Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New urgency in battle against 'bound legs' disease

25.03.2013
Konzo's harm goes beyond its devastating physical effects

The harm done by konzo – a disease overshadowed by the war and drought it tends to accompany – goes beyond its devastating physical effects to impair children's memory, problem solving and other cognitive functions.

Even children without physical symptoms of konzo appear to lose cognitive ability when exposed to the toxin that causes the disease, researchers report in the journal Pediatrics.

"That's what's especially alarming," said lead author Michael Boivin, a Michigan State University associate professor of psychiatry and of neurology and ophthalmology. "We found subtle effects that haven't been picked up before. These kids aren't out of the woods, even if they don't have the disease."

Konzo means "bound legs" in the African Yaka language, a reference to how its victims walk with feet bent inward after the disease strips away motor control in their lower limbs. Its onset is rapid, and the damage is permanent.

People contract konzo by consuming poorly processed bitter cassava, a drought-resistant staple food in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Typically, the plant's tuber is soaked for a few days, then dried in the sun and ground into flour – a process that degrades naturally occurring cyanide.

"As long as they do that, the food's pretty safe," said Boivin, who began studying konzo in 1990 as a Fulbright researcher in the Democratic Republic of Congo. "But in times of war, famine, displacement and hardship, people take shortcuts. If they're subsisting on poorly processed cassava and they don't have other sources of protein, it can cause permanent damage to the nervous system.

"Konzo doesn't make many headlines because it usually follows other geopolitical aspects of human suffering," he added. "Still, there are potentially tens of millions of kids at risk throughout central and western Africa. The public health scope is huge."

To find out if the disease affects cognitive function, Boivin and colleagues from Oregon Health and Science University turned to the war-torn Congo. They randomly selected 123 children with konzo and 87 neighboring children who showed no signs of the disease but whose blood and urine samples indicated elevated levels of the toxin.

Using cognitive tests, the researchers found that children with konzo had a much harder time using working memory to solve problems and organize visual and spatial information.

They also found that konzo and non-konzo children from the outbreak area showed poor working memory and impaired fine-motor skills when compared to a reference group of children from a part of the region unaffected by the disease.

Konzo's subtler impacts might seem minor compared to its striking physical symptoms, but Boivin noted that the cognitive damage is similar to that caused by chronic low-grade exposures to other toxic substances such as lead.

Scientists eventually may be able to prevent such damage by creating nontoxic cassava varieties and introducing other resilient crops to affected regions, Boivin said. Meanwhile, public health education programs are under way to help stop outbreaks.

"For now," he said, "if we could just avoid the worst of it – the full-blown konzo disease that has such devastating effects for children and families – that's a good start."

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

Andy McGlashen | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.msu.edu

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Millions through license revenues
27.04.2017 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

nachricht New High-Performance Center Translational Medical Engineering
26.04.2017 | Fraunhofer ITEM

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>