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Facts, some realistic heartbreak story, and an outrageous ending paragraph

by Sagel Kundieko 


At first, I thought it was a new virus that was practically wiping out the Chinese population. It was unrealistic that it would actually spread to the entire continent and cover all the many kilometres that there is to cover. Then we heard of Italy and the consequences of their stubbornness. Then finally it hit us too, in waves and lockdowns. It is really scary to think about how the economy has plummeted in this very short period of time. Also, how easily a virus from one corner of the world was easily able to cross barriers at such an overwhelming rate. On the other hand, the global pandemic aspect of it brings a sense of “we are all on this earth together” at the end of the day.  

The recent lootings and taxi violence is an offspring of the (increased) poverty, depression, and frustration from the lockdowns. It is clear that those most affected are from the black community because they have to commute to work and do not (literally) have pantries full of food or big companies that can make them money while they lockdown at home. This is not even considering that some do not have “homes” conducive for a lockdown or quarantine. Acknowledging that the lockdown was necessary, the inadequacy of the government in providing the necessary food to those who needed it, was problematic. 

On my immediate hand (usually written as on the other hand), the lockdown meant that I could not pursue my driver’s license because our documents needed to be renewed by the Home Affairs. In the grander scheme of things, that seems like a minimal issue, but the sense of unfulfillment still lingers, getting behind on an imaginary timeline I had set for myself. 

Furthermore, last year started off on a left foot (in the heat of the rising cases and lockdowns). I always felt that a problem is only a problem in relation to the other problems at hand. I imagined that something worse than my heartbreak would happen and I would forget about the man that broke my heart and move on, and it did. The idea of the possible end of the world or how insignificant and fragile our bodies are and how my life is worth nothing more than a statistic if I and those around me were to die, cured me of my heartbreak. A terrible parallel to draw between actual real world problems to a common heartbreak, it is unforgivable really. It is not even a parallel if you think of it, it is more of a mountain and me realising that because I am a pebble, then my problems must be a grain of sand, thus nothing to ponder ever so deeply on. I am more motivated now to do better, study harder, work harder, love God more, help those in need, go after my dreams and goals, and as I find true love, I experience it to the fullest of its capacities, because we do not know when another virus will head our way and who it will want to claim. I pray we survive through this as a world and do better for the future (do better in reference to the social class structures that have governed our countries, now we should realise that we are more the same than different and more together than apart).  

I also realise that the virus is the main topic at hand, but everything else that was wrong with the world before still exists. Even more so, humans are the deadliest virus this planet has ever been invaded by. That is an undeniable and uncontained fact.

A Whole New World

by Jesmika Singh

Am I really writing a piece about being in HONOURS? I still feel like I was just yesterday sending in applications for my first year of university. When they say university is over before you know it, they really weren’t joking. Regardless, it has been an exciting ride (even though parts of it have been stressful).

Throughout my schooling career and general social life, I have been someone that gets stressed very easily. I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve my academic goals. Particularly in the third year of my undergraduate degree in 2020, I felt an even stronger need to push myself and put all my time and effort into my studies since everything was done through remote learning. As a result, the stress I felt during that year was unexplainable. Directly following that, I came into honours with the expectation that my stress would be even worse- I was moving to Cape Town from Durban; gaining more independence; being isolated from the majority of my loved ones and having to begin what I was told would be the hardest year of my university career. Granted, these things have been as challenging as expected, yet, I’m surprised to say that this has been one of the least stressful academic years I have had- perhaps I have gotten used to the stress or lost my ability to stress my usual amounts.

Honours is a year that I was told would push me to my breaking point- granted the year is far from over and there is still plenty of time left for that, somehow I have enjoyed the academic aspect of this year much more than any previous academic year. To be fair, if it were not for online learning, recorded lectures (I don’t know where I would be without these), teamwork and the lecturers, I doubt I would have been able to cope.

Something I have admired greatly about how this course has been run and kept my morale up- is how we are assessed. Unlike previous years, we were allowed (in some cases) to indicate the type of assessment we felt would best showcase our understanding of work and the way we were marked has been one of my favourite parts of the year. From the time I started school if your answer was not exactly what was in the memo, you didn’t get the mark- that was not the case this year. The lecturers took their time with each individual script/assignment to determine whether someone understood the work or not. If we didn’t get the correct answer but showed understanding, we could still do well. This kind of teaching and learning has helped me better understand my work, but more than that, it has helped me grow my confidence. If I had been marked like this for my entire schooling career, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so stressed and I may have been able to retain my work better. Being able to chase knowledge and understanding over answers from an unseen memo, has made a big difference in the way I take in knowledge.

I was also very fortunate to get a very helpful supervisor and co-supervisor this year. Without the constant guidance, kindness and willingness to assist from my co-supervisor, I don’t think I would have managed half of the challenges phased by my project and even the modules. By allowing me to ask questions at any time of the day and equipping me with the ability to solve problems I had myself, she has also assisted in helping me deal with the stress of Honours.

I am very grateful for being given this opportunity to do this incredible degree this year. I have made great friends, met highly accomplished academics, and opened doors for my career goals that I didn’t think possible.

If there was anything I would change about the way I handled this year, I would go into every assessment to aiming show my full understanding of topics rather than just putting down answers I thought were wanted.

To every individual that has helped me along my way through this Whole New World of Honours at UCT- Thank you!

CANCER RISK ESTIMATION USING COLONOSCOPIC SURVELLANCE AND MMR GENE MUTATIONS

by Kelly-Robyn Singh

Lynch syndrome is an autosomal dominantly inherited cancer syndrome which predisposes individuals to a wide range of cancers, most commonly, cancer of the colon and/or rectum (colorectal cancer- CRC). It presents as colonic adenomas (benign epithelial tissue tumor) at an early age of onset that is averagely seen in other cancers. Lynch syndrome is the most common type of hereditary colon cancer, and it is estimated that approximately 1 in every 300 people carry mutations which are associated with Lynch syndrome. These associated mutations are found in the mismatch repair (MMR) genes, MLH1, MSH2, MSH6 or PMS2. Consider the following analogy: the MMR genes encode the MMR machinery, which we can think of as the police-force of the genetic code, in the sense that they recognize inconsistencies in the genetic code which may have arisen during DNA synthesis, and they repair it to restore genetic stability, much like a policeman/woman would in the instance of crime. In a society without the police to maintain law and order, there would be chaos, much like there is when the mutated MMR genes cause non-functional MMR and subsequently, deleterious mutations are allowed to accumulate in the genetic code, uninterrupted.

The question is, could mutations in some of these mismatch repair genes have a more severe effect than others? Is colonic surveillance and removal of pre-cancerous adenomas an effective strategy to manage CRC risk and incidence? The paper by Møller et al. aims to investigate the effects of surveillance in individuals carrying Lynch Syndrome associated mutations and their risk of cancer in more effective and accurate estimates than the usual risk estimation approaches which mainly involve retrospective studies.

To accomplish this, a cohort of patients carrying mutations in the mismatch repair (MMR) genes, MLH1, MSH2, MSH6 and PMS2 were studied and monitored on an Oracle regional database, with the aim to correlate data across categories like age, sex and mutated gene as the data develops to identify significant trends.

The findings were that 314 patients had developed cancer out of 1942 mutation carriers with no prior history of cancer. The cancers were found were mostly CRC, followed by endometrial and ovarian. Interestingly, carriers with mutations in the MLH1 and MSH2 had an earlier age of onset (25 years) as compared to that of MSH6 and PMS2 carriers (40 years). The cumulative cancer incidence rates at 70 years (patient age)for each gene as well as ten-year crude survival can be found below.

Table 1: Cumulative cancer incidences for each MMR gene and ten-year crude survivals for their respective cancers

Figure 1: Cumulative incidences by age and mutated MMR gene for any cancer

These findings conclude that there are varied penetrance and expression patterns of each of the mismatch repair genes, with that of MLH1 and MSH2 being higher and therefore causing an earlier age of onset as well as incidence. The results of this paper conclude that colonoscopic surveillance did not significantly decrease the incidence of CRC, but it did result in a lower mortality rate. The early detection of pre-cancerous adenomas is therefore imperative to prevention and the prolonging of life.

References:

Møller P, Seppälä T, Bernstein I, Holinski-Feder E, Sala P, Evans DG, Lindblom A, Macrae F, Blanco I, Sijmons R, Jeffries J, Vasen H, Burn J, Nakken S, Hovig E, Rødland EA, Tharmaratnam K, de Vos Tot Nederveen Cappel WH, Hill J, Wijnen J, Green K, Lalloo F, Sunde L, Mints M, Bertario L, Pineda M, Navarro M, Morak M, Renkonen-Sinisalo L, Frayling IM, Plazzer JP, Pylvanainen K, Sampson JR, Capella G, Mecklin JP, Möslein G; Mallorca Group (http://mallorca-group.eu). Cancer incidence and survival in Lynch syndrome patients receiving colonoscopic and gynaecological surveillance: first report from the prospective Lynch syndrome database. Gut. 2017 Mar;66(3):464-472. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2015-309675. Epub 2015 Dec 9. PMID: 26657901; PMCID: PMC5534760.

Are human personalities preprogrammed?

by Muhammad Adeeb Fakier

“The apple does not fall far from the tree”, is a common saying relating to offspring having a similar characteristic or quality to the parent. The advancement in genetic studies has allowed for the identification of genes associated with specific phenotypic observable characteristics, but what is the relationship between genetics and personalities?

Research from family, twin and adoption studies have indicated strong evidence for heritability of human personalities. However, the phenotypic architecture of the human personality is complex, and therefore includes uncertainty as either the same genetic networks may lead to different phenotypic outcomes; or different genetic networks in complex systems may lead to the same outcome. Past genome-wide association studies (GWAS) had very little success, where heritability of complex traits have been called “missing” or “hidden”.

The Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) is a system that evaluates specific dimensions of personalities. TCI character traits have been identified to be associated with brain networks for metacognitive processes such as self-reflection and purposefulness; whereas temperament traits (innate traits) generate and condition automatic behaviors, such as stress reactions. Therefore focusing on self-regulatory character traits such as self-directedness, cooperativeness and self-transcendence can be used determine the health state of an individual’s adaptive functioning.

The study utilized a machine learning method for GWAS to uncover the complex genotypic-phenotypic networks and environmental interactions. A discovery sample of 2149 individuals were used, and sets of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that cluster within particular individuals were identified. Thereafter five cluster of individuals with distinct profiles were identified. Lastly the association significance of the SNP sets with one or more character profiles (resourceful, organized, creative, dependent and apathetic) were identified.

The GWAS analysis of the genotypic and phenotypic architecture of personality measured by the TCI, illustrated each SNP set maps to one or more genes, identifying its association to each of the five general character profiles (Figure 1). This was followed by categorizing the variation in health status of SNP sets as: well, ill and intermediate (Figure 2). It was found that 42 SNP sets identified to 727 gene loci were significantly associated with one or more of the character profiles. Interestingly the SNPs sets often had similar character profiles associated with particular molecular processes such as involved in regulation of inositol-calcium signaling for obtaining food (G_8_8) and for neuroprotection against injury (G_12_8).

In conclusion genetics have an influence on human personalities, and this study has illustrated that it is possible to characterize the complexity of genotypic and phenotypic architecture of self-regulatory character traits. The study highlighted that self-regulatory personality traits are strongly influenced by organized interactions among more than 700 genes, despite variable individual cultures and environments.

Reference

Zwir, I., Arnedo, J., Del-Val, C. et al. Uncovering the complex genetics of human character. Mol Psychiatry 25, 2295–2312 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-018-0263-6

Zwir, I., Mishra, P., Del-Val, C. et al. Uncovering the complex genetics of human personality: response from authors on the PGMRA Model. Mol Psychiatry 25, 2210–2213 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-019-0399-z

Into the Thick of it: Can Cannabinoids be used to treat COVID-19?

by Robyn Lesch

Weeding through fact and fiction in search of the truth

The therapeutic effects of cannabis have long been known because of the presence of cannabinoids like THC and CBD commonly used to treat various symptoms and side effects related to cancer – but what effect does cannabis have on COVID-19?

In recent years, with more research into its usefulness, cannabis has evolved from that substance your parents warned you about as a “gateway drug” into the shining flame at the end of a dark seemingly endless tunnel of research. As this research into the therapeutic properties of cannabis has developed, so has the mainstream use of cannabis products. These properties are mainly due to the presence of cannabinoids which refers to every chemical substance, regardless of structure or origin, that joins the cannabinoid receptors of the body and brain and that have similar effects to those produced by the Cannabis Sativa (C. Sativa) plant. With its remarkable healing potential, you may be wondering if cannabis could help fight the virus currently taking the world by storm – COVID-19. COVID-19 has resulted in millions of deaths, closed international borders, and has brought global economies to their knees. This contagious respiratory disease can leave one with a fever, feeling fatigued, and struggling to breathe and can very quickly become fatal. So, can cannabis help in the fight against COVID-19?

A January 2021 study published in the journal Aging has found that cannabis may offer some help for patients with COVID-19.

Cannabis and the cytokine storm

One of the main biological events that occur in patients with severe acute respiratory distress caused by COVID-19 is a “cytokine storm.” This is where the body experiences an extreme increase in proinflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are a category of proteins which are involved in the cytokine storm that leads to increased inflammation.

COVID-19 patients tend suffer from lung fibrosis, a dangerous and untreatable condition that leaves lung tissue scarred and making it difficult to breathe. If a substance could stop the cytokine storm, it would be able to suppress inflammation, prevent lung fibrosis, and possibly even put COVID-19 patients in remission.

The Experiment

Researchers used a well-established full thickness human 3D skin artificial EpiDermFTTM tissue model and exposed the tissues to UV in order to induce inflammation. The tissues were then treated with extracts of seven new cannabis cultivars. It was noted that out of seven studied extracts of novel C. sativa cultivars, three were the most effective, causing profound and concerted down-regulation of COX2, TNFα, IL-6, CCL2, and other cytokines and pathways related to inflammation and fibrosis. This data was further confirmed in the WI-38 lung fibroblast cell line model.

The Conclusion

In this study, C. Sativa, a type of cannabis, was found to reduce multiple cytokines and pathways related to inflammation and fibrosis. Two of these cytokines of note that were reduced were TNFα and IL-6, which are thought to be the main targets when trying to block a COVID-19 cytokine storm and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Closing Thoughts

Cannabis has shown great potential in fighting against COVID-19, thanks largely to its anti-inflammatory properties. The study shows that cannabis could significantly improve the condition of COVID-19 patients by reducing a cytokine storm and protecting lung tissue from inflammatory damage. Novel anti-TNFα and anti-IL-6 cannabis extracts can be useful additions to the current anti-inflammatory regimens to treat COVID-19, as well as various rheumatological diseases and conditions.

Although this research is exciting and shows the potential power of cannabis in the fight against COVID-19, always remember to follow your doctor’s advice when managing COVID-19.

References

Kovalchuk, A., Wang, B., Li, D., Rodriguez-Juarez, R., Ilnytskyy, S., Kovalchuk, I. and Kovalchuk, O., 2021. Fighting the storm: could novel anti-TNFα and anti-IL-6 C. sativa cultivars tame cytokine storm in COVID-19?. Aging, 13(2), pp.1571-1590.

Reflective piece.

by Nkosazana Shange

As time goes by, I think to myself, when is the end coming, I need a Holiday. I had already imagined in my mind what I will do to relax my body; sleep all day, watching TV with my family or going out to eat at a fancy restaurant with my friends. Meanwhile I have assignments to finish and tests to prepare for. Well, the progress has been excellent, and all due dates are met. What then is missing? a long break.

Many might agree with me when I say nothing ever comes easy in life, it all requires hard work and determination. As students, we have worked probably for more than 12years, and it’s no joke. In the end the wages of hard work are good. This is encouragement for those time where you feel down and drained. However, a break is still needed. It is no crime that want you to take a day off and do something nothing related to your work. There is no condemnation in relaxing amongst busy days. We all do need time some time to alleviate stress and burdens. Therefore, take a break and keep calm. The world will not end when you ease up. That has been my experience this year as a student. Yes, the work is plentiful and when one might feel burnt out that is the opportunity to take a break. Mental health is very important. If we take very good care of our mental health, then we can easily overcome a lot of challenges we face every day.

We do get tired and its okay, we have overcome so much to reach where we are, and we can persist. Thus, even though you have a busy schedule, take some time off and reward yourself for your hard work. Fill your day with sunshine and go to the beach. Remember you are important and awesome, be good to yourself and persevere.

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