2019.8

Cord blood ‘may prevent type 1 diabetes’

In a world-first clinical study, Australian researchers are hoping to prevent or delay the onset of type 1 diabetes by using stem cells from the patient’s own umbilical cord blood.

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They hope that injecting unique immune cells back into the patient, the disease could be avoided entirely.

“A number of animal studies have shown that infusion of regulatory T-cells from cord blood actually does prevent type 1 diabetes,” says Associate Professor Maria Craig, a paediatric endocrinologist at Sydney’s Westmead Children’s hospital.

“So there’s a very strong scientific basis for undertaking the study.”

But researchers say to reap the benefits of cord blood, parents have to make the decision to have it stored.

Currently in Australia there are around 25,000 samples stored. Researchers hope that successful results in this trial will help increase awareness of storing cord blood.

“Australia has one of the lowest rates of cord blood collection in the world really, in the developed world,” says Cell Care’s medical director, Associate Professor Mark Kirkland.

“Certainly for people with a family history of diseases such as diabetes, I think it’s something they really need to be thinking about.”

Australia has one of the highest rates of type 1 diabetes in the world.

Scientists believe cord blood infusion could also be used to treat a wide range of auto immune diseases.

Still, it’s not a cheap process and not every family will be able to afford it.

There’s also no guarantee the treatment will transfer to humans, says Professor Craig, but there’s every reason to be hopeful.

“We do hope this is the first of many studies investigating this very novel approach to preventing type 1 diabetes.”


Napoli to present new recruit Higuain on Thursday

The club said on Thursday on their Twitter feed Higuain would be presented to the media at 1730 GMT at the club’s training camp in Dimaro, northern Italy.

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Higuain’s move ends a six-and-a-half year stint in the Spanish capital, where he won three La Liga titles and a King’s Cup, and he is the third player to move from Real to Napoli in recent weeks following Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol.

Napoli are looking to strengthen their squad for their domestic and Champions League campaigns and had cash to spend after last week agreeing the sale of Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani to Paris St Germain for a reported fee of 64 million euros ($84.6 million).

Higuain cost them 37 million euros plus a possible 3 million more in performance-linked bonuses, while forward Callejon and defender Albiol were around 9 million each, Spanish media reported.

Born in Brest, France where his father was playing professional soccer, Higuain joined Real from Argentina’s River Plate in December 2006 but initially struggled to win a place in the starting line up.

He established himself by netting 22 league goals in the 2008-09 season and was the club’s top scorer with 27 goals the following year before a back injury sidelined him for most of the 2010-11 campaign.

He scored 22 goals in Real’s championship-winning season under Jose Mourinho in 2011-12 but finished with a disappointing 16 in La Liga last term.

Never a favourite of Real president Florentino Perez, who was not in charge of the club when he joined, Higuain was regularly touted as the player most likely to make way for the latest “galactico” signing.

He showed resilience to silence his critics but made clear his desire to leave the nine-times European champions after captaining the side in the final game of last season.

Nicknamed “Pipita” after his father Jorge, who was known as “Pipa”, Higuain could have opted to play for France as he holds a French passport.

Diego Maradona brought him into the Argentina squad in the run up to the 2010 World Cup finals, where he finished as his nation’s leading scorer with four goals.

($1 = 0.7565 euros)

(Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid, editing by Tobyb Davis)


Greek pensioner left suicide note of economic despair

A retired pharmacist who shot himself in the head in Athens’ busiest square, sparking clashes between protesters and police, left a suicide note lamenting poverty and despair, excerpts showed.

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The 77-year-old man, who killed himself under a cypress tree in Syntagma Square on Wednesday, about hundred metres (yards) from parliament, said government austerity cuts had “wiped out” his pension and left him in penury.

Violence broke out after about 1,000 people poured into the square in a spontaneous anti-government protest following the suicide, rallied by messages on social media.

The dead man had also compared the government, which is implementing an unpopular economic overhaul in return for EU-IMF loans, to the regime imposed by Greece’s Nazi German occupiers in 1941.

“The occupation government… has literally wiped out my ability to survive, based on a respectable pension which I had paid for during a 35-year period,” the pensioner said in an excerpt published in Greek newspapers.

“I find no other solution for a dignified end before I start sifting through garbage to feed myself,” he allegedly wrote in red ink.

A police source said the man had cancer. Greek newspaper reports said he had a daughter but was separated from his wife.

On Wednesday, scuffles broke out with riot police after a group of around 50 youths threw stones at them. The police fired tear gas and charged the protesters after they began smashing the entrance of a luxury hotel.

At least two journalists were roughly-handled during the fracas despite their efforts to identify themselves, according to state television NET journalist George Gerafentis who said he had fallen to the ground.

The station showed footage of a second journalist being pushed to the ground and a riot policeman attempting to kick her.

An investigation has been ordered into the incident, a police source said.

Ten people were detained but later released.

Mourners had left flowers, candles and handwritten messages in the square, which for two years has been the main rallying point for protests against austerity measures designed to haul Greece from its fiscal crisis.

Some of the notes called for an “uprising of the people”.

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks have lost their jobs in the last year, and unemployment currently tops one million, a quarter of the workforce.

Greece has been forced to drastically cut state spending, and has slashed civil servant salaries and pensions by up to 40 percent to secure bailout loan payments from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice offered his condolence’s over the man’s suicide.

“What I’d like to say is we’re deeply saddened to learn of any death in these circumstances, and just to express our sympathies,” he said.

Greece has a lower suicide rate than the European Union average but cases are multiplying after two years of tough austerity that have left over a million people jobless.

Economic difficulties have caused despair across the European South where governments in Italy, Portugal and Spain are applying similarly tough austerity policies.

In neighbouring Italy, five people have killed themselves in the last two weeks.

Greece’s Ta Nea daily gave an estimate of more than 450 suicides and 600 attempted suicides in the country last year, though it was not clear if the economic crisis was the cause.

The incident comes ahead of parliamentary elections expected in early May.

IMF spokesman Rice recalled that the two largest political parties in Greece have publicly supported the rescue.


Factbox: Main points of Euro group-Cyprus deal

These are the main points of a deal reached early between the eurozone nations and Cyprus, as presented in a statement released by the Eurogroup of finance ministers.

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— Cyprus’s Popular Bank — Laiki in Greek — will be effectively shut down “with full contribution of equity shareholders, bond holders and uninsured depositors.”

It is understood that deposits up to 100,000 euros ($130,000) are insured, and thus not subject to any tax or “haircut.”

— Laiki will be broken up into an institution with valid assets and a “bad bank” that takes on the risky ones. The bad bank will be slowly dissolved.

— The valid part of Laiki will be integrated into the Bank of Cyprus (BoC).

That integration will be assisted with 9.0 billion euros of Emergency Liquidity Assistance provided by the European Central Bank (ECB). “Only uninsured deposits in BoC will remain frozen until recapitalisation has been effected, and may subsequently be subject to appropriate conditions.”

— The ECB governing council will continue to provide the BoC with liquidity “in line with applicable rules.”

— The BoC is to be recapitalised “through a deposit/equity conversion of uninsured deposits with full contribution of equity shareholders and bond holders.”

— The conversion, details of which remain to be determined, “will be such that a capital ratio of 9% is secured by the end of the programme.”

A capital ratio is that of a bank’s own capital and reserves to its total assets and serves as a measure of its ability to withstand financial shocks.

— “All insured depositors in all banks will be fully protected in accordance with the relevant EU legislation.”

— Loans by the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, expected to total up to 10 billion euros, “will not be used to recapitalise Laiki and Bank of Cyprus.

“The Eurogroup is convinced that this solution is the best way forward for ensuring the overall viability and stability of the Cyprus financial system and its capability to finance the Cyprus economy,” the statement concluded.


Factbox: What is dengue fever?

By Scott Ritchie, James Cook University

Dengue is caused by four different serotypes (strains) of the dengue virus that can cause mild to severe illness in people, who are infected via mosquito bites.

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Dengue has been spreading through most urbanised areas in the tropics in the last 30 years. Up to 40% of the global population live in dengue-infected tropics, and an estimated 50 to 100 million cases occur annually.

Classical dengue, the most common type of the illness, is characterised by a high fever, splitting headaches, vomiting, a rash and body aches. It’s referred to colloquially as “breakbone fever”. The severe form of the illness, dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), is rare and its symptoms include blood plasma leakage, which may lead to shock and, potentially, death.

There’s no vaccine or specific medication to prevent dengue but both types can be treated with early diagnosis and fluid-replacement therapy. While fatalities are rare (less than 1% of cases), dengue epidemics can bring illness to thousands of people within weeks, causing chaos in communities and costing millions of dollars.

Dengue in Australia

The illness was once common in eastern Australia from the late-19th century through mid-20th century, stretching south nearly to Sydney. Large epidemics occurred in eastern New South Wales and Queensland. But with the demise of rainwater tanks after World War II and the advent of piped water, dengue-carrying mosquitoes retreated to north Queensland, where ample rains provide year-round breeding sites.

The prevalance of rainwater tanks could result in more dengue in Australia. Michael Jefferies

Dengue is now limited to the urban areas of north Queensland, the only region in Australia that has the carrier Aedes aegypti mosquito. Highly urbanised and feeding almost exclusively on humans, this mosquito loves unscreened old Queensland houses.

And the area is increasingly subject to outbreaks of the illness. Since 2000, there have been 36 dengue outbreaks in north Queensland, resulting in 2,364 confirmed cases that led to three deaths – all this from the bite of a rather innocuous-looking mosquito.

The increase in dengue activity overseas is also responsible for an escalation of imported cases into Australia. In the dengue-receptive cities of Cairns and Townsville, the number of imported dengue cases has jumped from ten a year to between 30 and 50 a year in the last four years. All four dengue types have been active in the area, resulting in multiple outbreaks.

To date, Queensland Health staff based in Cairns and Townsville have been able to eliminate the virus in each of the 40 different outbreaks in the region since 1995, preventing the virus from becoming established (endemic) in north Queensland. This is important as persistent outbreaks of multiple dengue viruses is associated with increased incidence of severe illness and deaths.

Current global dengue trends suggest the virus will become more common in Australia. Rainwater tanks are again decking suburban yards, and outbreaks of the virus have increased overseas (like the current epidemic in India), which means more imported cases of dengue.

Controlling dengue outbreaks

While mosquitoes breed in obvious stagnant water sites such as tyres, buckets, pot plant bases and boats under the mango tree, they also exploit hidden, flooded “cryptic containers” that are even harder to remove or treat. These include sump pits, telecommunication pits, septic tanks, roof gutters and rainwater tanks.

Water buckets provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes. How Big/Flickr

Dengue cases are also hard to isolate, especially the all-important index case (the initial case imported from overseas that kicks off an outbreak). Australia’s love affair with Bali has resulted in hundreds of cases among cash-flushed youth seeking a brief tropical holiday. And the epidemic in India could have a strong impact unless controlled before the end-of-year holidays.

All of Queensland’s recent large outbreaks, from the 500 cases in 2003 to the recent 1,000 cases in 2008-09, were initiated by a traveller who was not detected by the health system for over four weeks. By the time Queensland Health knew about the ignition point for the outbreak, several other people had been infected, and had spread the virus throughout the Cairns area.

Dengue control involves careful synchronisation of a multi-disciplinary team of public health nurses, epidemiologists, entomologists and mosquito control experts, and health promotion workers. Loss of any part of this team can seriously impact the overall success of a control program.

While some control methods in development hold some promise – the Wolbachia bacteria that blocks dengue infection in mosquitoes, for instance, and Sumitomo’s smokeless mosquito coil that repels and kills mosquitoes in the house – they’re still in some years away from becoming available.

Given the increase in dengue activity overseas, the need to support current dengue infrastructure has never been greater.

Scott Ritchie receives funding from FNIH, NHMRC, Queensland Govt., CSIRO