Though the world is currently going through a lot of tragedies today, science is offering Alzheimer patients a silver ray of hope. A new study has discovered a type of protein that will allow predicting the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, doctors will now have the potential to diagnose this cruel disease decades before symptoms begin to show.
In general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines Alzheimer’s as a type of neurodegenerative illness. The disease causes its victims, at the very least, to have difficulty remembering things. However, in most severe cases, patients would ex[erience an almost total inability to respond to the world and other people.
Usually, the disease targets people over the age of 60. Thus, as a person grows older, the risk of developing it also increases.
Moreover, despite all the advancements humanity has reached in the medical field, experts still don’t precisely know why some people develop Alzheimer’s while others don’t. However, experts do agree that the reason is some sort of combination of certain genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Furthermore, experts still have no cure for this scary illness.
The Alzheimer’s Association believes that one factor behind the illness manifestation is the buildup of plaques of beta-amyloid protein between a person’s brain cells. Thus, the blockage stops the brian cells from functioning normally. They also noted that such changes could start taking place up to 20 years before Alzheimer’s disease can be diagnosed.
Hence, having the ability to identify such a procedure will give experts a better opportunity to treat this disease. Moreover, depending on the advancement of current research, experts might finally find a way to stop the illness’s manifestation entirely. Discovering the condition at an early stage will certainly tip the scales for the better.
However, the current methods of discovering plaques buildup like PET scans are considered universally both timely and expensive. Thus, they offer no practical solution since they are technically impractical as a large scale screening technique.
Hence, doctors turned their attention towards blood tests aimed to detect these early plaques. They were able to identify these plaques through testing the blood for a specific beta-amyloid protein in the blood.
the protein tau’s role
Currently, experts have now discovered another protein with a similar function. The tau protein is not only a simple protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but it is also another key that helps solve the disease’s mysteries. Furthermore, tau proteins are usually found in the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord of someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
Moreover, since these proteins spillover from the cerebrospinal fluid into the bloodstream, identifying them through blood tests provide a sign that the person has a ‘preclinical’ case of Alzheimer’s disease.
Therefore, Dr. Randall J. Bateman, the Professor of Neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and senior author of the study said that “the finding of a unique tau species closely linked to changes caused by amyloid plaques will help identify and predict people who have or will likely develop Alzheimer’s disease.” He also added that “This will greatly accelerate research studies, including finding new treatments and improving diagnosis in the clinic with a simple blood test.”
Though the discovery is still at its early stages, it is a breakthrough in the Alzheimer’s field. The study offers hope for understanding this complex disease. Thus it provides a brighter future for dementia patients as well as future victims of this cruel disease.
Abnormal proteins in the gut could contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. (n.d.). EurekAlert! Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/tps-api070220.phpHow toxic protein, spreads in Alzheimer’s disease. (n.d.). ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200529150623.htmHuzar, T. (2020, August 11). The study identifies a protein in the blood that may predict Alzheimer’s. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/study-identifies-protein-in-the-blood-that-may-predict-alzheimers#The-second-testStaff, S. X. (2020, July 28). The study reveals how renegade protein interrupts brain cell function in Alzheimer’s disease. Medical Press. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-07-reveals-renegade-protein-brain-cell.html
Air Conditioners Exacerbate Climate Injustice
Air conditioners are the epitome of inequality and climate injustice.
Buying air conditioners is one of the most popular individual responses to climate change. As the temperature of the globe increases, most people are buying and using air conditioners to protect themselves from the scorching heat. As of 2020, there were 1.9 billion air conditioning units in the world. By 2050, the number of air conditioners is expected to grow to 4.5 billion. That means every 2 people out of 7 are using air conditioning. Further, 37% of all the world’s electricity is used for air conditioning.
At an individual level, air conditioning seem good to protect oneself from the sweltering heat. However, the use of air conditioners possesses two inherent problems- (i) They only worsen climate change and (ii) the access to air conditioning is inequitable.
How do Air Conditioners Contribute to Global Warming?
Air conditioning is a trap- the warmer it gets, the more air conditioners we use. The more we use air conditioners, the warmer it gets. It is an irony that the technology we need to stay cooler only makes the climate hotter.
Air conditioners use refrigerants that also happen to be powerful heat-trapping gases. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the chemicals used in air conditioners are 12,000 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
According to the calculations of the World Economic Forum, greenhouse gas emissions from air conditioning will account for as much as a 0.5-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures by the end of the century.
Unequal Access to Air Conditioners
As of now, people have mostly focused on the technological aspect of air conditioners. Various countries have started funding initiatives to upgrade air conditioners. They aim to replace HFCs with harmless chemicals.
The problem of unequal access to air conditioners is mostly disregarded.
It is perhaps because almost all elites possess an air conditioner. Further, lower-class people who cannot afford an air conditioner right now desire one. In this race for buying air conditioners, no one is asking the right questions.
Given that air conditioners contribute towards global warming through the release of HFCs and consumption of huge energy, why should only some people be allowed to have air conditioners?
The harmful effects of air conditioning on climate are socialized. However, the benefits are not socialized.
Also Read: Climate Refugees: Pain of Unseen Victims
We are not in this Together
When it comes to climate change, it is often repeated that we are all in this together. However, nothing is farther from the truth. The rich people who afford air conditioning make life terrible for others who cannot afford an air conditioning. Further, they totally insulate themselves from the harm of the air conditioners.
The case of air conditioning makes any kind of technological progress to protect humankind from climate change look bleak. If there is technological progress, it appears that it may be private. Like air conditioning, technology may not be a public good.
When Jeff Bezos returned from space last year, he made it very clear that elites will not reduce their carbon footprint. He instead suggested moving the heavy industry into space. He said, “We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry, and move it into space. And keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is. That’s going to take decades to achieve, but you have to start. And big things start with small steps.”
Bezos is the owner of one of the most polluting companies in the world. Instead of switching to green energy, he is talking about taking polluting industries to space.
It may, in fact, be possible for Bezos to start his life in space permanently. He may be able to give his future generations a better climate up in space. Unfortunately, he will take this step only after he has done damage maximum to the earth, to an extent that life may not be possible here.
That is exactly what air conditioning is- make life terrible for others but also make technological progress to insulate yourself from the harmful effects inflicted on others.
The Way Forward
Before taking any step towards mitigating climate change or making any technological progress to protect humankind from the effects of climate change, it must be kept in mind that climate change affects different classes of society differently.
Any future technology that is not public good should be rejected by the people. Although air conditioners are now beyond the stage where they could be regulated but governments must ensure that air conditioners are taxed heavily. The revenue thus generated can be channeled for green energy initiatives.
Patent Evergreening: Rising Drugs Prices and Loss to Poor Patients
Countries especially developing and under-developed ones are struggling hard to provide basic health facilities to the citizens. Affordability to drugs and medical care is the first condition to get access to health care. But pharma companies are using the tactics like patent evergreening to maintain their monopoly in the drug market and hindering the entry of generic medicine which are more cost effective and accessible to all.
What is patent evergreening?
Patent is a way to grant innovators the exclusive right over the developed products or technology and earn exclusive profits for a certain period of time. After the expiration of that stipulated time, anyone can have access to the technology or the product and innovators lose the exclusive right of profit.
Drug companies make wide use of these exclusive rights known as IPR (Intellectual Properties Rights) to protect their medical inventions and earn huge profits from the market. Hence, patents are crucial for drug companies to maintain barriers from the competition in the market and earn billions of dollars in profit.
Consequently, “patent evergreening” becomes prevalent. It is malpractice whereby drug companies try to extend a patent on medicine by adding little reformulation, trivial modification to the delivery system or the dosage level and necessarily without any enhancement of the therapeutic properties of the drug. Almost 74 percent of drugs associated with new patents are not based on increased efficacy of drugs but are the existing drugs.
Companies are using an evergreening process to undermine the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984 that introduced the generic drug industry for the benefit of common man with drug affordability.
Pharma companies perform evergreening to maintain their domination in the market and get higher prices over the patented drug. This has become an issue for those poor patients who are struggling to get patented drugs with rising prices. While inventors want to keep their monopoly and invention to themselves. Companies trying hard to maintain the value of their creation.
Why do pharma companies manipulate patent laws?
“Competition is the backbone of the U.S. economy. But it’s not what we’re seeing in the drug industry”. –Professor Robin Feldman (Director of the UC Hastings Centre for Innovation).
Big pharma companies often use the drug evergreening strategy to delay the entry of competition. They target especially the restriction of generic medicines for the widely prescribed medicines like for heartburn, opioids, and chronic pain.
The Evergreen Drug Patent Search, is a comprehensive database released by the Center for Innovation at the University of California Hastings College of Law that provides the details about the patent protection by the companies. It demonstrates how the big pharma companies are extending their patents through an evergreening process and inhibiting the entry of generic drugs at a low cost.
Novartis case is one such famous case of India for its anti-leukemia drug Glivec. Patent office of India rejected the extension of patent for Glivec on the basis that it does not enhance any therapeutic advantage to the patients. Novartis approached the Supreme Court of India and said that it is contrary to the TRIPS agreement. But the court rejected the plea on a very genuine basis. It said that the rejection of patent to Glivec holds the value of providing easy and affordable access to life saving drugs to the citizens, discharging obligations to maintain basic healthcare for all citizens and preventing the ever-greening of drugs. The court judgement was not in contrast to the TRIPS agreement as it was based on public interest.
How does patent evergreening causes harm to patients?
Almost one-third of the population of the world could not get access to basic health care due to rising drug prices. These poor people mostly reside in African and Asian countries. Public welfare is equally important while protecting new inventions and innovations. Patent evergreening clearly impacts public health and welfare. Due to low income, patients often could not afford the essential life-saving drugs. They might resort to taking loans or selling their properties to get access to these costly drugs. Sometimes even delayed the care.
WHO members also recognise the need to protect the public interest and provide affordable drugs to the poor. Hence, after six years of the TRIPS agreement, WHO released the DOHA Declaration for public welfare. But even after this declaration, medicine companies failed to reduce prices especially of those critical health issues like HIV and cancer. This shows that drug companies are not concerned with the health issues of poor people mainly in underdeveloped and developing countries adequately. As a result, health policies of governments worldwide that promise to provide affordable medicines and care are becoming ineffective.
Possible Steps to Curb the Unhealthy Practice
Definitely, we need the protection of innovations and inventions to encourage research and development by individuals and companies. But at the same time, we also need to protect basic health rights of all individuals at all costs.
Thus, undoubtedly we need to strike a balance between the patients and the patents.
USA, Australia, India and many other countries have adopted the legal and constitutional acts to stop the harmful patent evergreening and maintain affordability of drug prices. USA has adopted Hatch-Waxman Act, India introduced Compulsory Licensing provision while Australia has a Limited term extension for the drug patents in its Patents Act, 1990.
But, the positive benefits of such protections can be eroded with the manipulations of the drug regulatory systems. Companies whose billions of dollars are at stake by losing patent rights can resort to exploiting legal ways to manipulate the regulatory systems.
So the governments can protect the rights of patients by adopting the following measures:
- Restrictions on the number of patents that a company can apply for a drug.
- Stop the secondary patent to the drug that does not improve the efficacy or safety of the existing drug.
- Make provision for the generic medicines for the poor sections of the society if the drug prices are unreasonably higher and restrict the drug affordability of the general public in poor countries.
Pharma companies should focus more on research and development for developing more enhanced drugs for the betterment of people and then expect a reward for them. But instead, companies are focusing more on legal and marketing strategies and tactics to make profits from the existing drugs and prohibit poor people from getting access to affordable medicine. Inventions should not become a tool of exploitation for the vulnerable. Research, development and findings should be focused more on making the life of people convenient and easy.
Patents should be provided only to those drugs that meaningfully provide benefits to the lives of people, improving their health conditions. Patents should not become a money making game for the companies.
Did Life on Earth Originate for Outerspace: Staggering Findings by a New Meteorites Study
Are we alone in the cosmos? Is there life out in the vastness of our universe?
Over 3.7 billion years ago, life first emerged on the blue planet. However, with all the technological advancements, the origin of life remains a mystery that has puzzled the scientific community for centuries.
But, the recent finding by NASA might have found the answer, the evidence of the fundamental building blocks of life.
A team of scientists from the Hokkaido University in Japan has detected organic compounds in outer space. This is speculated to be the backbone of nucleic acid molecules, the core component that led to the emergence of life on Earth.
So, were the seeds of life on earth sown by extraterrestrial objects?
Did Life on Earth Originate for Outerspace?
Life evolved on Earth from the most basic microbes, which transformed into a dazzling array of complexity over time. Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago. It was pelted by meteorites, comments, and other outer-space materials in its initial stages. The first living organisms of the planet were primitive microbes in the primordial seas.
But, for some time now, scientists have been speculating that life on Earth may not have originated on our blue planet and literally dropped from space.
According to a recent study by Japanese scientists published in the journal Nature Communication, one of the most essential components of life piggybacked on meteorites and landed on earth billions of years ago.
The scientists studied three distinct meteorites collected in separate locations over 70 years. The study concluded that the five chemical components that lead to the formation of DNA and RNA were detected in these meteorites.
They discovered nucleobases, one of three key components that make up the nucleic molecule acid, containing all living species’ genetic information that led to life today.
A NASA scientist, the co-author of the study says that this confirmation of an extraterrestrial origin of a complete set of nuclear basis found in RNA and DNA supports the theory that meteorites were an essential source of organic components necessary for life to thrive on the planet.
The lack of Pyrimidines
The scientists used cutting-edge tools to examine the three carbon-rich meteorites, which were optimized for quantifying nucleobases on microscopic sizes.
They identified an accumulation of pyrimidines in the Murchison meteorite. In addition, they determined that purine concentrations differed across the two accessible samples, indicating that the meteorite’s composition and development were not uniform.
Thanks to newer, more sensitive equipment, the scientists detected the two different pyrimidine bases in the meteorite in addition to uracil. Then, to ensure no contamination from soil, nucleobase concentrations in nearby soil samples were compared and found to be substantially higher than in the rocks.
The scientists repeated the method for the Lake Murray and Tagish Lake meteorites, determining that each rock was unique.
Scientists concluded that these nucleobases, which make up the building blocks of life, might have been produced in part by photochemical processes in outer space during the Sun’s creation. Then, as the solar system developed, they were integrated and embedded into asteroids.
According to the study team, these base-rich carbon-rich asteroids are then pummelling Earth in the form of meteorites, bringing these chemicals to the planet and eventually contributing to the development of life.
The Mounting Uncertainties
Evidence of DNA and RNA in meteorites is not a new discovery. For example, in 2019, international scientists discovered bio-sugars and ribose in two carbon-rich asteroids. One of the found components (sugars) is also a key component of life on Earth.
Meteorites can contain organic compounds utilized on Earth as genetic information, as evidenced by the presence of these alien sugars. And while DNA-building processes were frequent in the cosmos, it’s still unclear if these space pebbles provided the material that eventually created life on Earth.
Also Read: Unlocking cures encoded in the DNA
In recent years, Astrochemisty has also sparked a slew of ideas and a mission to discover more about life’s exotic chemical origins.
Origin of Life: Answering the Big Question
Despite all the speculation mounting around the conclusion, supporters of a hypothesis known as Panspermia acknowledge the theory and believe it to be the proof of their theory. However, for decades the theory of an extraterrestrial origin has been dismissed by many experts as dubious pseudoscience.
But, the newest study has provided new impetus to the theory of the origin of life.
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