Month: April 2024

A Model for Gentler Defibrillation for the Heart

Photo by Stephen Andrews:

Using light pulses as a model for electrical defibrillation, Göttingen scientists developed a method to assess and modulate the heart function. This has paved the way for an efficient and direct treatment for cardiac arrhythmias. This may be an alternative for the strong and painful electrical shocks currently used.

Cardiac arrhythmias account for around 15-20% of annual deaths worldwide. In case of acute and life-threatening arrhythmias, defibrillators can be used to restart the regular beating of the heart. A strong electrical pulse brings cardiac activity to a brief standstill before it can be resumed in an orderly way. Whereas this treatment can save lives very effectively, the strong electrical pulses can also have negative side effects such as damage of the heart tissue or strong pain.

“We developed a new and much milder method which allows the heart to get back into the right rhythm,” says Stefan Luther, Max Planck Research Group leader at the MPI-DS and professor the University Göttingen Medical Center. “Our results show that it is possible to control the cardiac system with much lower energy intensity,” he continues.

To test their method, the scientists, from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization (MPI-DS) and the University Göttingen Medical Center, used genetically modified mouse hearts that can be stimulated by light. In this setting, a sequence of optical light pulses is triggered using a closed-loop pacing algorithm. Each pulse is triggered in response to the measured arrhythmic activity.

With this pacing protocol, the team was able to effectively control and terminate cardiac arrhythmias even at low energy intensities that do not activate the heart, but only modulate its excitability.

“Instead of administering a single high-energy shock to restore normal heart rhythm, we use our understanding of the dynamics of cardiac arrhythmias to gently terminate them.” explains Sayedeh Hussaini, first author of the study.

“This results in a subtle treatment method with far less energy per pulse, more than 40 times less compared to the conventional strategy” she reports.

The research team will also use these findings to improve the control of arrhythmias using electrical pulses. This may result in advanced defibrillators causing less pain and side-effects for patients.

Source: Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization

X-chromosome Inactivation may Reduce Females’ Autism Risk

X-chromosome inactivation varies across different areas of brains. Here, fluorescent imaging data from a mouse reveal where the father’s X chromosome is most active (white) and least active (blue). Credit: Eric Szelenyi

A study using mice published in the journal Cell Reports suggests how chromosome inactivation may protect women from autism disorder inherited from their father’s X chromosome.

Because cells do not need two copies of the X chromosome, the cells inactivate one copy early in embryonic development, a well-studied process known as X chromosome inactivation. As a result of this inactivation, every female is made up of a mix of cells, some have an active X chromosome from her father and others from her mother, a phenomenon known as mosaicism. 

For many years, it has been thought that this was random and would result, on average, in a roughly 50/50 mix of cells, with 50% having an active paternal X chromosome and 50% an active maternal X chromosome.

Now a new study finds that, in the mouse brain at least, this is not the case. Instead, there appears to be a bias in the process that results in the paternal X chromosome being inactivated in 60% of the cells rather than the expected 50%.

When the X-linked mutation that is the most common cause of autism spectrum disorder is inherited from the father, the pattern of X-chromosome inactivation in the brain circuitry of females can prevent the effects of that mutation, the study found.

“This bias may be a way to reduce the risk of harmful mutations, which occur more frequently in male chromosomes,” said corresponding author Eric Szelenyi, acting assistant professor of biological structure at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

The X-chromosome is of particular interest because it carries more genes involved in brain development than any other chromosome. Mutations in the chromosome are linked to more than 130 neurodevelopmental disorders, including fragile X syndrome and autism.

In the study, the researchers first determined the ratio of X chromosome inactivation in healthy mice by analyzing roughly 40 million brain cells per mouse. The scientists did this by using high-throughput volumetric imaging and automated counting. This analysis revealed a systematic 60:40 ratio across all possible anatomical regions.

They then examined what would happen if they genetically added a mouse model for fragile X syndrome. This syndrome is the most common form of inherited intellectual and developmental disability in humans.

They first tested the mice for behaviors thought to be analogous to those impaired in people with fragile X syndrome. These tests evaluate such things as their sensorimotor function, spatial memory and tendencies towards anxiety and sociability.

They found that the mice who inherited the mutation on their mother’s X chromosome, which are less likely to be inactivated in the 60:40 ratio, were more likely to exhibit behaviour analogous to fragile X syndrome. They exhibited more signs of anxiety, less sociability, poor performance in spatial learning, and deficits in sensorimotor function. 

But mice that inherited the mutation from one their father’s X chromosomes, which were more likely to be inactivated, did not appear impaired. 

“What was most interesting is that using each animal’s behavioural performance was most accurately predicted by X chromosome inactivation in brain circuits, rather than just looking at the brain as a whole, or single brain regions,” said Szelenyi. “This suggests that having more mutant X-active cells due to maternal inheritance increases overall disease risk, but specific mosaic pattern within brain circuitry ultimately decides which behaviors are impacted the most.”

“This suggests that the 20% difference in mutant X-active cells created by the bias can be protective against X mutations from the father, which occur more commonly,” he said.

The findings may also explain why symptoms of X-linked syndromes, like X-linked autism spectrum disorder, vary more in females than males.

Source: University of Washington

Scientists Discover Immune Key for Chronic Viral Infections

Colourised scanning electron micrograph of HIV (yellow) infecting a human T9 cell (blue). Credit: NIH

Australian researchers have discovered a previously unknown rogue immune cell that can cause poor antibody responses in chronic viral infections. The finding, published in the journal, Immunity, may lead to earlier intervention and possibly prevention of some types of viral infections such as HIV or hepatitis.

One of the remaining mysteries of the human immune system is why ‘memory’ B cells often only have a weak capacity to protect us from persistent infections.

In an answer to this, researchers from the Monash University Biomedicine Discovery Institute have now discovered that chronic viral infection induces a previously unknown immune B memory cell that does not produce high levels of antibodies.

Importantly the research team, led by Professor Kim Good-Jacobson and Dr Lucy Cooper, also determined the most effective time during the immune response for therapeutics such as anti-viral and anti-cancer drugs to better boost immune memory cell development.

“What we discovered was a previously unknown cell that is produced by chronic viral infection. We also determined that early intervention with therapeutics was the most effective to stop this type of memory cell being formed, whereas late intervention could not,” Professor Good-Jacobson said.

According to Dr Cooper, chronic viral infections have been known to alter our ability to form effective long-term protective antibody responses, but how that happens is unknown.

“In the future, this research may result in new therapeutic targets, with the aim to reduce the devastating effect of chronic infectious diseases on global health, specifically those that are not currently preventable by vaccines,” she said.

“Revealing this new immune memory cell type, and what genes it expresses, allows us to determine how we can target it therapeutically and whether that will lead to better antibody responses.”

The research team are also looking to see whether this population is a feature of long COVID, which results in some people having a reduced capacity to fight off the symptoms of COVID infection long after the virus has dissipated.

Source: Monash University

Could Diamond Dust Replace Gadolinium in MRI?

Photo by Mart Production on Pexels

An unexpected discovery surprised a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart: nanometre-sized diamond particles, which were intended for a completely different purpose, shone brightly in a magnetic resonance imaging experiment – outshining the actual contrast agent, the heavy metal gadolinium.

The researchers, publishing their serendipitous discovery in Advanced Materials, believe that diamond nanoparticles, in addition to their use in drug delivery to treat tumour cells, might one day become a novel MRI contrast agent.

While the discovery of diamond dust’s potential as a future MRI contrast agent may never be considered a turning point in science history, its signal-enhancing properties are nevertheless an unexpected finding which may open-up new possibilities: diamond dust glows brightly even after days of being injected.

Perhaps it could replace gadolinium, which has been used in clinics to enhance the brightness of tissues to detect tumours, inflammation, or vascular abnormalities for more than 30 years. But when injected into a patient’s bloodstream, gadolinium travels not only to tumour tissue but also to surrounding healthy tissue. It is retained in the brain and kidneys, persisting months to years after the last administration and its long-term effects are not yet known. Gadolinium also causes a number of other side effects, and the search for an alternative has been going on for years.

Serendipity often advances science

Could diamond dust, a carbon-based material, become a well-tolerable alternative because of an unexpected discovery made in a laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart?

Dr Jelena Lazovic Zinnanti was working on an experiment using nanometre-sized diamond particles for an entirely different purpose. The research scientist, who heads the Central Scientific Facility Medical Systems at MPI-IS, was surprised when she put the 3–5nm particles into tiny drug-delivery capsules made of gelatin. She wanted these capsules to rupture when exposed to heat. She assumed that diamond dust, with its high heat capacity, could help.

“I had intended to use the dust only to heat up the drug carrying capsules,” Jelena recollects.

“I used gadolinium to track the dust particles’ position. I intended to learn if the capsules with diamonds inside would heat up better. While performing preliminary tests, I got frustrated, because gadolinium would leak out of the gelatin – just as it leaks out of the bloodstream into the tissue of a patient. I decided to leave gadolinium out. When I took MRI images a few days later, to my surprise, the capsules were still bright. Wow, this is interesting, I thought! The diamond dust seemed to have better signal enhancing properties than gadolinium. I hadn’t expected that.”

Jelena took these findings further by injecting the diamond dust into live chicken embryos. She discovered that while gadolinium diffuses everywhere, the diamond nanoparticles stayed in the blood vessels, didn’t leak out and later shone brightly in the MRI, just as they had done in the gelatin capsules.

While other scientists had published papers showing how they used diamond particles attached to gadolinium for magnetic resonance imaging, no one had ever shown that diamond dust itself could be a contrast agent. Two years later, Jelena became the lead author of a paper now published in Advanced Materials.

“Why the diamond dust shines bright in our MRI still remains a mystery to us,” says Jelena.

She can only assume the reason is the dust’s magnetic properties: “I think the tiny particles have carbons that are slightly paramagnetic. The particles may have a defect in their crystal lattice, making them slightly magnetic. That’s why they behave like a T1 contrast agent such as gadolinium. Additionally, we don’t know whether diamond dust could potentially be toxic, something that needs to be carefully examined in the future.”

Source: Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems

A Common Practice in Rotator Cuff Surgery may be Counterproductive

Photo by Jafar Ahmed on Unsplash

A common practice of shoulder surgeons may be impairing the success of rotator cuff surgery, a new study from orthopaedic scientists and biomedical engineers at Columbia University suggests.

During the surgery, surgeons often remove the bursa, a cushion-like tissue, while repairing torn tendons in the shoulder joint – but the study, which is published in Science Translational Medicine, suggests that the small tissue in fact plays a role in helping the shoulder heal.

“It is common to remove the bursa during shoulder surgery, even for the simple purpose of visualising the rotator cuff,” says Stavros Thomopoulos, PhD, the study’s senior author and the Robert E. Carroll and Jane Chace Carroll Laboratories Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“But we really don’t know the role of the bursa in rotator cuff disease, so we don’t know the full implications of removing it,” Thomopoulos says. “Our findings in an animal model indicate that surgeons should not remove the bursa without carefully considering the consequences.”

The challenge of rotator cuff surgery

Most damage to tendons in the rotator cuff comes from wear and tear that accumulates over years of repetitive motions. Among people over 65, about half have experienced a rotator cuff tear, which can make simple daily tasks like combing one’s hair difficult and painful.

More than 500 000 rotator cuff surgeries are performed each year in the US to repair these injuries, restore range of motion, and alleviate pain, but failure is common – ranging from one in five surgeries in young patients to as high as 94% in elderly patients with large tears.

Rotator cuff repairs usually fail because of poor healing between tendon and bone where the tendon is reattached to the bone.

Bursa: friend or foe?

The bursa is a thin, fluid-filled sac originally thought to protect the tendons by providing a cushion between the tendons and adjacent bones.

The bursa often becomes inflamed, sometimes concurrently, when underlying tendons are injured, and surgeons often remove the tissue because they suspect it is a source of shoulder inflammation and pain. But recent studies suggest the tissue may be playing other biological roles besides mechanical cushioning, including promoting healing of injuries to the tendons in the shoulder.

To explore the role of the bursa in rotator cuff disease, Thomopoulos and graduate student Brittany Marshall examined rats with repaired rotator cuff injuries, with and without bursa removal.

Bursa removal impairs uninjured tendons

After the rats underwent repair of a rotator cuff injury, the researchers measured the mechanical properties of the repaired tendon and an adjacent undamaged tendon, the quality of the underlying bone, and changes to protein and gene expression.

The researchers found that the presence of the bursa protected the undamaged tendon by maintaining its mechanical properties and protected the bone by maintaining its morphometry. When the bursa was removed, strength of the undamaged tendon deteriorated and the bone quality deteriorated.

“The loss of mechanical integrity in the uninjured tendon in the absence of the bursa was striking,” Thomopoulos says. Uninjured tendons in the shoulder frequently degenerate over time after the initial injury, and “the animal data imply that retaining the bursa may prevent or delay progression of this pathology.”

In the damaged tendon, the researchers found that the bursa promoted an inflammatory response and activated wound healing genes, but no changes were seen in the mechanical properties of the repaired tendon two months after the repair. It’s possible that differences in mechanical properties would be detected after a longer healing period, Thomopoulos says, something that the research team is currently investigating.

“Overall, what we’re seeing is a beneficial role of the bursa for rotator cuff health, in contrast with the historical view that the inflamed bursa is detrimental,” says Thomopoulos.

The researchers documented similar changes to cells and proteins in bursa samples from patients who underwent surgery to repair rotator cuff injuries, suggesting comparable processes may occur in people.

The bursa as a drug delivery depot

If the bursa is not removed, the tissue could be used to deliver drugs to the repaired tendon to improve healing.

Thomopoulos and Marshall explored this possibility by injecting corticosteroid microspheres into the bursa of their rat model after tendon injury. Steroids are often used to treat musculoskeletal injuries and reduce inflammation.

“The treatment results are somewhat preliminary and require additional timepoints and mechanical characterisation before we can draw strong conclusions,” Thomopoulos says, “but our initial data supports the idea that the bursa can be therapeutically targeted to improve rotator cuff healing.”

Source: Columbia University Irving Medical Center

First-line Antibiotic for C. Diff may be Weakening

Clostridioides difficile. Credit: CDC

The antibiotic vancomycin, recommended as first-line treatment for infection caused by the deadly superbug Clostridioides difficile, may not be living up to its promise, according to new US-based research.

C. diff infection is the leading cause of death due to gastroenteritis in the US. It causes gastrointestinal symptoms ranging from diarrhoea and abdominal pain to toxic megacolon, sepsis and death.

Based on 2018 clinical practice guidelines, the use of oral vancomycin has increased by 54% in the past six years, but the clinical cure rates have decreased from nearly 100% in the early 2000’s to around 70% in contemporary clinical trials.

“Despite the increasing prevalence of data showing reduced effectiveness of vancomycin, there is a significant lack of understanding regarding whether antimicrobial resistance to these strains may affect the clinical response to vancomycin therapy,” reports Anne J. Gonzales-Luna, research assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Translational Research, UH College of Pharmacy, in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. “In fact, the prevailing view has been that antibiotic resistance to these strains are unlikely to impact clinical outcomes, given the high concentrations of vancomycin in stools.”

But the University of Houston College of Pharmacy team arrived at a different conclusion after sifting through research included in a multicentre study, which included adults treated with oral vancomycin between 2016-2021 for C. diff infection.

“We found reduced vancomycin susceptibility in C. difficile was associated with lower 30-day sustained clinical response and lower 14-day initial cure rates in the studied patient cohort,” said Gonzales-Luna.

The finding is cause for concern.

“It’s an alarming development in the field of C. diff as there are only two recommended antibiotics,” said Kevin Garey, professor of pharmacy practice and translational research. “If antimicrobial resistance increases in both antibiotics, it will complicate the management of C. diff infection leading us back to a pre-antibiotic era.”

Source: University of Houston

Air Pollution and Depression Linked with Cardiovascular Deaths in Middle Age

Photo by Kouji Tsuru on Pexels

A study in more than 3000 US counties, with 315 million residents, has suggested that air pollution is linked with stress and depression, putting under-65-year-olds at increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The research was presented at ESC Preventive Cardiology 2024, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).1

“Our study indicates that the air we breathe affects our mental well-being, which in turn impacts heart health,” said study lead author Dr Shady Abohashemof Harvard Medical School, Boston, US.

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is estimated to have caused 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2019.2 Mental illness has also been linked with premature death.3 This study examined whether air pollution and poor mental health are interrelated and have a joint impact on death from cardiovascular disease.

The study focused on particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, also referred to as fine particles or PM2.5. They come from vehicle exhaust fumes, power plant combustion, and burning wood, and present the highest health risk. To conduct the study, county-level data on annual PM2.5 levels were obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).4 PM2.5 exposure was categorised as high or low according to World Health Organization (WHO) standards. The researchers gathered data on the average number of days (age-standardised) that county residents experienced mental health issues – including stress, depression, and emotional problems – from the CDC.5 Each county was then categorised into three groups based on these numbers. Counties in the top third reported the most days of poor mental health (PMH).4 Age-adjusted premature cardiovascular mortality rates (under 65 years of age) per county, were obtained from the CDC.6 County characteristics were sourced from the County Health Rankings project.

The study included 3047 US counties, representing 315 720 938 residents (with over 207 million aged 20 to 64 years and 50% females) in 2013. Between 2013 and 2019, some 1 079 656 (0.34%) participants died from cardiovascular disease before the age of 65 years. The researchers analysed the associations between pollution, mental health, and premature cardiovascular mortality after adjusting for factors that could influence the relationships.7

Counties with dirty air (high PM2.5 concentrations) were 10% more likely to report high levels of PMH days compared to counties with clean air (low PM2.5 concentrations). That risk was markedly greater in counties with a high prevalence of minority groups or poverty. The link between PMH and premature cardiovascular mortality was strongest in counties with higher levels (above WHO recommended levels: ≥10 µm2) of air pollution. In these counties, higher levels of PMH were associated with a three-fold increase in premature cardiovascular mortality compared to lower PMH levels. Further, one-third of the pollution-related risk of premature cardiovascular deaths was explained by increased burden of PMH.

Dr Abohashem said: “Our results reveal a dual threat from air pollution: it not only worsens mental health but also significantly amplifies the risk of heart-related deaths associated with poor mental health. Public health strategies are urgently needed to address both air quality and mental wellbeing in order to preserve cardiovascular health.”

The levels of pollution across ESC countries can be viewed in the ESC Atlas of Cardiology.

Source: European Society of Cardiology

References and notes

1The abstract ‘Air pollution associates with poor mental health and amplifies the premature cardiovascular death in the United States: longitudinal nationwide analysis’ will be presented during the session ‘Young Investigators Award – Population Science and Public Health’ which takes place on 26 April 2024.

2World Health Organization: Ambient (outdoor) air pollution.

3Byrne P. Meeting the challenges of rising premature mortality in people with severe mental illness. Future Healthc J. 2023;10(2):98-102.

4CDC PLACES databases.

5CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

6CDC WONDER databases.

7The analyses were adjusted for calendar year and county characteristics such as demographics, median household income, unemployment rates, violent crime rates, education level, food environment index, rates of health insurance, level of mental health provision, level of primary care provision.

Study Reveals ‘Profound’ Link between Dietary Choices and Brain Health

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New research published in Nature has shown that a healthy, balanced diet was linked to superior brain health, cognitive function and mental wellbeing. The study, involving researchers at the University of Warwick, sheds light on how food preferences influence more than just physical health, and also significantly impact brain health.

With the help of machine learning, the researchers analysed a large sample of 181 990 participants from the UK Biobank, comparing their dietary choices against a range of physical evaluations, including cognitive function, blood metabolic biomarkers, brain imaging, and genetics.

The food preferences of each participant were collected via an online questionnaire, which the team categorised into 10 groups (eg, alcohol, fruits and meats).

A balanced diet was associated with better mental health, superior cognitive functions and even higher amounts of grey matter in the brain – linked to intelligence – compared with those with a less varied diet.

The study also highlighted the need for gradual dietary modifications, particularly for individuals accustomed to highly palatable but nutritionally deficient foods. By slowly reducing sugar and fat intake over time, individuals may find themselves naturally gravitating towards healthier food choices.

Genetic factors may also contribute to the association between diet and brain health, the scientists believe, showing how a combination of genetic predispositions and lifestyle choices shape wellbeing.

Lead Author Professor Jianfeng Feng, University of Warwick, emphasised the importance of establishing healthy food preferences early in life. He said: “Developing a healthy balanced diet from an early age is crucial for healthy growth. To foster the development of a healthy balanced diet, both families and schools should offer a diverse range of nutritious meals and cultivate an environment that supports their physical and mental health.”

Source: University of Warwick

Even a Little Light Exercise can Combat Depression, Study Shows

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New research has found a significant association between participating in low to moderate intensity exercise and reduced rates of depression. Researchers carried out an umbrella review of studies carried out across the world to examine the potential of physical activity as a mental health intervention.

The analysis, published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, found that physical activity reduced the risk of depression by 23% and anxiety by 26%. A particularly strong association was found between low and moderate physical activity, which included activities such as gardening, golf and walking, and reduced risk of depression. But this was not strongly observed for high intensity exercise.

Physical activity was also significantly associated with reduced risk of severe mental health conditions, including a reduction in psychosis/schizophrenia by 27%. The results were consistent in both men and women, and across different age groups and across the world.

Lead author Lee Smith, Professor of Public Health at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “Preventing mental health complications effectively has emerged as a major challenge, and an area of paramount importance in the realm of public health. These conditions can be complex and necessitate a multi-pronged approach to treatment, which may encompass pharmacological interventions, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes.

“These effects of physical activity intensity on depression highlight the need for precise exercise guidelines. Moderate exercise can improve mental health through biochemical reactions, whereas high-intensity exercise may worsen stress-related responses in some individuals.

“Acknowledging differences in people’s response to exercise is vital for effective mental health strategies, suggesting any activity recommendations should be tailored for the individual.

“The fact that even low to moderate levels of physical activity can be beneficial for mental health is particularly important, given that these levels of activity may be more achievable for people who can make smaller lifestyle changes without feeling they need to commit to a high-intensity exercise programme.”

Source: Anglia Ruskin University

Navigating the Complexities of Claims and Procedure

By Lisa Swaine, Partner & Bronwyn Singh, Associate at Webber Wentzel

Lisa Swaine (L), Partner & Bronwyn Singh (R), Associate at Webber Wentzel

In a recent case of MM obo GM v the North West Province’s Department of Health MEC, (782/2022) [2024] ZASCA 52, an appellant’s claim for certain damages was struck from the roll by the Supreme Court of Appeal and her claim for personal damages was remitted to the trial court for determination.

The appeal arose from a medical negligence claim by the appellant (MM), a mother of a child (GM), who was born on 16 October 2010 and later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. MM alleged that the respondent’s staff at the two hospitals where she had been admitted for obstetric treatment and care were negligent, resulting in GM’s cerebral palsy. MM claimed compensation for her own emotional shock and trauma and, in her representative capacity on behalf of GM, she claimed for future medical expenses as well as future loss of earnings and general damages for pain and suffering. Her claims made in her representative capacity were dismissed by the trial court which found, that whilst the staff at the hospitals were negligent in certain aspects of MM’s treatment and care prior to GM’s birth, their negligence did not cause GM’s cerebral palsy. The trial court determined that GM’s cerebral palsy was caused by placental abruption – a complication that results in the placenta gradually separating from the uterus, thus reducing the foetus’ oxygen. MM appealed against this finding to a full bench and subsequently to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA). The issue on appeal was limited to causation, in other words, whether or not the negligence of the hospital staff caused GM’s cerebral palsy.

Prior to the hearing of the appeal in November 2023, it was discovered that GM passed away in August 2022. In light of GM’s passing, the SCA had to consider the effect of GM’s passing on the claims made by MM on his behalf.

MM’s personal claim for compensation for emotional shock and trauma

MM alleged that witnessing her first child with cerebral palsy had left her severely shocked and traumatised. She claimed to have suffered general damages for anguish, psychological trauma and loss of amenities of life. However, no evidence of a detectable psychiatric injury at the hearing in the trial court was presented on her behalf.

The SCA reiterated the legal principles set out in Road Accident Fund v Sauls[1] and Komape v Minister of Basic Education[2] that a plaintiff may only claim damages for emotional shock if a detectable psychiatric injury has been sustained and can be proven by way of evidence.

In the absence of evidence of a detectible psychiatric injury, MM failed to discharge this burden of proof. The judgment of the trial court focused solely on the issue of negligence and its causal relationship to GM’s cerebral palsy. The trial court ought to have dismissed MM’s claim for emotional shock or granted absolution from the instance, however, it did neither. MM’s claim in this regard appears not to have been dealt with by the trial court.

As the appeal was restricted to the issue of causation and the trial court failed to deal with MM’s personal claim, the SCA did not have the power to make a finding on her claim and had no option but to remit it to the trial court for determination.

The effect of GM’s death on the claims pursued on his behalf

In light of GM’s passing, the claims for future medical expenses and future loss of earnings fell away.

Non-pecuniary claims for general damages transfer to a deceased’s estate once Iitis contestatio has been reachedThe SCA found that the claim for general damages was transmissible to GM’s estate as litis contestatio had been reached well before GM’s death. However, since the claim was transmitted to GM’s estate, only the executor of his estate could prosecute the claim. Because MM had not reported GM’s death to the Master, an executor was not appointed. MM therefore had no authority to act and lacked the necessary locus standi to pursue the claim for general damages. The claim for general damages had to be stayed pending the appointment of an executor. Due to this, the only viable order for the SCA under these circumstances was to strike the matter from the court roll. Following this, MM was ordered to pay the costs of the appeal.

This case serves as a harsh reminder of some of the intricacies of litigation. It underscores the fundamental principles of locus standi, the legal right to sue, and the burden of proof. One’s mind must be applied before separating or limiting the issues to be heard by the court.

For MM, the delay but perhaps not the denial of justice has probably come with a hefty price tag.

[1]     Road Accident Fund v Sauls [2001] ZASCA 135; 2002 (2) SA 55 (SCA).

[2]     Komape and Others v Minister of Basic Education [2019] ZASCA 192; 2020 (2) SA 347 (SCA).