JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

Nobel Prize Awarded for Drugs that Fight Parasitic Diseases

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

Three scientists who developed anti-parasitic drugs that have been used to successfully treat malaria, elephantiasis, and river blindness have won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The discoveries, the Nobel Prize committee said in a press statement [PDF], "have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually. The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable."

Pharmaceutical chemist Youyou Tu, from the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Beijing, was awarded half the prize for discovering a novel therapy for malaria based on the plant Artemisia annua, which she found after conducting a large-scale screening of herbal remedies used to treat malaria-infected animals—and then revisiting the ancient literature on herbal medicine for further clues about Artemisia annua's potential. Tu developed a purification procedure to render the active agent Artemisinin from the plant. Artemisinin is the key ingredient in a new class of antimalarial agents that rapidly kill the malaria parasites at an early stage of their development.

Now used worldwide to combat a disease infecting nearly 200 million people a year, Artemisinin is estimated to reduce mortality from malaria by more than 20 percent overall and by more than 30 percent in children. In Africa alone, Tu's medicine saves more than 100,000 lives every year.

The other half of the prize was awarded to two researchers whose development of a drug to treat infections caused by roundworm parasites has nearly eradicated two illnesses. Microbiologist Satoshi Ōmura, of Kitasato University, Tokyo, and William C. Campbell, of New Jersey's Drew University, developed the drug Avermectin from the soil-dwelling bacteria genus Streptomyces. Ōmura isolated 50 new strains of Streptomyces for further analysis, and Campbell, an expert in parasite biology, showed that a bioactive agent from one Streptomyces culture was "remarkably efficient" against parasites in domestic and farm animals. Purified and named Avermectin—also known by Ivermectin, its chemically modified, more potent form—this agent is the key component in a class of drugs that kill parasite larvae.

Today Ivermectin is used globally to fight parasitic diseases, especially to treat the one-third of the world's population affected by parasitic worms in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Central and South America. It's been so effective against river blindness (onchocerciasis) and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) that "these diseases are on the verge of eradication, which would be a major feat in the medical history of humankind," as the committee noted.

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97 Percent of Us Are Washing Our Hands All Wrong
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Most of us know the importance of washing our hands, but we're still pretty clueless when it comes to washing them the right way. As CNN reports, we fall short of washing our hands effectively 97 percent of the time.

That number comes from a new study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that looked at 383 participants in a test-kitchen environment. When they were told to wash their hands, the vast majority of subjects walked away from the sink after less than 20 seconds—the minimum hand-washing time recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of them also failed to dry their hands with a clean towel.

The researchers had participants cooking and handling raw meats. Because they didn't wash their hands properly, volunteers were spreading potentially dangerous germs to spice jars 48 percent of the time, contaminating refrigerator handles 11 percent of the time, and doing the same to salads 5 percent of the time.

People who don't wash their hands the correct way risk spreading harmful microbes to everything they touch, making themselves and those they live with more susceptible to certain infections like gastrointestinal illness and respiratory infections. Luckily, the proper hand-washing protocol isn't that complicated: The biggest change most of us need to make is investing more time.

According to the CDC, you need to rub your hands with soapy water for at least 20 seconds to get rid of harmful bacteria. A helpful trick is to sing "Happy Birthday" twice as you wash—once you're finished, you should have passed the 20-second mark. And if your bathroom or kitchen doesn't have a clean towel to dry your hands with, let them air-dry. 

[h/t CNN]

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This Mysterious Condition Makes People Think Bugs Are Crawling Under Their Skin
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After seeing a spider or beetle scurry past you, it’s normal to get a creepy-crawly feeling, even if you know there’s nothing on you. For many people, though, the persistent sensation of phantom insects or parasites crawling underneath their skin—known as formication—is very real, Newsweek reports.

The condition is called delusional infestation, and although cases have been documented around the world, there hasn’t been enough research to determine if it’s a skin condition or psychological disorder. However, two new studies are attempting to shed light on the mysterious ailment that can cause symptoms such as itching, fatigue, joint pain, rashes or lesions, and difficulty concentrating. Some people have reported picking “fibers” out of their skin.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic and Denmark’s Aarhus University Hospital believe tens of thousands of Americans could have this condition, making it more common than previously thought. Their study, published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, found that people with the condition are often “resistant to medical evidence [showing that there is no infestation] and reluctant to pursue psychiatric evaluation.” Some patients, convinced that they have something crawling underneath their skin, self-harm with tweezers, bleach, or razor blades.

The researchers stopped short of calling it a psychological condition, but they did conclude that schizophrenia, dementia, other psychiatric conditions, and drug use can trigger delusional infestation in some cases, Science News reports.

Another new study, published in the journal Annals of the Academy of Medicine of Singapore [PDF], also seemed to favor a psychological explanation for the condition. The researchers noted that Chinese patients with the condition were treated with antipsychotics, and 10 of the 11 patients with isolated cases of delusional infestation (who had no other underlying disorders) improved with medication.

However, other researchers have drawn different conclusions, arguing that the condition is the skin's response to “tick-borne pathogens” typically associated with Lyme disease. The condition has gone by several names over the years, including Morgellons disease—a term coined in 2004 by a medical researcher and mother who says she found “fibers” on her young son’s skin after he kept scratching at the "bugs" he claimed were there. Regardless of the origin, what's clear is that the condition has very real consequences for those who suffer from it, and more research is needed to find suitable treatments.

[h/t Newsweek]

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