22 October 2018

The Death Of A Language

In Iceland:
Recent research shows an alarming rise in students under 15 struggling to read their own language. And they are picking up English at a much faster pace than before – it is not strange to hear them speaking it in the playground.
From the Guardian.

This is particularly notable against the backdrop that Iceland is somewhat famous in education circles for revolutionizing how it raises its children, going from a typical experience for children similar to that of working class kids in an Northern English industrial city (booze, drugs, unsupervised time and anomie) to the life of kids in shiny upper middle class American suburbs in less than a generation.

Kids in Iceland get in less trouble, have after school time filled with extra-curricular activities and family time, and are also losing a language that persisted for a thousand years before them.

Herpes Causes Alzheimers In Some People

Herpes is the dreaded 'gift that keeps on giving'. But could it also be taking our memories? Decades of research show a striking correlation between Alzheimer's disease risk and infection with Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV1) in people carrying a specific gene. Now, newly-available epidemiological data provide a causal link between HSV1 infection and senile dementia -- raising the tantalizing prospect of a simple, effective preventive treatment for one of humanity's costliest disorders.
From here.

Alzheimer's disease isn't the only cause of dementia in the elderly, but it is probably the most common. And, while it may have more than once cause, some cases, at least, are caused by a Herpes infection that interacts with a particular gene. If this causes even a significant share of Alzheimer's cases, this dreaded disease could be greatly curtailed. And this may be a huge share of the cases:
"HSV1 could account for 50% or more of Alzheimer's disease cases," says Professor Itzhaki, who has spent over 25 years at the University of Manchester investigating a potential link. 
HSV1 is better known as the cause of cold sores. Itzhaki has shown previously that cold sores occur more frequently in carriers of APOE-ε4 -- a gene variant that confers increased risk of Alzheimer's. 
"Our theory is that in APOE-ε4 carriers, reactivation is more frequent or more harmful in HSV1-infected brain cells, which as a result accumulate damage that culminates in development of Alzheimer's."
Best of all, anti-viral drugs can be effective, even after someone is infected:
[A]ntiviral drugs drastically reduce risk of senile dementia in patients with severe herpes infections.
There is no herpes vaccine for reasons both commercial and technical, but the commercial reasons have involved the fact that even though two-thirds of adults in the world under age fifty have been infected with the virus, that it is often asymptomatic for long periods of time and has seemingly mild symptoms when it does manifest itself. But, like HPV, for which vaccination became a higher priority when we learned that it caused cancer and not just genital warts, an HSV vaccine may become a higher priority now that we know that it is so closely associated with Alzheimer's disease. 

The paper is:

Ruth F. Itzhaki. "Corroboration of a Major Role for Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 in Alzheimer’s Disease." Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience (2018); 10 DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2018.00324

This potential medical breakthrough that could have a massive impact on public health isn't unique either. For example, great progress is being made in the cheap and effective treatment of sepsis, another major killer in the First World.

Roundworms Can Double Their Healthy Lives With A Mix Of Drugs

A research team has discovered a combination of drugs that increases healthy lifespan in Caenorhabditis elegans. The team administered combinations compounds targeting different ageing pathways to C. elegans. Results showed that two drug pairs extended the mean lifespan of the worms synergistically, and combined with a third compound almost doubled mean lifespans, an effect larger than any lifespan extension previously reported for any drug intervention in adult animals.
From here.

Taking drugs that have been proved effective in roundworms and applying them to humans (or even other vertebrates like rats) can be a long time coming. But, this study is proof of concept that the biochemical aging process can be dramatically slowed down with a particular set of drugs. And, different animals often have more basic biochemistry, such as the biochemistry governing the aging process, in common with each other than they have physiology and anatomy in common.

Also some of the drugs in the mix are further along already: "previous experiments by other research groups showed that it extends the lifespan of many organisms, including the C. elegans worms, fruit flies and mice." Fruit flies have been given similar drug cocktails with positive results.

The paper is:

Tesfahun Dessale Admasu, et al., "Drug Synergy Slows Aging and Improves Healthspan through IGF and SREBP Lipid Signaling." 47 (1) Developmental Cell 67 (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.devcel.2018.09.001

Quote of the Day

Miserable failure that I am, I evidently managed to live to the ripe age of 42 without knowing the difference between a TRS and a TRRS plug.
- Sabine Hossenfelder.

17 October 2018

Granulomatosis with polyangiitis

Today, I learned about a new, nasty autoimmune disease called Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA). By analogy, M.S., is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the myelin that insulates the nervous system, while GPA causes the immune system to attack the small and medium sized blood vessels that feed key organs like those in the upper respiratory system and the kidneys.

GPA was first identified as a condition by Heinz Klinger, a German medical student, in 1931. Several years later, a German pathologist, Friedrich Wegener, a nasty and unethical Nazi doctor, found additional cases and his name was associated with the disease until the medical community decided that he didn't deserve the recognition.

It had a two year survival rate of under 10% until the 1970s, when immune suppressant drugs and steroid based treatments have brought five year survival rates to 80% or more with some people living as long as twenty years or more after diagnosis. But, 86% of the time, survival comes with serious complications: mainly chronic kidney failure, hearing loss, and deafness. Also, like cancer treatments, GPA treatments often have serious side effects of their own. Remissions following treatment are common (75%), but so are recurrences (they occur in about 50% of people who experience remissions).

GPA afflicts about 1000 people a year in the United States. It affects men and women in roughly equal numbers. It is rare in African-Americans and in Japan. It appears to be most common in Northern Europe with an incidence of up to three and a half times that of the United States. GPA is most common in middle-aged adults, with an average age of onset between 40 and 65 years. It is rare in children, but has been seen in infants as young as 3 months old.

The cause of GPA is unknown, although germs, such as bacteria and viruses, as well as genetics, have been implicated in the biological mechanism by which the disease progresses. According to the Mayo Clinic:
No one knows exactly what causes granulomatosis with polyangiitis. It appears to develop after an infection or other inflammation-causing event triggers an abnormal reaction from your immune system. 
This reaction can lead to inflamed, constricted blood vessels and harmful inflammatory tissue masses (granulomas). Granulomas can destroy normal tissue, and narrowed blood vessels reduce the amount of blood and oxygen that reaches your body's tissues and organs.
It isn't easy to diagnose:

Initial signs are extremely variable, and diagnosis can be severely delayed due to the nonspecific nature of the symptoms. In general, rhinitis is the first sign in most people. Involvement of the upper respiratory tract, such as the nose and sinuses, is seen in nearly all people with GPA.Typical signs and symptoms of nose or sinus involvement include crusting around the nose, stuffiness, nosebleedsrunny nose, and saddle-nose deformity due to a perforated septumScleritis and conjunctivitis are the most common ocular signs of GPA; involvement of the eyes is common and occurs in slightly more than half of people with the disease. Other signs and symptoms include: 
  • Oral cavity: strawberry gingivitis, underlying bone destruction with loosening of teeth, non-specific ulcerations throughout oral mucosa

GPA came to my attention because author L.J. Smith (most famous for her "Vampire Diaries" series that was made into a long running television show) was diagnosed with it in 2015 at about age 49.

Trump Administration Effort To Screw For Profit College Student Loan Debtors Thwarted

This is a huge victory for students harmed by a flawed for profit higher education sector.
Students defrauded by for-profit colleges scored an important victory on Tuesday, when a court cleared the way for an Obama-era policy that will make it easier for them to get their student loans forgiven. 
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had said the regulation, known as borrower defense, made discharging loans too easy and was unfair to taxpayers. The rule was due to take effect in July 2017, but DeVos froze it while she worked on devising a new regulation. 
But U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss ruled last month that DeVos’ delay was unlawful. On Tuesday, he denied a request by an organization representing for-profit colleges in California, to further postpone the rule, thus paving the way for borrower defense to enter into force. . . .
A progressive think tank estimates Tuesday’s decision will affect tens of thousands of students at over 1,400 schools who will now be eligible for $400 million in automatic debt relief across the nation.
From the Denver Post.

Of course, appeals will likely follow and could derail this win.