TIME neuroscience

Pomegranate Compound Could Delay Alzheimer’s, Study Says

Eat more fruit for better brain health, science suggests

There’s a chemical compound in pomegranate fruits called punicalagin, which researchers at University of Huddersfield, an institution known for food science, believe could help slow the progression of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by treating inflammation in the brain.

For two years, Dr. Olumayokun Olajide has lead of team of researchers in studying the effects of the compound on rats, and in new research, published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, the researchers showed that the compound was able to inhibit some inflammation in the brain. Now, the researchers are looking at how much pomegranate is needed to get adequate amounts of punicalagin. In 100% pomegrante juice products, the researchers estimate there’s about 3.4% punicalagin, and most of it is found in the skin.

The researchers are also teaming with organic chemists to see if it’s possible to create drugs for inflammation that use punicalagin.

The findings show that punicalagin doesn’t stop or prevent neurodegenerative diseases from happening, but by interfering with inflammation, they could slow the progression. A lot of current research is looking at whether it’s possible to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s symptoms in people before they start to show symptoms of the disease, at which point, some researchers worry, it might be too late.

It’s not the first time that researchers have looked at the benefit of pomegranate, which in other studies has shown to help break down the plaques in the brain that lead to the disease. All of the research is still early, and the majority is conducted in rats or mice and not humans, but it never hurts to add a little more fruit to your diet.

TIME Infectious Disease

Remember MERS? Scientists Want Treatments to be Ready, Unlike Ebola

MERS is another disease with no cure or vaccine--can scientists get ahead while there's still time?

Do you remember MERS? That’s right, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus infection (MERS or MERS Co-V). It may seem like a disease of the past now, but there was a time only months ago that we had similar if not equally overreactive fears about whether the disease–which was spreading primarily in the Middle East–could spread through the United States.

In fact, there were a few cases of MERS in the U.S. in May. The CDC told Americans that: “In this interconnected world we live in, we expected MERS Co-V to make it to the United States.” And though the virus is a very different disease from Ebola, it similarly transmits between humans only via direct contact–making health care workers the most at risk. And like Ebola, there is no vaccine or cure.

Right before MERS slipped off our collective radars only to be replaced by the deadly Ebola virus one continent over, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in July that it had received reports of 837 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV including at least 291 related deaths.

So, why is no one talking about MERS right now? Cases and deaths appear to have leveled off for now, which is leading researchers–who are very much still paying attention to the disease–to believe that perhaps it’s seasonal, like the flu. “It appears we are dropping out of MERS season,” says study author Darryl Falzarano, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). “It could be happening again in the spring. It’s possible that MERS could be more chronic, and Ebola is more sporadic.”

In a recent paper, a team of National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists, including Falzarano, report that they’ve concluded that marmosets are the best animal model for testing potential treatments for MERS. The team has tested its fair share of critters, starting with small rodents like hamsters and ferrets, and eventually landing on another type of money called the rhesus macaques.

The trouble with finding the right animal is that viruses react differently depending on the host, and sometimes the cells won’t accept the virus, making testing useless. Though the rhesus macaques were able to contract MERS, their symptoms only grew to that of a humans’ mild to moderate symptoms, which is not as critical for testing as severe.

Now, the finding–published in the journal PLoS Pathogens– is by no means groundbreaking. But it highlights just how difficult and time consuming it can be to develop a drug or vaccine for an uncommon virus. One of the primary topics of debate during the current Ebola outbreak is whether experimental drugs should be used. The two now-recovered American Ebola patients received an experimental drug called ZMapp, and WHO is in the process of developing guidelines for how such treatments should be used. But the inconvenient truth is that even if a drug for Ebola is available, and most manufacturers only have limited amounts, we really have no idea whether they could work. It might just be too late for this outbreak.

But what about MERS?

“You cannot expect magic bullet types of cures off the bat,” says study author Vincent Munster, chief of the Virus Ecology Unit at NIAID. “The viruses we work with are really niche viruses, so there’s not a lot of interest from pharmaceutical companies. But I think this outbreak could propel some recent developments and vaccines.”

There are currently drugs and vaccines in the pipeline undergoing testing for MERS, and like in the current outbreak, they could be considered for last-ditch efforts. Scientists are not just studying how to develop methods to treat MERS, but they’re also trying to determine how it transmits from what appear to be camels, to people, plus whether or not there’s potential it could become airborne. The hope is that as our world continues to become more and more connected, there will emerge an incentive to develop and produce treatments for deadly diseases that we still don’t fully understand.

Thankfully, it appears we have some time when it comes to MERS–at least until spring.

TIME Infectious Disease

How Some People Are Surviving the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History

Kent Brantly, who contracted the deadly Ebola virus, stands with wife Amber during a press conference at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Aug. 21, 2014.
Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted the deadly Ebola virus, stands with wife Amber during a press conference at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Aug. 21, 2014 Tami Chappell—Reuters

Two Americans who contracted Ebola in Liberia have been declared virus-free

Ebola is a nasty virus, but contracting it isn’t always a death sentence.

The current outbreak is immense — the worst in recorded history — and aid organizations in West Africa are stressing the need for more people on the ground, not to mention additional supplies and space.

But in a rare instance of positive news on Thursday, it was announced that two Americans who became infected in Liberia and were evacuated to an Atlanta hospital for treatment had been discharged and are now virus-free. One of them, Dr. Kent Brantly, appeared healthy while speaking at a press conference.

Ebola’s fatality rate in the current outbreak is slightly over 50% — with 2,473 cases and 1,350 deaths — and previous outbreaks have hovered up to 90%. So it may seem hard to understand how someone can survive the disease, which attacks people’s organs and thins blood vessels. But the physicians at Emory University Hospital, where the American patients were treated, tell TIME that even though Ebola’s death rates are frankly terrifying, it’s key to remember that those are in countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — with comparatively weak health care systems. Multiple patients are kept together in a single space and health care workers have neither enough protective equipment nor resources to provide the supportive care that patients need — like isolation, clean linens and replenished fluids and electrolytes.

Still, some people in the U.S. and elsewhere manage to survive the deadly disease.

There’s no cure or treatment for Ebola, but some drugs are being tested. That includes ZMapp, which Brantly and Nancy Writebol received in Liberia. But, their physicians say since they were the first human patients to get the drug, there’s no way to tell what impact it had.

Experimental drugs aside, what doctors can provide Ebola patients is supportive care, like monitoring their heart rate, blood pressure and breathing, as well as replenishing fluids, which can help keep the body as stable as possible so it can fight the virus. (A lack of protective equipment and high demand make this type of care difficult in some of the hardest-hit areas of the outbreak.)

When a person is infected with a virus, their immune system starts to create antibodies to attack it. If the person is strong enough and their body sustains that strength long enough, their immune system can eventually neutralize and clear the virus on its own. Ebola can be detected through blood tests, the results of which only take a day or two to get back. The doctors at Emory said they were able to determine through both blood- and urine-diagnostic tests — and with the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — that the virus was no longer in the patients’ systems and that they were both symptomless for at least two or three days.

Now there are questions about whether they are carriers, or if they could relapse, or whether they are still infectious. The doctors have confidently said no to all those questions. “The general experience is that once they have survived — especially this far into the disease — they are not contagious, they don’t relapse and they don’t spread the virus to anyone else,” Dr. Bruce Ribner of Emory University Hospital said in the press conference. “We have no evidence of a carrier state for this disease … We anticipate [they will have] immunity to this virus.”

Thanks largely to the quality of care they received, Brantly and Writebol are alive, giving hope that the virus can be conquered in patients with pointed care. But that type of assistance isn’t always available in the areas where Ebola is spreading fastest. “Please, do not stop praying for the people of Liberia and West Africa,” Brantly said on Thursday, in a plea for the public not to forget those who won’t have a recovery similar to his.

TIME Infectious Disease

Americans With Ebola Discharged From Atlanta Hospital

Both patients are virus-free

+ READ ARTICLE

Updated 12:10 p.m.

Two Americans who contracted Ebola while on an aid trip in West Africa have been discharged from Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, officials said Thursday. Dr. Kent Brantly was released Thursday, while Nancy Writebol was released Tuesday, though her discharge wasn’t publicly known until now.

Dr. Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist at Emory who was leading the patients’ care, said his team determined in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Atlanta’s Health Department that the patients are virus-free and can return home with no public health concerns. Ribner also defended the choice to bring the two Ebola-stricken Americans to Emory for treatment.

“It was the right decision to bring these patients back to Emory to treat them,” Ribner said in a press conference Thursday. “What we learn from them will help advance the world’s understanding of how to treat Ebola virus infection, and help to improve survival in parts of the world where patients with Ebola are treated.”

Brantly, the more public of the two American Ebola patients, gave a public statement thanking both his organization Samaritan’s Purse and the medical team at Emory. The smiling doctor looked well, and thanked God multiple times for his recovery.

“Today is a miraculous day. I am thrilled to be alive, to be well, and to be reunited with my family,” he said. “[In Liberia] I prayed that in my life or in my death, that [God] would be glorified. I did not know then, but have learned since that there were thousands, maybe millions of people around the world praying for me that week . . . I cannot thank you enough for your prayers and your support . . . I serve a faithful God who answers prayers. God saved my life.”

Writebol, the other American Ebola patient, asked for privacy and requested the hospital not give details about her recovery, which is why her discharge remained private. She did, however, ask Dr. Brantly to extend her thanks. “As she walked out of her isolation room, all she could say was, to God be the glory,” said Brantly. Both Writebol and Brantly said they will be spending time alone with their families for some time.

 

The pair were brought to Emory as the hospital has an infectious disease unit specially equipped for treating serious communicable diseases. There is no vaccine or cure for Ebola, though the patients did receive a drug still in early stages of development. Dr. Ribner added that since the patients were the first humans to ever receive the drug, it is still unclear how it played a role in their recovery.

The team of doctors treating the patients previously told TIME that they hope what they learn from treating the patients can shed insight into the disease that can be shared with other physicians fighting Ebola, the latest global outbreak of which has claimed at least 1,350 lives, according to the latest World Health Organization numbers.

“We are mindful of all of those in West Africa that are still fighting for their lives against this threat, and those who are carrying for them, putting their own lives in danger,” said Dr. Ribner. The Emory medical team will be releasing guidelines for physicians in West Africa to provide insight into what worked during the Americans’ treatment.

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