Archive for March, 2013

A pair of pears putting into perspective the amount of formaldehyde in a vaccine.

Sunday, March 31st, 2013 (last updated)

A pair of pears putting into perspective the amount of formaldehyde in a vaccine.

Refutations to Anti-Vaccine Meme (@RtAVM)

Study offers new way to discover HIV vaccine targets

Saturday, March 30th, 2013 (last updated)

Decades of research and three large-scale clinical trials have so far failed to yield an effective HIV vaccine, in large part because the virus evolves so rapidly that it can evade any vaccine-induced immune response.

Researchers from the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard University have now developed a new approach to vaccine design that may allow them to cut off those evolutionary escape routes. The researchers have developed and experimentally validated a computational method that can analyze viral protein sequences to determine how well different viral strains can reproduce in the body. That knowledge gives researchers an unprecedented guide for identifying viral vulnerabilities that could be exploited to design successful vaccine targets.

The team, led by Arup Chakraborty, the Robert T. Haslam Professor of Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Physics and Biological Engineering at MIT, has designed protein fragments (peptides) that would target these weaknesses. Ragon Institute researchers are now developing ways to deliver the peptides so they can be tested in animals.

“We think that, if it continues to be validated against laboratory and clinical data, this method could be quite useful for rational design of the active component of a vaccine for diverse viruses. Furthermore, if delivered properly, the peptides we have designed may be able to mount potent responses against HIV across a population,” says Chakraborty, who is also the director of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science.

Chakraborty and his colleagues describe their findings in the March issue of the journal Immunity.

discover HIV vaccine targetsClick here


CDC: Norovirus now leading cause of gastroenteritis in children

Friday, March 29th, 2013 (last updated)

The symptoms of gastroenteritis aren’t pretty, but at least doctors know what’s behind the wave of cases in recent years.

According to a new study released by the Centers for Disease Control, norovirus sent nearly 1 million children under age five in the U.S. to the doctor or hospital  in 2009 and 2010. And treating those youngsters cost an estimated $273 million a year.

Norovirus is often called the “stomach flu” or “food poisoning” since its symptoms include severe vomiting and diarrhea. According to the CDC, the virus, which inflames the lining of the stomach and intestines, causes 21 million cases of illness, 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths in the U.S. annually. A little more than half of the cases are passed from person to person, and 20% are caused by contaminated food.

Based on their latest findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers said an estimated 1 in 278 kids will be hospitalized for norovirus infection by the time they turn five, about 1 in 14 will visit an emergency room and 1 in 6 will receive out patient treatment.

The estimates came from data involving more than 141,000 kids under age five who required medical attention for acute gastroenteritis between October 2008 and September 2010. Lab tests confirmed the presence of the norovirus. The virus was identified in 278 of the 1,295 cases of acute gastroenteritis and rotavirus, which is another cause of gastroenteritis, was identified in only 152. Infants infected with norovirus were more likely to be hospitalized and about 50% of the medical care visits from norovirus infections occurred in kids between six to 18 months.

The surge in norovirus cases may be due in part to better control of rotavirus infection, for which children can be vaccinated. “Our study confirmed that medical visits for rotavirus illness have decreased,” said Dr. Daniel Payne, an epidemiologist in the Division of Viral Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a statement. “Also, our study reinforces the success of the U.S. rotavirus vaccination program and also emphasizes the value of specific interventions to protect against norovirus illness.”

There is no treatment for norovirus, other than bed rest and drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Most people recover between 24 hours to 48 hours.

Work on a vaccine to protect against the virus is underway. A vaccine would be critical for preventing the disease from escalating in populations; because it spreads so quickly, norovirus infections are difficult to contain. “You really only have to be exposed to a couple of viral particles to get sick,” says Dr. John Treanor, chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “This makes it very contagious because when you have norovirus, you are dispersing literally millions of particles. When it only takes one or two to make the next person sick, it translates into very high contagiousness.”

If successful the vaccine could significantly reduce the number of illnesses associated with the virus, and same millions in health care costs to treat dehydrated children. Until then, the CDC recommends washing your hands regularly, cleaning any infected or contaminated surfaces and laundry and if you or anyone around you is sick, and to wait two to three days after you recover before preparing food for anyone.

TIME Magazine

Researchers develop prototype chikungunya vaccine

Thursday, March 28th, 2013 (last updated)

Wageningen University in the Netherlands has developed a prototype vaccine against chikungunya in a joint effort with the Erasmus Medical Centre and TI Pharma. This prototype may hopefully lead to the first working vaccine against chikungunya, a geographically strongly expanding viral disease.

This mosquito-borne disease is characterized by symptoms such as acute fever, a conspicuous rash and debilitating, sometimes chronic, joint pain. The chikungunya virus originates from Africa but is now mostly affecting Asia and the Indian subcontinent where infectious tiger mosquitoes transmit the disease to humans, affecting an estimated 5–10 million people since its re-emergence in 2004.

The dramatic global expansion in the geographic distribution of the tiger mosquito has also resulted in small disease outbreaks of chikungunya in Europe. Scientists at Wageningen University and Erasmus Medical Centre have joined forces together with TI Pharma, allowing them to develop a vaccine for the disease.

This experimental vaccine produced at the Wageningen University consists of so-called virus-like particles. These nanoparticles are viral look-a-likes and elicit a potent immune response. However, these particles do not contain genetic material of the virus and are therefore non-infectious themselves. Animal experiments with these particles have shown protection against chikungunya replication and symptoms. The research group published their success in PloS Neglected Tropical Diseases. Stefan Metz, first author and PhD candidate at the Laboratory of Virology, will defend his thesis on the 24th of June at the Wageningen University.

Chikungunya virus-like particles have previously been produced in a human cell line, but large scale production is expected to be complicated. By producing the particles in insect cells using the baculovirus technology developed at the Wageningen University, this problem has now been solved. Baculoviruses are routinely used to produce the cervical cancer vaccine, a recently licensed new influenza virus vaccine and the world’s first approved gene therapy product. The scientists believe the chikungunya virus-like particles will make a safe and effective vaccine amenable to large scale and rapid production.

Researchers develop prototype chikungunya vaccine Click here


Scientists hope their research leads to vaccine reducing effects of obesity

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 (last updated)

Not so far in the future, the medical complications linked to obesity – an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, cancer and end-stage liver disease – could be reduced by a simple vaccine.

People who got the vaccine would still be overweight, but the strain on their organs and organ systems would be greatly diminished, allowing doctors to better treat the obesity itself.

Scientists at the Methodist Diabetes and Metabolism Institute hope to create this vaccine within the next decade, based on their groundbreaking research surrounding fat cells.

“We always want to emphasize that the best treatment for obesity is diet and exercise,” said Tuo Deng, first author on the study and a postdoctoral fellow at the institute.

But a vaccine that reduces or disrupts the production of inflamed fat cells could “revolutionize” the treatment of obesity’s worst consequences, he added.

Along with Christopher J. Lyon, a senior research associate at the institute, and Willa A. Hsueh, the institute’s director, Deng led a team that studied fat cells in obese women and overfed male mice. The surprising results were published as the cover story in the medical journal Cell Metabolism on March 5.

The scientists found that high-calorie diets cause fat cells to send out false distress signals through certain proteins. Usually, these proteins indicate that the fat cells are fighting off bacteria and viruses, although that isn’t the case in this scenario.

Nonetheless, immune cells in the body are tricked into believing there’s cause for alarm and go haywire, becoming inflamed. Inflammation of fat tissue contributes to the development of Type 2 diabetes and other diseases.

The surprising discovery here is that the fat cells instigate the inflammation; for a long time, fat cells were thought to do little more than store and release energy.

The team even commissioned a cartoon image to help explain the process they uncovered, featuring a fat cell and an immune cell in a boxing ring. The fat cell has thrown a punch and the immune cell’s boxing gloves have burst into flames.

Although the scientists have identified the group of proteins that trigger the inflammation as major histocompatibility complex II, or MHCII, they’re still trying to identify the specific substance – or antigen – that activates the inflammation in the immune cells.

Once they find it, they can design the vaccine.

“We don’t have a vaccine yet,” Lyon explained. “The vaccine would suppress the response to the antigen and decrease the overall level of inflammation in the tissue.”

To find the best candidates for the vaccine, doctors would determine the body mass index of their patients – anyone with a BMI greater than 30 is considered obese – do blood tests and take biopsies of their fat tissue, Hsueh explained.

“I would prefer that people get the vaccine early,” she said.

Waiting just puts more strain on an already strained body, she added.

“Even now, teens are having heart attacks from diabetes,” Lyon said.

Hsueh and her department are grateful to Mauro Ferrari, CEO of the Methodist Hospital Research Institute, for funding their ongoing research.

And Hsueh is quick to note that a significant benefit of the vaccine would be financial:

“It’s the complications related to obesity that cost all the money,” she said.


Rwanda launches Measles and Rubella combined vaccine

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013 (last updated)

Message by Hon. Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, Minister of Health of the Republic of Rwanda on the launch of the measles-rubella vaccine in Rwanda.


Vaccination expert Amy Pisani explains why parents need to immunize their children

Monday, March 25th, 2013 (last updated)

By vaccinating children adolescents and adults we can keep deadly and debilitating diseases at bay but only if we work together as a community to ensure timely vaccinations. Vaccination expert Amy Pisani explains why parents need to immunize their children against dangerous vaccine-preventable diseases and the importance of vaccinating their children according to the recommended immunization schedule.

Every Child By Two

EXPOSED: The Race Against Tuberculosis

Sunday, March 24th, 2013 (last updated)

EXPOSED: The Race Against Tuberculosis

EXPOSED is a four-part series of short films that tell the story of the deadly global epidemic of tuberculosis. The series focuses on current efforts to halt this airborne disease, which is growing more difficult to address, as well as the urgent movement to develop new tools to prevent it. By telling the stories of four inspiring individuals interspersed with expert commentary from some of the world’s top TB physicians, scientists, advocates and policymakers, EXPOSED brings viewers to the forefront of the race against tuberculosis. To learn more about the series, download the overview here:


I sleep better at night

Sunday, March 24th, 2013 (last updated)

I sleep better at night


Before vaccines

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013 (last updated)

A horror movie could not be more dramatic: Polio, a mysterious disease seeks out children and terrorises them and their parents each summer. They no longer go to pools or movie theaters for fear they might contract the potentially fatal condition that often cripples its victims, leaving many in a dreaded iron lung.

A beloved, polio-afflicted U.S. President inspires the public to send in their dimes to fund research – some of which would go to an ambitious, 33 year old scientist who, working from a basement lab, would go on to change the course of medical history…

The Shot Felt ‘Round The World talks to world-renowned experts and those affected by the disease to tell the story of Dr. Jonas Salk who, together with a community and a nation, conquered Polio, the most-feared disease of the 20th century.

Originally produced by Steeltown Entertainment located in Salk’s home of Pittsburgh, this production has now been reworked by the renowned U.S. Smithsonian Networks. A recognition of the fact that science and world-changing heroism, are often the same thing.

Mercury Media