Heart disease has been one of the major causes of death in India and around the world, brought on mainly by people moving to unhealthy fatty diets as they grow more affluent. These diets lead to a build up of excess low-density lipoproteins, which are the form of cholesterol that lines and constricts blood vessels and blocks blood flow through them.
The treatment for high cholesterol has largely been statins, which inhibit a critical enzyme tht is required for the production of cholesterol. Researchers have also been trying to develop inhibitors of proteins called PCSK9. These proteins bind to low-density lipoproteins and prevent them from being flushed out of the body.
Now, a team of scientists from Austria and The Netherlands have developed a vaccine to lower cholesterol that could be more effective and reliable than previous treatments.
The vaccine called AT04A, which has been tested on mice so far, produces antibodies that target PCSK9, removing the protein and thereby allowing for low-density lipoproteins to be cleared from blood vessels. While a conventional vaccine, such as those produced for the prevention of infectious diseases, works by producing antibodies that target foreign bacteria and viruses, the AT04A makes the the immune system to attack one of the body’s own proteins.
The tests showed the vaccine lowered total blood cholesterol by 53% in mice that had been fed an unhealthy fatty diet.The build-up of fibrous deposits on the walls of their arteries was reduced by 64%, and biological markers for blood vessel inflammation was cut by up to 28% compared with unvaccinated mice.
The findings, published in the European Heart Journal, raise the possibility cardiac patients undergoing an annual vaccination shot to keep their cholesterol under control.
The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.
In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.
Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.
Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.
The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.
More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.
To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.
This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.