Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Suncream may be linked to Alzheimer's disease, say experts

This is just the old nanoparticle scare again

The frightening possibility of Alzheimer's disease being induced by suncream is being investigated by academics. Millions of British holidaymakers use block to protect their skin from the sun every year. Now the University of Ulster says two of its experts have been awarded £350,000 by the European Union to explore the possible links between the suncream and the brain disease.

They are leading a groundbreaking three-year research project into whether human engineered nanoparticles, such as those found in sunscreen, can induce neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

It follows a 2003 study by British doctors that found some leading brands of sunscreen lotions failed to stop the sun's damaging rays penetrating the skin. They recommended staying out of the sun or covering up when outside as the best way to protect against skin cancer. [I second that!]

Professor Vyvyan Howard, a pathologist and toxicologist, and Dr Christian Holster, an expert in Alzheimer's, are conducting the latest research as part of a worldwide project called NeuroNano. The University of Ulster experts will be specifically looking at nanoparticles present in chemicals found in sunscreens and an additive in some diesel fuels - titanium dioxide and cerium oxide - and their connection to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Professor Howard said: 'There is now firm evidence that some engineered nanoparticles entering intravenously or via lungs can reach the brains of small animals. 'Indeed they lodge in almost all parts of the brain and there are no efficient clearance mechanisms to remove them once there.'

There were also suggestions that nanoscale particles arising from urban pollution had reached the brains of animals and children living in Mexico City, he said. 'It has recently been discovered that nanoparticles can have highly significant impacts on the rate of misfolding of key proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. 'The brain itself is a very special organ. It cannot repair by replacing nerve cells, the ones you get at birth have to last all your life, which makes them peculiarly vulnerable to long term low dose toxicity.' [That is the old view but the well-known ability of the brain to repair itself (after strokes etc.) has led some to question that. It is certainly now well-established that the brain can repair alcohol damage. Given what the brain can do for stroke victims and alcohol abusers, I don't think we should worry too much about nanoparticles] The brain had built up some protective mechanisms but a major worry was that nanoparticles seemed to be able to circumvent them, he said.

'All this adds up to a new field of investigation. This research programme is deeply challenging and entails the gathering of entirely new knowledge in a field - neuronanotoxicology. 'It requires the marshalling of unique expertise, methodologies, techniques and materials, many themselves completely new and never before brought together in the required combination,'" said the professor.

Latest figures show neurodegenerative diseases currently affect over 1.6 per cent of the European population, with dramatically rising incidence likely in part to the increase of the average age of the population. 'There is also some epidemiological evidence that Parkinson's disease is connected to environmental pollutants and it is often noted that, historically, reports of Parkinson's symptoms only began to appear after widespread industrialisation. [Because people died young in the old days]

'The risk that engineered nanoparticles could introduce unforeseen hazards to human health is now also a matter of growing concern in many regulatory bodies, governments and industry,' said the professor.


Brain chemical could hold key to treating multiple sclerosis

Sounds hopeful

Scientists say that they have taken “a major step forward” in understanding how to reduce the severity of multiple sclerosis (MS), a university claims.

Tests on mice found that the brain chemical galanin can significantly reduce the seriousness of the disease, which attacks the central nervous system. Experiments with the molecule on human brain tissue suggest that it could have the same effect on people.

The researchers at the University of Bristol said that further study was needed but that potentially a drug could be developed within ten years. The research offers hope to some 85,000 MS sufferers in Britain. They found that mice with high levels of galanin were resistant to the MS-like disease, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).

David Wynick, who works on the function of galanin in the relief of neuropathic pain, initiated the project and worked with David Wraith and Neil Scolding on the research.

Scientists believe the key to the currently incurable condition may lie in galanin, a neuropeptide or small protein-like molecule that influences the brain’s activity. They found that mice with a large amount of galanin became “completely resistant” to the EAE, but mice that had no galanin at all developed a more severe form. They then carried out tests on human brain tissue already affected by MS and found that galanin repaired some of the damage seen in acute sufferers of the condition. Professor Wraith, who is working on a vaccine for the prevention and treatment of MS, commented: “The results were really remarkable: rarely do you see such a dramatic effect as this.”

MS is the most common disabling neurological disease among young adults and symptoms range from pain and tiredness to spasms, paralysis and memory loss.

A spokeswoman for the university said that although the results were “very encouraging” there was still much work to be done before a drug could be developed and it could be at least ten years before one was on the market. She said the team were now expected to seek the “substantial” funding needed to advance their findings.


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