to arsenic in ground water: Experts

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Patna: The high level of arsenic in the ground water is causing and spreading cancer on either side of the Ganga in Bihar, according to experts.

The most affected are the poorest of the poor. A K Ghosh, a Patna-based arsenic expert, said a large number of cases had been reported from the districts along the river.

“It’s a matter of serious concern,” Ghosh, professor at the department of environment and water management at AN college, Patna, told IANS. He has conducted several arsenic field surveys in the last ten years.

According to a 2014 study by Ghosh, 18 of the 38 districts of Bihar were affected by ground water arsenic. The worst affected districts were Bhojpur, Buxar, Vaishali, Bhagalpur and Samastipur.

Scientists at the Patna-based Mahavir Cancer Sansthan (MCS) said in their latest research study that arsenic had been found in tissues of patients suffering from cancer. The source of the offending chemical element was drinking water, they stated.

The scientists concluded that the probability of two types of cancer (skin and gall bladder) was due to ingestion of drinking water in which arsenic presence was more than 300 parts per billion (ppb).

Their research also said arsenic increases the possibility of DNA damage. The MCS study was based on 200 cancer patients from Bhojpur, Vaishali and Buxar.

The study, headed by Dr Arun Kumar observed that arsenic might not be the single factor in causing cancer, but its effect gets multiplied when combined with other carcinogens.

According to an official report by the state health department, around 75,000 new cancer cases are detected annually in Bihar.

Of these, the highest number of cases is reported from districts affected by arsenic.

Ghosh said that several patients often moved out of Bihar for treatment, making it difficult to identify the exact number of cases in the state.

A cancer specialist, Dr A J K Singh said arsenic poisoning was one of the main factors for cancer of prostate, liver, and gall bladder in the state, adding that the poorest were hit hard by it.

Singh said the government should join hands with different organizations to get rid of arsenic from drinking water.

Water samples collected at random from 44,000 tubewells by officials in affected districts found that arsenic concentration was above the World Health Organisation’s permissible limit of 10 ppb in most of them. The Indian government’s guidelines peg the permissible limit at 50 ppb.

The highest level of concentration was found in Bhojpur at 1,861 ppb, followed by Buxar at 1,230 ppb and Bhagalpur at 915 ppb. Even Patna district had a very high incidence of 760 ppb.

Last year, a state government report, based on a survey of water samples collected from 19,961 tubewells in 398 villages, found that arsenic concentration was above 10 ppb in 310 villages and above 50 ppb in 235 villages.

Bihar’s Minister for Public Health Department Krishnanandan Prasad Verma told the state Assembly last week that 13 districts in the Gangetic plain had more arsenic content than the permissible limit of 50 ppb.

Experts say a large number of hand pumps in Bihar need to be painted red – warning against use – and sealed.

Arsenic was also finding its way into agricultural products like rice, tomato, maize, wheat and spinach. Often, over-extraction of water through hand pumps worsened the situation by raising the concentration levels.

The source of arsenic, according to experts, was stationed from the Himalayas which gets deposited downstream through the Ganga. In its natural form of arsenopyrite (iron arsenic sulfide), it is insoluble in water.

Arsenic, an odorless and tasteless semi-metal element, occurs naturally in the environment and is sometimes deposited as a by-product of agriculture processing and industrial use. (IANS)

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This Tiny Cell is Good News for Cancer Survivors

This approach to fertility restoration is safe," says Bhartiya pointing out to earlier studies carried out in her laboratory in mice which had shown that this method restored the role of non-functional ovaries and resulted in the birth of fertile offsprings

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Cancer
Cancer Ribbon. Pixabay

A scientist at the National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health (NIRRH) in Mumbai — an institute under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) — says a new type of stem cell identified by her team can help restore fertility in men and women who have undergone treatment for cancer.

Cancer treatment, or “oncotherapy”, that involves use of radiation and chemicals, renders patients infertile as an unwanted side effect and, while cured of cancer, they cannot beget children.

Though women are born with a lifetime reserve of “oocytes” ( immature eggs), these are wiped out by oncotherapy. In males, the testes responsible for the production of sperms, stop making them following cancer treatment.

Currently accepted approaches for fertility preservation require male patients to deposit their sperm in “cryo-banks” before beginning cancer treatment for later use. Similarly women, wanting to have children, must have their eggs or embryos “cryopreserved” for use after oncotherapy.

“Such approaches are invasive, expensive, technically challenging and depend on assisted reproductive technologies,” reports NIRRH cell biologist Deepa Bhartiya in the latest issue of the Indian Journal of Medical Research, the flagship journal of ICMR.

According to the report, there is now a way out. Bhartiya says research by her team over the years led to identification of a novel population of “Very Small Embryonic-Like stem cells (VSELs)”, in testis (in males) and ovaries (in females).

Being “quiescent” by nature, these primitive stem cells (VSELs) survive cancer therapy and therefore can offer young cancer survivors options to have children without having to bank their sperms or embryos prior to oncotherapy, says the report.

“The VSELs have remained elusive over decades due to their small size and presence in very few numbers,” says Bhartiya.

Cancer patient
Cancer patient.

The discovery of these unique VSELs (in testes and ovaries) that do not succumb to oncotherapy “opens up an alternative strategy to regenerate non-functional gonads and ovaries in cancer survivors”, says Bhartiya.

While VSELs survive cancer treatment, their original “habitat” (or niche) however gets destroyed by oncotherapy. To make the VSELs functional, their “niche” should be re-created by transplanting “mesenchymal cells” — another type of stem cells taken from the bone marrow — into the testes, says the report.

A simple and direct transplantation of “mesenchymal cells in the non-functional gonads may suffice to regenerate them,” says Bhartiya. “Similarly, transplantation of “ovarian surface epithelial cells” may allow the VSELs to regenerate nonfunctional ovaries.”

“This approach to fertility restoration is safe,” says Bhartiya pointing out to earlier studies carried out in her laboratory in mice which had shown that this method restored the role of non-functional ovaries and resulted in the birth of fertile offsprings.

“Our group also successfully restored spermatogenesis (sperm production) in non-functional mouse testis by transplanting niche (mesenchymal) cells, into the testis,” Bhartiya said.

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In the light of these findings, she says the field of oncofertility may undergo a sea-change and existing strategies of cryopreservation of gametes and gonadal tissue for fertility preservation in cancer patients will have to be revised. “Pilot clinical studies (in humans) need to be undertaken.”

“VSELs may be an alternative cell source for induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) clls,” Balu Manohar, managing director of Stempeutics Research, a Bengaluru-based stem cell company told this correspondent. “But it is still far away from the clinic as isolation and large scale expansion of these cells has to be standardised.” (IANS)