The Gut Microbiome in Konzo was the title of a webinar held by the College of Health Science (CHS).
The event investigated the role of the gut microbiome in modulating the development of Konzo (tied leg) which is an epidemic paralytic disease occurring among hunger-stricken rural populations in Africa where a diet is dominated by insufficiently processed cassava that results in simultaneous malnutrition and high dietary cyanide intake.
Facilitated by CHS’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Busisiwe Ncama and Professor Colleen Aldous, the webinar was presented by Dr Matthew Bramble, who is a former National Institutes of Health (NIH) Fogarty Global Health Fellow, assistant professor and a staff scientist in the Department of Genetic Medicine Research at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC, in the United States. His research focuses heavily on infectious diseases as well as projects dealing with the mechanistic understanding of cassava-induced neurotoxicity (Konzo).
‘The outbreak of Konzo has been well documented not only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) but other sub-Saharan countries as well. Konzo mostly affects children and women of childbearing age,’ said Bramble.
His research suggests that regardless of location and diet, children in both low and high prevalence zones in the DRC are likely to be affected by the disease.
‘Studies consistently show an association between outbreaks of the disease and chronic dietary reliance on insufficiently processed cyanogenic cassava (manioc or tapioca). Biochemical and toxicological studies reveal that the metabolites of linamarin (a-Hydroxyisobutyronitrile ß-D-glucopyranoside – the main cassava cyanogen), notably cyanide (mitochondrial toxin), thiocyanate (an AMPA chaotropic agent), and cyanate (a protein carbamoylating agent) may play an important role in the pathogenesis of Konzo,’ explained Bramble.
He said Konzo was an irreversible disease but with more experiments and research on the topic a cure could be found.
Currently Bramble spends most of his research efforts building genetic capacity within the DRC to expand user-friendly genetic diagnostic tools as well as techniques involved in basic molecular biology/genetics. During his Fulbright period in both South Africa and the Philippines he plans to continue this line of work.
Words: Mandisa Shozi