Ebola virus disease.

Key facts

The Ebola virus causes Ebola virus disease (EVD; formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever) in humans.
EVD outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%.
EVD outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests.
The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus.
No specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals.
The Ebola virus causes Ebola virus disease (EVD) in humans, with a case fatality rate of up to 90%.

Ebola first appeared in 1976 in 2 simultaneous outbreaks, in Nzara, Sudan, and in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter was in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.

Genus Ebolavirus is 1 of 3 members of the Filoviridae family (filovirus), along with genus Marburgvirus and genus Cuevavirus. Genus Ebolavirus comprises 5 distinct species:

Bundibugyo ebolavirus (BDBV)
Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV)
Reston ebolavirus (RESTV)
Sudan ebolavirus (SUDV)
Taï Forest ebolavirus (TAFV).
BDBV, EBOV, and SUDV have been associated with large EVD outbreaks in Africa, whereas RESTV and TAFV have not. The RESTV species, found in Philippines and the People’s Republic of China, can infect humans, but no illness or death in humans from this species has been reported to date.


Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. In Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.

Ebola then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids. Burial ceremonies in which mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person can also play a role in the transmission of Ebola. Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery from illness.

Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed EVD. This has occurred through close contact with patients when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced.

Among workers in contact with monkeys or pigs infected with Reston ebolavirus, several infections have been documented in people who were clinically asymptomatic. Thus, RESTV appears less capable of causing disease in humans than other Ebola species.

However, the only available evidence available comes from healthy adult males. It would be premature to extrapolate the health effects of the virus to all population groups, such as immuno-compromised persons, persons with underlying medical conditions, pregnant women and children. More studies of RESTV are needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn about the pathogenicity and virulence of this virus in humans.

Signs and symptoms

EVD is a severe acute viral illness often characterized by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes.

People are infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus. Ebola virus was isolated from semen 61 days after onset of illness in a man who was infected in a laboratory.

The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is 2 to 21 days.


Other diseases that should be ruled out before a diagnosis of EVD can be made include: malaria, typhoid fever, shigellosis, cholera, leptospirosis, plague, rickettsiosis, relapsing fever, meningitis, hepatitis and other viral haemorrhagic fevers.

Ebola virus infections can be diagnosed definitively in a laboratory through several types of tests:

enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)
antigen detection tests
serum neutralization test
reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay
virus isolation by cell culture.
Samples from patients are an extreme biohazard risk; testing should be conducted under maximum biological containment conditions.

Prevention and treatment

No vaccine for EVD is available. Several vaccines are being tested, but none are available for clinical use.

Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. Patients are frequently dehydrated and require oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes or intravenous fluids.

No specific treatment is available. New drug therapies are being evaluated.

Natural host of Ebola virus

In Africa, fruit bats, particularly species of the genera Hypsignathus monstrosus, Epomops franqueti and Myonycteris torquata, are considered possible natural hosts for Ebola virus. As a result, the geographic distribution of Ebolaviruses may overlap with the range of the fruit bats.

Ebola virus in animals

Although non-human primates have been a source of infection for humans, they are not thought to be the reservoir but rather an accidental host like human beings. Since 1994, Ebola outbreaks from the EBOV and TAFV species have been observed in chimpanzees and gorillas.

RESTV has caused severe EVD outbreaks in macaque monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) farmed in Philippines and detected in monkeys imported into the USA in 1989, 1990 and 1996, and in monkeys imported to Italy from Philippines in 1992.

Since 2008, RESTV viruses have been detected during several outbreaks of a deadly disease in pigs in Philippines and China. Asymptomatic infection in pigs has been reported and experimental inoculations have shown that RESTV cannot cause disease in pigs.


Controlling Ebola Reston in domestic animals
No animal vaccine against RESTV is available. Routine cleaning and disinfection of pig or monkey farms (with sodium hypochlorite or other detergents) should be effective in inactivating the virus.

If an outbreak is suspected, the premises should be quarantined immediately. Culling of infected animals, with close supervision of burial or incineration of carcasses, may be necessary to reduce the risk of animal-to-human transmission. Restricting or banning the movement of animals from infected farms to other areas can reduce the spread of the disease.

As RESTV outbreaks in pigs and monkeys have preceded human infections, the establishment of an active animal health surveillance system to detect new cases is essential in providing early warning for veterinary and human public health authorities.

Reducing the risk of Ebola infection in people
In the absence of effective treatment and a human vaccine, raising awareness of the risk factors for Ebola infection and the protective measures individuals can take is the only way to reduce human infection and death.

In Africa, during EVD outbreaks, educational public health messages for risk reduction should focus on several factors:

Reducing the risk of wildlife-to-human transmission from contact with infected fruit bats or monkeys/apes and the consumption of their raw meat. Animals should be handled with gloves and other appropriate protective clothing. Animal products (blood and meat) should be thoroughly cooked before consumption.
Reducing the risk of human-to-human transmission in the community arising from direct or close contact with infected patients, particularly with their bodily fluids. Close physical contact with Ebola patients should be avoided. Gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment should be worn when taking care of ill patients at home. Regular hand washing is required after visiting patients in hospital, as well as after taking care of patients at home.
Communities affected by Ebola should inform the population about the nature of the disease and about outbreak containment measures, including burial of the dead. People who have died from Ebola should be promptly and safely buried.
Pig farms in Africa can play a role in the amplification of infection because of the presence of fruit bats on these farms. Appropriate biosecurity measures should be in place to limit transmission. For RESTV, educational public health messages should focus on reducing the risk of pig-to-human transmission as a result of unsafe animal husbandry and slaughtering practices, and unsafe consumption of fresh blood, raw milk or animal tissue. Gloves and other appropriate protective clothing should be worn when handling sick animals or their tissues and when slaughtering animals. In regions where RESTV has been reported in pigs, all animal products (blood, meat and milk) should be thoroughly cooked before eating.

Controlling infection in health-care settings
Human-to-human transmission of the Ebola virus is primarily associated with direct or indirect contact with blood and body fluids. Transmission to health-care workers has been reported when appropriate infection control measures have not been observed.

It is not always possible to identify patients with EBV early because initial symptoms may be non-specific. For this reason, it is important that health-care workers apply standard precautions consistently with all patients – regardless of their diagnosis – in all work practices at all times. These include basic hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, the use of personal protective equipment (according to the risk of splashes or other contact with infected materials), safe injection practices and safe burial practices.

Health-care workers caring for patients with suspected or confirmed Ebola virus should apply, in addition to standard precautions, other infection control measures to avoid any exposure to the patient’s blood and body fluids and direct unprotected contact with the possibly contaminated environment. When in close contact (within 1 metre) of patients with EBV, health-care workers should wear face protection (a face shield or a medical mask and goggles), a clean, non-sterile long-sleeved gown, and gloves (sterile gloves for some procedures).

Laboratory workers are also at risk. Samples taken from suspected human and animal Ebola cases for diagnosis should be handled by trained staff and processed in suitably equipped laboratories.

WHO response

WHO provides expertise and documentation to support disease investigation and control.

Recommendations for infection control while providing care to patients with suspected or confirmed Ebola haemorrhagic fever are provided in: Interim infection control recommendations for care of patients with suspected or confirmed Filovirus (Ebola, Marburg) haemorrhagic fever, March 2008. This document is currently being updated.

WHO has created an aide–memoire on standard precautions in health care (currently being updated). Standard precautions are meant to reduce the risk of transmission of bloodborne and other pathogens. If universally applied, the precautions would help prevent most transmission through exposure to blood and body fluids.

Standard precautions are recommended in the care and treatment of all patients regardless of their perceived or confirmed infectious status. They include the basic level of infection control—hand hygiene, use of personal protective equipment to avoid direct contact with blood and body fluids, prevention of needle stick and injuries from other sharp instruments, and a set of environmental controls.

Table: Chronology of previous Ebola virus disease

Year Country Ebolavirus species Cases Deaths Case fatality
2012 Democratic Republic of Congo Bundibugyo 57 29 51%
2012 Uganda Sudan 7 4 57%
2012 Uganda Sudan 24 17 71%
2011 Uganda Sudan 1 1 100%
2008 Democratic Republic of Congo Zaire 32 14 44%
2007 Uganda Bundibugyo 149 37 25%
2007 Democratic Republic of Congo Zaire 264 187 71%
2005 Congo Zaire 12 10 83%
2004 Sudan Sudan 17 7 41%
2003 (Nov-Dec) Congo Zaire 35 29 83%
2003 (Jan-Apr) Congo Zaire 143 128 90%
2001-2002 Congo Zaire 59 44 75%
2001-2002 Gabon Zaire 65 53 82%
2000 Uganda Sudan 425 224 53%
1996 South Africa (ex-Gabon) Zaire 1 1 100%
1996 (Jul-Dec) Gabon Zaire 60 45 75%
1996 (Jan-Apr) Gabon Zaire 31 21 68%
1995 Democratic Republic of Congo Zaire 315 254 81%
1994 Cote d’Ivoire Taï Forest 1 0 0%
1994 Gabon Zaire 52 31 60%
1979 Sudan Sudan 34 22 65%
1977 Democratic Republic of Congo Zaire 1 1 100%
1976 Sudan Sudan 284 151 53%
1976 Democratic Republic of Congo Zaire 318 280 88%

FDA Approved: Paint Thinner in Kid’s Cereals Alex Jones’ Infowars: There’s a war on for your mind.

The challenge to be informed about what we are eating grows ever more complex. Many people trust Trader Joe’s as one of the smaller grocery store chains offering higher quality foods without unnecessary additives, and other harmful ingredients that can cause cancer, neurological damage, or developmental delays. But one mom recently found trisodium phosphate, an industrial strength paint thinner in her children’s Trader Joe’s breakfast cereal, and she is wondering what it is doing there. (The ingredient is found in other popular cereals as well).
Trisodium phosphate, otherwise known as trisodium orthophosphate, sodium phosphate, or TSP, is well known by construction workers, DIYers, and developers, but not to most parents shopping for their morning meal. It is an inorganic phosphate which can be detrimental to our health. It is often used in place of mineral spirits to remove paint!
It isn’t just Trader Joe’s that sells cereal containing TSP; it is in hundreds of foods, in dozens of stores, as an ‘additive’ which the FDA has called ‘safe,’ but even the activist environmental group The Clean Water Act has taken steps to limit the use of TSP in cleaning supplies because it damages the environment. Shouldn’t that give pause to the food industry, and make them question why it should be in our food? It shows up in toothpaste, hair color, processed cheeses and meats, canned soups, and even mouthwash. What kind of ‘additive’ is this anyway?
Just some of the minor problems with eating TSP include:
–The reduction of bone density due to mineral leeching
–Calcification of the kidneys
–Serious irritation of gastric mucosa
–Abdominal burning

PesticideInfo.org says that this substance should be avoided at all cost. Just as Subway removed a harmful additive to their breads recently due to a blogger’s pressure and subsequent petition, signed by thousands, this substance needs to be removed from all food, or ingestible items – especially cereals or baby toothpaste that children consume.
You can let your local grocery stores know that they shouldn’t carry products which contain TSP. You can boycott items yourself that contain it, or you can tell the FDA just what you think of their ‘safe’ classification of this obvious toxin. Consumers have a right to non-toxic foods, and TSP definitely doesn’t belong in a bowl of your kid’s cereal.

Fears thousands could be denied life-extending drugs .

New NHS rationing plan could mean more dying patients are denied life-extending medicines, charities fear.

Thousands of terminally-ill cancer patients could be denied life-extending drugs under new plans from the NHS rationing body, charities say.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) will today announce proposals to change the way it decides which medicines the health service should fund.
The body was asked to change its funding formulas to ensure the NHS gets best value from the drugs it funds.
But last night charities said the new proposals amounted to a “devastating” attack on cancer sufferers – which could mean more than 12,000 terminally-ill patients a year are denied drugs they currently receive.
Under its existing formula, Nice uses “end of life” criteria to approve some drugs if they are the only hope of extending life, and might otherwise have been ruled out on cost grounds.
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The criteria is among several considered before decisions are taken about which drugs to fund.
Since the rules were introduced in 2009, 12 drugs for major cancers including those of the prostate, liver, stomach and blood have been recommended, for more than 12,000 patients a year, Department of Health figures show.
But the new proposed formula removes the “end-of-life” criteria.
Instead Nice’s committees will try to assess the burden of illness on individuals, the wider impact on society and other objectives – such as whether a new drug is innovative -before taking decisions.
An earlier draft – which said drugs should be recommended if it brought benefits to wider society – has been rewritten amid concerns that pensioners could be denied drugs because they did not contribute economically.
The new proposals specify that the impact of society should only compare those of the same age.
Charities last night accused Nice of trying to bury a new set of proposed changes which would affect the most vulnerable.
Andrew Wilson, chief executive of The Rarer Cancers Foundation said: “This is a complete betrayal of the Government’s manifesto promise to ensure that patients that they would be able to access the drugs their doctor recommended.”
He said the proposals were a “backward step for cancer” which could shorten thousands of lives.
Mr Wilson said: “Plans to abolish special rules for drugs used near the end of a patient’s life have been slipped out in the small print of this consultation. They amount to a stealth cut for cancer and could have a devastating impact on access to life-extending drugs, with no guarantee that other changes to the rationing formula will compensate.”
Mark Flannagan, Chief Executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, said: “Anything new approach that simply moves the goal posts will be met by dismay by cancer patients. Any system which doesn’t lead to patients accessing latest cancer medicines is fundamentally flawed. It’s accepted that access to new cancer medicines has changed the quality of life for thousands of cancer patients. NICE must listen to the views of patients and charities and create fair access which is right for a 21st century health system.”
Paul Catchpole, director of value and access at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said the current process already denied too many cancer patients medicines and that he was concerned that the new rules could worsen the situation of the terminally ill.
He said: “We have a particular concern about the potential impact of incorporating Nice’s existing ‘end of life criteria’ into the new system. We need to ensure that this does not lead to fewer medicines for patients at the end of their life being approved.”
The rationing body has repeatedly been criticised for failing to recommend drugs despite evidence supporting them.
Since 2007 the body has recommended less than one in three medicines it reviewed.
In the document, Nice says the new methods of measurement aim to ensure that the full burden of illness – both the loss in quality and length of life – are taken into account “more explicitly and systematically” as well as wider impacts on society.
Andrew Dillon, chief executive of Nice said: “These proposed changes to the way we value new treatments will add further clarity to our recommendations and enable our independent advisory committees to explore more fully the potential these treatments have to improve outcomes for patients.”
He added: “No patients will miss out on effective and cost effective treatments due to these changes.”
Earlier this week Nice rejected the drug Zaltrap (aflibercept) for the treatment of advanced metatstatic bowel cancer- just two weeks after the drug was approved in Scotland.
Doctors accused Nice of allowing cancer patients to die prematurely in rejecting the drug, estimated to cost around £44,000 a year, while charities said it was unfair that patients were penalised for living south of the border.
Last March the rationing body rejected the drug Afinitor (everolimus) which costs about £36,000 a time on grounds of cost, saying there was no evidence it was better than treatments already available.
But trials have shown it can stop tumours spreading for nearly eight months – twice as long as alternative drugs.
In the same month, the body turned down Inlyta (axitinib) for kidney cancer, even though studies suggested it helped some patients live an extra three years.
In May last year, Nice rejected Avastin (bevacizumab) for ovarian cancer despite trials showing that patients given the £25,000 drug alongside chemotherapy lived 50 per cent longer, surviving just over a year on average.

Neuronal Disorganization in Autism .

According to survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released today (March 27), one in 68 eight-year-olds in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder. That’s nearly double what was estimated a decade ago. It’s not entirely clear why, but researchers are getting closer and closer to understanding the neural roots of autism. In a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, and their colleagues examined the brains of 22 children who died. The team found that kids who had autism were far more likely to have had disorganized patches of cortical neurons than those who didn’t have the disorder.
Given that the cortex takes shape prenatally, the researchers interpreted their findings as a sign that the brain changes leading to autism begin in utero. “If this new report of disorganized architecture in the brains of some children with autism is replicated, we can presume this reflects a process occurring long before birth,” Thomas Insel, the director of National Institute of Mental Health, which funded the research, said in a statement. “This reinforces the importance of early identification and intervention.”

The cortex is normally ordered in distinct layers of neurons, but 91 percent of the autistic children had small regions in their brains where genetic markers of these layers were absent. In comparison, just 9 percent of the kids without autism had these regions of disorganization. The patches were about five to seven millimeters in length and spanned several layers of cortical neurons. “The most surprising finding was the similar early developmental pathology across nearly all of the autistic brains, especially given the diversity of symptoms in patients with autism,” coauthor Ed Lein of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle said in a press release.
Stanley Nelson, a geneticist at UCLA, told NPR that the results add to the evidence that autism begins before birth. “The overwhelming set of data is that the problems are existing during brain development, probably as an embryo or fetus,” he said.

Stitches Out, Polymer Nanofibers In: Sticky ‘Mats’ Shot From Ordinary Airbrushes Seal Wounds Pain-Free.

Medical science is making unimaginable leaps in progress, from laser therapies to advanced brain imaging techniques. So how come the best solution we have for repairing a tear in the skin is still a needle and some thread? University of Maryland researchers hope to change that, as their polymer nanofibers may someday supplement or replace stitches.

The team’s latest breakthrough involves getting the polymer onto the skin. Previously, they tried using a technique known as electrospinning, which essentially uses an electrical charge to tease out the fibers from a liquid substance. But doing this directly within the animal set to receive the fibers is dangerous, so the team went back to basics: They used an ordinary airbrush.


“Using an airbrush to deposit biomaterials directly onto tissue is quite enticing and has potential in many areas of medicine,” said Jeffrey M. Karp, a bioengineer and co-director of the Center for Regenerative Therapeutics at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, in a news release.

The nanofibers aren’t just designed to seal wounds. They also have potential to act as drug-releasing implants and skeletons for tissue engineering. The fibers are biodegradable, which means the cells can easily accept them within a matter of weeks, senior author and UMD bioengineer Dr. Peter Kofinas, told Medical Daily. However, “the technology is still in animal trials, so it should take a few years before it can get to market.”

Kofinas and his team used the materials to repair lesions from diaphragm hernias and cuts to the lung, intestine, and liver in a pig. Within 24 hours, the cells were still accepting the polymer, which is already in use in a range of devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration, such as existing sutures and grafts. The current version of the mats contains fibers as narrow as 370 nanometers.

By the time the product reaches mass markets, the goal is for it to quickly seal wounds without the existing discomfort of stitches, which must be pulled through the skin. Currently, the nanofiber mats degraded within 42 days, which is far longer than the average week to two-week time period for stitches, yet may shorten as the technology advances. What’s more, any acetone in the polymer evaporated in testing before the nanofibers got deposited, suggesting the polymer won’t be toxic to humans.

The polymer is but one of many recent developments in the field of alternative wound healing. Recently, researchers developed a glue that (literally) mends broken hearts. Once the glue enters the targeted lesion of blood vessels, the team shines an ultraviolet light on the substance that causes the molecules to bind together. After the molecules form a rubber-like chain, they can withstand the pressures of a beating heart and other forces.


Colorectal Cancer Screening: Which Test is Right for Me?

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in both men and women. It is also considered one of the more preventable cancers due to the effectiveness of screening. But which screening option is right for you?


Charles Fuchs, MD, MPH, and Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, of Dana-Farber’s Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology.
“There are several different appropriate methods for colorectal cancer screening,” explains Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, clinical director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. “Some of the tests are more sensitive, but more complicated.”

Fecal occult blood testing. One type of screening is fecal occult blood testing, where patients complete a set of stool samples at home and return them to the doctor to test for evidence of microscopic blood. This test has been proven to decrease the incidence of colon and rectal cancers and mortality, and should be done annually.
While fecal occult blood testing is the most convenient method, Meyerhardt recommends the colonoscopy for most patients because of its sensitivity.

Colonoscopy. “The colonoscopy is best able to detect polyps, which are precursors to colorectal cancers, as well as cancer itself,” says Meyerhardt. “Fecal occult blood testing is only considered sensitive for cancer, not polyps, the precursor for most cancers, making it much less comprehensive than a colonoscopy.”
Read more: Colorectal Cancer: Five Things You Need to Know
Colonoscopies are slightly more complicated, and require a liquid diet the day prior to screening, some preparation to clean out the colon and rectum, and an outpatient procedure. If you have a clean colonoscopy, without any concerning polyps or cancer, you need only be screened every 8-10 years. If your physician finds polyps during your colonoscopy, the time between screenings will depend on the size, location, and characteristics of any polyps.

Sigmoidoscopy and barium enema. Other screening options include a sigmoidoscopy, which examines the rectum and lower colon for polyps and needs to be completed every five years, and a barium enema, which is a series of x-rays of the lower gastrointestinal tract. While sigmoidoscopies or fecal occult blood tests are acceptable colonoscopy substitutes for those with no risk factors or symptoms of colon or rectal cancer, barium enemas may miss small polyps and only detect between 30 and 50 percent of the cancers that a standard colonoscopy can find.
“All of the screening tests carry some risks, and the more sensitive the test, the higher the risk,” says Meyerhardt. “During a colonoscopy, there’s a very small risk of a perforation of the bowel, bleeding, or infection. The biggest risk of fecal occult blood testing and other screening measures is missing something, which could turn out to be much more serious.”
All adults aged 50 and older should be regularly tested for colon and rectal cancers. If you have certain risk factors, such as a family history of colon or rectal cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or a history of polyps, testing should be considered earlier than age 50. For example, those who have a history of colon or rectal cancer in an immediate family member should begin testing 10 years prior to the age of their family member’s diagnosis. For example, if a sibling or parent was diagnosed at 50, your first screening should take place at the age of 40. For all individuals, the time between testing depends on screening type and risk factors. Discuss the right time for you to start screening for colorectal cancer with your doctor.

‘Big Science’ uncovers another piece in the Alzheimer’s puzzle.

In a paper published today, British scientists have found evidence that biological material contributing to lesions in the brain, characteristic in Alzheimer’s patients, may also cause the build-up of brain-cell-damaging toxic iron. Scientists have made the discovery using advanced imaging techniques at giant X-ray facilities – the Diamond Light Source synchrotron in Oxfordshire and other synchrotrons in Switzerland and the US.
Iron occurs naturally in the human body, including the brain. The conversion of this iron between two chemical forms is essential for normal function. However, one of these forms of iron, known as ferrous iron, can be highly toxic if it is overproduced or builds up in tissues where it can’t be processed and removed properly. Scientists have known for some time that this toxic iron builds up in the same location as the brain lesions caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers have been studying the protein fragment that makes up the Alzheimer’s lesions, a peptide known as beta-amyloid, to try to understand how and why the build-up of toxic iron is occurring; and whether it’s a cause or a symptom of the brain cell damage in Alzheimer’s patients.

At the UK’s national synchrotron, Diamond Light Source, beams of light 10 billion times brighter than the sun, were used to shine a light on the problem, to study the chemical and magnetic makeup of the iron after it had interacted with the beta-amyloid peptide. By using these techniques along with electron microscopy they witnessed predominant biological form of iron changing into the more toxic ferrous form. As well as Diamond Light Source, studies were also carried out at the Swiss Light Source and the Advanced Light Source in the USA, using applied advanced x-ray techniques, more commonly used to study the latest hi-tech materials.

The experiments revealed that the peptide that makes up Alzheimer’s lesions is capable of converting iron into the form which could be causing damage to brain cells. This means that the lesions caused by Alzheimer’s could be causing a subtle disruption in how the brain manages iron, confronting brain cells with a level of toxicity that they simply cannot manage.

This discovery paves the way for future medical research into treatments that could halt or manage the conversion of iron into this toxic form, potentially slowing or limiting the damage to the brain. It could also lead to developments in using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect early stages of the disease by mapping altered patterns of iron in the brain.

Dr Neil Telling from the University of Keele, who lead the research in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Warwick and the University of Florida, commented: “Alzheimer’s is a sensitive and emotive area of research. The disease involves progressive brain cell failure, the reasons for which are still not fully understood. When findings showed increased levels of toxic iron within Alzheimer’s disease tissues, we realised that techniques we had used to study other iron based materials could be applied to understand where this toxic iron came from. Our observations suggest an origin for the toxic iron; that it may well be made toxic by the lesions themselves. This could open up new avenues of research into treatments to stop the build-up of this neurotoxic substance, potentially limiting the damage done by Alzheimer’s. Understanding how this toxic iron forms could also tell us where to look for early stages of the disease in MRI scans, perhaps even before irreversible brain damage occurs. It’s at an early stage but these promising results seem to be another piece of the jigsaw to fully understand Alzheimer’s.”

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, commented: “Clumps of amyloid beta are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease although why they accumulate in this way or cause brain cells to die is still being understood. This study suggests that the protein may cause iron to turn into its toxic form, leading to damage to brain cells. Why this might happen and how it can be stopped are important future avenues for research.

“There will be a million people with dementia in the UK by 2021 yet we still don’t know what causes the condition and there are only limited treatments available. We desperately need more research aimed at unravelling the underlying causes of dementia to help us in our quest to find better treatments and ultimately a cure.”

Andrew Harrison, CEO of Diamond Light Source, commented: “It is always wonderful to see a piece of research come out of Diamond Light Source which has the potential to have a positive impact on people’s lives. Research done at Diamond is leading step changes in our understanding of diseases like this, and supporting technological innovation and new drug designs for a range of different diseases. We put an enormous amount of work into maintaining Diamond as a centre of cutting edge research and making our light source available to 3,000 scientists every year; these groups rely on our advanced facilities to further their research and make crucial steps forward.”

U.S. Autism Estimates Rise by 30 Percent for Kids – WebMD


From the desk of Zedie.