Friday, 14 December 2012

Newsbite: Terbinafine Offers Benefits for Avian Aspergillosis

Aspergillosis is one of the most difficult diseases to treat successfully in avian species. Terbinafine  offers numerous potential benefits over many common antifungals for treatment of this disease. This paper explores the pharmacokinetics of nebulized terbinafine in Hispaniolan Amazon parrots (Amazona ventralis).more...

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Common Misconception Refuses to Go Away

This recent article from Ireland  states that work has been halted on the building of a new hospital in the Mid-West of Ireland because of fears of infection by the 'virus aspergillosis'

Galway builders JJ Rhatigan & Company have pulled around 30 workers off its construction site in Dooradoyle, and closed it until the HSE acts to install filters, and seal up windows to prevent the Aspergillosis virus getting on site.
Ger Mullane, of JJ Rhatigan, says it is the HSE’s responsibility to install the filters, not his company’s.
The condition is carried by dust in the air. Common when demolitions are taking place, if building workers inhale the spore, it can cause a range of illnesses from coughs and fevers to chills, delirium, blood clots and failure of vital organs.
This is of course incorrect as people with a healthy immune system have little to fear from inhaling the amounts of fungal spores normally present in the air, indoors and out. Our lungs are populated with plentiful neutrophils which destroy the fungus before it can do any harm.

The people at risk from building works close to hospitals are not the construction workers (other than those allergic or asthmatic). Those at risk are the patients who are suffering from illnesses that cause problems with their immune system (e.g. neglected diabetes, HIV) or who are being treated with drugs that suppress our immune systems (corticosteroids, some drugs used to help transplant recipients) or who have had their immune system removed for a short time while undergoing treatment for some cancers.
There is also another category of people at risk that includes those who suffer from severe asthma with fungal sensitivity (SAFS) and allergies.

This point is made by the hospital spokeman later in the article in question
“When you carry out demolition works, you obviously create dust. The dust can, and usually does contain an organism called aspergillosis. When you seek excavation, or do demolition, you release this, and it can be contagious. People who have lung problems or breathing difficulties are susceptible to inhaling that spore. If you are working in a hospital environment, you will seal up the windows and the fans, and put in better filters, meaning the spore will not get into the hospital,”
Ironically Ireland is one of the few countries in the world that have a written protocol for precautions to take when running a hospital close to building work, so this is one subject we could expect the Irish media to get right! Oh! and while they are at it they might remember that aspergillosis is caused by Aspergillus, a fungus, not a virus.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Newsbite: 5 Million ABPA Sufferers Globally

New research released by the National Aspergillosis Centre estimates the total number of people in the world likely to be suffering from Allergic Bronchopulmonary Aspergillosis (ABPA) to be nearly 5 million people, 400 000 of these will develop the more invasive Chronic Pulmonary Aspergillosis (CPA) as a complication more...

Monday, 10 December 2012

UK Lung Disease Reorganisation Criticised By Doctors


1000 National Health Service (NHS) doctors have signed a letter to the government expressing serious misgivings about the dissolution of NHS regional boards. Regional boards plan services and training for employees of the NHS professionals.

 The current UK government heavily criticised the existing regional structure and in part of the political manifesto on which it was elected it opted to abolish many of the powers of the regional boards and replace them with a national independent body which will act through regional boards, claiming this to be a more efficient, streamlined system.

Unfortunately the regional boards seem to have been credited with vastly improving the standard of care for lung diseases in the UK and many doctors don't want to lose this organisation. The letter says:
"The respiratory improvement programme started by the Department of Health just two years ago is starting to make real progress in improving respiratory care, whilst also saving the NHS money. "Yet the support and funding for all this work is being withdrawn from April 2013, just at the point when patients are about to really benefit. "We are concerned that patients living with respiratory disease will be left behind in the new NHS."
The NHS is having to absorb many significant cuts as part of the need to reduce national dept incurred after the credit crisis in 2008. The new national board will be charged with making many of those savings and has the power to decide on staffing and service levels. There is thought to be potential for local needs to be ignored and this protest may well be part of the many protests designed to prevent service reductions in what doctors see as important areas to maintain.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Mouldy Bread a Thing of the Past?


Bread is one of the major reasons for food waste in many countries of the world - in the UK a third of all bought bread is thrown away due to becoming mouldy. The average family in the US for example throws away 40% of its food. Much of this discarded bread is perfectly edible, it has not dried out and gone stale but has become mouldy.

This is thought to be partly because bread is kept moist using plastic bags for storage as the moisture that is trapped encourages the growth of the principle common bread mould Rhizopus stolonifer and any other moulds that may land on the bread.

 If we could sterilise the bread after enclosing it in its plastic bag the chances are that the bread will be edible for some time.

Research carried out by a group at the american company MicroZap have developed a technique to achieve just that using a variant of the microwave technology we use to heat food up. A treatment of just 10 seconds destroys all mould spores without heating the bread. Bread treated in this way lasts for 60 days without getting mouldy (and presumably with the plastic container bag not having been opened), potentially allowing us to radically reduce waste.

Once opened though I would imagine that the bread would still be vulnerable to spores in the air landing on it and germinating so bread moulds may not be completely eradicated.

 The designers of the sterilising machine also mention that the use of this machine might enable bread manufacturers to reduce the amount of preservative added to bread that some people may find unpalatable. BBC News story

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Genome Mining - Visualisation

Researcher surrounded by data
Genome mining is a new technique that is leading to the efficient and rapid identification of useful new microbial gene products (See the last blog for new antifungals identified using this technique) by directly analysing the product and 'reverse engineering' the molecular structure to give us the genes that are producing the product via the genome DNA sequence of the organism concerned. This includes research on people in order to improve our understanding of how our bodies respond to disease and what influence our genes have  in the outcome of infections.

One difficulty with this type of research is the sheer amount of data that is generated. A human genome contains 25 000 genes and a lot more DNA besides. How do scientists effectively work with such a huge amount of data? We know that pictures relay vast amounts of information very efficiently and this company are maximising the use of that principle. Research data is projected on all surfaces of a specialised viewing room and the researcher can interact with the computer using arm and hand movements.

Together with specialised software to highlight groups of genes on demand (not that dissimilar to the ways we carry our searches on massive datasets using Google search engine) this might be one helpful way genomes and their transcriptional data can be navigated in the future.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

New Antifungals From Bacteria

Current antifungal drugs useful to treat aspergillosis fall into four main classes; polyenes, azoles, echinocandins and a pyrimidine analogue (Full list). All have strengths and weaknesses (some are very effective but are expensive and inconvenient to give, requiring hospital visits) and in all cases there is the potential for resistance to develop in fungal isolates, eventually rendering them useless.

 There is therefore a clear need for the continued development of new antifungal drugs. There have been several recent stories about new strategies to find new 'targets' in the fungus to attack with new drugs (1, 2) but a new source is now being reported in the media. In the history of the development of antibiotics (i.e. drugs that will kill bacteria) fungi are well represented, indeed the first antibiotic (penicillin) was discovered when a fungus started growing on Alexander Flemings' bacterial culture plates and started killing off the bacteria. We now know that many micro-organisms produce toxins though to be designed to kill off competitors for food or other valuable resource.

Bacteria can also produce powerful toxins to kill off fungi and a recent study has identified one such group of  new antifungal chemicals that they have named jagaricin. This bacterium normally lives off fungal material and is known as a 'soft rot' disease of commercial mushrooms so it was a clear candidate for the identification of chemicals that might be able to kill (and eat) fungi.

In the past researchers may have screened many strains of the bacterium and then tried to isolate the antifungal substances, identify them and subsequently isolate the genes. In the 1950's and 60's they may well have had to hunt for natural strains that produced lots of antifungal activity and then find ways to cultivate it in such a way as to enable large quantities of the new drug to be produced and purified. This was very time intensive and quite a hit or miss procedure.



 This modern research group have used techniques that are revolutionising how we can find new drugs. We can now quickly analyse an interesting new substance produced by a bacterium and 'read' its genetic structure using a Mass Spectrometer. Once we have a good idea of the genetic structure of the gene that produces the protein we can easily find it in the bacterium's genome as it ia easy to read all of the DNA in a bacterium, analyse all of the genes it contains. The gene can then be easily manipulated to produce large amounts of the interesting new gene product e.g. a new antifungal drug - a technique known as genome mining.

This revolutionary approach is already impacting many areas of drug development (and any other applicable research field including fuel production, food production etc.) and excitingly this includes  new antifungal drugs.

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