Saturday, March 24, 2012

another flu post

This pathogenic flu thing is still all over the news, even after all of winter quarter has come and gone. This article expresses the author's desire for either the NIH or the WHO to come out with a clear statement concerning the safety surrounding publishing potentially dangerous scientific articles, as well as rules concerning what is acceptable to publish and what is not. All of the articles I've read on this topic express the sentiment that everyone knows this is a potentially extremely dangerous and important question, the right to publish research that might be dangerous, and everyone seems to want someone to be in charge of the situation and make a statement, but that role has not been filled satisfactorily (says the author of this article). The WHO did decide that the flu articles in question should be published in full, but that hardly addresses the full scope of the issue.


The danger of amateur biologists

This interesting article from the New York Times ponders the threats that amateur biologists might pose to public health. With the falling costs of biotech and lab equipment, and the possibilities of outsourcing DNA synthesis and other processes to companies who don't pass judgment on the safety of various sequences, someone in a garage lab could theoretically produce a more pathogenic flu strain, says this article. There exist such things as "community biotech labs," which seems like a bad idea unless there is a very stringent safety and security protocol in place. Trained virologists/biologists who read the papers about the most recent flu pathognization uproar could make pathogenic flu viruses several different ways on their own.

The main point of this article is that 1) it's worryingly easy to make dangerous biological agents, whether on purpose or accidentally, to those who have access to the right technology and 2) we really need a flu vaccine that works for all flu strains.

--Sarah Kaewert

Breakthroughs in Ebola and Marburg treatment

It looks as though there are several new promising treatments for Ebola and Marburg viruses. Apparently the leukemia medications
Gleevec and Tasigna prevented the virus from replicating in a colony of kidney cells in the lab. Also, antibodies to the viruses taken from monkeys can keep other monkeys from getting seriously sick if administered within two days of exposure. Finally, multiple doses of siRNA have prevented monkeys from dying of the viruses as well.

All of these treatments are promising in terms of immediate applications and future research, though the article mentions that the (thankfully) rare nature of these diseases means that testing them in real situations will be difficult.

--Sarah Kaewert

Dengue Lipid Manipulation May Be a Target for Inhibition

Research published in PLoS has indicated that the synthesis of new virions in a cell infected by dengue virus depends on specific manipulations of cellular lipids in order to create proper structures for viral assembly and prevent an immune system response to the infection. This is of unique interest because, as we've seen in class, any process uniquely performed by a virus that is critical for replication is a potential target for treatment since it differentiates infected cell processes from normal cell processes so that a chemical agent will inhibit the virus while ignoring regular cells.

Researchers primarily at Purdue University used hihg-resolution mass spectroscopy to probe the 'lipidome', the full array of all unique lipid components, of healthy cells in comparison to those infected by dengue. They found that the infected cells contained ratios of lipid classes that were distinctly different from those of normal cells. Further research indicated that several signaling pathways were manipulated in order to effect this change. Not only does this research improve our basic molecular biology understanding of dengue, but it also has implications for potential treatment. Because much of the lipid synthesis used in dengue's manipulation is a result of the enzyme fatty acid synthase, inhibitors of this enzyme have already been shown to reduce viral replication. It may be too early to say for sure, but this could represent a new way of developing anti-viral medication specifically for dengue.

-Zachary Herrera

The Paper:
The Article:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Marijuana and HIV treatment

A study by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine showed that a Marijuana-like chemical trigger a cellular receptor to inhibit HIV in late stage AIDS. The receptor is called cannabinoid receptor CB1 an CB2. This is possibly the first study that shows the biological mechanism of how medical marijuana works. This discovery is very exciting because it proposes new targets for HIV drugs. CB1 is associated with the "high" of taking marijuana, so research focus should be on CB2. Study found that treating HIV-infected cells with CB2 agonists reduced infection.

I think this article is super cool because in addition to targeting different steps of the HIV life cycle, there is the possibility of new drug target. I'm excited to see how this turns out!


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Less HPV Screening Recommended

Based on data from the past 30 years, the United States Preventitive Agency has released new guidelines recommending pap smears to occur no more than every three years. The data indicate that no significantly greater amount of cervical cancer cases were discovered by pap smears, as explained by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. One reason for the recommendations was the reducing the number of false-positives, and therefore preventing unnecessary painful biopsies and pregnancy difficulties.

Many have accused the task force of altering their recommendations based on the cost of the tests, but they insist that this is not the case.

The relevant part of this is also the recommendation to avoid testing women under the age of 30 for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). They say that even though women under 30 can get HPV, they can almost all clear the virus from the body themselves and need no treatment. It will not affect the rates of diagnosis, since so many positives are currently false positives.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Tracing Rabies in Europe

This article provides an exemplary account for en epidimiological tracing. While this is particularly about a rabies case in the Netherlands, this process and study can and should be applied to any sort of epidimiological investigation.

At the end of January, a rabid dog was imported from Morocco to the Netherlands. The puppy was acquired by a Dutch couple, who give an account for the progressive behavior change in the puppy. On February 14th, they contacted their local veterinary agency, explaining that they had both been bitten by the dog. A few days later, the puppy's behavior became uncontrollable, and it was euthanized by officials. Post-exposure prophylaxis was arranged for both of them, and all 43 contacts were informed and categorized into degree of exposure.

Why did this puppy manage to get imported, adopted, given a pet passport, etc. without any single person checking its rabies status? Illegal animal imports and bad veterinary practices continue to be the major cause for rabies showing up in Europe, where it is a common practice to adopt animals.