Ancient Jericho bones may further understanding of TB

Yad Sarah saves public money; research finds wearing flip-flops can result in sore feet and legs.

bones 88 (photo credit: )
bones 88
(photo credit: )
Six-thousand-year-old bones excavated in Jericho may help an Israeli-Palestinian-German research group combat tuberculosis (TB). The bones, excavated by Dr. Kathleen Kenyon between five and seven decades ago, will be tested for tuberculosis, leprosy, leishmania and malaria. However, the primary focus will be tuberculosis, according to Prof. Mark Spigelman of the Hebrew University's Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, who is leading the Israeli team Spigelman is known for his pioneering studies of ancient disease (paleo-epidemiology) found on mummified bodies and human remains from Hungary, Korea and Sudan, in his quest to provide answers to the development of diseases affecting us today, such as tuberculosis, hepatitis and malaria. TB is a potentially deadly infectious bacterial disease that usually attacks the lungs. It passes from one person to another when people live in close contact. Dating back thousands of years, tuberculosis is still a major killer. About a third of the world's living population have been infected, causing nearly three million deaths per year. While the origins of tuberculosis and its evolution remain unclear, it is thought it came from the first villages and small towns in the Fertile Crescent about 10,000 years ago. Jericho is one of the oldest towns on earth, dating back to 9,000 BCE, and so a lot of communicable diseases would have had a good start there. By examining bones from this site, researchers will be able to see how the first people living in a crowded situation developed the disease, and how this affected the disease through changes in DNA - of both the microbes and the people. The most significant results will come from a comparison between those data for humans and corresponding animal remains, which may allow the identification of animal-human vectors. Preliminary work suggests that there is enough DNA in the bone samples to contribute to our understanding of the development of microbial disease. Spigelman believes that knowing how a disease developed 6,000 years ago helps us understand what it will do as it continues to evolve, and will ultimately alter the practice of public health officials. Spigelman came across the long-forgotten bones while examining mummies at Sydney University's Nicholson Museum. "They told me they had lots of boxes of bones and didn't know what they were because they'd been deposited there 50 years earlier by an anthropologist who'd worked with Kenyon, who had been excavating at Jericho. When I examined them, I recognized that these were the bones from Jericho, and I told them not to throw them out!" Some of the bones, which were then brought to Israel by Spigelman while on a Sir Zelman Cowan Fund fellowship, will be studied along with other bones from Jericho that have been contributed by the Duckworth Collection at Cambridge University, which has agreed to participate in the project. Sponsored by a grant from the German Science Foundation, the research will be conducted by HU, Al Quds University and the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. Master's and doctoral degree students from both Al-Quds and the Hebrew Universities will devote their time to this project. Spigelman says the project will help the Palestinians set up their own ancient DNA lab at Al Quds. YAD SARAH SAVES PUBLIC MONEY Yad Sarah - which lends out medical equipment and provides a large variety of other services to the sick, the young, the elderly and the disabled - saved the government at least NIS 1.5 billion last year, according to a report to the Knesset Finance Committee. Naftali Michaeli, Yad Sarah's financial officer, explained recently that he took four medical devices without which relevant patients are not discharged - pulse oximeters, oxygen producers, apnea monitors and nutrition pumps - and multiplied it by the number of patients using them per year. He did not figure in the money saved by family members who were able to work instead of taking care of relatives. Yad Sarah has more than 100 branches and 6,000 volunteers, with its ongoing budget covered solely by public donations. ARE FLIP-FLOPS FLOPS? Researchers at Auburn University in Alabama have found that wearing thong-style flip-flops can result in sore feet, ankles and legs. The research team, led by biomechanics doctoral student Justin Shroyer, presented its findings at the recent annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis. "We found that when people walk in flip-flops, they alter their gait, which can result in problems and pain from the foot up into the hips and lower back," Shroyer said. The researchers recruited 39 college-age men and women for the study. Participants, wearing thong-style flip-flops and then traditional athletic shoes, walked a platform that measured vertical force as the walkers' feet hit the ground. In addition, a video camcorder measured stride length and limb angles. Shroyer's team found that flip-flop wearers took shorter steps and that their heels hit the ground with less vertical force than when the same walkers wore athletic shoes. When wearing flip-flops, the study participants did not bring their toes up as much during the leg's swing phase, resulting in a larger ankle angle and shorter stride length, possibly because they tended to grip the flip-flops with their toes. Shroyer, who owns two pairs of flip-flops himself, said the research does not suggest that people should never wear flip-flops. They can be worn to provide short-term benefits such as helping beach-goers avoid sandy shoes or giving athletes post-game relief from athletic shoes, but are not designed to properly support the foot and ankle during all-day wear. "Flip-flops are a mainstay for students on college campuses but they're just not designed for that kind of use," he said.