A plant grown in Nigeria shows potential for epilepsy treatment

by Moses B. Ekong, Senior Lecturer, The University of Uyo

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that arises from imbalances of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. This disorder manifests as recurring seizure, unconsciousness and momentary loss of memory. These events are frequent and unpredictable. This is because the brain cells called neurons either overwork or are unable to balance the release of two chemicals that are vital for normal brain function: gamma aminobutyric acid and glutamate.

The burden of epilepsy in Nigeria is high, with estimated prevalence of eight per 1,000 people.

Adults over 55 years of age have a higher risk factor of developing epilepsy because they are more likely to have head injury, stroke or develop brain tumours or Alzheimer’s disease, which can all cause epilepsy. But epilepsy does occur in childhood too.

Epilepsy is a serious condition and it can be difficult to find the right drug to treat it. Some commonly used antiepileptic drugs may show adverse effects. Most are expensive, and some may be ineffective. There’s therefore a need to explore new alternatives.

A plant that grows in Nigeria shows promise as the source of a new drug.

Tetrapleura tetraptera also known as aidan and uyayak, is a tree found in the West African rainforest belt. It is single-stemmed and about 30 m in height. Its fruit, the most utilised part, is green when unripe, dark red-brown when fully ripe, and 22-27 cm in length. This fruit gives a characteristic aromatic odour, making it a sought-after spice in some Nigerian dishes.

Some traditional medical practices, as well as research reports, piqued our interest in its potential in epilepsy management.

Our research into the plant found that an extract of its fruit could protect against seizure and prevent brain degeneration. It could therefore be studied further for the development of a new antiepileptic drug.

What we did

To test the plant’s properties, we induced sustained seizure in laboratory animals and gave the fruit extract to some of the animals. We gave a standard antiepileptic drug, sodium valproate, to another group of animals.

Approval for the study was granted by the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences Ethical Committee, University of Uyo, Nigeria. All recommendations and protocols involving handling and care of the animals by the National Research Council of the United States of America were strictly adhered to in our research.

The aidan extract prevented the manifestation of seizure just like the sodium valproate.

Epilepsy causes brain cell degeneration. But we found that aidan protected the animals’ brains against degeneration better than the sodium valproate.

Neurodegenerative diseases cause the brain and nerves to deteriorate over time. They can change personality and cause confusion. They can also destroy brain tissue and nerves.

We found useful properties in the plant’s phytochemicals – the compounds it produces. Phytochemicals, also called secondary metabolites, are the active constituents of such plants. These include tannins, phenolics, saponins, alkaloids, steroids, flavonoids and terpenoids. Metabolites help the body to withstand stress, overcome cell injury and fight against germs, among other functions.

The ratios of these phytochemicals to one another determine the unique properties of plants. Aidan is rich in phenols, alkaloids and flavonoids; these phytochemicals are responsible for the antioxidant properties of plants known to protect against metabolic stress. Metabolic stress often leads to a spectrum of disease conditions.

Aidan is also a source of calcium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc and vitamins. This makes the plant very useful nutritionally and medicinally.

What next?

Our findings are important as the potentials of this plant can be explored for antiepileptic drug development. As a natural product, it does not only possess antiepileptic activity, it has numerous constituents that may also serve as alternative medication or an addition to medications in other related disease conditions.

Clinical trials of either crude or pure samples can be undertaken for anti-epileptic drug development as a first phase of clinical utilisation of the plant.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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How Obama’s backing for NBA Africa venture could boost basketball on the continent

by John Nauright, Dean, Richard J. Bolte, Sr. School of Business, Mount St. Mary’s University, and Sarah Zipp, Lecturer, Faculty of Health Science and Sport, University of Stirling Former US president Barack Obama’s decision to invest in the National Basketball Association’s Africa venture reflects a lot about his past – his basketball playing youth and his African roots. It also signals that his future ambitions stretch beyond US borders. The Basketball Africa League was launched in 2021 as a collaboration between the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) . The inaugural competition consisted of 12 teams from 12 different countries. The Egyptian team, Zamalek, won the first championship over a Tunisian squad. The competition includes leading teams from national leagues who qualify for the tournament, much like international club competitions such as the UEFA Champion’s League. The Basketball Africa League competition is jointly operated by the NBA and FIBA according to the President of Basketball Africa Africa League,Amadou Gallo Fall. Obama decided to invest, marrying his love of basketball with his desire to contribute to African social and economic development. Through The Obama Foundation, he is helping train African leaders of the future as well as to promote the continent globally. Obama, basketball and diplomacy Obama grew up playing basketball, winning a high school state championship in Hawaii and later playing at Occidental College in California. He played in the Senate gym during his time there and was known to have celebrities like Magic Johnson join in on his White House pick-up games. During a campaign event for President Joe Biden last November, cameras caught Obama casually sink a three-pointer while passing through a school gym. His basketball skills earned him some street credentials as a politician, helping the brainy Ivy-leaguer seem more grounded. Sports has historically been a useful tool for international diplomacy, a point Obama stressed in the announcement of his deal with the NBA. He isn’t the first president to go this route. Former US president Richard Nixon used table tennis to thaw relations with communist China in the 1970s. His campaign was labelled Ping Pong diplomacy. Decades later, the US State Department officially established the sports diplomacy programme in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The programme – which is still going strong today – is aimed at reaching out to young people in middle eastern countries. Since then, the programmes have expanded globally with a wide range of initiatives. While Obama’s role in NBA Africa is not directly linked to US diplomatic efforts, his presence serves as a type of informal diplomacy in a region where the US has struggled to sustain a constant positive diplomatic role. An international NBA For several decades the National Basketball Association has been focused on expanding into the international market as a source of talent, revenue and fans. There was a long campaign to bring a Chinese star to the League which culminated in Yao Ming joining the Houston Rockets in 2002. The NBA and its players have had a longer relationship with Africa. In 1959, the US State Department sponsored Boston Celtics star Bill Russell’s tour of West Africa. As a result of his time in Africa, Russell bought a rubber plantation in Liberia. The media praised Russell’s venture as proof of black capitalist success and his visit raised the profile of basketball in the region. Nigeria’s Hakeem Olajawan became the first African player in the NBA in 1984, paving the way for dozens of of future NBA stars from Africa, including Manute Bol, Dikembe Motumbo and dozens of current players. The NBA began its Basketball Without Borders programme in 2001, beginning in Europe at the same time they were working to bring Yao Ming to the US. From 2003 it has been engaged in expanding its presence in Africa drawing on the popularity of Olajawan and others who had begun to succeed in the NBA. Since retirement Olajawan has been NBA ambassador in Africa. He also made a special appearance for Team Africa at the 2015 NBA Africa exhibition game in South Africa. In 2003 the NBA expanded its annual Basketball Without Borders programme to Johannesburg, South Africa, not in the region where the NBA’s African players had originated, but in the most lucrative market. The NBA opened its Africa office in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2010 and continued to expand efforts across the continent culminating in the launch of the international tournament in 2021. Presidential connection Recently, US presidents and their families have become increasingly connected to professional sports. The difference in Obama’s case is the international scope of his engagement, showing that he sees himself playing a role outside the US. Over the past year, the former president has increased his public presence. He joined the Joe Biden campaign leading up to the November election, released his latest book, A Promised Land, and launched a podcast with singer Bruce Springsteen. After four years of relative silence during the Trump presidency, Obama seems to be re-emerging from the shadows. Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, were voted the Most Admired Man and Most Admired Woman in the world in a 2020 survey across 42 countries. His popularity will surely boost the prospects for NBA Africa and expand his own brand as a global entrepreneur and philanthropist. While the expansion of the NBA’s reach may help basketball’s growth in Africa, there is no doubt that the combination of the world’s premier basketball league with the most popular African-descended leader will do much to promote the league’s brand as well as help shape future growth of basketball on the African continent. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Edgar Lungu and his party lost Zambia’s 2021 elections

by Chris Changwe Nshimbi, Director & Research Fellow, University of Pretoria Hakainde Hichilema’s election victory is the third time an opposition leader has unseated an incumbent president in Zambia since 1991. The victory bequeaths on the new president and his party, the United Party for National Development (UPND), the immense task of restoring the rule of law, fixing the ailing economy and uniting a divided nation. Hichilema won the poll with 59.38% of the vote. He secured a 1 million-vote lead over his closest rival and incumbent, Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front. Lungu polled 38.33%. The election was effectively a referendum on Lungu and the conduct of his party during his tenure from 2015 to 2021. Zambians opted to believe in the campaign promises of his opponent. Hichilema promised to grow the economy to alleviate people’s suffering, restore the rule of law, end corruption and that, unlike his opponents, he was not contesting to secure a job. Contested candidacy Lungu’s candidature was controversial and highly contested. He completed his predecessor, the late Michael Sata’s unfinished term in 2016. He then served a full five-year term after beating, Hichilema in elections held that same year by a narrow margin. In 2021 Lungu was contesting for office in what some argued would effectively be a third term. The Constitutional Court was thrice petitioned to declare him ineligible. The court ruled in Lungu’s favour on all the occasions. It found that he had served only a year, not a full presidential term, between 2015 and 2016 after Sata’s death. This made him eligible to contest the polls in 2021. In the end it was the ballot box that ended his tenure. The arrogance of power displayed by the Patriotic Front in defying the concerns of the country’s citizens in the way it ran the affairs of state drove voters to voice their displeasure. There were a number of reasons the electorate decided to back his opponent. Zambians were irked by the decline of democracy under Lungu, as shown by intimidation, harassment and arrests of members of the oposition, and critics of the government. Human rights violations were on the rise. In December 2020, a state prosecutor and a United Party for National Development supporter were shot dead when police fired on a crowd that had gathered near police headquarters to protest the harassment of Hichilema. The Lungu government even tried to amend the constitution. Experts said this would have taken parliament’s oversight over the executive, creating a constitutional dictatorship. Levels of corruption also reached unprecedented levels. In 2018, the Financial Intelligence Centre reported acts of corruption estimated at about $284 million. That same year, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and the UK withheld aid worth about $34 million because they were concerned about corruption and financial mismanagement. In 2019, the money laundering and terrorist financing trends report of Zambia’s Financial Intelligence Centre disclosed that public officials had influenced the awarding of contracts. Corruption linked to public sector procurement was a major contributor to proceeds of crime. Misplaced priorities Zambians went to the 2021 polls in the midst of a second debt crisis created under the Lungu government. The cost of living had also soared as the annual inflation rate was the highest in about two decades. Lungu built his campaign on the physical infrastructure his government put up and increased government control of Zambia’s mines. He promised to roll out more infrastructure if reelected. But for many in Zambia economic conditions were tough. The economy got worse and many remained jobless and disgruntled on his watch. Unemployed young people and households struggling to meet basic needs against escalating prices of essential commodities blamed the government for the worsening conditions. Some analysts attributed Zambia’s economic woes to undisciplined debt accumulation to finance the projects Lungu boasted about. The combination of high government debt and a weak economy meant that Zambia couldn’t service its debts. Lungu’s government had a fallout with international financial markets after it defaulted on debt repayment in 2020 . The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had refused to bailout Zambia in 2016 over concerns about government’s commitment to economic reforms. The IMF resumed talks with Zambia to reform the economy in February 2021, but a deal was unlikely until after the election. Failed reelection strategy In past elections the Patriotic Front used infrastructure and the tribalism trump card to beat Hichilema. But, this failed in 2021. While Hichilema maintained popularity in his traditional stronghold in Zambia’s south-west region, he also broke into Lungu’s stonghold in the north-east, and gained unprecedented support. His campaign message to end corruption, restore the rule of law and the economy resonated among the majority of voters across Zambia. His pick of Vice President and running mate in Mutale Nalumango also helped him break into Lungu’s core constituency. The educator and former vice president of the Secondary Schools’ Teachers Union of Zambia served as Movement for Multiparty Democracy Member of Parliament for Kaputa in Northern Zambia from 2001 to 2011. Hichilema’s break into Lungu’s core constituency saw Lungu cry foul that the 2021 election was not free and fair. Restoring a fractured country Hichilema has his work cut out for him. He has to endear himself to the whole country and prove that he is a national leader. This will enable him to clear his name of accusations that he is a tribalist. He also faces the daunting task of undoing the culture of violence and extortion in the political arena by party “cadres” – unemployed men who extort money, provide informal security for party elites, and disrupt opposition events. Hichilema will have to tame his own party cadres, and restore sanity through impartial application of the law to set Zambia back on the path of democratic consolidation. The task that will make or break Hichilema’s leadership, however, is fixing the economy. He has spoken large about this since he stepped on to the political stage, claiming he was best suited to fix Zambia’s economic problems. Potential supporters of Zambia’s economy, such as the IMF, demand austerity to restore its economic fortunes and set it on a path of recovery. Hichilema will have to balance austerity and the high expectations of the many unemployed young people and struggling people who voted for him. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.