Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Improved water-disinfecting solar-powered bottle by students gets $40,000 prize

University of Washington engineering students have won an international contest for their design to monitor water disinfection using the sun's rays. The students will share a $40,000 prize from the Rockefeller Foundation and are now working with nonprofits to turn their concept into a reality.

Team member Jacqueline Linnes, who recently completed her bioengineering doctorate, traveled to Bolivia last year with the UW chapter of Engineers Without Borders. While there, she and other students treated their drinking water by leaving it in plastic bottles in the sun.

The concept is an old one. Solar disinfection of water in plastic bottles, also called SODIS, is promoted by many nonprofits. It offers a cheap and easy way to reduce some of the roughly 1.5 million diarrhea-related children's deaths each year. But global adoption has been slow, partly because it is hard to know when the water is safe to drink.

The UW entered a competition to design an indicator for Fundación SODIS, a Bolivia-based nonprofit dedicated to testing and promoting this method. Solar disinfection in water bottles removes more than 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses, with results similar to chlorination.

The UW device lets users know when the sun's rays have done their job.

Computer models show malaria-infected RBCs stiffen, restrict capillary flow

A team of researchers at Brown University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has completed the first modeling, followed by experiments, of how red blood cells are infected by a malarial parasite that attacks the brain. The researchers report that infected cells stiffen by as much as 50 times more than healthy cells. Infected cells also tend to stick along blood vessel walls, impeding the flow of blood to critical organs. Results appear in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Although the incidence of malaria has declined in all but a few countries worldwide, according to a World Health Organization report earlier this month, malaria remains a global threat. Nearly 800,000 people succumbed to the mosquito-borne disease in 2009, nearly all of them in the developing world.

Physicians do not have reliable treatment for the virus at various stages, largely because no one has been able to document the malaria parasite’s journeys in the body.

Now researchers at Brown University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have used advanced computer modeling and laboratory experiments to show how malaria parasites change red blood cells and how the infected cells impede blood flow to the brain and other critical organs.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

WHO plans to integrate world's traditional medicine in one database

Yojana Sharma of SciDev.net reports on the WHO initiative to set up a global database of traditional medicines, due in 2011.

The first global database documenting the effectiveness of traditional medicines, which are widely used as the first source of healthcare around the world, has been announced by the WHO.

The International Classification of Traditional Medicine will be set up in the first half of next year to document traditional medicines and, for the first time, provide effectiveness data based on common standards.

"A number of countries have databases on traditional medicine, but because there have been no international standards until now, the data could not be compared," said Molly Meri Robinson Nichol, a technical officer at the WHO. "Western medicine has a vast database on diseases, but we do not have that information on traditional medicine, which makes it impossible to make a statement on its effectiveness."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Recent review of African health research reveals gaps, opportunities

The McLaughlin-Rotman Center for Global Health has published a series of open-access papers that paints a detailed picture of the state of health innovation research in Africa (link to BiomedCentral International Health and Human Rights, December 2010). Dr. Peter Singer and Dr. Ken Simiyu share their research findings in this engaging studio discussion.

Key findings of the group include issues in the stagnation of viable technologies, such as diagnostic tests, medical devices, and plant medicine due to lack of commercialization.

Other barriers in bringing these important innovation to the people include lack of infrastructure and scientific equipment, lack of capital financing and enterpreneurship, and inappropriate regulation and policies.

Suggestions to improve these issues comprise the need for a viable innovation network between scientists and entrepreneurs, addition of some modest funds to continue and validate the research, and addressing the gap in research infrastructure and scientific equipment.

These models parallel the situation of health research in Southeast Asia, where similar opportunities and challenges exist for health innovation. These investable ideas, if properly channeled, stand to make a huge difference in the people of Africa and Southeast Asia in the future. It is envisioned for these countries to develop health research so that they can create local products, grow local industries for health products, and provide solutions to local health needs of today.

Reference: McLaughlin-Rotman Center for Global Health. (2010, December). African Innovation: New Hope for Local Health Issues. Accessed December 2010. Retrieved from http://www.mrcglobal.org/projects/african_innovation.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Higher Actual Dengue Incidence Numbers in Cambodia than in National Reports, 2006–2008

Dengue vaccines are now in late-stage development, and evaluation and robust estimates of dengue disease burden are needed to facilitate further development and introduction. In Cambodia, the national dengue case-definition only allows reporting of children less than 16 years of age, and little is known about dengue burden in rural areas and among older persons. To estimate the true burden of dengue in the largest province of Cambodia, Kampong Cham, we conducted community-based active dengue fever surveillance among the 0-to-19–year age group in rural villages and urban areas during 2006–2008.

General Findings
The large-scale active surveillance study for dengue fever in Cambodia found a higher disease incidence than reported to the national surveillance system, particularly in preschool children and that disease incidence was high in both rural and urban areas. It also confirmed the previously observed focal nature of dengue virus transmission.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Small tech with big promise for healthcare

Nanotechnology should not suffer the same fate as GM — potential health and environmental hazards should be monitored and regulated early on. David Dickson, director of SciDev.Net, discusses the promise of nanomaterials. 

If a new and potentially hazardous field of technological innovation is to flourish in a social environment,  two factors are essential, even if the hazards are still relatively speculative.

The first is a clear demonstration of its value to individual welfare, creating a demand for what it promises.

The second is evidence that the potential dangers can be adequately monitored, and regulations put in place to minimise the chance that harmful effects will occur.

Nanotechnology for health: Facts and figures

Can developing countries use nanotechnology to improve health? Priya Shetty looks at nanomedicine's promise at a SciDev report.

Nanotechnology — the science of the extremely small — holds enormous potential for healthcare, from delivering drugs more effectively, diagnosing diseases more rapidly and sensitively, and delivering vaccines via aerosols and patches.

Nanotechnology is the science of materials at the molecular or subatomic level. It involves manipulation of particles smaller than 100 nanometres (one nanometre is one-billionth of a metre) and the technology involves developing materials or devices within that size — invisible to the human eye and often many hundred times thinner than the width of human hair. The physics and chemistry of materials are radically different when reduced to the nanoscale; they have different strengths, conductivity and reactivity, and exploiting this could revolutionise medicine.

For example, a major challenge of modern medicine is that the body doesn't absorb the entire drug dose given to a patient. Using nanotechnology, scientists can ensure drugs are delivered to specific areas in the body with greater precision, and the drugs can be formulated so that the active ingredient better permeates cell membranes, reducing the required dose.