Category Archives: Medicine & Healthcare

How Nigerian Doctor Discovered Concussion Trauma in American Football Players

“There are times I wish I never looked at Mike Webster’s brain. It has dragged me into worldly affairs I do not want to be associated with – human meanness, wickedness and selfishness. People trying to cover up, to control how information is released. I started this not knowing I was walking into a minefield. That is my only regret.”

These are the words of Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu, a Nigerian physician, forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who first discover and publish a link between American football and the brain damage – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), in former players.

Omalu’s work has changed a sport, and helped provoke a billion-dollar lawsuit and inspired a Hollywood film, Concussion (in which Will Smith played the role of Omelu) that was nominated for a Golden Globe.

But Omalu who knew little about American football attracted many enemies. American Football club owners and fans love their game very much that they saw Omalu as a threat to the game. They rejected his findings and questioned his right as a Nigerian to link their beloved American football to a brain trauma.

“I really wish I wasn’t brought into this…Lead a quiet life, enjoy my life, die a simple death. But now I have no choice. My life has been impacted in the most negative way. People are reacting very emotionally to me. They don’t like me. Call me all types of names but I am simply speaking to the truth,”

he said.

The Discovery of CTE

Omalu first discovered the CTE when examining the body of Mike Webster, a former pro football player with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers while working at the coroner’s office in September 2002.

Webster had displayed patterns of distressing behavior before his death from a heart attack at age 50, and Omalu was curious as to what clues the former player’s brain would reveal.

After careful examination of the brain, Omalu discovered clumps of tau proteins, which impair function upon accumulation. It was similar to “dementia pugilista,” a degenerative disease documented decades earlier in boxers, though it had yet to be connected to football players.

After confirming his findings with top faculty members at the University of Pittsburgh, Omalu named the condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and submitted a paper titled “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player” to the Medical journal Neurosurgery.

Omalu’s discovery was discredited by the mouthpiece of the National Football League (NFL) and the Mild Traumatic Brian Injury (MTBI) Committee discredited Omalu’s research as “flawed” and refused to acknowledge a link between the sport and the brain damage in former players.

However, Omalu gained an important supporter in Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of neurosurgery at the West Virginia University School of Medicine and a former team physician for the Steelers. With Bailes and lawyer Bob Fitzsimmons, Omalu founded the Sports Legacy Institute (later renamed the Concussion Legacy Foundation) to continue studies of CTE.

Omalu pressed forward with his examination of Terry Long, another former football player who had committed suicide at age 45, and discovered the same buildup of tau proteins. His follow-up paper to Neurosurgery was published in November 2006.

Despite the NFL’s public evasiveness, Omalu and his supporters scored a victory when Mike Webster’s family was awarded a significant settlement in December 2006.

Omalu’s Nigerian and Academic Background

Omalu was born in Nigeria during the civil war of 1968 in Idemili South, a small town in eastern part of Nigeria. The sixth of seven children of a civil engineer and a seamstress, Omalu was admitted to the Federal Government College in Enugu at age 12 and at age 15 he began medical school at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).

After earning his first of 10 degrees or board certifications in 1990, Omalu interned at University of Jos Teaching Hospital (UJTH), before being accepted to a visiting scholar program at the University of Washington in 1994 at the age of 25. He then served his residency at Harlem Hospital Center, where he developed his interest in pathology.

In 1999, Omalu moved to Pittsburgh to train under noted pathologist Cyril Wecht at the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office. Omalu holds eight advanced degrees and board certifications, later receiving fellowships in pathology and neuropathology through the University of Pittsburgh in 2000 and 2002 respectively, a Master of Public Health (MPH) in epidemiology in 2004 from University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University in 2008.

Movie and Book

Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu and actor Will Smith CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Will Smith was one NFL fan who allowed Omalu’s findings to challenge his thinking and, in preparing to play Omalu in the 2015 film Concussion, he watched him perform four autopsies and saw first-hand how he would play music and talk to the deceased person.

Will Smith said, “I was inspired by Bennet’s courage and faith…He combines that into one gorgeous human being. I was ecstatic to find that depth of character. I love that guy.”

Omalu released his book, Truth Doesn’t Have a Side on the 9th of this month with the forward written by Will Smith.

Omalu is currently chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, California and is a professor in the UC Davis Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Omalu who only became an US citizen in February 2015 is married to Prema Mutiso, originally from Kenya. They live in Lodi, California and have two children, Ashly and Mark.

Sources: Wikipedia, Telegraph, Biography.com

Archives Reveal Why Africa Should not Depend on Monsanto for GMOs

New innovations in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry must pass through trials to find out the effectiveness and side effects. The innovation is given a Go, if the benefits way outweighs the side effects, if not it is taken back to the lab for more research.

While Food biotechnology may be the solution to food insecurity in Africa through GMOs, Africa must research, develop, produce the GMOs themselves. African nations must understand the innovation enough to be able to decide whether it should be adopted or modified to benefit  their citizens.

Read: Biotechnology – Solving Nigeria’s Food Insecurity Challenges

The health and well-being of Africans cannot be left in the hands of profit-at-all-cost multinationals who may want to use Africans as guinea pigs for new innovations. As much as trials are a big part of research and development (R&D), African countries must carry it out themselves for themselves.

Read: Genome Editing – An Opportunity for Crop Improvement in Africa

It is time for African countries to build their own biotech industry, not only because the future will depend on it, but mainly because multinationals like  Monsanto cannot be trusted as  investigation has shown that the food biotech company based in the United State has endangered people’s health just for profit. The Guardian reported that Monsanto sold banned chemicals for years despite known health risks, archives reveal.

Read: Africa Must Produce its Own Technology

It was reported that Monsanto continued to produce and sell toxic industrial chemicals known as PCBs for eight years after learning that they posed hazards to public health and the environment, according to legal analysis of documents put online in a vast searchable archive.

According to The Guardian, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are long-lived pollutants that were mass-produced by Monsanto between 1935 and 1977 for use as coolants and lubricators in electrical equipment such as transformers and capacitors.

By 1979, they had been completely banned in the US and elsewhere, after a weight of evidence linking them to health ailments that ranged from chloracne and Yusho (rice oil disease) to cancer, and to environmental harm.

Yet a decade earlier, one Monsanto pollution abatement plan in the archive from October 1969, singled out by Sherman, suggests that Monsanto was even then aware of the risks posed by PCB use.

More than 20,000 internal memos, minuted meetings, letters and other documents have been published in the new archive revealed, many for the first time.

Read: Is Genetically Engineered Food Good For You

Most were obtained from legal discovery and access to documents requests digitized by the Poison Papers Project, which was launched by the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy. Chiron Return contributed some documents to the library.

Bill Sherman, the assistant attorney general for the US state of Washington – which is suing Monsanto for PCB clean-up costs potentially worth billions of dollars – said the archive contained damning evidence the state had previously been unaware of.

He told the Guardian: “If authentic, these records confirm that Monsanto knew that their PCBs were harmful and pervasive in the environment, and kept selling them in spite of that fact. They knew the dangers, but hid them from the public in order to profit.”

He told the Guardian: “More than 40 years ago, the former Monsanto voluntarily stopped production and sale of PCBs prior to any federal requirement to do so. At the time Monsanto manufactured PCBs, they were a legal and approved product used in many useful applications. Monsanto has no liability for pollution caused by those who used or discharged PCBs into the environment.”

Mysterious Strain of Anthrax is Killing Chimpanzees in African Rainforests

A strange breed of anthrax bacterium killed more than half of the dead chimpanzees analysed in new research from Africa – and scientists say the fatal infection could wipe out the local chimp population in the Ivory Coast.

As grave as the findings are, the greater implications of the Bacillus cereus biovar anthracis (Bcbva) bacterium could be that its infection vector isn’t just limited to chimps – with researchers unexpectedly finding the strain had also killed animals from numerous other species.

“To our surprise, almost 40 percent of all animal deaths in Taï National Park we investigated were attributable to anthrax,” says virologist Emmanuel Couacy-Hymann from the Ivorian Animal Health Institute. These animals include several monkey species, duikers, mongoose, and a porcupine

About the hybrid strain

Bcbva was first discovered back in 2004, when scientists found that dead chimps in the Taï National Park had been infected with an emergent strain of the usually harmless microbe, Bacillus cereus.

But this was no regular B. cereus, as the bug had somehow evolved to replicate the lethal molecular arsenal of Bacillus anthracis – the bacterium that causes anthrax.

Specifically, Bcbva seems to have adopted B. anthracis’s virulence plasmids – DNA strands that enable the bacterium to spread the Anthrax infection, which is carried when one animal eats an infected deceased animal.

Since the original discovery, researchers have found evidence that this dangerous hybrid has caused the deaths of chimpanzees, gorillas, and elephants in Cameroon and the Central African Republic, but the latest study paints an even grimmer picture.

The mystery

The findings highlight that anthrax, which is usually found in arid conditions, can also threaten populations in tropical rainforest environments, but researchers still don’t completely understand where the Bcbva strain comes from, nor how it spreads.

In the animal kingdom, anthrax usually threatens hoofed animals in dry plains, who become infected when they graze on bacterium-tainted soil.

That’s clearly not the case here, given chimps at least spend most of their time far off the ground. “We don’t know how they get infected,” researcher Fabian Leendertz from the Robert Koch Institute in Germany, who helped originally discover Bcbva, told The Atlantic.

“How do the spores make it up in the trees?”

The most likely explanation is carrion flies, which might spread the pathogen from infected carcasses to food sources that chimps subsist on, like fruit. It’s only a hypothesis for now, but the study uncovered Bcbva DNA in 12 out of 103 flies examined in the research – which suggests flies could be playing a part here.

A threat on Chimpanzees population

The worst toll was exacted on chimpanzees, though, with 31 of the 55 individuals examined having died from anthrax – and if things are left unchecked, the researchers fear the local population might not last another 150 years.

“According to our projections, anthrax could over time contribute to drive chimpanzees in Taï National Park to extinction,” says one of the team, Roman Wittig from the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

Are humans safe from these bacteria?

Fortunately, there are no reported cases of Bcbva-based deaths in humans – but that holdout may not last forever, and could be down to a lack of firm autopsy data rather than any kind of immunity to the pathogen.

“In these rural areas, no one really knows what people die of. In reports, it always says things like malaria or cholera, but these are not properly diagnosed,” Leendertz told Ed Yong at The Atlantic.

“We have stories of people finding dead animals in the forest, eating them, and dying. But we can’t link those to anthrax yet.” Until we know more, there’s no cause for undue alarm here, nor are the researchers saying that this mysterious strain poses a risk to people.

We need to take this threat seriously

But the data on Bcbva’s spread among wildlife and chimps in particular – in climatic conditions not usually associated with anthrax – means there’s a lot more we need to find out about here.

“This needs to be taken seriously,” veterinary scientist Chris Whittier from Tufts University, who wasn’t involved in the research, told Science Magazine.

“I hope this opens up a lot of people’s eyes.”

The findings are reported in Nature.

Source: Science Alert