“Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this?”

It’s a question I get asked regularly, the premise being that nobody is doing anything about the problems associated with the diagnosis and treatment of Pernicious Anaemia, which, as we know, causes serious vitamin B12 deficiency.  Every day newspaper headlines and television news carries stories about diabetes, obesity, depression and, the seemingly current ‘flavour of the month’ Dementia and how scientists are working on ways to prevent or cure these and other diseases.  It is easy to come to the conclusion that nothing is being done to address the problems in diagnosing and treating Pernicious Anaemia in particular and vitamin B12 deficiency in general.  It is commonly believed that since the introduction of artificial B12 injections in the early 1960s nothing is being done to understand just how important this vitamin really is.  Vitamin B12 has been put to bed and nobody seems to want to wake it.

Thankfully that isn’t the case. There is a band of people from various scientific disciplines who are all too aware that there is still an awful lot to learn about B12 and folate.  And it’s an international community who spend a great deal of their time and work trying to unravel the intricacies of Vitamin B12.  The work involves researching, publishing and presenting papers at conferences that are regularly held to discuss all aspects of B12.  One such conference ended yesterday (Friday) after a week of discussions and investigations into Tetrapyrroles (vitamin B12 is, apparently a Tetrapyrrole but I’m afraid you will have to look that one up yourself).  The conference was titled ‘Tetrapyrroles, Chemistry & Biology of Hemes, Chlorophylls, Bilins, Corrins (Vitamin B12) and Related Cofactors of Life’ and was held in Rhode Island in the USA.  A quick scan of the programme of papers being presented gives a remarkable insight into the nature of what was being discussed.

http://www.grc.org/programs.aspx?year=2014&program=tetra

The week started with the introductory paper on “Catalytic Repurposing of Heme Protein Scaffolds by Exaptation of Conformational States” and from that humble beginning a whole week’s worth of papers were presented including:

“Genetically Reprogramming E. coli as a Cobalamin (Vitamin B12) Producer”

“Heme Sensing, Synthesis, and Degradation in Bacterial Pathogens”

“Chlorophyll Digestion and Function in the Insect Gut” and the worryingly sinister “The Dark Side of Heme Utilization in P. aeruginosa

Some of the papers would appear to have crossed over from a conference on criminology – “The Enzymology of B12 Trafficking” , while others are refreshingly brief and to the point – “Vitamin B12 and Dementia” .

This conference was a gathering of some of the brightest minds in science, all concerned with the little vitamin that plays such an important part in the lives of patients who have Pernicious Anaemia.

And there’s another dedicated conference being held in the charmingly named Steamboat Springs in Colorado, USA between the 3rrd and the 8th of August this year –  Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 and One-Carbon Metabolism.  I don’t know what One-Carbon Metabolism is but feel free to enlighten me by leaving a comment, but I do know that there are some interesting things that are going to be discussed and many will be particularly relevant for patients with Pernicious Anaemia.  Here’s a sample:

“Folic Acid Fortification: Progress and Challenges”; “Effect of Methyl donor Deficiency and Fetal Programming on the Liver of Wistar Rats”; “Developmental Exposure to Maternal Folate/Vitamin B12 Imbalance Programs Adiposity and Glucose Homeostasis in Adult Mice”; and here’s something I touched on in my first book – “Efficacy of MethylB12 and Folinic Acid Treatment in Autism”;  “Factors Affecting Bioavailability of Vitamin B12” – the list goes on.

You see, there is an awful lot of activity centred around the scientific understanding of B12 and on the consequences of not only any deficiency but also on how it reacts with other chemicals or in certain situations.  It is a fallacy that B12 and Folate are ignored by scientists – it just doesn’t make the headlines.

I was toying with going to the Colorado conference but I’m in the middle of writing the second edition of my first book which will be, incidentally, about three times the length of the first edition – I’ve learned so much and become aware of since the original was published.  So I shall instead be doing my bit to raise awareness of the importance of the vitamin.  If anyone is thinking of going along you could help me enormously by simply standing in the foyer of the conference venue and hold up a banner that asks the simple question “What Is An Analogue” – if anyone can give you a simple explanation please let me have it…….thanks.