About mLukon

I am currently undertaking my A Levels at my sixth form and am an aspiring medicine student and doctor. I would like to pursue a career in this field because it interests me and involves the intrinsic love for the sciences which I have, as well as being a challenging subject. I enjoy playing football amongst other sports, and also enjoy reading books, but manga is the genre which interests me the most.

What are the challenges facing the development of effective vaccines against pathogens with hyper variable genome sequences?

“What is the point in constantly making new vaccines against the same infectious diseases?”

To answer this question, one must ask: ‘what makes for an effective vaccine?’

To explain this, it is important to recognise that a vaccine is simply an inactive form of a pathogen – the bacterium or virus which causes the disease – and the introduction of this vaccine containing the pathogen stimulates an immune response; which helps fight against the disease. At first glance, it seems an atrocious plan to purposefully sicken us, but the vaccination unsurprisingly, in actual fact, can introduce antibodies, as in passive immunity. Alternatively, they can stimulate the production of them from the individuals own immune system, in ‘active immunity’. One can easily recognise the importance of the antibodies in helping us from becoming bed-ridden or more seriously, they can save us from potentially, the verge of the ominous hazard that is, death.

Although, these antibodies work such that they each have unique binding sites, receptor-like, and the pathogen has ‘antigens’, which almost stick-out and form an identity for the pathogen. For an antibody to be work, its binding site must be of a complementary shape to the antigen, and thus they form an antibody-antigen complex. After forming this ‘complex’ by attaching to antigens, they destroy them, though the means by which they carry out this termination does vary.

However, this doesn’t address the question concerning why we need to make new vaccines for the same diseases. Thus, we need to consider antigenic variability, which is where pathogens essentially change their identity deeming them unrecognisable. This change was the change of antigens on the surface of the pathogen. The antigen no longer corresponded to the aforementioned antibodies, and the ‘complex’ could no longer be formed; thus an immune response would never arise. So, it can be established that a troublesome problem is the changing nature to some pathogens and their antigens, such as the influenza virus. Even more worrying would be the finding of a hyper variable sequence, found in the genome, which run in the nucleotides. Nucleotides are chemicals consisting of an organic base, sugar and a phosphate, and are the basic units of which the nucleic acids DNA and RNA are made. The hyper variable sequence would particularly raise concerns because they have a high rate of variation, though the rate of variation differs from one type to the next. Nonetheless, this stipulates that to form an effective measure against these sequences would also require a vaccine which is as ever varying as the pathogens in question.

Unfortunately, such a vaccine is not yet possible, at least now, within the current progress of research. There are many scientific challenges such as the variation which results in the ill-fated truth that an effective vaccine needs to be able to launch an all-encompassing response to all of the diverse strains of a pathogen with a hyper variable genome sequence. An insufficient knowledge about required immunity means that researchers face uncertainty about the parameters for ample immunity against both infection and disease, and so under current scientific knowledge, are simply unable to find a solution.

This lack of scientific knowledge isn’t helped by the social challenges which arrive in the form of ethical concerns surrounding the nature of human subject trials. It is important to acknowledge that though primate studies and computer models can be useful, they by no means provide as detailed a picture as human subject trials can. Nonetheless, in spite of the advantages, the complications appear, and one reason for the difficulties in carrying out human trials could be the volunteers being entitled to a host of treatments, not the vaccinations alone. They are to be made clear of possible adverse effects which the testing vaccination may have, and they are also to be told of the perils of seropositivity from immunisation. I am surprised to inform you that I had paid enough attention to tell you that seropositivity is merely a rather fancy word for one showing a high level of antibody. Such formalities hinder the progress of trials and consequently, the development of vaccines.

Vaccines have changed countless lives and inevitably will continue to do so in a world of advancing science. New opportunities will surface and many hurdles will be overcome; as has happened before in the past. Nonetheless, in the future, the current scientific challenges need to be overwhelmed and the development of vaccinations needs to include the production of vaccines which solve the impediments raised by the hyper variable genome sequence.

Smoking shisha; is the WHO right?

I have decided to write an article because I had once been asked to smoke shisha, being insisted that there were no health implications involved and shisha was essentially the perks of smoking without the drawbacks, such as the continuity of use being able to possibly cause lung cancer! My decision to write this article was also perhaps encouraged by the growing market of shisha, which to has seen roughly a 210% rise in the number of cafes offering in since the smoking ban was implemented in 1 July 2007, as reported by the Independent. Moreover, there were 179 shisha bars in 2007 but there were 556 in 2012. So I now will begin writing a little bit of what I know to do with this subject.

“An oriental tobacco pipe with a long, flexible tube that draws the smoke through water contained in a bowl” describes ‘hubble-bubble’, ‘hookah’, ‘waterpipe smoking’ and any other alias the infamous shisha tends to spread under. First discovered by Abul-Fath Gilani according to popular belief, the upcoming craze originated from the humble, and likewise, booming country that used to be Persia; India – though this is said to be a disputed merit.

Shisha, often written under as a safer alternative to cigarettes, is a ‘glass-bottomed waterpipe’ which emits radiant fruity smells of your desires. But, surprisingly, for such a simple task of smoking, shisha requires a rather sophisticated device, inclusive of many components from grommets to diffusers. Thus, there is already a physical distinction from its cigarette counterpart. However, it is from the water jar where, unsurprisingly, most of the common misconceptions about shisha arise.

So the misconceptions, which are often seen as a major contributor to why shisha has become increasingly popular since the noughties, become intriguing as a blur between fact and fiction becomes visible. The first main myth to this tobacco craze would be the bubbling water creates the illusion of the smoke being cleansed and purified thus apparently being made healthy. Although, in reality the water, bubbling it may be, does not filter out all the toxins and the fruity smell is only the guise for the smoke which contains the otherwise cancer causing chemicals. Dr Sellehudin Abu Bakr even goes as far as to call the water ‘filter’ a ‘gimmick’. Additionally, passive smoking can be dangerous as it can be the smoke and its composition which causes harm. In the smokes composition exist an addictive substance: nicotine, which can cause a dependence upon this social commodity which increasingly seems harmful. Unfortunately, this is not where the problems end, as sharing a mouthpiece increases the risk of infection with TB or hepatitis, both of which come with disastrous implications.

As a result of public unawareness, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had, from their research published as ‘Waterpipe Tobacco Smoking’ in 2005, which found that, contrary to ancient lore and popular belief, the smoke of shisha contained many toxicants which can cause lung cancer, heart disease and can have other detrimental effects to your body. The WHO also came to the conclusion that 1 hour of smoking shisha is equivalent to up to 200 cigarettes worth of smoke, and this isn’t particularly ‘good’ smoke as the heat sources for shisha are often cinders or charcoals. These are dangerous as they release carbon monoxide.

Additonally, shisha delivers nicotine which as many of you may know, is an addictive substance. Despite the water absorbing some of it, it still enters your body in substantial amounts, so much so, that it can cause addiction, like other tobacco products. The study also highlighted the dangers of second-hand shisha smoking. So by even entering a shisha bar where others are smoking, even by not smoking yourself, you can still be endangered. Also, another important note to focus on is that in this research, they had showed shisha, like cigarettes to contain the capacity to have an adverse effect on the unborn baby during pregnancy. So by smoking shisha, one can potentially harm their baby.

Therefore, one must ask the question on whether smoking shisha is really as harmless as others advocate. In light of the WHO research, it becomes increasingly clear that there are dangerous aspects to this craze, but the research isn’t conclusive enough, many seem to argue. Thus, in order to really clear the misconceptions surrounding shisha, more research needs to be carried out.

A short introduction

Hello readers,

I am a new Valuemed blogger hoping to contribute to this site as ‘mLukon’.

An aspiring doctor wanting to read medicine at university, I am going to apply for medical school this October. I am currently undertaking my A-Levels at Sixth Form, all of which are thoroughly engaging.

I became interested in writing medical-related posts for ‘Valuemed’ after an intriguing summer neurosurgery placement sparked an interest in the brain and degenerative neurological disorders. Through the placement, I became familiar with research papers and so, I would now like to take to ‘Valuemed’ to write a few of my own articles which concern areas of medicine and healthcare that I am fascinated by.

I hope to write interesting and thought-provoking articles soon and would appreciate any feedback and discussion on my blogs.