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The Update

Issue #18, March 2021

The Update is a monthly digest of all that is interesting, exciting and new in the world of medicine and medical science, presented in a curated and convenient package.

1.  MRI Reveals COVID-19-Linked Eye Abnormalities

MRI Showing focal temporal retinal detachment of the left eye (arrow)
  • Researchers using MRI have found significant abnormalities in the eyes of those with severe COVID-19 infection. The French Society of Neuroradiology (SFNR) initiated a study which analyzed information from 129 patients in France who were hospitalized with COVID-19 and underwent brain scans with magnetic resonance imaging.
  • Of the 129 patients – 43 women and 86 men – nine (7 percent) had abnormal MRI finding in the globe of the eye. All nine patients had nodules in the macular region, the area of the eye that is responsible for central vision. Eight patients had nodules in both eyes, and two had nodules outside the macular region.
  • These findings do not shed light on the mechanism behind the nodule formation, there are several hypotheses around the root cause. Previous literature has reported human coronaviruses can prompt retinitis, choroiditis, retinal detachment, or optic neuritis.
  • Another cause could be inadequate drainage of the eye veins caused by lying prone in the ICU or being intubated for extended periods of time. Seven of the affected patients had had long-term ICU admissions.
  • Further research is underway, and SFNR is performing follow-up clinical and MRI exams on all COVID-19 survivors to determine if they have any long-term clinical consequences, such as vision loss or visual field impairment.
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2. Cyanobacterial Growth Optimized for Mars Promises Lifeline to Crewed Missions

Growing Anabaena cyanobacteria on Mars
  • Scientists show Anabaena cyanobacteria can be grown using local Martian gases, water, and other nutrients, at low pressure. These findings make it much easier to develop sustainable biological life support systems for a sustainable Mars exploration program.
  • Recreating an Earth-like atmosphere is not feasible. An Earth-like culture system would be too expensive and too heavy to carry the distance. “Think of a pressure cooker,” Verseux said. So, researchers explored the middle ground: an atmosphere close to Mars that is good enough to grow cyanobacteria.
  • The team built a bioreactor called Atmos (Atmosphere Tester for Mars-bound Organic Systems), in which cyanobacteria are grown in artificial atmospheres. All inputs into the bioreactor were those that can be found on Mars: gases abundant in the Martian atmosphere (nitrogen and carbon dioxide), water that could be mined from ice, and nutrients found in the dusty and rocky surface of the planet (regolith) such as phosphorus, sulfur, and calcium.
  • Dried Anabaena biomass was ground, suspended in sterile water, filtered, and successfully used as a substrate for growing E. coli bacteria, proving that sugars, amino acids, and other nutrients can be extracted from them to feed other bacteria, which are less hardy but tried-and-tested tools for biotechnology. For example, E. coli could be engineered more easily than Anabaena to produce some food products and medicines on Mars that Anabaena cannot.
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3. Diabetes treatment may protect against COVID-19 mortality

Metformin Linked to Fewer Covid-19 Diabetic Patients deaths
  • Use of the diabetes drug metformin — before a diagnosis of COVID-19 — is associated with a threefold decrease in mortality in COVID-19 patients with Type 2 diabetes, according to a racially diverse study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
  • “This beneficial effect remained, even after correcting for age, sex, race, obesity, and hypertension or chronic kidney disease and heart failure,” said Anath Shalev, M.D., director of UAB’s Comprehensive Diabetes Center and leader of the study.
  • The new study, published in Frontiers of Endocrinology, included 25,326 individuals who were tested for COVID-19 at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital between February and June 2020.
  • The overall mortality rate in COVID-19-positive patients was 11%. Diabetes was associated with a dramatically increased risk of death and remained an independent risk factor even after adjusting for age, race, sex, obesity, and hypertension.
  • Notably, the reduction in mortality among those with diabetes taking metformin prior to COVID-19 diagnosis was significant: 11% of those patients died compared with 23% of those with diabetes not taking metformin.
 
 
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4. BioVaxy’s Vaccine For Ovarian Cancer - An Update

Different types of Vaccine Strategies for Cancer Cells
  • BioVaxys’ vaccine for Stage III/Stage IV ovarian cancer is getting devolved with the help of technology. The completion of GMP-grade bioproduction development is planned for the end of 2021, and with the EU Phase One and Two, clinical trial slated will most likely develop in early 2022, waiting for EMEA, European Medicines Agency, approval.
  • After the trials with the ‘first generation’ haptenized tumor cell vaccines in stage I/II, BioVaxys is now planning to synergize the vaccine by the concept of Bi-haptenization with anti-CTLA4 and anti-PDA checkpoint antibodies.
  • The idea is that a higher number of T cells is stimulated by the addition of another hapten (i.e., more modified amino acids) so the number of T cells potentially reactive to the unmodified protein increases. 
  • It was recently announced that Bio Vaxys is collaborating on the ovarian cancer vaccine clinical program and collaborating with the Spanish biopharma company ProCare Health Iberia, and they plan to submit a Clinical Trial Application for BVX-0918A to the EMEA later this year but waiting for a compassionate use approval in Stage III & Stage IV ovarian cancer. Later on, BioVaxys will market its ovarian cancer vaccines around the world.
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Useful Tools For Students While Researching!!

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Recent RAKMHSU Publications

(https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11845-020-02365-6)
In this original paper, Kauline Saisha Kumaradevan, Akhila Balan, Karuna Khan, Refaa Mujeeb Alji (4th Year MBBS), with the help of Dr. Sareesh Naduvil Narayanan (Department of Physiology), studied the effect of classical and heavy metal background music on the participants’ reaction time. Both forms of background music, significantly decreased the participants’ reaction time compared to the silence condition.

This experimental study was conducted in Ras Al Khaimah Medical and Health Sciences University, Ras Al Khaimah, UAE. It was published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science (the official journal of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland), in September 2020.
Copyright © 2021 RAK Medical & Health Sciences University, All rights reserved.

For comments and corrections, please contact the authors:
Nour Kamal Saba'neh - 
Science & Technology Officer
cstrakmhsu@gmail.com | +971551227108
Ruba Hassan - Member, Committee on Science & Technology
Abdullah Ahmed Tariq - Member, Committee on Science & Technology
Rim Ashraf -  Member, Committee on Science & Technology 
Iffath Ahmed - Member, Committee on Science & Technology 
Mira Osman - Member, Committee on Science & Technology

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