- Title: GERMANY-KNUT Mystery surrounding polar bear Knut's death solved
- Date: 27th August 2015
- Summary: SCREEN OF GREENWOOD'S COMPUTER SHOWING VIDEO OF KNUT'S FATHER HAVING FIT
- Embargoed: 11th September 2015 13:00
- Location: Germany
- Country: Germany
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVACUQDUMXSLF3CHM024HEUHS0QK
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: EDIT CONTAINS MATERIAL WHICH WAS ORIGINALLY 4:3
Knut, the celebrity polar bear who drowned at Berlin Zoo in 2011, had a type of autoimmune inflation of the brain that is found in humans, scientists said on Thursday (August 27).
Knut, who was just four when he died, won global fame after being rejected by his mother Tosca at birth and hand-reared instead by his keeper Thomas Doerflein.
Fans flocked from around the world to watch the cute cub frolic in his cage and play with his keeper, earning the zoo millions and inspiring a dizzying range of merchandise. He died suddenly in March 2011 after falling into his enclosure pool.
While a postmortem revealed Knut had encephalitis, or swollen brain, scientists remained puzzled by the exact cause of the illness.
Animal and disease experts finally cracked the mystery behind Knut's demise after deciding to test samples of Knut's brain for a condition known as anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, which affects around 200,000 people a year.
They found high concentrations of NMDA antibodies in Knut's cerebrospinal fluid, solving the riddle.
"Knut died in 2010 (sic) due to encephalitis which is an inflammation of the brain and the inflammation caused him to lose his motor control and he then lost his balance and fell into the water in the enclosure and drowned. And we thought, as did everybody, that it must be an infection. He must have got infected with something and that's what caused him to have the encephalitis," the head of the department for wildlife diseases at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Alex Greenwood, said.
"It's a kind of disease. It's an auto immune disease, so it means the body is attacking itself. The defence of the body against pathogens attacks the brain and it is called Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis and we had all the samples we needed to test it so together with [Group Leader at the German Center For Neurodegenerative Diseases at the Charite Hospital in Berlin] Harald [Pruess] we started a project and within six or eight weeks we had determined that's exactly what Knut had and so that solved that case, explained the results from our pathogen screening and told us, this is why Knut had encephalitis, this is what caused him to lose his balance and drown in the water of the enclosure," Greenwood added.
The results of their findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports on Thursday. It is the first ever diagnosis of the condition in an animal.
"It is a relatively rare illness which we have seen in humans since 2007. And the case is so spectacular because in 2010 we brought out a study where we were able to show that in human patients who had an unclear encephalitis -- so this exact complicated clinical picture of a brain infection, where the diagnoses was not clear, especially where no virus or bacteria were found -- that more than 80 percent of these patients actually had NMDA-Receptor Encephalitis," Pruess said.
Knut was the star attraction at Berlin Zoo during his short life and the German post office even produced a stamp in his honour. By the time Knut had reached adolescence, he had generated 5 million euros ($7 million) for Berlin zoo.
Other German zoos have tried in vain to create celebrity animals. None have ever come close to matching Knut's fame.
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