Looking at blood differently

Problem

Did you know that most diseases – from type 2 diabetes and heart disease to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease – involve systemic (or chronic) inflammation in the body’s blood system? With illnesses such as these on the rise globally and people living longer than ever before, the pressure on healthcare systems is growing.

How can we improve diagnoses and treatment for a better outcome for patients, and really provide targeted care? It starts with putting blood under the magnifying glass.

Solution

Led by Prof Resia Pretorius, the team (at the Applied Morphology Research Centre (AMRC) studies blood in a non-traditional way (traditional methods include light microscopy).

They use an array of specialised, state-of-the-art microscopes and other specially-developed techniques for a more detailed picture of illnesses and how to treat them. One of the techniques is thromboelastography, which looks at how fast blood clots – abnormal blood clotting can lead to strokes, heart attacks and embolisms.

The team’s specialised microscopes allow the researchers to study the actual changes in cell shape and membranes at molecular level. They can determine the effect of systemic inflammation’s of blood cells – or even whether treatment is working at this level.

“To really follow a patient-orientated approach to track disease and treatment, we need to investigate other, newer approaches. At the centre, we can provide much more unique insights into patients’ illnesses and we hope that approaches such as ours will be included as standard pathology laboratory procedures,” says Dr Pretorius.

Progress

The AMRC is currently investigating the role of bacterial presence in non-communicable and inflammatory illnesses, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The team, also looks at polymerase chain reaction techniques used to make multiple copies of a segment of DNA, and microbiomics, which studies the interactions of microbes within the body.

Recently, Prof Pretorius and a global team of senior scientists and clinicians produced an editorial indicating that certain microbes in the blood – a specific virus and two types of bacteria – are major causes of Alzheimer’s, a disease that is often misunderstood.

Their paper, published online in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease (JAD), stresses the urgent need for further research – and more importantly, for clinical trials of anti-microbial and related treatments for the disease. The findings could also have implications for treating Parkinson’s, and other progressive neurological conditions in future.

For more information, contact Prof Pretorius on:[email protected]

For an overview of her research:https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Etheresia_Pretorius

Published by Srinivasu Nadupalli

Copyright © University of Pretoria 2020. All rights reserved.

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