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Empowering psoriatic patients by breaking the stigma surrounding the disease

There is no cure for psoriasis, but there are treatments available to help manage the disease. Johnson & Johnson (Philippines), Inc. is at the forefront of bringing new and innovative solutions for this condition including biologic medicines.

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Photo by Carolina Heza from Unsplash.com

Around two million Filipinos have been diagnosed with psoriasis, an immune-mediated disease that causes red scaly patches on the skin. What is difficult about psoriasis is that it affects patients not only physically, but also psychologically as it is closely linked to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

After the birth of her third child, 42-year-old Jane Mauricio began developing lesions on different parts of her body. She was later diagnosed with psoriasis. 

“My hands, which were supposed to be embracing my child, were suddenly covered with red patches and flakes,” shared Mauricio. “I remember myself as someone who was perfectly happy with her family, her career. When psoriatic plaques started to cover my body, I began to lose my confidence—even my will to live.”

“The way people looked at me told me that they were afraid to come near me, thinking I might be infectious. Everywhere I go, I feared being bullied, humiliated, or rejected. At times, I would get so overwhelmed that I would just choose to isolate myself from the world.”

“The relationship between psoriasis and mental health can be a vicious cycle,” said the head of the Medical Affairs Department of Johnson & Johnson (Philippines), Inc., Dr. Erwin Benedicto. “The amount of unwanted attention patients receive can cause them to develop anxiety and depression in the long run, which can trigger if not intensify psoriasis flare-ups.”

“In addition to the skin, psoriasis can put patients at higher risk of comorbidities such as psoriatic arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. There are also studies that show links between psoriasis and Crohn’s disease, which causes the digestive tract to become swollen. This is why increasing awareness about psoriasis should be a public health priority, as to also encourage more patients to seek proper treatment.”

There is no cure for psoriasis, but there are treatments available to help manage the disease. Johnson & Johnson (Philippines), Inc. is at the forefront of bringing new and innovative solutions for this condition including biologic medicines. The company is also working with relevant stakeholders to launch and sustain programs that educate Filipinos on psoriasis, correcting misconceptions that make living with the disease even more challenging for patients. 

“One of our most recent partnerships is with the Department of Health, the Philippine Dermatological Society, and Psoriasis Philippines. Together, we conducted a lay forum entitled Psoriasis: Bigyang Halaga at Pag-aaruga where facts about the disease were highlighted to help alleviate the plight of psoriatic patients.”

“Psoriasis is a lifelong disease, but it is not fatal nor contagious,” added Dr. Benedicto. “Proper treatment and holistic care are needed to ensure that psoriatic patients will continue to lead full, productive lives. It is also our hope that someday, our society would become fully aware of what psoriasis is, to be able to break free from the stigma that fuels discrimination towards those suffering from the disease.”

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Tiny electric generators could accelerate wound healing

The natural wound healing process involves complex interactions between ions, cells, blood vessels, genes and the immune system; with every player triggered by a sequence of molecular events.

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Tiny dressings that generate electricity in response to movement could accelerate wound healing and tissue regeneration. Scientists in Taiwan reviewed the latest advances and potential applications of wound healing technology in the journal Science and Technology of Advanced Materials

The natural wound healing process involves complex interactions between ions, cells, blood vessels, genes and the immune system; with every player triggered by a sequence of molecular events. An integral part of this process involves the generation of a weak electric field by the damaged epithelium – the layer of cells covering tissue. The electric field forms as a result of an ion gradient in the wound bed, which plays an important role in directing cell migration and promoting blood vessel formation in the area.

Scientists discovered in the mid- to late-1900s that stimulating tissue with an electric field could improve wound healing. Current research in this field is now focused on developing small, wearable, and inexpensive patches that aren’t encumbered by external electrical equipment. 

This has led to research on piezoelectric materials, including natural materials like crystals, silk, wood, bone, hair and rubber, and synthetic materials such as quartz analogs, ceramics and polymers. These materials generate an electric current when exposed to mechanical stress. Nanogenerators developed using the synthetic materials are especially promising.

For example, some research teams are exploring the use of self-powered piezoelectric nanogenerators made with zinc oxide nanorods on a polydimethylsiloxane matrix for accelerating wound healing. Zinc oxide has the advantage of being piezoelectric and biocompatible. Other scientists are using scaffolds made from polyurethane and polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) due to their high piezoelectricity, chemical stability, ease of manufacturing and biocompatibility. These and other piezoelectric nanogenerators have shown promising results in laboratory and animal studies.

Another type of device, called a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG), produces an electric current when two interfacing materials come into and out of contact with each other. Scientists have experimented with TENGs that generate electricity from breathing movements, for example, to accelerate wound healing in rats. They have also loaded TENG patches with antibiotics to facilitate wound healing by also treating localized infection.

“Piezoelectric and triboelectric nanogenerators are excellent candidates for self-assisted wound healing due to their light weight, flexibility, elasticity and biocompatibility,” says bioengineer Zong-Hong Lin of the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. “But there are still several bottlenecks to their clinical application.” 

For example, they still need to be customized so they are fit-for-size, as wound dimensions vary widely. They also need to be firmly attached without being negatively affected or corroded by the fluids that naturally exude from wounds.

“Our future aim is to develop cost-effective and highly efficient wound dressing systems for practical clinical applications,” says Lin.

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What’s money got to do with mental health?

Financial stress has been found as one of the main concerns that employees around the world contend with every day. With responsibilities to pay off bills, expenses, unexpected circumstances, and even debts, it’s challenging to not worry about finances all the time, especially if a person does not have savings.

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Have you ever heard of ‘financial stress?’ According to experts, this condition refers to that state of anxiety or emotional tension related to money, debt, and expenses. Money, in fact, is one of the most universal sources of stress. 

In workplaces, financial stress has been found as one of the main concerns that employees around the world contend with every day. With responsibilities to pay off bills, expenses, unexpected circumstances, and even debts, it’s challenging to not worry about finances all the time, especially if a person does not have savings.

In a recent report, Visa revealed that 84% of 1,000 employees are troubled by their finances while working. This situation affects their health, well-being, and productiveness, as stated by 68% of that study’s surveyed individuals.

Employees in the Philippines share this same experience. According to a study by Backbase, at least 51% of 100 surveyed Filipinos said that they’re currently worried about the state of their finances. It also revealed that the Philippines is the leading country when it comes to financial stress in the Asia-Pacific, indicating that 7 in 10 Filipinos find it challenging to manage their debts. 

In most cases, people caught up in these situations resort to borrowing money from their family, friends, or external lenders with interest rates. Another option is to ask for an advance or ‘bale’ from their employers, especially since traditionally, employees receive their salary twice a month on two separate dates. 

Helping navigate through the never normal

Two years into the pandemic, things became even more challenging for employees due to some limitations, particularly in mobility. Amid these radical changes, banks have been fast-tracking their digital transformation initiatives to improve their mobile and online banking platforms. This move enables customers to transact digitally, like paying utilities and other bills, without the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

It shows how banks continuously innovate their services to assist their customers in managing their wealth while caring for their well-being. And as the pandemic reinforces that health is essential to people in the never normal, it also creates an opportunity for banks to help employers in empowering their employees and address the factors that can affect their overall welfare. 

For instance, there’s a concept that is now fast becoming a global trend that financial institutions can offer as part of their service offerings. This concept is called Earned Wage Access (EWA), a solution that started in the United States but is now seen around the world, enabling employees to access their salary before payday and release their already earned salary with just a click of a button.

EWA can be integrated and offered by banks to their corporate accounts so employers can incorporate it as a benefit for their employees. In 2022, this white-labeled solution will now be available in the Philippines. Thanks to PayKey, a fintech company based in Israel, which will start offering this solution to leading banks next year. 

Through EWA, employees can now access their already earned salaries at any time to pay for their current expenses. It works in simple ways. As a standalone app offered by PayKey for banks, employees can easily see their earned salaries to date. Then, if they want to have an advance on their wages,’ they can just request it through EWA. The requested amount will be transferred to the employee’s bank account as soon as it is approved.

The EWA trend will help employers minimize their workers’ financial stress, which will assist in improving their workplace productivity and employees’ well-being. In addition, as a new type of service for banks, EWA may help encourage unbanked Filipinos to get banked to achieve the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ (BSP) 70 percent goal of Filipinos with bank accounts in 2023.

“EWA is not a loan. It has no interest rate because you’re accessing and withdrawing your earned money. With a fixed transaction fee, it will enable employees to easily advance their wages before payday to pay for their immediate expenses. We hope that with our solution, we can help banks and employers reduce employees’ financial stress and improve their well-being, especially at times like this,” said Roy Gabriel, chief innovation officer, and general manager of PayKey.

To learn more about PayKey, visit its website at https://paykey.com/.

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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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