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Scientists Discover A New Method To Fight Alzheimer’s, Dementia

Worldwide, about seven percent of people over 65 suffer from Alzheimer's or some form of dementia, a percentage that rises to 40 percent above the age of 85.

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Alzheimer's
One hemisphere of a healthy brain (L) is pictured next to one hemisphere of a brain of a person suffering from Alzheimer disease. VOA
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Eliminating dead-but-toxic cells occurring naturally in the brains of mice designed to mimic Alzheimer’s slowed neuron damage and memory loss associated with the disease, according to a study published Wednesday that could open a new front in the fight against dementia.The accumulation in the body of “zombie cells” that can no longer divide but still cause harm to other healthy cells, a process called senescence, is common to all mammals.

Scientists have long known that these dead-beat cells gather in regions of the brain linked to old age diseases ranging from osteoarthritis and atherosclerosis to Parkinson’s and dementia.

Prior research had also shown that the elimination of senescent cells in ageing mice extended their healthy lifespan.

But the new results, published in Nature, are the first to demonstrate a cause-and-effect link with a specific disease, Alzheimer’s, the scientists said.

Alzheimer's
A lady suffering from Alzheimer’s. Flickr

But any treatments that might emerge from the research are many years down the road, they cautioned.

In experiments, a team led by Tyler Bussian of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota used mice genetically modified to produce the destructive, cobweb-like tangles of tau protein that form in the neurons of Alzheimer’s patients.

The mice were also programmed to allow for the elimination of “zombie” cells in the same region.

“When senescent cells were removed, we found that the diseased animals retained the ability to form memories, and eliminated signs of inflammation,” said senior author Darren Baker, also from the Mayo Clinic.

The mice likewise failed to develop Alzheimer’s signature protein “tangles”, and retained normal brain mass.

 

Alzheimer's
Alzheimer’s disease patient Isidora Tomaz, 82, sits in an armchair in her house in Lisbon, Portugal. It’s predicted that by 2050, 135 million Americans are going to suffer from mild cognitive impairment, a precursor of Alzheimer’s. VOA

Keeping zombies at bay

A closer look revealed that the “zombies” belonged to a class of cells in the brain and spinal cord, called glia, that provide crucial support and insulation to neurons.

“Preventing the build-up of senescent glia can block the cognitive decline and neuro-degeneration normally experienced by these mice,” Jay Penney and Li-Huei Tsai, both from MIT, wrote in a comment, also in Nature.

Bussian and his team duplicated the results with pharmaceuticals, suggesting that drugs could one day slow or block the emergence of Alzheimer’s by keeping these zombie cells at bay.

“There hasn’t been a new dementia drug in 15 years, so it’s exciting to see the results of this promising study in mice,” said James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society in London.

 

Alzheimer's
The accumulation in the body of “zombie cells” that can no longer divide but still cause harm to other healthy cells, a process called senescence, is common to all mammals. IANS

For Lawrence Rajendran, deputy director of the Dementia Research Institute at King’s College London, the findings “open up new vistas for both diagnosis and therapy for neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.”

Up to now, dementia research has been mostly focused on the diseased neurons rather than their neighboring cells.

“It is increasingly becoming clear that other brains cells play a defining role,” Rajendran added.

Several barriers remain before the breakthrough can be translated into a “safe, effective treatment in people,” Pickett and other said.

The elderly often have lots of harmless brain cells that look like the dangerous senescent cells a drug would target, so the molecule would have to be good at telling the two apart.

Also Read: Common Painkillers Triple Harmful Side Effects in Dementia

Worldwide, about seven percent of people over 65 suffer from Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia, a percentage that rises to 40 percent above the age of 85.

The number afflicted is expected to triple by 2050 to 152 million, according to the World Health Organization, posing a huge challenge to healthcare systems. (VOA)

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C-Section Births Doubles In Number, Reaching Epidemic Proportions: Doctors

C-section is a type of major surgery, which carries risks that require careful consideration

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C-section
A newborn, one of 12 babies born by C-section, cries inside an incubator at the Bunda Hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, Dec. 12, 2012. Several hospitals in Indonesia's main cities performed more cesareans than usual with new mothers hoping a 12-12-12 birth date will bring luck to their newborns. VOA

Worldwide cesarean section use has nearly doubled in two decades and has reached “epidemic” proportions in some countries, doctors warned Friday, highlighting a huge gap in childbirth care between rich and poor mothers.

They said millions of women each year may be putting themselves and their babies at unnecessary risk by undergoing C-sections at rates “that have virtually nothing to do with evidence-based medicine.”

In 2015, the most recent year for which complete data is available, doctors performed 29.7 million C-sections worldwide, or 21 percent of all births. This was up from 16 million in 2000, or 12 percent of all births, according to research published in The Lancet.

It is estimated that the operation, a vital surgical procedure when complications occur during birth, is necessary 10-15 percent of the time.

c-section
The Yusuf Dantsoho Memorial Hospital has a high success rate with C-sections. Kaduna, Nigeria. Photo by Chika Oduah, VOA

Varying country rates

But the research found wildly varying country rates of C-section use, often according to economic status: In at least 15 countries, more than 40 percent births are performed using the practice, often on wealthier women in private facilities.

In Brazil, Egypt and Turkey, more than half of all births are done via C-section.

The Dominican Republic has the highest rate of any nation, with 58.1 percent of all babies delivered using the procedure.

But in close to a quarter of nations surveyed, C-section use is significantly lower than average.

c-section
Maternal death and disability rates are higher after C-section Flickr

Reasons to opt for surgery

Authors pointed out that while the procedure is generally overused in many middle- and high-income settings, women in low-income situations often lack necessary access to what can be a life-saving procedure.

“We would not expect such differences between countries, between women by socioeconomic status or between provinces/states within countries based on obstetric need,” Ties Boerma, professor of public health at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, and a lead author on the study, told AFP.

Jane Sandall, professor of social science and women’s health at King’s College London and a study author, told AFP that there were a variety of reasons women were increasingly opting for surgery.

These include “a lack of midwives to prevent and detect problems, loss of medical skills to confidently and competently attend a vaginal delivery, as well as medico-legal issues.”

C-section
It also identified an emerging gap between wealthy and poorer regions within the same country. Flickr

Doctors are often tempted to organize C-sections to ease the flow of patients through a maternity clinic, and medical professionals are generally less vulnerable to legal action if they choose an operation over a natural birth.

Sandall also said there were often “financial incentives for both doctor and hospital” to perform the procedure.

The study warned that in many settings young doctors were becoming “experts” in C-section while losing confidence in their abilities when it comes to natural birth.

Income a factor

It also identified an emerging gap between wealthy and poorer regions within the same country. In China, C-section rates diverged from 4 percent to 62 percent; in India the range was 7-49 percent.

C-sections
Worldwide, more than 11 percent of babies are born premature. Pixabay

While the U.S. saw more than a quarter of all births performed by C-section, some states used the procedure more than twice as often as others.

“It is clear that poor countries have low C-section use because access to services is a problem,” Sandall said. “In many of those countries, however, richer women who live in urban areas, have access to private facilities have much higher C-section use.”

Risks to mother, child

C-sections may be marketed by clinics as the “easy” way to give birth, but they are not without risks.

Maternal death and disability rates are higher after C-section than vaginal birth. The procedure scars the womb, which can lead to bleeding, ectopic pregnancies (where the embryo is stuck in the ovaries), as well as still- and premature future births.

 

c-section
Doctors are often tempted to organize C-sections to ease the flow of patients through a maternity clinic. Flickr

 

The authors suggested better education, more midwifery-led care and improved labor planning as ways of ensuring C-sections are only performed when medically necessary, as well as ensuring women properly understand the risks involved with the procedure.

“C-section is a type of major surgery, which carries risks that require careful consideration,” Sandall said.

Also Read: Novel Blood Test May Predict Autism Risk In Babies During Pregnancy

In a comment accompanying the study, Gerard Visser of the University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, called the rise in C-sections “alarming.”

“The medical profession on its own cannot reverse this trend,” he said. “Joint actions are urgently needed to stop unnecessary C-sections and enable women and families to be confident of receiving the most appropriate care for their circumstances.”