Friday, June 26, 2020

University of Limerick study shows healthy diet could reduce risk of severe COVID-19 infection

A group of researchers at University of Limerick have established a clear connection between a healthy diet and fighting inflammation linked to COVID-19.
In a wide-ranging review, the UL academics evaluated evidence that suggests that the nutritional status and the role of diet and lifestyle is important in the outcomes of COVID-19 patients.

The article COVID-19: The Inflammation Link and the Role of Nutrition in Potential Mitigation has been published in the journal Nutrients.

It was written by Ioannis Zabetakis and Alexandros Tsoupras of UL’s Department of Biological Sciences and Health Research Institute (HRI) at UL, Catherine Norton of UL’s Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences and HRI and Ronan Lordan of the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia who was awarded his PhD at UL.

Some of the key findings in the study conclude that:
  • COVID-19 and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are linked via inflammation
  • Underlying conditions in COVID-19 related deaths are inflammation-induced
  • A balanced diet can ameliorate chronic inflammation in NCDs, which may also reduce the risk of severe infection
  • A balanced and healthy diet that provides adequate intake of essential nutrients will prevent nutrient deficiencies, reduce inflammation, and may reduce the severity of patient outcomes
  • Despite the high number of unknowns in relation to COVID-19, the best strategies to prevent infection are to follow public health guidelines and to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle
“While inflammation is a natural and necessary protective phenomenon in the body, COVID-19 however does cause severe acute inflammation that leads to what is termed a ‘cytokine storm’,” explained Dr Ioannis Zabetakis, head of biological sciences and a lecturer in food lipids at UL.

“During the cytokine storm, the immune system reacts to the virus, whereby a flood of immune-related chemicals are formed causing uncontrolled inflammation. There are several significant risk factors for severe COVID-19 infection. These include the presence of poor nutritional status and pre-existing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes mellitus, chronic lung diseases, cardiovascular diseases (CVD), obesity, and various other diseases that render the patient immunocompromised.

“These diseases are characterized by systemic inflammation, which is different from acute inflammation as there is no cytokine storm but the inflammation can pre-exist for years and precede the clinical symptoms of the disease. Systemic inflammation is a common feature of these NCDs, which seems to affect patient outcomes against COVID-19.”

He explained further: “In this review, we discuss some of the anti-inflammatory therapies that are currently under investigation intended to dampen the cytokine storm of severe COVID-19 infections. Furthermore, we evaluate the evidence suggesting that the nutritional status and the role of diet and lifestyle is important in the outcomes of COVID-19 patients.

“Currently there is no proven treatment or mitigation strategy to cure or prevent COVID-19 infections. However, a healthy diet (such as the Mediterranean diet with high intakes of fruit, vegetables, fish providing nutrients such as vitamins and minerals) could be a mitigation strategy to inhibit systemic inflammation and support immune function amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.

The review also looks at other “vulnerability parameters” including anorexia and lack of sleep.
The paper ‘COVID-19: The Inflammation Link and the Role of Nutrition in Potential Mitigation’, by Ioannis Zabetakis, Ronan Lordan, Catherine Norton and Alexandros Tsoupras is published in Nutrients and is available online here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

New sperm selection technology for use in assisted human reproduction

Researchers at University of Limerick have developed an exciting new technology for the selection of better quality sperm for use in assisted human reproduction.
With an estimated one in six couples experiencing infertility problems, the microfluidics technology developed at UL could offer some hope to those seeking to start a family.

neoMimix, a start-up from the University of Limerick, has been announced as a winner of the EIT Health Headstart competition for 2020. The prestigious competition supports the most innovative European start-ups to accelerate their market launch through a €40,000 cash prize.

Using funding secured from Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund, the UL researchers have developed an exciting new microfluidics-based technology for the selection of better quality sperm for use in assisted human reproduction.

“Infertility problems have been driven by increasing maternal age as well as by the halving of sperm counts over the last 40 years,” said Dr Sean Fair, Reproductive Biologist and project lead at UL.

“The most common fertility treatment couples undergo is in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and despite major advances in IVF over the last 40 years, two out of three cycles fail resulting in financial and emotional pain for couples.

“While little can be done to improve the number or quality of women’s eggs, men normally produce tens of millions of sperm yet only one is required to fertilise an egg. Despite the large number of sperm produced by men, very few are normal,” he explained.

The technology developed at UL uses microfluidics to mimic the journey sperm would travel in the female reproductive tract, thereby selecting the fittest and most functional sperm, which can then be used in IVF to improve outcomes.

Working with fertility clinics, the team have demonstrated that the selected sperm have significantly better DNA integrity than that selected by currently used methods.
The solution provides the most natural, ex-vivo, biomimicry of the female reproductive tract for sorting and selecting the highest grade, lowest DNA fragmented sperm in a simple and fully traceable process.

“Women whose male partners have poor sperm DNA integrity are twice as likely to have a miscarriage and therefore by selecting only sperm with intact DNA the risk of miscarriage can be significantly reduced,” said Dr Fair.
“Sperm naturally swim up the female reproductive tract on their way to meet the egg in the fallopian tube and en route they must swim against an outward flow of mucus that is secreted around the time of ovulation. This means that only the fittest sperm reach the egg,” he explained.
“The technology developed at UL replicates this journey on a micro-device so that sperm swim against an active fluid flow within micro-channels, mimicking what happens naturally. The fittest sperm are then selected for use in fertility treatment.
“It is the result of over five years of painstaking work by the UL team as they have optimised the architecture of the micro-device and fluid flow profiles to ensure that only the best quality sperm are selected. The team are now working on further clinical validation of the technology after which regulatory approval will be sought,” he added.

The research is a multidisciplinary collaboration between Dr Fair, Ms Karen Browne (Commercial Lead), Dr David Newport (Fluidics Engineer), Professor Leonard O’Sullivan and Dr Eoin White (Product Design) as well as with local fertility clinics.