ICBAS - Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas Abel Salazar
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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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Protecting biodiversity: the basis for One Health

By Begoña Pérez-Cabezas, ICBAS

PORTO - Biodiversity refers to all the living species (and its interactions) on Earth, including plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi. Whenever preserved, biodiversity forms balanced ecosystems that are the basis of a sustainable planet. The quality of the ecosystems translated in the quality of the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink.

Plants are essential for the production of oxygen and the absorption of air pollutants. Insects are the base of many food chains, and key for the pollination and for the dispersion of seeds. Coral reefs and mangroves protect from cyclones and tsunamis, causing waves to break offshore and soaking up wave energy.

But, Biodiversity is in danger due to the human activity that disturb the ecosystems. As the human population rises, wild areas are used to create farmland, housing and industrial spaces. Pollution, unsustainable hunting and fishing, water extraction, and global trade, are also other main threats to the balance of life on our planet. The loss of species is a dramatically irreversible process and the extinction rate now is estimated to be about 1,000 times higher than before humans dominated the planet.

Increasing protected areas and performing a sustainable use and management of non-protected areas are essential for the maintenance of biodiversity. But the protection of ecosystems is also in the hands of each one of us. Most territories are cleared for the production of cattle, soy, palm oil, or wood. Reducing the consumption of these products, choosing sustainable options, and diminishing waste of consumer goods have a positive impact on the preservation of biodiversity.

Image Credits: Scotty Turner, Unsplash.

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Avian influenza – how One Health initiative matters!

By Sofia Costa Lima, ICBAS

PORTO - Avian influenza virus is spreading in Africa, Asia, Europe, and America. Avian flu virus is a contagious influenza type A virus that can infect and kill poultry (such as chickens, domestic ducks. pheasants, turkeys, quail, among others) and wild birds (including migratory birds). Significant outbreaks have been raising, since October 2021, reaching new geographical areas and causing devastating impacts on animal health and welfare. Avian influenza can occasionally be transmitted to humans and other mammals. This infection represents a global risk to food security, animal health, and livelihoods for poultry farmers, but also a threat to wildlife on sea and land animals. Besides disrupting the local ecology outbreaks harm biodiversity.

Migratory birds are the natural reservoir for the avian influenza virus. Climate change is influencing migration routes, given the seasonal alterations. Now, migratory bird populations are coping with one another increasing the odds of new virus variants. A surveillance program to monitor the evolution and diversity of variants is crucial to prevent animal, environmental and human health. Addressing the avian influenza virus requires One Health strategy.

Now, more than ever, governments need to invest in local and global approaches that focus on the interface of animal/ human/environmental health to enable communication and preparedness responses for current and future challenges.

Image Credits: Sofia Lima

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A One Health glimpse on the pathogenic effects of air pollutants

By Luísa Azevedo, ICBAS

PORTO - It is well known that many chronic diseases occur due to the exposure of the individual to mutagenic elements in the air, water and soil may lead to serious diseases. Cancer is perhaps the most well-known case of a disease where the environmental exposure has a more pertinent causative effect. Cancer is, however, far from being the only example because pollution can also increase the risk of many other diseases. Among these are chronic respiratory problems, skin and cardiovascular diseases. Because we all share the same environment, the pathogenic effect of pollutants can also affect animals, like our companion animals. Under this scenario, how can one adopt a One Health approach to prevent the harmful impact of environmental exposure?

Taking air pollution as example, a simple way could be to reflect upon everyday choices, like travelling. Most of us uses the car, but one can choose to travel by public transports, bike or walk, whenever possible, in order to contribute to the reduction of pollutants. This is expected to aid the environmental health and have a positive impact in the reduction of the risk of acute and chronic diseases that are predisposed by the quality of the air, in both humans and animals.

Image Credits: Luísa Azevedo

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