Monday, January 26, 2015

HPV Vaccines Not Delivered at Proper Time

We've talked extensively in class about the efficacy of the HPV vaccine in protecting against viral infection as well as future cancer morbidity and mortality. While Dr. Bob heralds the HPV vaccine as one of the most effective created thus far, a recent study suggests that this efficacy is being undermined by improper following of vaccination schedules. According to a University of Texas at Galveston study, only about half of girls in the US receive the vaccination at the recommended age. This trend is observed across all racial and ethnic groups surveyed. This presents a public health issue -- that people are not being vaccinated adequately despite the availability of a strong vaccine. Additionally, there is no present research about the efficacy of the vaccine at a later age. This delay in vaccination may be due to cultural beliefs, a lack of awareness about vaccines, or other educational barriers. There needs to be more research work done about what these factors are that are impeding the proper delivery of vaccines and consequently to address those issues via public health or policy measures. Interestingly, the article, in line with the CDC's lack of recommendation, does not comment on recommending the HPV vaccine for men, who are also at risk of infection. Perhaps the solution to the stigma or perceptions about the vaccine could be resolved with a gender neutral vaccine recommendation (pending medical safety) that would make the vaccine more culturally accepted.

If you're interested in reading the primary text of the article, here it is (along with the science daily article)!

-- Nicole

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Chimera Cows to Send Ebola out to Pasture??

            Ebola continues to be a tender subject. 8,500 Africans have already died in this outbreak, and the virus doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Additionally, there seems to be a shortage of antibodies used for ZMapp and other experimental anti-Ebola drugs. Currently, these drugs rely on the blood of survivors, which has limited production. It would be a real mis-steak not to try and ramp up production.

One solution has been to genetically engineer cows that produce human antibodies.

These cows actually have pieces of human DNA that allow them to produce human anti-Ebola antibodies. Each cow can produce 30-60 liters of blood plasma every month—about 500-1000 human doses. The company testing this approach, Canadian pharmaceutical manufacturer Tekmira, has been working on experimental drugs for Ebola and Hantavirus. While this approach is promising, the cow-derived drugs haven’t been shown to work for Ebola Makona (which has mutations in many of the sites targeted by ZMapp), although it looks better against Ebola Zaire (which ZMapp seems to be helping against).

During his recent State of the Union Address, President Obama cited the outbreak and the progress on a vaccine as reasons for the US Government to keep funding scientific research. Will the drugs produced from these cows send Ebola over the hill once and for all? Or will we have to mooove on to another solution? 

--Joe Getsy

Monday, January 19, 2015

Viral Epidemic Amongst Northeastern Turkeys: Widespread, Not Very Deadly

According to ABC News, there is a virus that is responsible for causing tumors in the spleens, kidneys, and livers of turkeys all over the Northeastern United States. The virus is apparently present in up to 50 percent of turkey populations in regions of New York, and was previously thought to be the causative agent behind the 15 percent drop in turkey populations in the past few years. However, new research indicates that tumor formation due to the virus is actually a rare event, and mortality associated with the infection is low.

In ABC's article, the news source states that the etiological agent responsible for the disease is Lymphoproliferative Disease Virus (LPDV). Being a curious virologist, I went to viralzone to investigate what type of virus LPDV was. This is what I found:

Weird right? Knowing that ICTV, not viralzone, was the actual virology bible, I consulted the taxonomical omniscient resource. Surely I would find out what family this virus belonged to. Survey says:

Hmmmm. No dice from the ICTV either. My next supposition was that this virus is newly discovered and simply hasn't been included in the ICTV database. But, according to ABC News, this virus was discovered by scientists at the University of Georgia in 2009. 

Educated guess: ABC gave the name of the syndrome associated with the virus, not the virus itself. Apparently there is a research paper coming out about the not-so-deadly virus promptly, so hopefully the ecologists and turkey biologists reference the actual virus that is doing meager amounts of damage. 

- Marcus Munoz 

Alisertib Used to Treat HPV Induced Cancers in Mice

Alisertib is now being used to treat HPV induced cancers in mice with incredible efficacy. Researchers from Griffith University, located in Gold Coast, Australia, have successfully cured cancers of the cervix, head, neck, and skin in mice caused by Human Papilloma Virus.

The drug is a a small-molecule inhibitor of the Aurora A Kinase (AAK), an enzyme that is over expressed in several types of tumors and has been associated with oncogenesis. According Crane et al., the Aurora family of kinases is integral in ensuring successful cell division, and is involved in Mitotic progression and checkpoint control pathways in the cell.

Although there are already effective vaccines against cervical cancers caused by HPV, Nigel McMillan and Brian Gabrielli think this drug may be the next step towards reducing the overall mortality rates. Due to the specificity of the drug and the use of Alisertib to treat other cancers in humans already, McMillan and Gabrielli believe they have found a more appropriate and new use for compound developed by The Takeda Oncology Company.

The treatments available to those diagnosed with cervical cancer are radiation, chemotherapy, or a full hysterectomy. This drug may provide women with a more effective and desirable treatment.

- Marcus Munoz

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Modeling Public Health Epidemic Interventions

Hi everyone!

I'm back again -- three posts back to back about public health related to viruses! A vital part of public health is to be able to predict the course of the progression of disease. Based on research from MIT, there is a new model to predict the progression of disease and social networks contributing to responses to outbreaks. They have devised a method to analyze social media messages, hospital records, and other information sources about the incidence and progression of disease. Their study is based upon studying 3 different outbreaks -- the 2009 H1N1 outbreaks in Mexico and Hong Kong along with the 2003 SARS outbreak in Hong Kong. They determined that the public health responses were often disproportionate to the actual risk posed in these outbreaks. Additionally, they identified various events that can interfere with the public health measures that are implemented and can worsen the disease spread. An interesting point is that the disease spread may be increased because of publicity, leading to public health facilities being over-populated.  This research and the resulting computational technology may be able to help best allocate resources to facilitate public health resources to large-scale epidemics in the future.

-- Nicole

Mali: Ebola Free!

Hey all!

Since we've been monitoring Ebola cases for the past few months, we've been looking for inflection points in the number of cases of Ebola. Many West African countries have been affected, particularly Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. While the numbers we have studied from the New York times have yet to demonstrate an inflection point for many of these countries, 

According to the WHO, an epidemic is declared to be over after 42 days without any cases. Mali has, as of today, been declared officially Ebola free. This is in contrast to the height of the epidemic in Mali, when there were 300 contact cases. However, there are still over 50 Ebola hotspots in the other countries in West Africa, so there is still much that needs to be done to contain the epidemic.

-- Nicole


Anti-Vaccination: Social Considerations

Hi everyone!

I thought I'd write a blog post about a question that I raised in class in response to Luis's blog post about the anti-vaccine movement amongst affluent people. When we were discussing Luis's blog post in class, I was perplexed by the idea that more affluent individuals, despite access to resources and educational materials, choose not to vaccinate their children. However, according to a 2004 study, unvaccinated children tended to come from families with college educated parents and a relatively higher income.

Public health surveillance has shown that vaccination rates have been reduced in several affluent communities, such as in Santa Monica and Malibu. In Orange County, California, some doctors have noted that almost 10% of kindergarteners have not received their vaccinations. A speculated reason as to why vaccination rates have dropped in this demographic include the idea that not vaccinating their children is a "status symbol" to distinguish their children from other children. Additionally, as we discussed in class, it may be that because the rates of vaccine-preventable diseases have dropped in these communities, people remember the dire effects of these potentially fatal illnesses on a smaller scale. While these parents may consider themselves "well-educated" and helping their children, they are in turn undermining community health on a far greater level. In fact, studies have demonstrated that lower income families may be 70% more likely to vaccinate their children than higher income families, suggesting a skew in the information that these patients are receiving. There needs to be education to dispel these myths among individuals who may not understand the important of receiving the vaccination, especially targeting these groups that are most susceptible to misinformation. 

This Paul Offit article also provides great insight into the anti-vaccination movement and the social factors contributing to it:

- Nicole