Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Muslims in search of GenX religious leadership in Andhra Pradesh

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: The Muslim community in Andhra Pradesh is now in search of GenX religious leadership to guide it through the challenges being thrown in by the fast changing world.
The Muslim religious leaders in the State have let down the community on more than one occasion with their old ideas, most of them impracticable in this modern day society. The average age of top Muslim religious scholars is 60 years and some of the Moulanas cannot walk without support. And they have been at the helm of religious affairs for as long as two to three decades, literally blocking the growth of young leaders.
In the absence of second-rung leadership there are instances of madrasas and religious institutions suffering heavily following the death of the chief promoter. A few institutions have been closed down causing untold hardship to students.
"Some of the Ulema in the State had grown to such a stature that they had become institutions by themselves. And when they died the institutions they had nourished for decades also suffered slow death. This would have been avoided had there been a second-rung young leadership," observes Moulana Abdul Kareem who is in his early 20s.
With the old Ulema refusing to make way for the GenX, an attempt is being made by a group of Muslim social and religious activists to create what they call the "Third Muslim Force" in the State. They want to take on the old Muslim political leadership on one hand and the old religious leadership on the other, through the proposed TMF movement. A series of meetings have been planned and six of them have been completed.
"Be it politics or religion, we have been seeing the same old faces at least for the past 20 years. It's high time they stepped down and encourage young leaders to occupy high positions in religious institutions and madrasas. We have made a beginning with like-minded Muslim leaders in the State to create an alternative force to old Muslim politicians and old Muslim Ulema," says State IUML general secretary Abdul Sattar Mujahed.
Social activist Mubhashiruddin Khurram squarely blames the Ulema for the lack of second-rung religious leadership in the State. "Most of these Ulema send their children and grand-children to English medium schools and consequently they do not find anyone in their family to don the mantle after them. Moreover, they do not trust outsiders. This makes things complicated for them. They continue to run the show as long as they live and the moment they die the institutions suffer. This bad," he observes.
Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind State president Hafiz Peerzada Shabbir Ali advocates the system of "Majlis-e-Shura" (consultative committee) in all the religious institutions in the State to encourage a blend of old and young leadership in the community. He points out that eminent Muslim institutions in north India including the Nadwatul Ulema and Darul Uloom Deoband follow the tradition of Shura with 21 members. "Why not this practice be followed in Andhra Pradesh? We generally do not allow young leaders to occupy top positions because they easily become emotional. They do not think with heart. What we need is a blend of old and new leadership for a balanced direction to the community," Shabbir argues.
However, All-India Personal Law Board general secretary Abdul Rahim Qureshi does not agree that there's a generation gap in the Muslim religious leadership in the State. "You find many young Muslim scholars in madarasas. If some of them have turned old while serving the institutions, we cannot blame them," says he.
The notable Muslim organisations in Hyderabad with old guards at the helm of affairs include Tameer-e-Millat, Amarat-e-Millat-e-Islamia, Jamia Nizamia, Sunni Ulema Board and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. There had been no change in the top leadership for many years.
Eminent institutions like An-Noor (Moulana Taqiuddin), Idare Islami (Moulana Akbar Qasmi) and Sabeelus Salam (Moulana Rizwanul Qasmi) fell in deep trouble after the demise of their founders. The change in leadership has not been smooth in the case of Sabeelus Salam with different claimants to its vast property.
"Yes, the generation gap is being felt by young and educated people in the community. Many of the old Ulema do not know what's happening in this new world. One has to take pains to explain to them terminology like AIDS, condoms or new methods in family planning while obtaining fatwas," says educationist B Moinuddin, recalling his experience with one of the old scholars.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Consanguineous marriages result in the birth of deaf children

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Children born of close relation wedlock are known to suffer from a variety of genetic disorders and a fresh study by a team of city doctors and geneticists shows that they are highly prone to congenital deafness too.
A joint study by the Institute of Genetics and Hospital for Genetic Diseases and the ENT department of Osmania General Hospital reveals that children born out of consanguineous marriages are two times more susceptible to congenital deafness than ordinary children. The study was conducted in Government ENT Hospital and in various schools for the deaf in and around Hyderabad. The subjects ranged from neonates to children up to 14 years of age.
Dr PP Reddy of the Institute of Genetics told this correspondent that
among various causes for deafness, consanguinity is an established high risk etiological factor.
"The results showed that 41.73 per cent of the cases were the products of consanguineous matings and 58.27 per cent were born to non-consanguineous parents. Further analysis revealed a high rate of consanguinity (44.53 per cent) in children with non syndromic deafness. The percentage of consanguineous marriages in Andhra Pradesh is 22.36 but the rate of deafness in children born out of such wedlock is 41.73 per cent," he pointed out.
He said hearing impairment had debilitating effects on children as it could retard individual's language acquisition skills and impair the overall development. It is rapidly increasing sensory deficit among human beings and accounts for one third of the entire disease burden in the world.
The world-wide prevalence of profound, congenital deafness is 11 per 10,000
children, and is attributable to genetic causes in at least 50 per cent of the cases. The survey indicated that one out of every 1000 children born in India showed profound hearing loss.
Dr Reddy said the siblings of consanguineous marriages have a significantly higher incidence of autosomal recessive diseases including hearing impairment. Marriages within the family increase the risk of hearing impairment and other diseases.
"The development of cochlea and hair cells is dependent on a genetic pathway called Planar Cell Polarity pathway. This pathway is involved in the formation of the polarised structure of the auditory sensory organ and
regulates the embryonic development. Genetic aberrations caused due to consanguinity disturb the pathway leading to congenital hearing loss," he said.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Heart diseases in India prevalent 28,000 years before Indus Valley Civilisation

January 20, 2009
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 19: Indians have been dying of heart attacks long
before the Indus Valley Civilisation, 5000 years ago.

According to a new research study by the city-based Centre for Cellular
and Molecular Biology, heart diseases in India predate the Indus Valley
Civilisation or the Vedic period by about 28,000 years.

The history of sudden deaths due to heart attacks in Indian populations
traces back to 33,000 years, when people began inhabiting the Indian
sub-continent. Since then heart attacks leading to sudden death have
been a common genetic phenomenon passing on from generation to
generation, making Indians more susceptible to heart problems.

According to Dr Lalji Singh, director of the Centre for Cellular and
Molecular Biology, there was a sudden and unexplainable change
(mutation) in the ancestral populations in India 33,000 years ago and
this is proving to be the "worst luck in the world". The gene in question
provides a protein to bind together the heart muscles. When it becomes
defective, it fails to bind the heart muscles making the heart to work
harder to pump blood. And at one stage in life, heart attack lead to
sudden deaths.

However, indigenous populations in the Andamans and in North-
Eastern States are free of this genetic mutation and hence not
susceptible to cardiac problems from which other Indians suffer.
"The indigenous populations of Andaman and Nicobar inhabited the
islands about 60,000 years ago and since they were isolated, they
escaped from the genetic mutation that occurred in those who came to
the mainland India 30,000 years later," Dr Kumaraswamy Thangaraj,
one of the team members which conducted the study on cardiac
diseases among Indians.

The wayward gene has persisted in the population for generations
because its effects usually develop only after people have had their

According to the CCMB scientists, the lifetime risk of developing heart
failure is roughly one in five for a person aged 40 years. Now that the
defect has been identified, there is a new glimmer of hope. It could be
detected very early during pregnancy. If parents choose, a foetus
having two copies FO the defective gene (homozygous or both from
father and mother) could be aborted after genetic counselling. Carriers
of the defect could be identified at a young age by genetic screening
and advised to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

"Perhaps eventually new drugs could be developed to enhance the
degradation of the abnormal protein and postpone the onset of
symptoms. Cardiac stem cell transplant might be used very effectively
to expand the life span of the individuals who carry the deletion. There
is a market of 60 million people waiting for such therapy," they told
reporters here on Monday.

Two sets of genes are inherited, one from father and one from mother.
If both the sets of genes are defective, children die even before they
celebrate their fifth birthday. If one set is defective, the onset of heart
problems begin after 45 years of age.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gene deletion: Scientists find genetic basis for heart attacks in Indians

January 19, 2009
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 18: Scientists at the city-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology have unravelled the genetic mystery behind the high incidence of heart diseases among people living in the Indian sub-continent.

People in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other regions in the South Asia are relatively more prone to heart problems including heart attacks than those living elsewhere in the world. An international collaborative study by the CCMB has now found a genetic link between the high rate of heart ailments and those residing in the Indian sub-continent.

Since heart ailments in a majority of Indians suffering from cardiac problems are linked to genes, lakhs of people living in the country are destined to invite cardiovascular diseases. The pioneering research study was published in the latest edition of Nature Genetics on Sunday.

According to Dr K Thangaraj, who pioneered the study, heart diseases among Indians are linked to a single genetic mutation. This mutant gene is found only in people inhabiting the Indian sub-continent. An estimate puts the number of people bearing this gene in the Indian sub-continent including Sri Lanka is six crore. This in other words means a majority of Indians are bound to have heart-related problems at least in their later life.

Thus far, heart diseases in India and other parts of the Indian sub-continent have been linked to lifestyle changes and sedentary life. But the CCMB study has now added a genetic factor too, thus doubling the risk of the cardiac problems. Since a majority of Indians are predisposed to the villain mutant gene, their chances of contracting heart problems increase if their lifestyle is bad and unhealthy.

The wayward gene has been identified as MYBPC3, which provides the blueprint for a certain kind of heart protein. When the gene mutates, it produces a protein that's abnormal and faulty. And this triggers heart problems.

The CCMB team has also found an answer why young Indians generally do not get heart problems. Young people have the capacity to degrade the abnormal protein and thus lead a healthy life. As Indians grow older, they lose the capability of degrading the protein. The consequences are high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy (weakening of heart muscles) and in extreme cases, heart attack leading to death.

Dr Thangaraj and his team pointed out that this bad mutant gene is present in all groups of people irrespective of their caste, creed, language and region. As many as 25 scientists sampled more than 2000 people from 26 countries spread over the Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia. The villainous gene was found only among people in the Indian sub-continent and to some extent in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Social hierarchy has genetic basis too

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: The Indian caste and social hierarchy has genetic basis too. The genetic make-up of people belonging to upper castes is similar and closely related among themselves as compared with the people hailing from the so-called lower castes.
Brahmins, who occupy the topmost position in the Indian Varna system, are genetically more closer to the next immediate group Kshatriyas, than they are to people belonging to "lower" castes. The genetic distance between Kshatriyas and the third Varna group Vysyas is closer than the genetic distance between Vysyas and Brahmins. The so-called lower social hierarchical Muslim groups like Dudekula and Shaik also closely resemble in genetic make-up to other lower rung groups in society.
However, people of Andhra Pradesh, irrespective of their caste or socio-economic hierarchy are genetically related among themselves. For instance, Brahmins from Andhra Pradesh are genetically closer to people of other castes and social hierarchy in the State as compared with Brahmins of say, north India.
These interesting genetic statistics came to light during a research study on "genetic stratification versus social stratification" of people in Andhra Pradesh conducted by the Biological Anthropology Unit of Indian Statistical Institute in collaboration with the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology. The study was published in the "Human Biology" magazine, USA.
As part of the study, DNA samples of 948 individuals belonging to 27 caste populations from Andhra Pradesh were analysed. The nature and extent of genomic diversity within and between these populations have been examined with reference to socio-economic and geographic affiliations.
Andhra Pradesh has people with several endogamous castes, tribes and religious groups presenting enormous variety in its populations, socio-cultural patterns and organisation. Several anthropological investigations suggest that the (caste) populations of Andhra Pradesh that practice close consanguineous marriages prefer village endogamy and restrict marriage contacts to small distances and hence are highly inbred. This has probably led to a reduction in effective population size, creating breeding isolates within apparently single endogamous castes and sub-castes.
The castes or socio-economic categories studied as part of the research project (in decreasing order of hierarchy) were: Brahmins, Kshatriya, Vysya, Akuthota, Kamma, Kapu, Pokanati, Panta, Vanne, Balija, Ekila, Kurava, Thogata, Yadava, Ediga, Gangla, Jangam, Chakali, Mangali, Vaddi, Madiga, Mala, Erukala, Sugali and Yanadi. Two Muslim groups, Dudekula and Shaik, were also included in the study.
"Compared to other Indian and world populations, the populations of Andhra Pradesh form a distinct cluster clearly separated from the rest. The other populations in the tree seem to be aligned on broad geographic, ethnic, or linguistic affiliations. For example, Asian populations from north-eastern India form a distinct cluster, as do the other Asian populations from sub-Himalayan India and East Asia. Populations from Western India, Central India and North India also form distinct subclades (sub-group of people with common ancestor), although geographic contiguity is apparent with their placement as neighbouring clades," observes project leader Prof B Mohan Reddy of Indian Statistical Institute.
According to him, some of the population from south India that have European physical features (Iyenger, Lingayat, Gowda and Muslims), however, form a subclade along with the three American groups (US whites, US Hispanics and African Americans).
Although genetic distance tended to increase with increasing difference in the social hierarchy, the differences were not statistically significant. Even this meek trend disappears when the DA (genetic) distance is considered or when average distances for different pairs of populations between different hierarchical groups is computed.
Furthermore, the average distance between populations of the same socio-economic group is not significantly different from or lower than the average distance between the populations of different groups. However, each of these hierarchical groups shows the largest genetic distance with the tribes compared to the mutual distances among them, suggesting genetic isolation and differentiation of the tribes and castes.
According to Mohan Reddy, Akuthota Kapu, Vanne Kapu and Pokanati (the three sub-groups of the Reddy caste) appear as relatively more distinct outliers above the theoretical regression line, suggesting that external gene flow played a role in their differentiation. The Gandla, Yanadi, Mangali and Kapu appear as outliers below the theoretical regression line, indicating that isolation and stochastic processes played a role in sculpting their genetic composition. The rest of the populations are scattered above and below but in the vicinity of the regression line, in conformity to the model and suggesting a uniform degree of gene flow among them.
"When we computed the distances for the hierarchical caste groups, treating the three Varna categories in the upper castes (Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vysyas) separately, no particular pattern of genetic distances, adhering to the implicit hierarchy, emerged between them. This suggests a lack of strong genetic signatures consistent with the traditional Varna system (constituting only Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vysyas and Sudra categories), although a semblance of genetic stratification was evident with respect to socio-economic hierarchy (upper, middle and lower castes)," he pointed out.

Nanotechnology to replace poisonous chemotherapy in cancer cases

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Cancer patients need no longer undergo highly poisonous chemotherapy once the phase-II clinical trials using nanotechnology prove successful.
According to Andhra-born US biotechnologist Dr Krishna R Dronamraju, doctors have successfully carried out phase-I trials using Nanoshells to treat cancer patients.

"The technology will be available for cancer patients in the next three years," he said.

Dr Krishna, who is currently in Hyderabad, is the adviser to the US Government on biotechnology and is an authority on frontier biological sciences including synthetic biology and nanotechnology. He has announced opening of a centre in Hyderabad for AP-US cooperation in new technology for mutual research and sharing of information on treatment of diseases like cancer, AIDS, malaria, muscular dystrophy and diabetes.

In Nanotechnology to treat cancer, nanoshells are injected into cancer tumors. Laboratory tests have shown that cancer tumor is destroyed by nanoshells when heated to high temperatures using lasers. While chemotherapy involves spread of toxic chemicals to all over the body, nanotechnology pinpoints the tumor and destroys the cancerous cells. The healthy cells are left untouched.

"Nanotechnology combined with synthetic biology are going to play a major role in treating common ailments in the next few years. Synthetic biology is more advanced than traditional gene therapy. A new species can be created using synthetic biology and experiments so far have been successful. We can create new genes and cells, in fact organisms, through synthetic biology," Dr Krishna observes.

Cancer becomes major cause of mortality and morbidity

Cancer is one of the major causes of mortality and morbidity in this world.

The annual incidence of cancer in India is about 7.0 lacs with atleast 2 milion people suffering with it at any given time. About 4 lacs die every year in India due to cancer. About 30% of cancers are diet related.

The components of the food we eat on one side cause cancer but on the other also protect us from this dreaded disease. The dietary factors which may promote cancer are the fatty acids, i.e. saturated and to some extent n-6 PUFA, while n-3 has a distinct preventive role.

Diets low in micronutrients increase the risk of cancers in a milieu of pro-carcinogens. Se, Zn, ascorbic acid etc. act as antioxidants have anticancer properties. Fruits and vegetables are the most beneficial in cancer prevention.

Isothiocyanates in cruciferous vegetable, phenolic compounds in garlic, green tea, soya, cereals, etc. flavonoids in fruits, vegetables, green tea, soya bean, mono-terpenes in garlic, citrus fruits, mint, , organo sulfides, isoflavones, indole contribute to the anti-cancer properties.

Food analysis would provide the basis for choice of food, which may benefit significantly by reducing cancer risk.

Targeted therapies target aggressive breast cancer

1 out of 5 women in advanced stage of breast cancer is HER2 positive

Hyderabad: For a woman Breast Cancer is the greatest fears of all. It is the leading cause of death in women aged 35-55 and the second leading cause of death in
women of all ages. As many as eight to nine percent of women will develop
breast cancer during their lifetime, making it the second most common cancer
in the world.

In India, breast cancer accounts for 20 per cent of the total cancer-related
diseases and is largely prevalent among urban women.

According to The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part
of the World Health Organisation, there were approximately 79,000 women
per year affected by breast cancer in India in 2001 and over 80,000 women in
2002. Breast cancer has certain patterns in its incidence.

The incidence of breast cancer is higher in the urban areas (metropolitan
cities) than in rural areas, with Delhi having the highest incidence, followed
by Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata. Breast cancer occurs at a
younger age in India as compared to developed countries. Breast cancer is
not just one single disease - there are several types of breast cancer (such as
‘HER2-positive’), which grow at different rates, and respond differently to

HER2 positive breast cancer is an aggressive form of breast cancer. About
one out of every five women with advanced breast cancers is HER2 positive.

HER2 stands for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. HER2 is a
protein produced by a specific gene with cancer-causing potential. It is a gene
that helps control how cells grow, divide, and repair themselves. It directs the
production of special proteins, called HER2 receptors. In this condition,
excessive quantities of a special growth promoting gene called HER2 is
present in the cells of the breast.

Research has shown that in case of women with HER2 positive breast cancer:

The tumors grow faster
There is an increased risk of spread
There are greater chances of the tumor coming back

Compared to women with normal breast cancer (HER2 negative) HER2
positive condition reduces the life expectancy of the woman by
approximately half.

Treatment options

The search for a cure for this deadly disease has led to the development of a
breakthrough line of therapy called targeted therapy, which helps combat
complicated forms of the disease effectively. Targeted therapies have
emerged as the latest treatment option for people suffering from cancers. The
therapy terminates the cancerous cells without affecting the quality of life of
the patient.

Herceptin is a unique biologic targeted therapy for women with HER2-
positive breast cancer. It differs from traditional treatments. Cancer cells are
cells that grow in an uncontrolled fashion. Herceptin stops or slows the
growth of certain breast cancer cells by blocking the chemical signals they
need to grow. It specifically targets the cancerous cells that overexpress the
HER2 protein and blocks the tumour cell growth. It signals the body’s
immune system to kill the tumor cell and works with chemotherapy to slow
the growth of the tumor.

Since Herceptin targets mostly tumor cells that overexpress the HER2
protein, it does not affect normal healthy cells. Patients on this therapy alone
may be less likely to experience the side effects typical of other types of
treatments, such as hair loss, fatigue, or a decline in certain blood counts.

Benefits of target therapies over existing therapies.

Target therapies act only on the cancerous cells, thus the following side
affects are normally not experienced by patients who are administered this

Hair loss (alopecia)
Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite (anorexia)
Low white blood cell count (neutropenia)
Low red blood cell count (Anemia)
Diarrhea or constipation
Mouth sores (stomatitis or mucositis)
Inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis)
Fever, body aches and pains
In men, lowering the number of sperm cells and reduce their ability to move
causing infertility
In women, it affects the ovaries reducing the amount of hormones they
Menstrual periods become irregular or stop completely
Targeted therapy is helping patients minimize side affects and greatly
enhance their quality of life.

The best protection against the diseases is awareness. Timely detection of
such a life threatening condition helps towards early treatment.
Early treatment of the condition not only prevents further disease progression
and complications but also gives better response rates.

Concern over increase in childhood cancers

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Researchers and doctors throughout the world have now focused their attention on childhood cancer which is rapidly expanding in both developed and developing nations.
In India alone as many as 1.60 lakh new cancer child-patients are added to the existing list every year and of them nearly a lakh succumb to the dangerous disease. While Western nations maintain statistics on cancer with a particular emphasis on cancer in children, unfortunately in India neither the Indian Council of Medical Research nor the Indian Medical Association have ever bothered to conduct a full-fledged survey of the problem.
Oncologists and doctors have selected the theme, "My Child Matters", giving emphasis on childhood cancers this World Cancer Day being observed on February 4. Cancer specialists in Hyderabad and elsewhere in Andhra Pradesh have decided to take up awareness campaign among parents and in schoolchildren telling them about the steps to be taken to prevent cancers, and in case cancer strikes the steps to be followed to escape death.
"Childhood cancer refers to all cancers in children aged 14 and under. Unfortunately, information on the occurrence of childhood cancer in developing countries like India is largely inadequate. More population-based cancer registries are needed to measure the real number of children with cancer," argues Dr Vijay Anand P Reddy, director of Apollo Cancer Hospital.
The common childhood cancers include leukaemia, lymphomas, central nervous system tumours, neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma, renal cancer, bone tumours and soft tissue sarcomas. Although there are different types of cancer, at least 85 per cent of all childhood cancers have similar signs and symptoms.
Explaining the symptoms of cancer, Dr Vijay Anand says, the main warning signs include continued, unexplained weight loss and fever, pallor, headaches with early morning vomiting, unusual swelling and abdominal mass, swollen head, development of excessive bruising or bleeding, white glow in the eye, and sudden changes in balance or behaviour. "Since most of the symptoms of cancer can be interpreted as common child ailments, parents should insist, where possible, that physicians carry out tests to rule out cancer," he suggests.
Childhood cancer is more than twice as curable as all adult cancers and it is vitally important that childhood cancer is detected early and that access to treatment is improved. Although childhood cancers represent a small percentage of all cancers, most of them can be cured if prompt and essential treatment is accessible. About 80 per cent of children with cancer live in developing countries with a survival rate below 50 per cent. However, the survival rate in developed nations is more than 80 per cent.
Dr Mukesh Batra, chairman-cum managing director of Dr Batras’ Positive Health Clinic, says globally more than 10 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year and it is estimated that there will be 15 million new cases every year by 2020.
"Cancer causes six million deaths every year, 12% of deaths world-wide. In the developed countries cancer is the second leading cause of death accounting for 21 per cent (2.5 million) of all mortality. In the developing countries cancer ranks third as a cause of death and accounts for 9.5 per cent (3.8 million) of all deaths. Tobacco alcohol, infections and hormones contribute towards occurrence of common cancers all over the world," Dr Batra observes.
In India cancer has become one of the 10 leading causes of death. It is estimated that there are nearly 15 lakhs to 20 lakhs cancer cases at any given point of time. Over seven lakh new cases of cancer and three lakh deaths occur annually due to cancer.
"In reality, cancer cure exists and many cases of cancer have been successfully reversed. The answers might not be only found in drugs, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, although, in certain cases they are useful. Statistics show that the most successful recipe to cancer cure is the synergistic approach, combining a holistic lifestyle with different natural treatments," says Dr Batra.
An arsenal consisting of a diet rich in raw organic foods and juices, regular exercise, therapeutic doses of antioxidants and other natural supplements, regular detoxification, a healthy emotional state through counselling and meditation can dramatically increase the chances of combating and reversing cancer.