Isolation

Necessity is the mother of invention……..

Plato is quoted as saying that necessity is the mother of invention. The current world pandemic has forced medical scientists into a desperate search for a vaccine against the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

In the past vaccines have been one of 3 types:

  1. Dead vaccine – the pathogen is rendered non-infectious but is still able to elicit an immune response thereby conferring immunity.

  2. Attenuated vaccine – the pathogen is changed to make it unable to induce symptomatic disease but is still able in infect the host. The immune system mounts a response conferring immunity against the original pathogen as well as the altered pathogen.

  3. Sub-unit vaccine – part of the pathogen (e.g. an external protein or ‘spike’) often with an adjuvant (a substance that stimulates the immune system) which elicits an immune response thereby conferring immunity.

Today I watched a documentary on the search for a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 that is similar to type 3 but differs in one crucial aspect. Back in January Chinese scientists sequenced the genome of SARS-CoV-2 and scientists in the UK have identified the sequence that encodes the protein spike of the virus. They are now using bacteria to create multiple copies of the genetic code (RNA in this case) for this spike. It is hoped that when injected into muscle tissue the muscle cells will take up this genetic material and begin making copies of the virus spike; in effect creating their own subunit vaccine. The scientists are currently doing trials on macaque monkeys and if successful, human trials will follow. If this methodology works and a vaccine is developed it will fundamentally change vaccine research in the future especially against viruses. This technique may not have ever been considered if it was not for the current pandemic hence the quote from Plato.

As for me I’m coping quite well at the moment. It’s been nice having my husband and daughter for company the last few days due to the bank holiday. I have lined up a couple of craft projects to keep me occupied in the coming weeks.

EDIT: I need to add a correction. The team at Oxford are not solely using the RNA sequence for the spike protein as a vaccine. They are cloning it on to a cold virus which is then injected. The principle is the same with the hosts own cells making the spike protein to elicit the desired immune response to confer immunity to SARS-CoV-2.

Depression, Isolation

Isolation Day #13……..

Like most of the worlds population we have been in lockdown and social distancing for almost 2 weeks and it has taken me this long to adjust emotionally. Like most autistic people I don’t like change and find it difficult. It’s quite weird because my day to day life isn’t that different as I’m not one for going out a lot. What has changed is my weekly routine. I’m used to my Mum coming over for dinner 3 times a week and going to Slimming World on Fridays. I’m used to being able to pop to the local supermarket and getting anything I need whenever I want. I didn’t stockpile anything when the panic buying began and became very anxious when I couldn’t get any pasta (why?).

I am not anxious about the current world situation because thanks to my education in molecular and cellular biology I understand everything that is going on. I’m not a fan of our current government but I cannot fault their response (ok maybe the schools should have closed a week earlier) to this pandemic. They have listened to the scientific experts and responded accordingly. Until a vaccine is available the world is going to face several waves of this pandemic and will have to have periods of lockdown to curtail the spread of the virus. At the moment we do not know if the coronavirus mutates enough to enable the reinfection of a previously immune host. If the virus does mutate in this way any vaccine created will be rendered ineffective and the worlds scientists will be forever playing catch up.

The changes in routine have led to a resurgence in my depression which has a knock on effect in the other areas of my life. I managed to stick to my eating plan until day 8 and then had 4 days of terrible eating. I have since given myself a talking to and devised a way to cope. Each day I am giving myself a list of tasks to do and I’m making sure I go out for a short walk. It’s only when I’ve done these two things that I allow myself to relax and do my hobbies. Without this structure I was watching YouTube videos all day and not achieving anything at all.

As I find writing therapeutic I’m going to be blogging a bit more. These posts will be primarily for me just to record my thoughts so I won’t be linking to them from my other social media. I need to create a new routine to maintain normal brain function.

Uncategorized

It’s all in the DNA……..

I have always had a fascination with genetics and it was this that made me choose to study molecular and cellular biology at university. At this time (the early 1990s) The Human Genome Project started which was the first attempt to sequence an entire human genome. The technology at the time was limited and the project took 13 years to complete. Fast forward to today and it is now possible for anyone to spit in a tube and get their genome sequenced in a mere 6 weeks. My youngest daughter Katherine had her genome sequenced last year and the results we sufficiently interesting enough for me to want to do the same.

The information that you can get from genome sequencing comes in three sections:

  • Ancestry Composition

  • Carrier Status

  • Health Traits

My ancestry composition can be seen in the diagram below:

ancestry

The first surprise was that I was only 51% British. Through my genealogy research I’ve known for a while that many of my ancestors came from France but my DNA shows that I also have ancestors from Germany. In particular 10.5% of my DNA comes from the Ashkenazi Jewish population that settled along the river Rhine in the Middle Ages. It is thought that this population consisted of around a mere 330 individuals. In scientific terms this is called a genetic bottleneck. I will never be able to prove it but I suspect that this ancestor was through my maternal grandfather’s mother (my great grandmother). When looking at photos of Ashkenazi Jews there are some striking similarities in appearance to her. I am so proud to be 10.5% jewish as I have had done a lot of research into jewish culture over the years.

Katherine’s results showed that she was a carrier of the extremely rare genetic disease Zellweger Syndrome Spectrum. My results confirmed that she inherited this allele from me. Zellweger Syndrome Spectrum, as the name suggests covers disease with varying severity. The gene itself (the PEX gene) codes for a protein that is part of the structure of the intracellular organelle called the peroxisome. The peroxisome is involved in the cutting of long chain carbon molecules (e.g. fatty acids) which are then used by the mitochondria to create energy for the cell. The more severe cases of Zellweger Syndrome are invariably fatal within the first year of life. There hasn’t been anyone in my immediate family that has had a child with Zellweger Syndrome. Thankfully it is extremely rare. For comparison, the prevalence of cystic fibrosis is 1 in 2500 births; Zellweger Syndrome is 1 in 50,000 births.

Katherine was also found to have two copies of a gene for a condition called haemochromatosis which is an iron overload in the blood. Obviously one of these genes came from me. Fortunately the particular gene variant we have does not put us at an increased risk of developing the disease. This result was a bit ironic as David’s grandfather actually had haemochromatosis and he has been having blood tests every five years to check for iron overload and we now know that he is not at an increased risk of developing this condition.

The only results that were particular to me was a slightly increased risk of developing late onset macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease. I also have a 20% chance of developing type 2 diabetes. My recent diet changes will probably be enough to mitigate this risk. I was also relieved to find that I do not have a genetic predisposition for bowel cancer. I have had relatives on both sides of my family die from this cancer.

All in all I am really heartened by the findings in my genome. I was also able to download the raw data (genomic sequence) in file which I can use in third party programs. The company I used will also update me as more genes are identified so this is an ongoing quest.

Depression

Brain Malfunction………

Since Christmas my brain has been working against me. I always struggle with my depression in January and this year has been no exception. Just after Christmas I wrote a list of all the things I’d wanted to achieve in 2020. Due to being so unwell in 2019 I felt like it was a year wasted. We are now in the second week of February and I have yet to even start anything on the list.

I’ve mentioned Behavioural Activation in a previous post as a way to stop my procrastination but as of yet I haven’t even begun to look at it. I know I need to make a start and it is getting to the point where I’m just going to have to force myself to do it.

I think I am slowly coming out of it though as I’m finally going to go swimming this afternoon. I really need to increase my activity as I’m struggling to lose the last bit of weight. I am so close to being a healthy weight -only 3lbs away- and it’s become more important to me as I’ve had my genome sequenced (I’ll write another post on this later) and it shows that I’m at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. For me, losing weight was always about my health so this has lit a fire under my butt!

I’m also starting to look forward to the rest of the year. David and I will be celebrating our silver wedding anniversary in September and are planning a trip to the US. We’ve always wanted to go to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida and I really want to visit the Atheist Community of Austin in Texas so we will be doing both.

I think it is obvious to anyone reading this post that it was written over a period of a few days. The first two paragraphs were written two days ago when I was feeling very low and the remainder was written today. I find writing this blog extremely cathartic and I think this post has moved my brain into action.

Mathematics

Revisiting Old Friends……..

I desperately need to get some structure to my day. I’ve been spending far too much time watching videos on YouTube and my brain is stagnating. My hobbies do not tax my brain enough so I have decided to prepare myself for doing an Open University degree in mathematics.

I did a number of university level courses in maths on Coursera.org about 8 years ago which I really enjoyed but feel that I need a thorough revision of the fundamentals to ensure that I have all the bases covered.

I had a quick look at the current A-level text books and found that they didn’t appear to be at the same level that I remember from sixth form. I remembered the books I had at school being far superior but I couldn’t remember the authors. I knew the pure mathematics book was blue and the applied mathematics book was orange. I did a search on amazon and initially came up with nothing. I then saw a book that looked similar and immediately recognised the names of the authors; L. Bostock and S. Chandler. The text books by these authors for A-Level Maths and Further Maths were still in print but pricey at over £40 each but I managed to buy a second hand set at a total of £40 for all four.

I am now eagerly awaiting delivery and welcoming back some old friends. Hopefully this will fill the void in my life at the moment.

Depression, Fibromyalgia

Behavioural Activation……..

I suppose most people procrastinate at sometime in their lives especially when needing to fulfil onerous tasks. At school I was always leaving my homework to the last minute unless it was a subject I enjoyed

Since becoming ill with depression and fibromyalgia my procrastination has reached epic levels. Being so tall I have difficulty buying coats with long enough sleeves so I thought I’d have a go at making myself a full length winter coat. I chose a pattern and ordered the required materials back in March. It is now October and I still haven’t made a start. I keep making plans to start on a certain day and end up dithering and making excuses. It is the same with my reborning (making hand painted realistic dolls); I started my current doll back in August and haven’t worked on it since my surgery.

I sometimes think I’m like this because of my perfectionism i.e. while I’m not doing the activity I’m not making any mistakes. I always feel better about myself when I’m being productive and I wish I could motivate myself more.

Behavioural activation is a branch cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that aims to help people engage more often in enjoyable activities and develop or enhance problem-solving skills. One of the symptoms of depression and chronic pain is a loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed. These activities are seen as not being worth the effort and this creates the vicious cycle seen below:

DvckCJVXgAAuWbd

Behavioural activation involves looking at any obstacles to participation in activities and making strategies to overcome them. This may involve breaking the activity down into smaller, more manageable steps. It is often helpful to keep a record of thoughts and feelings while doing activities. This can be used to identify what worked and what didn’t with the goal of finding a positive solution to problems encountered. The ultimate aim of behavioural activation is to shift the person from the cycle shown on the left of the diagram to the cycle on the right thus releasing them from the inaction that made their depression worse.

There is a course on behavioural activation that I can attend locally so I think I’ll go and enrol now.

Depression

Social Media Fatigue……..

Having been unable to work for over 10 years due to the fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue I have spent a lot of time on the internet and social media. At my worst times it has been the only way I’ve been able to interact with the outside world.

I have an extremely active mind with a strong focus on logic and reason. In the past I have enjoyed discussing topics with people on social media however over the past few months I have become increasingly annoyed with anything that is based on religion, pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. I have always tried to respect other peoples beliefs in such things but I increasingly want to call people out on – what I see as – their stupidity. I’ve literally typed out multiple angry responses and then deleted them; all but one. Unfortunately this was mistakenly taken as an accusation towards someones friend rather than a general comment on the subject in question. Obviously I immediately apologised and explained that it was not meant as it appeared but it has left me with a lot of anxiety.

The only way I feel able to cope with the anger and anxiety is to take a prolonged break from social media; Facebook in particular. I may even decide to deactivate my account at a later date. It will be hard losing contact with friends that I rarely see but I don’t see another option right now.