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AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine significantly boosted antibody levels against Omicron

Neutralization titres for Omicron were boosted following a third dose with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine compared to titres after a second dose. The levels seen after the third dose booster were higher than the neutralizing antibodies found in individuals who had been previously infected with and recovered naturally from COVID-19 (Alpha, Beta, Delta variants and original strain).

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AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine(ChAdOx1-S [Recombinant]) significantly boosted levels of antibodies against the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant (B.1.1.529) following a third dose booster, according to data from a new laboratory study.

Neutralization titres for Omicron were boosted following a third dose with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine compared to titres after a second dose. The levels seen after the third dose booster were higher than the neutralizing antibodies found in individuals who had been previously infected with and recovered naturally from COVID-19 (Alpha, Beta, Delta variants and original strain). Sera obtained from individuals one month after receiving the third dose booster vaccination neutralized the Omicron variant to levels that were broadly similar to those observed one month after the second dose against the Delta variant. Two doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine have been associated with protection against the Delta variant in real world studies.

The study analysed blood samples taken from individuals infected with COVID-19; those who had been vaccinated with a two-dose schedule and a third dose booster; and those who had reported previous infection from other COVID-19 variants of concern. The study included samples from 41 individuals who had received three doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The study was performed independently by investigators at the University of Oxford and the findings were posted online on the bioRxiv pre print server.

Professor Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine, University of Oxford, UK and one of the study investigators, said: “It is very encouraging to see that current vaccines have the potential to protect against Omicron following a third dose booster. These results support the use of third dose boosters as part of national vaccine strategies, especially to limit the spread of variants of concern, including Omicron.”

Sir Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President, BioPharmaceuticals R&D, AstraZeneca said: “AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine plays an important role in vaccination programmes around the world and these data give us confidence that the vaccine should be given as a third dose booster. It is also important to look beyond antibodies to better understand how vaccines offer protection against Omicron. As we better understand Omicron, we believe we will find that T-cell response provides durable protection against severe disease and hospitalizations.”

Data from another laboratory study support AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine effect against Omicron, with individuals vaccinated with two doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine retaining neutralizing activity against Omicron, although a decrease was seen compared to the original strain.4 In other studies, AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine has been shown to generate a diverse and durable T-cell response to multiple variants resulting in a broader response than antibodies alone, which could contribute to protection against COVID-19.

AstraZeneca is collecting real world evidence evaluating the effectiveness against the Omicron variant with academic groups in the southern African region. AstraZeneca is also analysing blood samples from participants in the Company’s Phase II/III trial to evaluate neutralising activity when given as a third dose booster against Omicron for both AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and its investigational next generation COVID-19 vaccine, AZD2816. Data from these studies are expected soon.

Currently available data against variants of concern, excluding Omicron, support the use of a third booster with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine as part of a homologous or heterologous schedule.

A sub analysis from the COV001 and COV002 trials demonstrated that a third dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine given at least six months after a second dose boosted antibody levels six-fold and maintained T cell response.6 A third dose also resulted in higher neutralizing activity against the Alpha, Beta, and Delta variants, compared with a two-dose regimen. In the trial, the third dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine was less reactogenic than the first dose.

In addition, the COV-BOOST trial showed that a third dose booster of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine induced significantly higher immune responses compared with controls against the Delta variant and original strain following a primary vaccine series of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccineor Pfizer BioNtech (BNT162b2).

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Combination of drugs for obesity and Type 2 diabetes may be more effective than a single therapy

The researchers conclude that combining the drugs has several advantages, including higher effectiveness in at least some patients and fewer side-effects.

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Canadian and German researchers are teaming up to identify new drug combinations to treat people with obesity and Type 2 diabetes. 

The goal is to develop personalized prescriptions that are more effective than single drugs and that can potentially replace more invasive treatments such as bariatric surgery, especially for children. 

“As a pediatric endocrinologist, I can tell you we’re seeing more and more Type 2 diabetes in kids and adolescents, and it seems to be a more aggressive form than adult onset diabetes, so we do need better therapies to achieve even greater efficacy and degree of weight loss,” said Andrea Haqq, a professor in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

The researchers recently published a paper that examines the potential of several drugs that control incretins. These metabolic hormones stimulate the body to produce insulin and use it effectively. They also suppress appetite in order to control blood sugars and reduce weight. 

The researchers conclude that combining the drugs has several advantages, including higher effectiveness in at least some patients and fewer side-effects. 

Even a five per cent weight loss is considered clinically meaningful, and patients in some of the combination drug trials are achieving 10 or 15 per cent, said Haqq, who is a member of the Alberta Diabetes Institute and the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute. 

Haqq’s laboratory is collaborating with that of Timo Müller, director of the Institute for Diabetes and Obesity at the Helmholtz Diabetes Center and a researcher with the German Center for Diabetes Research in Münich, Germany.

As part of the collaboration with the Müller team, first author Qiming Tan, a PhD candidate in the U of A Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, will study for a term in Germany and a German student will join Haqq’s lab here.

Haqq and Tan recommend further research to identify why some individuals respond differently to the drugs. Some racial and ethnic groups bear a disproportionate burden of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, they said, so more participants from these groups are needed in trials. Further studies should also focus on how differences in biological sex affect drug efficacy and safety. 

In addition to drug combinations, the researchers are looking for non-pharmacological solutions, such as how adding fibre to a person’s diet can slow weight gain and improve the effectiveness of existing diabetes medications.

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How sleep helps to process emotions

According to the researchers, the coexistence of both mechanisms is beneficial to the stability and survival of the organisms: “This bi-directional mechanism is essential to optimize the discrimination between dangerous and safe signals,” says Mattia Aime from the DBMR, first author of the study.

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Photo by Mpho Mojapelo from Unsplash.com

Researchers at the Department of Neurology of the University of Bern and University Hospital Bern identified how the brain triages emotions during dream sleep to consolidate the storage of positive emotions while dampening the consolidation of negative ones. The work expands the importance of sleep in mental health and opens new ways of therapeutic strategies.

Rapid eye movement (REM or paradoxical) sleep is a unique and mysterious sleep state during which most of the dreams occur together with intense emotional contents. How and why these emotions are reactivated is unclear. The prefrontal cortex integrates many of these emotions during wakefulness but appears paradoxically quiescent during REM sleep.

“Our goal was to understand the underlying mechanism and the functions of such a surprising phenomenon,” says Prof. Antoine Adamantidis from the Department of Biomedical Research (DBMR) at the University of Bern and the Department of Neurology at the Inselspital, University Hospital of Bern.

Processing emotions, particularly distinguishing between danger and safety, is critical for the survival of animals. In humans, excessively negative emotions, such as fear reactions and states of anxiety, lead to pathological states like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). In Europe, roughly 15% of the population is affected by persistent anxiety and severe mental illness. The research group headed by Antoine Adamantidis is now providing insights into how the brain helps to reinforce positive emotions and weaken strongly negative or traumatic emotions during REM sleep. This study was published in the journal Science.

A dual mechanism

The researchers first conditioned mice to recognize auditory stimuli associated with safety and others associated with danger (aversive stimuli). The activity of neurons in the brain of mice was then recorded during sleep-wake cycles. In this way, the researchers were able to map different areas of a cell and determine how emotional memories are transformed during REM sleep.  

Neurons are composed of a cell body (soma) that integrates information coming from the dendrites (inputs) and send signals to other neurons via their axons (outputs). The results obtained showed that cell somas are kept silent while their dendrites are activated. “This means a decoupling of the two cellular compartments, in other words soma wide asleep and dendrites wide awake,” explains Adamantidis.

This decoupling is important because the strong activity of the dendrites allows the encoding of both danger and safety emotions, while the inhibitions of the soma completely block the output of the circuit during REM sleep. In other words, the brain favors the discrimination of safety versus danger in the dendrites, but block the over-reaction to emotion, in particular danger.

A survival advantage

According to the researchers, the coexistence of both mechanisms is beneficial to the stability and survival of the organisms: “This bi-directional mechanism is essential to optimize the discrimination between dangerous and safe signals,” says Mattia Aime from the DBMR, first author of the study.

If this discrimination is missing in humans and excessive fear reactions are generated, this can lead to anxiety disorders. The findings are particularly relevant to pathological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorders, in which trauma is over-consolidated in the prefrontal cortex, day after day during sleep.

Breakthrough for sleep medicine

These findings pave the way to a better understanding of the processing of emotions during sleep in humans and open new perspectives for therapeutic targets to treat maladaptive processing of traumatic memories, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) and their early sleep-dependent consolidation.

Additional acute or chronic mental health issues that may implicate this somatodendritic decoupling during sleep include acute and chronic stress, anxiety, depression, panic, or even anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure. Sleep research and sleep medicine have long been a research focus of the University of Bern and the Inselspital, Bern University Hospital. “We hope that our findings will not only be of interest to the patients, but also to the broad public”, says Adamantidis.

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MetroMart to sell only cage-free eggs nationwide by 2025

MetroMart’s e-commerce platform connects consumers with local supermarkets and retailers including The Marketplace, Marks & Spencer, Landmark and All Day Supermarket. The company delivers throughout the Manila and Cebu regions, with plans to expand nationally.

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MetroMart, the country’s largest e-commerce grocery delivery platform, won praise today from U.S.-based global NGO Lever Foundation for its new commitment to source and sell only cage-free eggs nationwide by 2025.

“MetroMart is committed to social responsibility and benefiting the community, including through selling high quality, safe and humane food products,” said Evreem Fortich, Chief Operating Officer at MetroMart and ambassador of the company on the issue. “We’re pleased to share our new policy of selling only cage-free eggs to consumers on our platform by 2025, and we look forward to working closely with our partners to achieve that goal.”

MetroMart’s e-commerce platform connects consumers with local supermarkets and retailers including The Marketplace, Marks & Spencer, Landmark and All Day Supermarket. The company delivers throughout the Manila and Cebu regions, with plans to expand nationally. MetroMart has been actively promoting sustainability initiatives by using banners on its platform to raise public awareness of environmental issues, and offering promotional discounts for ethical and sustainable products.  

Numerous studies have found cage-free eggs are safer and have more vitamins and minerals and a better nutritional profile than caged eggs. Research by the European Food Safety Authority and others has found that cage-free egg farms are up to 25 times less likely to be contaminated with key strains of salmonella compared to hens raised in cages. Hens raised in cage-free systems enjoy better bone health, are free to move and express their natural behavior such as foraging, dust-bathing, flying and nesting.

“We applaud MetroMart for its commitment on this important issue, which will benefit the company’s customers by increasing food safety and quality while also improving the welfare of animals in its supply chain,” said Robyn del Rosario, Sustainability Program Manager at Lever Foundation, which worked with MetroMart on its pledge. “With e-commerce leaders like MetroMart rising in popularity and importance during the pandemic, the company’s commitment to socially responsible policies that benefit the community sets a stellar example for other retailers and food brands.”

Leading animal protection and food safety organizations around the world encourage a switch to cage-free eggs, which are less cruel to animals and safer for consumers. On caged egg farms, each egg-laying hen is confined for nearly her entire life in a cage so small she can barely turn around. Battery cage egg production has been banned throughout the European Union as well as in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, India, and parts of the United States.

In recent years a growing list of restaurant, hospitality, retail and packaged foods brands have pledged to use only cage-free eggs in the Philippines, including KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Marriott, Nestle, Unilever, and many others. MetroMart is the first retailer in the Philippines and the first online grocery delivery platform in Asia to make the same pledge.

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