Are Daffodils the key to beating cancer?

By Nicholas Persaud

Daffodils may be something you plant in your garden or perhaps put in a bouquet of flowers for a loved one. However, research suggests that daffodils have much more to offer than their appearance. Daffodils have been used for multiple medicinal purposes including treating asthma and inducing vomiting. More recently, research has unveiled the prospect of daffodils as anti-cancer agents. The RNA Molecular Biology Laboratory at the Université Libre de Bruxelles Cancer Research Center recently published a paper entitled “The Amaryllidaceae Alkaloid Haemanthamine Binds the Eukaryotic Ribosome to Repress Cancer Cell Growth”, which describes the potential for daffodils to prevent cancer cell proliferation. To be more specific, scientists in this laboratory extracted the compound haemanthamine from daffodils. Haemanthamine is an alkaloid which means that it is a chemical compound produced by a living organism.  The researchers concluded that haemanthamine inhibits both the activity and production of ribosomes. It is this function of haemanthamine that makes it such a strong contender as an anti-cancer agent. To fully understand the value of this function, one must understand the purpose of the ribosome and the nucleolus.

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Report on Research on Displaced Children with Cancer in Lebanon

By Andrew Wu

One of the greatest current humanitarian catastrophes is the worsening refugee crisis caused by the conflict in Syria, which has many unfortunate implications in public health, especially pediatric care. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are around 554,288 displaced Syrians under the age of 18 in Lebanon (this is an underestimate due to a halt on refugee registration). Assuming the annual incidence of pediatric cancer is 17 in 100,000 children; there are 90 new cases each year. Lebanon, which borders Syria on the north and the east, is bearing some of the burdens of an increasing population of displaced peoples. All Lebanese citizens have some form of healthcare coverage, with almost two-thirds of its citizens relying on a national healthcare plan. However, these government plans do not offer optimal treatments to conditions that may require long-term care, such as cancer. Thus, an influx of displaced refugees can further exacerbate the country’s public health system. Besides the limited aid from various nongovernmental organizations, displaced patients with pediatric cancer lack sufficient finances for treatment and can expect little support from the government or other third-party entities. A research article published by Saab et al. explores these issues, analyzing the mounting challenge of untreated pediatric cancer and possible solutions.

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Little Creatures, Big Improvements: The Success Story of a Decreasing Newborn Mortality Rate

By MaryAnn Placheril

According to a recent UNICEF report, the newborn mortality rate in Bangladesh has significantly decreased.

Back in 1990, when the mortality rate was 64.2 for every 1,000 newborns, births were assisted by family members without medical training. In these conditions, asphyxia was the leading cause of newborn mortality. Asphyxia occurs when the body is deprived of oxygen and thus, cannot breathe and regulate its functions. This then leads to death. In newborns, asphyxia frequently occurred during difficult or obstructed labor, yet, the untrained family did not know how to prevent it or treat it. Their lack of medical expertise in these cases proved fatal.

To fight this common trend, the Bagladeshi government made a significant push against the problem in 2010. It opened centers for childbirth, trained personnel, and encouraged families to have births outside the home. Much of this development was funded by other governments, international organizations, and non-governmental aid groups. This technique proved successful for as described by the UNICEF report the rates have decreased and are predicted to continue to fall.

Bangladesh’s success shows that with monetary investment and governmental support, many health problems in developing countries are wholly treatable. Maybe in the future other medical problems will be solved!

Weighing in on Gain-of-Function Research

By Sharon Washio

Viruses are the ultimate parasites—they use the host’s cell processes to carry out their infectious cycles, from replication to dissemination. As barriers between species are crossed and favorable mutations are aptly selected, viruses evolve to propagate among the population, at times, leading to epidemics or pandemics like the Ebola epidemic or the 1918 Spanish Flu. When a virus adversely affects society, one of the main questions researchers try to answer is what makes the virus so potent. This is usually done by comparing mutant versions of the virus with reduced virulence, or potency, to the original, then assessing for the specific mutations that hinders the virus life cycle.

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Review: Effects of Climate Change on Infectious Diseases

By Andrew Wu

Climate change has many implications for public health, particularly on the transmission of infectious diseases. Changes in humidity can lead to an increased risk of illnesses that spread through bodily fluids. Vectors such as mosquitoes can become more abundant and affect larger regions. Natural disasters can destroy healthcare infrastructure, alter the immunity of a population, and increase exposure to water-borne diseases. Although there are many factors that modulate infectious disease dynamics, it is crucial that researchers pinpoint associations between the spread of maladies and environmental changes, as they become more drastic and prominent in our lifetimes. A better understanding can lead to more precise models, which can enhance the accuracy of predictions and lead to more effective healthcare. Recently, Professor Metcalf of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Affairs departments published a review paper that thoroughly analyzes techniques that investigate the links between climate change and infectious diseases.

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UV Light: A New Tool for Disease Prevention

By Devorah Saffern

Ultraviolet (UV) light kills cells by causing thymine bases in the cell’s DNA to interact and form dimers, which are then removed by the DNA’s own correction mechanisms. Increased exposure to UV light increases the chances of these mechanisms incorrectly replacing the dimer or not replacing it at all, which changes the way the entire DNA sequence is read by its polymerase. This impairs the DNA and therefore the cellular functions, which can result in cell death or cause the cell to become carcinogenic (develop into a cancerous cell). Increased exposure to UV light, therefore, can cause cancer, most commonly skin cancers due to direct exposure from UV rays in the sun.

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Activation of the Hedgehog protein pathway: A potential solution to obesity?

By Nicholas Persaud

The United States has faced many epidemics in which diseases and illnesses have had adverse effects on the health and wellbeing of Americans. When we think of epidemics we typically think of Ebola, malaria, the flu, or anything that is infectious. However, the United States has been facing a different kind of epidemic for some time now, one that’s not caused by a virus or bacterium. This epidemic is obesity. Obesity affects children and adults alike, with 78 million adults and 13 million children in the US reported to be obese. The major issue with obesity is not the state of being overweight in and of itself but the many serious health complications that accompany it, which include diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more. As a result, there has been a great government effort to reduce obesity in children and adults by attempting to change people’s eating and exercise habits. However, this is not the most effective solution since it’s very difficult for people to change their lifestyles. Fortunately, recent research shows that there might be a more effective solution to the obesity epidemic.

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Health Care Reform: Learning From Other Major Health Care Systems

By Mimi Chung

With the United States Senate recently dismissing modified plans for health care in the US, different health care systems in other countries have gained considerable public interest. Health care in the United States can vary dramatically depending on an individual’s personal circumstances. Factors like employment, military service, and age can change what kind of insurance – if any – someone is able to obtain. Exploring the strengths and weakness of each may illuminate different options for modifying US healthcare policy.

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