Anika (8th Grade student, Texas) rewarded for doing computation to design a drug molecule aiming at destabilization of the Coronavirus
by Prof. Kirthi Tennakone
National Institute of Fundamental Studies (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Medicine is the science of understanding functions of the human body, finding causes of illnesses, indicating remedies and preventive measures. Being a science, it basically has no divisions – Western and Eastern or indigenous and foreign. Therefore, strictly speaking, there cannot be alternatives to medicine. Nonetheless, apart from mainstream scientific medicine, which is sometimes wrongly referred to as Western medicine, there are so-called alternative practices claimed to be effective or even superior.
Alternative medicine means, curative or preventive methods whose efficacies are not proven scientifically and may include formulations or procedures which might turn out to be shown effective by rigorous scientific scrutiny. Ones that pass this test would no longer be purported alternatives but scientifically supported treatments.
In 1775, the Scottish physician and chemist William Withering was astonished to observe his patient, dying of congestive heart failure, recovered after receiving alternative treatment from a local gypsy women. Withering noted the gypsy had prescribed an herbal decoction of many plant components including foxglove (a plant-related Neeramulliya used in Sri Lankan traditional medicine). He extracted the active ingredient digoxin from foxglove leaves – Today, World Health Organization lists digoxin as an essential drug.
Many opt alternative medicines for varying reasons – irresponsiveness of a treatment as in the case Withering’s patient, personal conviction, ignorance, placebo effect, affordability, empathy and approachability of practitioners.
Generally, alternative treatments are continuations of ancient arts in scripture, belonging to different schools or therapies passing from generation to generation, advocated by clans of physicians. Again new health products often emerge as commercially motivated fashions. The pandemic is an opportune moment for such commodities and quackeries.
Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine are the major complementary alternative practices based on ancient medicine. Similar systems that originated in Europe gradually disappeared with the advent of science. Although hypothetical arguments in ancient arts of healing raises many questions in the light of modern science, subjecting them to the classification under pseudoscience is unwarranted. Ancient and traditional arts of healing served the humanity for centuries – before medicine was refined to the status of a science. As evident from the Sanskrit text “Chakra Samhita” (600-900 BCE) Ayurveda was probably the first school of thought to realize the fundamental concept that diseases are curable and preventable by intervention. Reminding of this millennia old idea is exceedingly relevant today ever than before – the confidence, a cure for COVID-19 would be found and more importantly the immediate possibility of prevention by strict adherence to control measures. Ayurveda and Chinese traditional medicine have classified many illnesses and lists symptoms correctly, largely on basis of physical observations – likely to be the optimum expected in absence of science.
Ancient and traditional medicine would continue to benefit people, especially in situations where their arts are understood in terms of science as valid. To illustrate the point, I give an example: Children frequently get bleeding scratches on skin while playing. Today, parents apply an antiseptic lotion or antibiotic cream, some rush to see a doctor. Years ago villagers did not have these facilities. A popular home remedy has been to slice a tender coconut-nut (kurumbatti) transversely and grind it over the outside of a pot recently used for cooking and apply the paste over the scratch. Why is this recipe so effective? Surface of pot is sterile and shoot acts as an excipient to form a cream with the pulp of the nut rich in substances termed tannins. Tannins bind to proteins and kills germs and also concurrently stick to exposed surface of the skin stopping bleeding and forming hard bacteriostatic barrier.
Before commissioning clinical trials with traditional remedies for COVID -19 it may be prudent to identify ingredients therein and use chemistry knowledge insightfully to assess the possible potentialities.
Drugs used in ancient and traditional medicines are predominantly plants products. Sometimes minerals containing toxic heavy metals (arsenic, mercury) are also introduced because of the historical association of alchemy and ancient medicines. Around 20-25% of potent drugs prescribed in mainstream scientific medicine are derived from plants or their synthetic modifications. Just as the discovery of Digoxin, in many other instances, ancient and traditional medicines have provided clues for their identification, leading to development of antitumor agents, antimalarials, analgesics, etc.
Plants as immobile organisms defend themselves against invading microbes, insects and herbivores via molecular chemical weapons, which they manufacture. Naturally these molecules could also possess favourable medicinal properties – as evident from effectiveness of plant products in ancient and traditional medicine and highly potent purified plant derivatives in mainstream medicine. Certainly there exists many other medicinally valuable substances yet to be discovered in the diverse variety of plants on Earth.
Scientific literature is rich in reports suggestive of antiviral properties of compounds extracted from plants. Although to date there exists no plant based antiviral drug evaluated sufficiently for clinical use, the progress in current research seems to be promising. Modern antiviral drug research involves advanced techniques and computations to elucidate how the potential molecules interact with viruses and host cells, later followed by a series of preliminary experimentation and clinical trials.
Besides the modern scientific approaches, there are also claims to the effect that COVID-19 could be successfully treated with prescriptions of ancient or traditional medicine. Such claims made with integrity and honesty could not be causally dismissed, as even an empherical hint could lead to a major discovery. However, they needs to be rigorously evaluated before clinical use – remembering no country can afford to run clinical trials to test every quackery. While endorsing efforts of searching herbal medicines Dr. Prosper Tumusiime of the African Region World Health Organization Expert Committee on Traditional Medicine for COVID-19 said “Just like other areas of medicine sound science is the sole basis for safe and effective traditional therapies”.
Attempts to find cures for COVID-19 are commendable. Recently, Anika Chevrolet, an 8th grade school girl in Texas, United States, received an award of dollars 25,000 for doing a computation to design a drug molecule aiming at destabilization of the Coronavirus by binding it to a specific protein on the spikes of the pathogen. The chemical ingredients in herbal medicines may also be assessed for antiviral activity by methods similar to her calculation technique known as “In Silico Computational Drug Design”. We need to encourage and support this, the type of work, demanding real scientific inquisitiveness – no cost except a laptop and a brilliant mind.
Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation
By Jehan Perera
Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.
Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.
Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”
Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.
The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”
It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.
International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.
In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”
As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.
The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.
Album to celebrate 30 years
Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.
However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.
All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.
Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.
Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.
Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.
LET’S DO IT … in the new normal
The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)
Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.
But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.
Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.
Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.
However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.
And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.
Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.
“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”
The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.
“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”
Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.
In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.
Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.
Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!
Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.
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