ICBAS - Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas Abel Salazar
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Milk beyond the glass

By Luís Pinho, Salette Reis, and Rita Cabrita | ICBAS, FFUP, LAQV-REQUIMTE, SAV (Serviços Veterinários Associados)

PORTO - Milk, besides being a food with high nutritional value, has potential that goes far beyond the glass. Global milk production and consumption of dairy products have increased, with milk playing an important role in the concept of One Health. In this context, it could be highlighted its enrichment in compounds beneficial to human health through animal nutrition; the genetic selection of A2/A2 cows to reverse difficulties in digesting milk protein; animal welfare certification programs and precision production with greater profitability and animal health; and the impact of milk production, especially from ruminant animals, on the conversion of food not consumed by humans into protein of high biological value, on the carbon cycle and the use of lower suitable agricultural land. Milk also has potential as a natural source of raw material in the production of nanoplatforms, namely lipid-based nanoparticles, protein-based nanoparticles, and even exosomes with optimal properties for oral ingestion and transport of bioactive and/or therapeutic agents, allowing to meet the needs of a growing number of people with nutritional deficiencies or who require regular medication to safeguard their health. The manipulation and modification of nanoplatforms to increase their potential and applicability as controlled drug release systems can have an important role in treating oncological and inflammatory diseases.

Image – Rita Cabrita, Salette Reis, and Luís Pinho at the ‘One Health Talk’ held at ICBAS on April 18, 2024. Credits: Begoña Pérez-Cabezas.

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Demystifying antibiotics in the environment

By Bárbara Diogo, PhD student at ICBAS/CIIMAR

PORTO - With the increase in population and constant proliferation of diseases, the amount of antibiotics used in the treatment/prevention of the most varied diseases, both in humans and animals, has increased exponentially. Antibiotics are widely recognized as one of the most effective treatments in the history of medicine (human and veterinary), however, their excessive use represents a significant threat to public and environmental health. As a consequence of their increasing use and inadequate disposal, environmental contamination by antibiotics appears to induce adverse effects on non-target organisms and favor the emergence and dissemination of resistant bacteria (resulting in a reduction in their effectiveness).

Several studies focus on some individual (e.g., mortality, changes in behavior and reproduction and behavior) and subindividual (e.g., oxidative stress, neurotoxicity) effects that antibiotics can cause in organisms at different trophic levels. Since environmental ecosystems are complex, the isolated study of these compounds can lead to inadequate and incomplete responses. Currently, the scientific community is concerned with expanding knowledge about the ecotoxicological effects of antibiotics (e.g., Sulfamethoxazole and Trimethoprim) in model species (e.g., Escherichia coli and Danio rerio, see image) and with important functions in ecosystems (e.g., decomposition, filtration) in a climate change scenario (antibiotics vs temperature variations vs pH variations). Therefore, it is important to study the effects of antibiotics on non-target organisms, considering that the natural ecosystems are exposed to several challenges simultaneously (e.g., climate changes, pollution).

The search for solutions based on an integrated, interdisciplinary research and with a One Health approach is fundamental, to mitigate the impacts associated with this problem, in order to protect human, animal, and environmental health

In Petri dishes it is possible to observe the inhibition growth of the bacterium Escherichia coli ATCC 25922 when exposed to the antibiotics Sulfamethoxazole (SMX) and Trimethoprim (TRIM); Morphological changes (→) are also observed in Danio rerioembryos, before (CTL) and after exposure to antibiotics (SMX and TRIM). Image credits: Bárbara Diogo

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The human evolution from the perspective of One Health

By Luísa Azevedo, ICBAS

PORTO - The history of human evolution seems to be lost in time when our limited time does not leave us time to contemplate it. However, the milestones of this million-year history continues to fascinate generations because one of our main wonders is to understand our most distant origins. This is a trail with many milestones, important milestones and seemingly less relevant milestones, but which were the basis of other adaptations. One of these important milestones was the development of the vision. We are visual beings. Our eyes are adapted to perceive light, color, movement, and the others, living and non-living. Another important milestone was the gradual anatomical adaptations that led to bipedalism, and which allowed a broader perception of the world around us, freeing our hands to build tools, shelter and the quest for food. Then, time arrived for the development of our brain and our unique cognitive abilities, which entrust us with the responsibility of taking care of the world around us, and the other living beings.

As we discuss, and want to continue discussing about the importance of the approach that integrates the environment, humans and all other living beings, i.e. the One Health , it is worth thinking about how we got here, our evolutionary process, and the way we have always interacted with Nature, but also how we will continue to do so. From a perspective of historical legacy, perhaps centuries or millennia from now, someone may write about how this One Health multidisciplinary approach marked another significant step in our ongoing journey.

Image Credits: Luísa Azevedo

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The impact of hormones on the development of cancer

By Joana Simões, Centro Hospitalar Universitário de Santo António

PORTO - The first description of the relationship between hormones and cancer dates back to the 19th century. In 1896, the British George Beatson found that oophorectomy resulted in the regression of breast tumors in patients with advanced breast cancer. This pioneering discovery laid the foundation not only for understanding the crucial role of hormones in oncogenesis, but also for the development of oncological treatments. Charles Huggins, in 1940, also demonstrated the role of orchidectomy in metastatic prostate cancer.

Since then, research has shown the importance of hormones in the oncogenesis and pathophysiology of various cancers, particularly breast and prostate cancer. Prolonged exposure to high levels of estrogen, whether through hormonal treatments or physiological factors (such as early menarche or late menopause), increases the risk of breast cancer. Understanding and managing hormonal imbalances through lifestyle modifications or other interventions can be crucial to reducing cancer risk.

Likewise, the complex interplay between hormonal regulation and cell proliferation is at the forefront of oncology research. In recent years, the understanding of the hormonal pathways involved in oncogenesis has led to the development of targeted therapies, such as hormone receptor inhibitors or enzyme inhibitors involved in hormone production, thus improving treatment options and the prognosis of cancer patients.

Image – Joana Simões at the ‘One Health Talk’ held at ICBAS on January 18, 2024. Credits: Sofia A. Costa Lima.

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The One Health vision in diarrheal disease in Africa

By João Mesquita, ICBAS and Ana Machado, ICBAS

Death from diarrhea in childhood is largely preventable. However, the impact of diarrhea remains high and not fully characterized due to the complex interaction between the environment, food, water and sanitation, highlighting the multiple visions of One Health, particularly in Africa. A significant proportion of cases can be prevented through vaccination, clean water, sanitation and hygiene. Despite this, data from recent years report that diarrhea is responsible for the death of around 90% of children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa. Due to the significant mortality and long-term negative impacts on growth and development associated with chronic diarrhea, reducing the global burden of diarrhea remains a priority requiring multisectoral interventions.

Image – João Mesquita and Ana Machado at the ‘One Health Talk’ held at ICBAS on December 13, 2023. Credits: Begoña Pérez-Cabezas.

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Water, conflicts and refugees

By Adriano A. Bordalo e Sá, ICBAS and Joana Savva Bordalo e Sá, IPO-Porto

PORTO – Of all human rights, access to water is one of the most recent. It was declared by the UN General Assembly only in 2010. However, billions of people consume unsafe water worldwide, which causes diseases and eventually kills. Unfortunately, more than half a million children die from diarrhea due to the consumption of unsafe water every year.

During conflicts and war, life gets worse. The recent invasion of the Gaza strip, is yet another painful example alongside the conflicts in Eastern Europe, Yemen, Burma, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, D. R. Congo, among others. Without water there is no rehydration, no hygiene, no health. In malnourished Palestine, infectious diseases are spreading and in Yemen, the cholera epidemic – a waterborne disease – has remained uncontrolled since 2016, having affected nearly 3 million people, especially children.

In the middle of last year, there were 110 million displaced people worldwide, of which a third were refugees, something never seen before. If in the rich parts of Algarve or California every person uses 1,000 liters of water per day (120 in Portugal), the refugees, at most, have 5 liters (half a bucket) available, often filthy, making their lives even more miserable, compromising future generations.

Image – Adriano A. Bordalo e Sá at the ‘One Health Talk’ held at ICBAS on November 23, 2023 Credits: Sofia A. Costa Lima.

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Cyanobacteria and their impacts on the ecosystem

By Ivo Pinto, PhD Student at ICBAS | CIIMAR, UMIB

PORTO – The degradation of freshwater bodies is a constant and increasingly relevant concern. The effects of climate change (increase in average annual temperature and extreme drought events) together with poor land use practices (improper discharges, intensive agriculture, among others) lead to the eutrophication of these water masses and create imbalances in the ecosystem.

In eutrophic surface waters, cyanobacteria can produce a variety of toxic metabolites that have numerous impacts on the ecosystem (resilience and integrity of the food chain) as well as on ecosystem services (recreational activities and drinking water).

Hepatotoxins one of the toxin groups produced by these organisms, target the liver and are responsible for the destruction of the internal structure, potentially leading to intrahepatic haemorrhage, hypovolemic shock, and death. Another group of toxins produced by cyanobacteria, the neurotoxins, work by interrupting the normal propagation of nerve stimulation to muscles, resulting in muscle paralysis and possible death from respiratory failure. Also produced by cyanobacteria, dermatoxins act through simple contact with the skin or body mucous membranes, resulting in an allergic reaction.

The increasing presence of these toxins in the environment is a cause for concern as they affect human, animal welfare and biodiversity. Moreover, because these toxins can bioaccumulate, they can be bioamplified throughout the food chain, potentially reaching humans who consume animals carrying toxins. This might represent a risk for food safety.

As a roadmap for the application of the One Health approach to the ecosystem in order to prevent potential risks, surveillance and sharing of information about these toxins are essential to ensure an early detection and the adoption of preventive procedures. Ultimately, this integrated strategy will ensure the sustainable use and management of the water bodies, as well as the surrounding area, protecting the human, animal and environmental health.

Image - Cyanobacteria green scum in a Portuguese temperate reservoir. Credits: Ivo Pinto

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Malaria – no solution without One Health

By Begoña Pérez-Cabezas, ICBAS

PORTO - Malaria is a disease caused by the parasite Plasmodiumwhich is transmitted by the bite of infected Anophelesmosquitoes. Although it is preventable and usually treatable, there were an estimated 247 million cases of malaria and 619000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2021. The most affected continent was Africa, with 95% of malaria world cases and 96% of malaria deaths. Children under 5 years of age accounted for about 80% of all malaria deaths in this continent. The disease also has consequences for economy, education, and equity, impairing the development of the affected communities.

Although there is a vaccine against malaria approved and being implemented, its efficacy is modest and short-lived. Moreover, resistance to antimalarial drugs has been confirmed in some of the parasite species. So, vector-control tools are crucial to prevent infection and to reduce disease transmission. To act at the vector level, it is essential to understand the ecology of the Anopheles mosquitoes and the environmental conditions that contribute to the spread of these mosquito species and, consequently, of the disease. Increase population’s literacy on this topic is also essential to enhance prevention.

Core interventions against the mosquito are insecticide-treated nets and indoor residual spraying. However, resistance to insecticides among Anopheles mosquitoes has also been emerging. Other threats of these control measures are limited access, loss of nets due to day-to-day life damages, and changing behaviour of mosquitoes, which appear to be biting early before people go to bed. Warming temperatures related with climate change are also moving mosquitoes to higher elevations and away from the Equator. This expands malaria’s range, which can be devastating for countries unprepared to manage with the disease.

One Health is essential to deal with vector-borne diseases like malaria. In order to address the challenges of malaria prevention, the approach has to be supported by multiple stakeholders and to integrate the communities. Improving surveillance methods and information sharing will be key to ensure early detection (drug and insecticide resistance, mosquito presence, changes on behaviour) and to adapt prevention and treatment policies.

Image credits: Pixabay

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Nano for One Health – nanomedicine in zoonoses prophylaxis and treatment

By Sofia Costa Lima, ICBAS

PORTO – Emerging zoonotic diseases are one of the major challenges to the "One Health" concept. Zoonosis embraces multiple infectious diseases transferred from animals to humans. Currently, the treatment and diagnosis of zoonotic infections are difficult due to genetic mutations, target site modifications, and multi-drug resistance. In fact, increasing level of resistance against antimicrobial agents among bacteria species causes a major challenge for Human and Animal health, as well as life in the future.

New management approaches to improve prophylactic measurements, assure effective diagnosis and therapies towards resistant bacteria are urgent. In this context, nanomaterials are transforming medicine with versatile potential capabilities for diagnostic devices and treatments for zoonosis through targeted and controlled delivery of antimicrobial drugs. The nanometer size of the materials, allows easy entrance into the cells of living organisms. Additionally, nanomaterials can have a protective role, preventing the encapsulated drug or antimicrobial agent from degradation because of the shielding properties of these nano-sized material, controlling and targeting its release into the diseased tissues reducing adverse side effects. Applications of nanomaterials as vaccines or drug delivery systems, directing therapeutic agents in combating zoonotic diseases strengthen the successful design of control strategies. Recently, new nanotechnology-based approaches were proposed with active antimicrobial properties, for pathogens separation, or as diagnostic material. The application of nanotechnology can bring new opportunities to tackle zoonotic infections.

Image credits: iStockphotos

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The One Health approach in Africa

By Adriano A. Bordalo e Sá, ICBAS

PORTO - The transdisciplinary One Health concept allows the understanding of complex health problems affecting humans, animals, plants, and the environment. Indeed, all these compartments are linked, and we must evolve from the perspective “humans first” to a holistic approach that all living organisms have a role in the Biosphere.

Africa is considered the poorest continent on Earth. Every second person living in sub-Saharan Africa lives below the poverty line, and the human health and veterinary services are, in most cases, basic. However, this is an opportunity to build bridges between people, animals, plants, and their environments. Currently, about 60% of the population is rural, were the connectivity is higher. In several parts of the continent, children and livestock vaccination occurs simultaneously, febrile patients are now screened for brucellosis along with malaria and typhoid fever, in cooperation with veterinary labs, in many cattle prone areas.

The emergence of novel infectious diseases as well as the re-emergence of others, many of them having animals as reservoirs or vectors, will probably increase in the near future. The advance of the Sahel towards the South, the change of the agroecological environment including the loss of forests, armed conflicts, the migration of humans towards the cites where water, sanitation, and food security is not granted, decreases the health status of entire populations. Indeed, cholera, measles, viral hemorrhagic diseases, malaria, and meningitis top the list of epidemics, exposing further the vulnerability of local health systems.

Africa endorsed One Health as a tool towards disease surveillance, prevention, control, and epidemic readiness to tackle disease. Despite all notorious advancements in recent years, gaps are still omnipresent, dealing with a lack of African funding, poor decision maker awareness, inadequate human and material resources, and general public understanding. Nevertheless, the One Health is the right path to tackle the health issues distressing the Biosphere, humans included.

One Health concept conference in Bissau, West Africa, May 2022.

Credits. Adriano A. Bordalo e Sá.

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