The Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is here! How aware are you

Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is here! How aware are you?

The Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is here! How aware are you

How often have you come across a patient of cervical cancer around you? Chances are, rarely. But reality begs to differ. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over six per cent women around the world (including 570,000 new cases) suffered from cervical cancer in 2018. Sadly, the statistics of both the developed and developing countries tell a similar horrifying story. Every day, nine women in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer and three lose their battles to life. In the US, nearly 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, which amounts to an appalling 36 women falling prey every day! Developing countries like India have morbid statistics too. As per a study by National Center for Biotechnology Information, India alone accounts for a quarter of cervical cancer cases globally. Approximately 270,000 women across the world die from cervical cancer yearly, with 85 per cent deaths occurring in low-to-middle income countries. Owing to the gigantic figures, the United States Congress designated January as the Cervical Health Awareness Month.

Most common among women aged around 35 years, cervical cancer has remained, through times, an ignominious reality. However, even more lamentable is the fact that 75 per cent of such cases are actually prevented by cervical screening (or smear tests) and vaccination. Yet, one in four women does not attend this potentially life-saving test because of embarrassment. Some time back as part of the Pink Chain campaign, a study among schoolteachers in India was conducted. It revealed that cervical cancer was the second most common cancer in India. It also identified and assessed the level and impact of awareness programs in the adoption of safe practices in prevention and early detection. Uneasiness around discussing the topic with friends, family and peers emerged as the main reason behind women not coming forward for tests and treatment.

While cervical cancer rates have dropped significantly within the United States over the past few decades, it still remains a critical global health issue. The high mortality rate for cervical cancer in the developing world is driven by limited access to cervical cancer screening and treatment. Laboratory-based methods used to detect cervical cancer, and the personnel required to perform and analyse them may be unavailable in developing nations. In an alarming finding, it was identified that approximately 90 per cent of deaths from cervical cancer occurred in low- and middle-income countries. Likewise, the ability to treat cervical cancer is highly dependent on access to surgical facilities, chemotherapy agents and radiation equipment.

The high global mortality rate despite having mechanisms to diagnose and treat this cancer is a matter of great concern. Doctors and researchers have time and again emphasized that more awareness programs need to be run and sustained in order to literate people, especially women, to combat this cancer. Women must be encouraged to speak, walk up to a doctor and get her diagnosed. Reduction in mortality could be induced through a comprehensive approach which includes preventive care, early diagnosis, effective screening and treatment, and follow-ups. Particularly, in countries where screening programs are not available, identifying cervical cancer at an early stage and providing effective treatment can improve the likelihood of survival. Presently, in many low-income nations, the disease is often not identified until in advanced stages.

Widespread training and awareness programs run by state governments in partnership with CSR divisions of private firms can also be a way forward in combating cervical cancer. They must be made educated on the initial symptoms of the cancer. WHO Package of Essential non-communicable (PEN) disease interventions for primary healthcare in low-resource settings has guidance on the approach to assessing and referring affected women in the primary care setting. This must be widely publicized through various broadcast channels. In one of its studies, the WHO has concluded that “… screening should be performed at least once for every woman in the target age group (30-49 years) when it is most beneficial; HPV testing, cytology and visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) are all recommended screening tests;  cryotherapy or loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) can provide effective and appropriate treatment for the majority of women who screen positive for cervical pre-cancer; “screen-and-treat” and “screen, diagnose and treat” are both valuable approaches.”

Irrespective of the approach being deployed in educating women, the key to an effective program is reaching the largest proportion of women at risk. Organized screening programs, comprehensive cervical cancer prevention and control, community education, social mobilization, vaccination, etc. can go a long way in improving cervical cancer control. Cervical Health Awareness Month is an opportunity to dedicated work, for a whole month, towards ensuring that our women remain safe and prevented from this deadly cancer. Let us spread the word around, not only among our female friends but also among our male friends, peers and family so that in case of such diagnosis, every person around must be aware of the next critical steps involved in treating the patient. Let us all be well-equipped for a better tomorrow because prevention is certainly better than cure.

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World Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

Shivom is helping to make diseases like Alzheimer’s a thing of the past. By creating a secure platform for the storage and sharing of genomic data, Shivom is transforming the precision medicine of tomorrow by allowing researchers and pharmaceutical R&D pipelines access to vital genomic data today. This type of data can help determine an individual’s predisposition to certain diseases, among them Alzheimer’s, and even help in the development of future preventatives and cures.

Shivom’s Chief Scientific Officer, Axel Schumacher published the first proof of whole-genome epigenetic abnormalities in late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. His report specified that epigenetic drift, or change, that occurs with age may put people at higher risk for developing the disease. The findings suggest that epigenetic drift may be an important driving force in AD pathology and raise the tantalizing question of whether such epigenetic changes could be prevented.

Around the world, 44 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s, a fatal form of dementia. The U.S. is home to 5.5 million of those suffering, among them 200,000 people younger than 65 with early-onset symptoms.

The prevalence of Alzheimer’s increases with each generation, especially as populations live to be older. By 2050, the number of those affected in the U.S. is estimated to quadruple, leaving 14 million with the disease (World Alzheimer Report, 2018).

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, not only are more people getting Alzheimer’s as they age—the disease is becoming deadlier. Between 1999 and 2014, death rates from Alzheimer’s increased 55 percent, and today the disease is the 5th leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2017, caregiving associated with Alzheimer’s cost the U.S. $259 Billion, which is nothing in comparison to the physical and emotional toll the disease takes on its victims and their family members.

Alzheimer’s disease is, paradoxically, unique for both its pervasiveness and its mystery. Despite its ubiquity among U.S. senior citizens, there is still no cure in sight, and much about the disease remains unknown. What clinicians do know is that genetics play a large part in determining an individual’s predisposition to the disease.

The most common gene associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s is the apolipoprotein E (APOE). This gene has three forms: the APOE-e2 variety, which reduces one’s risk for the disease, the APOE-e3 variety, which appears to have no effect on risk, and the APOE-e4 variety or the “Alzheimer’s Gene,” which increases one’s risk.

Every person inherits two APOE genes from their parents—one from their father, and one from their mother. However, inheriting two APOE-e4 genes doesn’t necessarily guarantee that an individual will develop Alzheimer’s. Conversely, some people born without any APOE-e4 genes may also develop the disease. Still, according to a study recently published in Neuron, over 50 percent of Alzheimer’s cases are linked to APOE-e4.

Last year, researchers with the Mayo Clinic also linked APOE-e4 to the newly-termed “Type 3” Diabetes, a form of diabetes in the brain. It’s already well-known that those who suffer from Type 2 Diabetes are more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s due to reduced blood flow and lack of essential nutrients to the brain. Now, it has been discovered that APOE-e4 interferes with brain cells’ ability to use insulin, causing the cells to starve and die.

Still, clinicians don’t generally test for the APOE genotype among late-onset Alzheimer’s patients. Results can be indeterminate, and the disease can usually be diagnosed without genetic testing by that point.

However, testing early-on for APOE-e4 or other mutant genes associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s, like Amyloid precursor protein (APP), Presenilin 1 (PSEN1), and Presenilin 2 (PSEN2), could help determine with some certainty if an individual will develop the disease before the age of 65.

One common characteristic among those with Alzheimer’s are “amyloid plaques,” which are amyloid-beta peptides that build up in the brain and clump together, leading to the death of nerve cells. As these clumps collect, tau protein malfunctions stick together forming neurofibrillary tangles, creating the types of brain abnormalities commonly associated with Alzheimer’s (Mayo Clinic, 2017).

Imagine how much could be learned about Alzheimer’s through the collection of genomic data worldwide. Researchers could identify more of the unknown genetic mutations that cause amyloid plaques, or even isolate an autosomal dominant gene shared by all Alzheimer’s patients, or sets of genes that increase susceptibility to the disease. This could allow for earlier diagnoses, and perhaps, one day, preventative measures or even a cure.

By creating a secure platform where researchers and pharmaceutical R&D pipelines have access to stored genomic data on a massive scale, Shivom hopes to propel treatment for Alzheimer’s forward, incentivization genomic donors around the globe to contribute their data toward a future where Alzheimer’s disease is, itself, a forgotten memory.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A Look at the BRCA Gene

As October is the month of Breast Cancer Awareness, we thought it a good idea to examine the BRCA genes in more detail, given our area of focus. In case you missed it, Shivom recently announced its partnership with Genetic Technologies Limited, in the aim of improving the methods for predicting the presence of cancer (and subsequently preventing it) with Big Data analysis of individuals’ genes.

“We believe blockchain technology will open up markets to make it much more efficient to catch many more users and practitioners. Not only that, by using the Shivom platform to its full potential, we will also be able to access the benefits of research in collaboration with other personalized healthcare organizations,” commented Dr Paul Kasian, Chairman & Interim CEO of GTG.

Research on breast cancer is perhaps one of the most important medical pursuits of our era. The disease is the second leading cause of death in women, with one in eight being diagnosed in their lifetime (men can also be affected, though it’s a much rarer occurrence).

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the genes linked to the odds that someone develops the cancer. Contrary to popular belief, these genes are beneficial to individuals, and normally prevent the spread of cancer by suppressing tumours. Unfortunately, problems arise when the pair mutate (and consequently, no longer function as intended). Of those affected by a mutation, 55–65% with the BRCA1 mutation and 45% with the BRCA2 mutation will develop cancer by the age of 70. This is all too common. It’s something that, collectively, we need to better understand in order to actively combat and reduce incidences.

There’s some very good work underway already, and we’re eager to meaningfully contribute to the efforts. We’re firm believers in the power of data — specifically, the genomic information of individuals around the world. DNA holds troves of secrets that, once unlocked, could shed some light on some of the medical questions that have plagued us for centuries. In the age of artificial intelligence, data is fuel for building powerful models for prediction and further analysis. It’s important to ensure the pool is as large as possible to drive accurate results.

Blockchain protocols are the perfect chassis for building secure storage mediums for individuals, whilst also allowing them to share it with given parties — whether research institutions or companies operating in the medical field. It would offer them the ability to simply grant access outright, or to leverage a fee to ensure they’re remunerated for their contribution. Moreover, the nature of the tech is that it can reach even the most remote regions, granting researchers access to a much larger and diverse sample size.

In light of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to remember what can be achieved with the technologies we have at our disposition. A key priority for all working with blockchain technology should be deploying it for the benefit of individuals globally — for us, that’s the logging, understanding and prevention of life-threatening diseases.

If you’d like to donate to the Breast Cancer Foundation, you can do so here.

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It’s time to take ownership

Blockchain can help you control, protect and share your health data — helping you and others live healthier, longer lives

Exciting advances in precision medicine over the past decade should mean you and your family are now receiving advanced levels of healthcare and disease prevention based on your genetic makeup.

Researchers and health professionals across the world should be enjoying access to a vast resource of genomic sequencing data and health records — helping them discover cures and treatments for every type of disease.

However, the reality is far different.

An ocean of data about your health and the health of others is likely to be spread across many databases. You probably have little ability to view or update this data, let alone control who has access to it.

As for genomic data, only a small percentage of people have had theirs sequenced — largely because there isn’t a secure place to hold and leverage it.

Time to take control

This is a tragedy. You should have the opportunity to own your health and DNA data, and to maintain total control over it. You should have up-to-date information about the diseases you are predisposed to. Every few months, your data dashboard should be updated to inform you of the latest insights scientists have about your DNA.

If you know you’re genetically predisposed to osteoporosis, you should be able to proactively take steps to avoid its onset. If you’re aware there is a high chance of being afflicted by a certain type of cancer, you should be regularly tested to ensure you can catch it early.

Health apps and silos

There are many ongoing initiatives across the globe aiming to facilitate the storage and sharing of genomic data, and thereby enable the progress of precision medicine. Health apps based on genomic and other health data are good examples. But they tend to be competing against each other and creating even more data silos.

Meanwhile, a few large businesses hold the monopoly on most genomic data, and make large profits from selling it to third parties, usually without sharing the earnings with the data donor.

This stifles research and innovation and prevents medicine and healthcare moving forward at the pace it should.

You and your doctors are being denied vital knowledge about your health, and brilliant scientists are being denied access to genomic datasets that could help them gather potentially transformational information that could lead to the eradication of diseases.

Cyber attacks

Not only is your future health being compromised by the current system, but your health data is being left vulnerable too. In the wake of major data breaches like those at Yahoo! and Equifax, it’s hard to trust any organization with sensitive data stored on cloud databases or local servers.

The release on the internet of your data records could have huge implications on your personal relationships, your future employment, your health insurance and your general well being. Cyber criminals know this, so medical data will increasingly be targeted to leverage money from health organizations and patients themselves.

It’s no wonder few people are largely unwilling to map out their DNA and risk this data being spread across the internet.

A blockchain solution

But blockchain-based technology could be the solution everyone is waiting for.

Its distributed ledger technology removes the vulnerabilities associated with cloud databases. This means it would be safe to store even the most sensitive DNA and healthcare data on the blockchain, without fear of it being stolen or misused in a cyber attack.

A centralized health data hub built on the blockchain could let you maintain full ownership of this data, allowing you to share it with health professionals.

Let’s imagine you’re visiting a specialist doctor for a consultation and tests. She would just need a laptop or mobile device to access your health data in the ecosystem — using a private key (in other words a temporary password) supplied by you. At no time would the data be stored in her own computer or cloud database. And she would only have access to your data while you were under her care.

If you wanted to share the data with a research firm, you could give them access to your data in anonymized form for a certain period, and perhaps receive a payment in exchange.

A new ecosystem

Healthcare and wellness providers such as clinics, pharmaceuticals, research organizations, governments, patient-support groups and insurance companies could join an ecosystem built around this blockchain technology.

They would no longer have to compete with each other to gather data. It would be there for them all to use — for example, to boost clinical trials or facilitate drug research and development. This data could be easily sharable and interoperable across technological, geographic, jurisdictional, and professional boundaries.

Sharing data

Such a system could offer patients access to applications that leverage their data and enhance their well being and health — for example, nutritional and fitness advice, treatment plans, genealogy, disease predisposition, and lifestyle management.

Looking into the future, as more personalized biological information becomes available, services could be offered that are based not only on genomic data, but also other health, biological, and environmental information, facilitating new insights into disease processes.

This is an exciting time in healthcare. Soon, you’ll have the power to leverage your DNA and health data to live a longer, healthier life, while helping billions of others on the planet.

All the technologies are in place. The world just needs a suitable health data platform.

About the Author

Dr Axel Schumacher who has over 20 years’ experience in the field of genetics; and is the Chief Scientific Officer of blockchain-enabled genomic data-hub startup Shivom. Shivom’s platform aims to be the largest genomic & healthcare data-hub on the planet, allowing the world’s population to have their genome sequenced and securely stored with the help of blockchain technology.

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