The Health Ministry has designated the Hebrew University’s Sanford Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases as the country’s national laboratory for leishmaniasis. The disease, which is transmitted by the bite of certain species of sandfly, is caused by protozoan parasites that belong to the genus Leishmania and can be serious and disfiguring. The ministry’s recognition of the Kuvin Center highlights the leading role of its researchers, who have worked together on the disease for many years along with colleagues from around the world.

An estimated 12 million cases of leishmaniasis are reported worldwide, with 1.5 million to two million new cases a year. There are also cases in Israel, especially in the Jordan Valley, where it is known as the Rose of Jericho, and in Ma’aleh Adumim outside Jerusalem and elsewhere.

Depending on the parasite species, symptoms of leishmaniasis can include skin sores, which erupt weeks to months after the person affected is bitten by the sandflies, as well as other consequences such as fever, damage to the spleen and liver, and anemia. In the latter case, the disease is fatal if untreated.

The Kuvin Center’s mission is to study the cause and effect of vector-borne diseases and to find and implement strategies to reduce or eliminate the impact of those diseases. The center is part of the medical faculty’s Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada.

Dr. Sanford Kuvin, founder and international board chairman of the center, said that the ministry’s declaration is a tribute to the excellence of the center’s scientists and presents it as the main address for infectious and tropical disease research in the Middle East.

JUST ONE SERVING OF JUNK FOOD AFFECTS ARTERIES

A single serving of junk food composed mainly of saturated fat is harmful to the arteries, while no damage occurs after consuming a Mediterranean-diet meal rich in good fats such as mono-and polyunsaturated fatty acids, according to researchers at the Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Center at the Montreal Heart Institute. A Mediterranean meal may even have a positive effect on the arteries. The findings were recently presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Toronto by Prof. Anil Nigam.

He undertook the study to compare the effects of junk food and typical Mediterranean food on the endothelium, the inner lining of the blood vessels. By measuring endothelial function, it is possible to determine how easily the arteries will dilate after a temporary, fiveminute occlusion following the consumption of the two types of foods. This is a very interesting analysis, as endothelial function is closely linked to the long-term risk of developing coronary artery disease.

The study also revealed that participants with higher blood triglyceride levels seemed to benefit more from the healthy meals. Their arteries responded better to the Mediterranean food compared to people with low triglyceride levels.

“We believe that a Mediterranean-type diet may be particularly beneficial for individuals with high triglyceride levels, such as patients with metabolic syndrome, precisely because it could help keep arteries healthy,” said Nigam.

A total of 28 non-smoking men underwent tests for their baseline endothelial function and ate the Mediterranean-type meal first and then the junk food-type meal a week later. The researchers then tested the effects of each meal.

The first was composed of salmon, almonds and vegetables cooked in olive oil, of which 51 percent of total calories came from fat (mostly monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats.) The second meal consisted of a sandwich made of a sausage, an egg and a slice of cheese and three hash-brown potatoes, for a total of 58% of total calories from fat: extremely rich in saturated fatty acids and containing no omega-3s. At two hours and four hours after each meal, participants underwent further ultrasounds to assess how the food had impacted their endothelial function.

The team found that after eating the junk food meal, the arteries of the study participants dilated 24% less than they did when in the fasting state. In contrast, the arteries were found to dilate normally and maintain good blood flow after the Mediterranean-type meal.

“These results will positively alter how we eat on a daily basis. Poor endothelial function is one of the most significant precursors of atherosclerosis.

It is now something to think about at every meal,” Nigam said.

VITAMIN D FOR PREGNANT WOMEN TO REDUCE MS RISK

The connection between living in countries with little sunlight and contracting the neurological disease multiple sclerosis has been known for years. But now researchers whose work has been published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry recommend that pregnant women take vitamin D supplements to ward off MS, as not enough of the vitamin is produced in the skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

The risk of developing MS is highest in the month of April and lowest in October, according to the analysis of the available evidence.

The findings, which include several populations at latitudes greater than 52 degrees from the equator, for the first time strongly implicate maternal exposure to vitamin D during pregnancy.

They extend previous research and prompt the authors to conclude that there is now a strong case for vitamin D supplementation for pregnant women in countries where ultraviolet light levels are low between October and March.

The researchers compared previously published data on almost 152,000 people with MS with expected birth rates for the disease in a bid to find out if there was any link between country of birth and risk of developing multiple sclerosis.

At latitudes greater than 52 degrees from the equator, insufficient ultraviolet light of the correct wavelength (290 to 315 nanometers) reaches the skin between October and March to enable the body to manufacture enough vitamin D during the winter months, say the authors.

The analysis indicated a significant excess risk of 5% among those born in April compared with what would be expected.

There was a significant increase in risk among those born in April and May and a significantly lower risk among those born in October and November. No studies from the southern hemisphere were included in the analysis, largely because so few have been carried out, so the results should be viewed in light of that, caution the authors.

But they conclude: “Through combining existing data-sets for month of birth and subsequent MS risk, this study provides the most robust evidence to date that the month of birth effect is a genuine one. This finding, which supports concepts hypothesized some years previously, surely adds weight to the argument for early intervention studies to prevent MS through vitamin D supplementation.”

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