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Dec 31
207 new swine flu cases reported in India
At least 207 new cases of swine flu were reported yesterday from various parts of India. Health officials now put the total number of confirmed H1N1 cases in the country at 25,779.

Delhi topped the list of cities for new infections, with 100 of the 207 cases confirmed. Only a few days ago it had seemed as if the frequency of infections in the capital was dropping.

Maharashtra came next in the list of states recording the highest number of cases with 23 new infections, followed by Gujarat with 20 infections. Further, 19 new infections were recorded in Uttar Pradesh, 15 in Haryana, 8 in Rajasthan, 5 in Jammu and Kashmir, 4 each in Uttarakhand and Kerala, 3 in Tamil Nadu, 2 each in Puducherry and Chhattisgarh, and 1 each in West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh.

India also saw 4 more deaths due to swine flu yesterday. Along with the 17 earlier deaths that were confirmed in various parts of the country, the overall death toll rose to 919. The deaths were recorded in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Delhi.

Dec 30
How mushroom cancer drug works
Researchers at The University of Nottingham have discovered how a promising cancer drug, first discovered in a mushroom commonly used in Chinese medicine, works.

Dr Cornelia de Moor of The University of Nottingham and her team have investigated the drug called cordycepin, which was originally extracted from a rare kind of wild mushroom called cordyceps and is now prepared from a cultivated form.

"Our discovery will open up the possibility of investigating the range of different cancers that could be treated with cordycepin. We have also developed a very effective method that can be used to test new, more efficient or more stable versions of the drug in the Petri dish. This is a great advantage as it will allow us to rule out any non-runners before anyone considers testing them in animals," Dr de Moor said.

Cordyceps is a strange parasitic mushroom that grows on caterpillars (see image). Properties attributed to cordyceps mushroom in Chinese medicine made it interesting to investigate and it has been studied for some time. In fact, the first scientific publication on cordycepin was in 1950.

The problem was that although cordycepin was a promising drug, it was quickly degraded in the body. It can now be given with another drug to help combat this, but the side effects of the second drug are a limit to its potential use.

"Because of technical obstacles and people moving on to other subjects, it's taken a long time to figure out exactly how cordycepin works on cells. With this knowledge, it will be possible to predict what types of cancers might be sensitive and what other cancer drugs it may effectively combine with. It could also lay the groundwork for the design of new cancer drugs that work on the same principle," Dr de Moor.

The researchers have observed two effects on the cells: at a low dose cordycepin inhibits the uncontrolled growth and division of the cells and at high doses it stops cells from sticking together, which also inhibits growth.

Both of these effects probably have the same underlying mechanism, which is that cordycepin interferes with how cells make proteins.

At low doses cordycepin interferes with the production of mRNA, the molecule that gives instructions on how to assemble a protein. And at higher doses it has a direct impact on the making of proteins.

The study is to be published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Dec 29
Key protein helps regulate blood pressure
In a significant breakthrough that can help prevent hypertension, a new study has found that a protein aids nerve sensors in blood vessels to keep blood pressure (BP) under control.

Without the protein channel, known as ASIC2, the sensors are unable to send the brain the signals it needs to properly control BP.

The finding, based on animal models, is important because it could be used to create new treatments to prevent high BP or hypertension.

"Sensors in your body's blood vessels sense when your blood pressure goes up, for instance, when you get mad at someone," said principal study investigator Frank Abboud, professor of internal medicine and biophysics, University of Iowa.

"These built-in sensors perceive the change and trigger a nearly instantaneous adjustment by sending signals to the brain, which in turn tells theblood vessels how to adjust," he said, according to a university statement.

"By knowing more about what makes these sensors - known as baroreceptors - malfunction, we may be able to find ways to make them work properly and prevent high blood pressure," added Abboud.

The study appeared in Neuron.

Dec 28
Soon, contact lenses to help manage diabetes
Your contact lenses would one day help you manage diabetes, say researchers. The team from The University of Western Ontario has developed new kind of lenses that would continuously alert diabetics to variations in their glucose levels by changing colours.

The new non-invasive technology will be able to replace the need to routinely draw blood throughout the day.

Developed by Chemical and Biochemical Engineering professor Jin Zhang, the new technique uses extremely small nanoparticles embedded into the hydrogel lenses, reports firstscience.com

These engineered nanoparticles react with glucose molecules found in tears, causing a chemical reaction that changes their colour.

Zhang is conducting further research to develop technologies using multifunctional nanocomposites. These technologies have vast potential applications beyond biomedical devices, including for food packaging.

For example, nanocomposite films can prevent food spoilage by preventing oxygen, carbon dioxide and moisture from reaching fresh meats and other foods, or by measuring pathogenic contamination; others can make packaging increasingly biodegradable.

Dec 28
Swine flu toll in India jumps to 878
The death toll due to influenza A (H1N1) in India has jumped to 878, with as many as 34 more deaths being reported from different parts of the country, an official statement said here today.

Seven of the deaths -- four in Maharashtra, two in Gujarat and one in Delhi -- were reported during the day, while information on as many as 27 others deaths that occurred earlier have now been conveyed by the authorities of the states concerned to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

According to the statement, these included 20 deaths in Gujarat, 4 in Punjab, 2 in Rajasthan and 1 in Madhya Pradesh.

Of the total swine flu deaths in the country so far, Maharashtra now accounts for 256, while 132 lives have been lost in Rajasthan, 131 in Karnataka, 86 in Gujarat, 67 in Delhi, 52 in Andhra Pradesh, 31 each in Kerala and Haryana, 29 in Punjab, 10 in Uttarakhand, 9 in Uttar Pradesh, 8 in Madhya Pradesh, 7 in Tamil Nadu, 6 in Puducherry, 5 each in Chandigarh, Goa and Himachal Pradesh, 3 in Orissa, 2 each in Jammu & Kashmir and Chhattisgarh and 1 in Mizoram.

The statement said 180 new cases of swine flu were reported from different parts of India today, including 77 in Delhi, 36 in Rajasthan, 22 in Gujarat, 14 in Maharashtra, 13 in Karnataka, 7 in Uttar Pradesh, 4 each in Kerala and Haryana, 2 in Madhya Pradesh and 1 in Tamil Nadu.

With these, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus reported in the country so far has gone up to 25,112, the statement added.

Dec 25
Origin of cavity-causing bacteria revealed
In a new genetic study, researchers have uncovered the complete genetic make-up of the cavity-causing bacterium Bifidobacterium dentium Bd1.

The study, led by Marco Ventura's Probiogenomics laboratory at the University of Parma, and Prof. Douwe van Sinderen and Dr Paul O'Toole, has revealed the genetic adaptations that allow this microorganism to live and cause decay in the human oral cavity.

Bifidobacteria, largely known as long-term beneficial gut bacteria, are often included as probiotic components of food to aid digestion and boost the immune system.

However, not all species within the genus Bifidobacterium provide beneficial effects to the host's health.

In fact, the Bifidobacterium dentium species is an opportunistic pathogen since it has been linked to the development of tooth decay.

The genome sequence of B. dentium Bd1 reveals how this microorganism has adapted to the oral environment through specialized nutrient acquisition features, acid tolerance, defences against antimicrobial substances and other gene products that increase fitness and competitiveness within the oral niche.

This report identifies, through various genomic approaches, specific adaptations of a Bifidobacterium taxon to a lifestyle as a tooth decay-causing bacterium.

The data in the study indicate that the genome of this opportunistic pathogen has evolved through only a small number of horizontal gene acquisition events, highlighting the narrow boundary that separates bacteria that are long-term residents on or in the human body from opportunistic pathogens.

The study is published in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics.

Dec 25
Bill to bar HIV bias at workplace
HIV/AIDS screenings on job applicants and existing employees may be banned under a proposed policy that says the infection should in no way affect employment.

The National Policy on HIV/AIDS and Work Place, crafted by the Union labour ministry with the International Labour Organisation's assistance, will form part of the HIV bill being drawn up by the health ministry. The bill seeks to make employers liable for discrimination against staff with such diseases.

The labour ministry wants its proposals to cover all employers and workers, including applicants, across public and private sectors and the self-employed. All types of workplaces, contracts and all aspects of work, formal or informal, could be covered.

"There is no justification for asking job applicants or workers to disclose HIV-related personal information. Nor should workers be obliged to reveal personal information about fellow workers. Personal data covered by medical confidentiality should be stored only by personnel (who are) bound by rules on medical secrecy and should be maintained apart from other personal data," the policy says.

A labour ministry official said the guidelines were intended to manage the impact of the epidemic in the sphere of work. "The threat of HIV to the Indian working population is evident from the fact that nearly 90 per cent of the reported infections are from the most productive age group of 15 to 49," the official added.

According to the National AIDS Control Organisation (Naco), an estimated 2.31 million people in India were living with HIV/AIDS in 2007. Of this, 88.7 per cent were between 15 and 49 years, 7.5 per cent were aged 50 and above and 3.5 per cent were below 15. Around 0.34 per cent of the population has HIV/AIDS, Naco says, adding women account for 39 per cent of the cases.

"Stigma and discrimination at workplace gets reflected in loss of emplo yment and livelihood opportunities in addition to ostracism and seclusion faced by workers from known or presumed HIV status. It should never happen," says the policy, now being circulated among ministries.

HIV infection can't be a cause for termination of employment and those with HIV-related illnesses should be able to work for as long as they are medically fit in appropriate conditions, it says, adding that the treatment cost should form part of medical/welfare packages.

The policy seeks to address another problem area: exclusion of people with HIV from insurance schemes offered by public and private companies. The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) should develop all-inclusive health insurance plans for such people, it says.

All workplaces - organisation, institution, businesses, company and others - should have an HIV/AIDS committee to coordinate and implement internal programmes for the infected. Multinationals can set up such HIV/AIDS panels too.

The labour ministry official said corporate houses were consulted and claimed several companies, including PepsiCo, Hindustan Unilever, Apollo Tyres and Crompton Greaves, had agreed with the guidelines in principle.

To monitor the policy's implementation, the government plans to set up a steering committee on HIV/AIDS. It will comprise employers and worker organisations.

The HIV bill, of which the policy will form a large part, will aim to make employers liable for any discrimination against staff with HIV/AIDS and make them responsible for guaranteeing such employees a safe working environment.

Dec 24
Synthetic Red Blood Cells Developed
Scientists at UC Santa Barbara, in collaboration with scientists at University of Michigan, have developed synthetic particles that closely mimic the characteristics and key functions of natural red blood cells, including softness, flexibility, and the ability to carry oxygen.

he primary function of natural red blood cells is to carry oxygen, and the synthetic red blood cells (sRBCs) do that very well, retaining 90% of their oxygen-binding capacity after a week. The sRBCs also, however, have been shown to deliver therapeutic drugs effectively and with controlled release, and to carry well-distributed contrast agents for enhanced resolution in diagnostic imaging.

"This ability to create flexible biomimetic carriers for therapeutic and diagnostic agents really opens up a whole new realm of possibilities in drug delivery and similar applications," noted UCSB chemical engineering professor Samir Mitragotri. "We know that we can further engineer sRBCs to carry additional therapeutic agents, both encapsulated in the sRBC and on its surface."

Mitragotri, his research group, and their collaborators from the University of Michigan succeeded in synthesizing the particles by creating a polymer doughnut-shaped template, coating the template with up to nine layers of hemoglobin and other proteins, then removing the core template. The resulting particles have the same size and flexibility, and can carry as much oxygen, as natural red blood cells. The flexibility, absent in "conventional" polymer-based biomaterials developed as carriers for therapeutic and diagnostic agents, gives the sRBCs the ability to flow through channels smaller than their resting diameter, stretching in response to flow and regaining their discoidal shape upon exiting the capillary, just as their natural counterparts do.

In addition to synthesizing particles that mimic the shape and properties of healthy RBCs, the technique described in the paper can also be used to develop particles that mimic the shape and properties of diseased cells, such as those found in sickle-cell anemia and hereditary eliptocytosis. The availability of such synthetic diseased cells is expected to lead to greater understanding of how those diseases and others affect RBCs.

The discovery is described in the current online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and will be published in the print version of the journal in the near future. UCSB graduate student Nishti Doshi was the lead author of the paper; former post-doctoral researcher Alisar Zahr (now at Harvard Medical School's Schepens Eye Research Institute), Mitragotri, and their University of Michigan collaborators Srijanani Bhaskar and professor Joerg Lahann were co-authors.

Dec 24
Injectable birth control elevates risk of bone loss: Study
A new study suggests that women using injectable birth control are at a higher risk of suffering bone mineral density (BMD) loss, a major cause for fractures and disability.

In an effort to determine whether use of depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA), injectable birth control, is associated with bone density deficit, American researchers followed 95 users of the "birth control shot" for two years.

During that period, 45 women had at least 5 percent bone mineral density loss in the lower back or hip, while 50 women exhibited less than 5 percent bone loss at the same places.

Senior author of the study Abbey Berenson, MD, Department of Obstetrics And Gynecology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas stated, "Based on these findings, clinicians have the information they need to recommend basic behavior changes for high risk women to minimize BMD loss."

Risk of bone loss higher in some cases:
The researchers noted that women who smoked, those who had never given birth, and whose dietary intake of calcium was lower than the recommended dosage of 600 mg were at a greater risk of bone loss by taking the injection for birth control.

In addition, they found that BMD was more pronounced in women with all the above three factors.

They also observed that factors like age, race or ethnicity, previous contraceptive use, and body mass index [a number, derived by using height and weight measurements, that gives a general indication of whether or not weight falls within a healthy range.] was not related to higher BMD loss.

"Bone mineral density loss is not a significant concern for all women who choose DMPA," said Berenson.

The investigators then tracked 27 women for another year. They found that all those who experienced significant bone density deficit in the first two years continued to lose bone mass, especially at the hip and lower spine.

"These losses, especially among women using DMPA for many years, are likely to take an extended period of time to reverse," said first author Mahburbur Rahman, Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women's Health, Galveston, Texas.

DMPA a popular form of contraception:
DMPA is a carefree and relatively inexpensive form of contraceptive used by over two million women and teenagers.

The birth control shots are administered once every three months, and because of its high success rate in preventing pregnancy, this long-acting contraceptive is a popular option as opposed to other forms of birth control.

The researchers advise that women using DMPA should consult their physicians about reducing the risk factors for bone deficit. In addition, they propose that they should increase their calcium intake and stop smoking.

The study is published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Dec 23
India's H1N1 death toll rises to 789
The pandemic swine flu continues to take a toll as nine more deaths were recorded Monday, according to an official statement released today. With this the national death count due to the contagious virus has risen to 789.

Of these nine fatalities, five were reported from Karnataka and two each from Punjab and Delhi. As a consequence, the total number of deaths has risen to 128 in Karnataka, 20 in Punjab and 56 in Delhi.

Latest cases of swine flu infections:
Besides the casualties, 243 fresh cases of the contagion were also reported from different parts of the country on the same day.

This includes 144 cases in Delhi, 20 in Uttar Pradesh, 18 in Maharashtra, 13 each in Gujarat and Haryana, 11 in Karnataka, eight in Rajasthan, five in Chhattisgarh, four each in Tamil Nadu and Chandigarh, two in Jammu & Kashmir, and one in Kerala.

With this, the total number of positive cases of the H1N1 influenza in the country goes up to 23970, the statement added.

H1N1 claims more lives in Chandigarh:
The lethal virus accounted for three more deaths in the union territory of Chandigarh Monday. The victims were admitted at the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGMIER) in the city.

Among the victims, one was a woman working in a nationalized bank inside the Punjab University (PU) campus in Chandigarh and the other two were from regions in Punjab and Haryana.

"We have informed the health officials of Punjab and Haryana about these deaths and told them to quarantine people who were in close contact with the deceased," officiating nodal officer of swine flu, G.C. Bansal, said.

State-wise record of fatalities:
Among all the flu hit states, Maharashtra continues to be the worst hit state, accounting for 249 deaths so far.

The total H1N1 fatalities in other states are 110 in Rajasthan, 64 in Gujarat, 52 in Andhra Pradesh, 30 in Kerala, 28 in Haryana, 10 in Uttarakhand, seven in Tamil Nadu, six in Puducherry, five each in Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh, four in Madhya Pradesh, three each in Uttar Pradesh and Orissa, two in Chhattisgarh.

One death each was also reported from Jammu & Kashmir and Mizoram.

H1N1 remains a cause of concern:
With the mercury levels dipping day by day, the lethal virus is anticipated to exhibit significant and deadlier mutations.

What intensifies the concern is that H1N1 strain may combine with the seasonal flu, which may lead to easier spread of the virus.

However, scientists have not come across any tangible mutations of the H1N1 virus. The clinical severity of the virus remains to be examined.