Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Researchers develop technique to track yellow fever virus replication

Researchers at Princeton University have recently developed a technique named RNA prime flow that have allowed scientists to look at RNA molecules within individual cells. Thus, they have used this technique in order to look at replicating viral particles in cells of mice. This in turn has allowed the scientists to arrive at a very complete and precise method to track yellow fever virus replication in immune system cells!
This discovery is very exciting, as while there is already a Yellow Fever Virus Vaccine, Yellow Fever is a flavivirus that is very similar to other flaviviruses, Dengue and Zika virus that do NOT have a vaccine currently developed. Thus, a complete and thorough understanding of yellow fever virus replication could contribute towards the development of new vaccines that could help to save lives across the globe. 
-- Ashley Jowell

Product Red - Apple iPhone 7

While perusing the news, I was VERY excited to see that Apple has introduced the iPhone 7 into the Product Red Special Addition. The (RED) partnership has help to raise over $130 million dollars for HIV / AIDS programs giving counseling, testing, and medicine to prevent HIV vertical transmission from a mother to her baby. 
The addition of the iPhone 7 is very exciting, as it demonstrates Apples continuous efforts to help stop HIV transmission. I believe it is the corporate responsibility of companies to lead social impact projects, such as Apple’s RED Program. If all “for profit” companies were to in fact donate towards antiviral transmission efforts, mitigation programs, vaccination programs, and viral research, this would lead to an additional billions and billions of dollars being invested in public heath each year which could have huge impacts! I was so thrilled about Apple “loudly and proudly” being at the forefront of this effort, and hope that other companies will follow in its footsteps. 

-- Ashley Jowel

Hepatits C Cures while New Drugs Wait in the Wings

Drugs DO currently exist that can cure Hepatitis C Virus (HCV); nine fact, the drugs were developed four years ago! They have high viriologic response rates, low side effects, and can prevent cancer. However, this article describes how there are a number of barriers that are preventing the drug from actually being implemented. 
These barriers include, first of all, the INCREDIBLY high cost of these drugs; they can cost thousands of dollars, which in turn results in doctors being reluctant to actually prescribe the drugs! Doctors instead will send people who have the virus to liver specialists or delay treatment until symptoms occur even when they know that an individual is infected with Hepatitis C virus, which in turn can lead t the virus having detrimental effects upon people, worsening health, and ultimately lead to death.
This article exemplifies to me the important link between science, policy, and action: while the science to help prevent or cure a given condition might be there, a number of other additional barriers do continue to exist that limit treatment. 
I think it is simply not ok that drug companies make these drugs so expesnive; it is our moral obligaiton, in my opinion as global citizens, to not limit access to drugs that can CURE a disease and allow more people to live simply to get wealthy and make a profit. I fear, however, in the current administration that these drugs wil be less and less subsidized within the US and globally, and that people will in turn suffer. 

- Ashley Jowell

Donald Trump and HIV: What Do Black and Trans Women Got to Do with It?

This article described a disturbing effect of Trump’s desire to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act). The ACA provides care to 20 million uninsured adults, and also helps to fund AIS organizations. urthermore, Medicaid currently helps to provide medical treatment and cover for over 40% of people with HIV, funds HIV testing / prevention, and helps women living with HIV receive housign, nutrition support, and prevention services. 
Curenlty, there is a dirproportiantliy high prevalence of HIV amongst Blac women and transgender women of color. Thus, Trump’s desire to slash tthese services that offer services and care for patients with HIV and AIDS would be a social and racial justice issue, as it would disproportionately impact  African American women and transgender women of color. This potential threat is emblematic of President Trump’s complete lack of awareness of the health of Black and trans women, and how this manifests itself through viral transmission particularly those in lo income community. 

The author of this article advises readers to amplify the chalenges that Black women and transgender women face, particularly through increased research, medical tools, and advocacy. I wonder how we at Stanford can make this a priority in our institution - to make sure that the voices of marginalized communities are heard, and what we as a privileged University can do to help. 

Ashley Jowell

A Child From 17th-Century Europe Might Have Rewritten the History of Smallpox

The article described a finding regarding the age of the smallpox disease. An evolutionary geneticist worked with scientists in Lithuania to analyze the genes of crops from the mid 1600s; one crops that this geneticist analyzed was the viral virus, also now n as smallpox. While Duggan was not originally looking for smallpox, this was an exciting discovery, w and is the oldes definitive trace of smallpox that has been found.
After finding this sample, the scientsits worked to compare this sample with other viral stains that had been collected in the 190s ad found that, based on the number of mutations, viral actually arose in the late 1500s or 600s, which is MUCh later than researchers had thought beforehand.
What is so striking about this discovery is that scientists are now questioning - what was the source of earlier plagues that scientists had thought was due to smallpox? Perhaps it was chickenpox or emasles? Furthermore, what was the supposed “smallpox” that wiped out many Native Americans… if it were not variola (as this most recent discovery indicates that viral was only originating the late 1500s), then it must be another virus! I wonder what other virus could have had such deadly effects so similar to smallpox, and it makes me concerned tha ta similar epidemic could break out in the future if it is not a virus that humans ad treatment for or vaccination against). 
This article i fascinating, as it reminds me to always questions what I know regarding viruses, even if this might lead to a paradigm shift in the way that viruses are considrered. I wonder how many other viruses we might have wrongly identified in history!  

- Ashley Jowell


Trump’s Dangerous Support for Vaccine Skeptics

This article reports  terrifying new piece of news  - that President Trump has been meeting with vaccine skeptics, including Robert F Kennedy Jr, to discuss the possibility of developing a panel that will look into claims that vaccines result in neurological disorders (such as autism).
What’s striking about this is that this claim, that vaccines cause neurological disorders, originated with a 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield that has been proved to be fraudulent. It is simply horrifying that Trump is  essentially endorsing these unscientific findings. The President’s support of this pseudo-science could result in many people choosing not to vaccinate their children and would have significant public health impacts, particularly among immunocompromised people.  For instance, in CA, the highest numbers of whopping cough disease occurrences (whopping cough  had an outbreak in 2014) were in counties where vaccination rates were BELOW herd immunity. 
The article continued to describe successful PRO vaccination effort s- such as the CA state for passing legislation that eliminated personal belief from being a valid exemption that alowed unvaccinated kids to attend school, as this increases the prevalence of disease transmission. IHopefully, President Trump can get on board with this scientific fact rather than “fake news,” as aligning the US with scientific facts regarding vaccination would have significant and important public health effects. 

-Ashley Jowell
Source: http://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Trump-s-dangerous-support-for-vaccine-skeptic-11021228.php

Powdered Vaccine Raises Hopes of Stopping a Top Killer of Kids

This might be my favorite blog post that I have ever written! This exciting article described a new rotavirus vaccine; rotavirus vaccines are incredibly important, as rotavirus results in gastroenteritis that infects hundreds of thousands of children across the globe, and can kill ~100,000 each year.
This new vaccine being developed leads to 70% effectivity in preventing retrovirus. While retrovirus techniques have developed in the past, this vaccine is particularly exciting, as it is the first vaccine available in a powdered form, as it was freeze dried. This is very important, as one of the limiting factors towards vaccination efforts is that the rotavirus vaccine has typically needed to be kept cold. Having the virus available in powdered form would allow it to be more easily distributed to children in sub Saharan Africa, where there is the greatest need. The vaccine is also an oral vaccine, so is easily administered. All a health worker has to do is dissolve the powder in salt solution and put on top of the baby’s tongue. The vaccine is equally safe and effective as those now, and will ultimately be cheaper as it does not require a cold chain reaction!

- AShley Jowell

Norovirus outbreak continues at Santa Monica School

This article describes a current norovirus outbreak at a number of Santa Monica schools. The norovirus outbreak began after students went on a class trip to Yosemite - this really surprised me, as I would not have expected yosemite to be a location that had particularly high noroviral transmission. 
While the trip to yosemite occurred in late January when ~200 seventh graders went to Yosemite, students are continuing to contact the virus - in fact, there were 22 kids that contacted it last week at Santa Monica high school! Schools have been closed a number of days to try and stop the outbreak, but it stil has not wored.
This situation demonstrates to me simply HOW contagious neurovirus is, and how hard it is to control, even if public heath officials are working very hard to prevent transmission. Furthermore, it’s hard to control as kids that appear healthy after feeling sick might still be contagious.
Luckily the situation is improving, as the number of infected children are dwindling, but nonetheless, the situation is still difficult for children, teachers, and familmies. 

- Ashley Jowell

Silence is golden: Suppressing host response to Ebola virus may help to control

This article cited an impressive study looking at a method to target ebola infection. Ebola i an incredibly dangerous and virulent virus originating in viruses, that has highly contagious human to human transmission. At this point, there re now available ebola vaccine. 
One the reasons that ebola virus is so virulent is that it targets macrophages which in turn damages the immune system. This study found that using drugs that inhibit the action of toll like receptor 4 (that the ebola virus generally activates) in turn leads to keeping the macrophages that are exposed to Ebola virus silent.
This novel and exciting study is an exciting step on developing treatment for Ebola virus, as the virus can be made silent through the use of these drugs. Further research is clearly needed, but this was an exciting study nevertheless that could lead scientists towards creating an ebola vaccine. The research was based off of work with the Reston Virus, an ebola virus cousin that does not activate the immune system upon microphone infection, thus demonstrating how an understanding of one virus can build off of knowledge of other viruses. 

- Ashley Jowell

A Review of Differential and enhanced response to climate forcing in diarrheal disease due to rotavirus across a megacity of the developing world

This recent study, published in 2016, looked at rotavirus in the megacity of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Rotavirus is the main diarrheal disease in infants in young children throughout this megacity. Dhaka is a city that struggles with overcrowding and sanitation, and the risk of rotavirus is higher in the urban core than in the less populated periphery of the season.

Scientists previously knew that there are increased cases and transmission of rotavirus in the summer monsoon season due to flooding. This recent study found that within the core, there was a second peak in rotavirus transmission during the less intense winter monsoons, yet this second peak did not exist during the winter in the less populated, peripheral part of the city. 

This study thus amplifies the importance of understanding spatial heterogeneity when looking at disease transmission. Rotavirus is not normally considered to be a climate sensitive disease; however, we are seeing that it is, especially in the population core of Dhaka. With a changing climate, it is important to consider the role of different population densities, and how this might interact with disease transmission in cities.   I was so excited to read this study, as it integrated my interests of virology, health, and climate change. 
-- Ashley Jowell

Friday, March 24, 2017

New antibodies to Target the Respiratory Syncytial Virus

There are two companies Arsanis and Adimab which focus on developing monoclonal antibodies, and their most recent target has been RSV. They have just gained a worldwide license to antibodies targeting RSV which were discovered at Adimab. They discovered the antibodies using optimized yeats-based platforms. In the current plan Adimab’s panel of antibodies will be released to Arsanis which will evaluate them and select the best therapeutic. This is an important step as currently there are no therapeutics for RSV which is a very common virus in fection and is highly contagious. It is particularly dangerous to elderly and immunocompromised people. This is not the only company that has its eyes set on RSV. NovaVax has a RSV vaccine candidate in phase 3 trials and Ablynx is in phase 2a trials of a RSV inhalable nanobody for infants. We shall see which treatment method becomes standard practice in the near future.

Vander Harris

Blood test can predict life or death outcomes for patients with Ebola virus

Researchers in the University of Liverpool used studied blood samples taken from recovering patients during the 2013 West Africa Outbreak. They wanted to study gene products to align them as predictors for patient outcomes. The results were promising and could be utilized in future Ebola investigations. The blood samples were pooled into two categories those that died from acute infection and those that recovered and were free from Ebola. The analysis showed that the host immune response did not act as a predictor for the outcomes of the patients. The greatest predictor was still in accordance with past knowledge that the viral load of the virus was the greatest predictor of the whether the patients developed severe cases or recovered.

Vander Harris

Breathalyzer to see if your sniffling chap has man flu: Device uses sensors to detect the virus

A professor at University of Texas Arlington has built a device that when breathed into they are able to detect biomarkers associated with virus infection. The handheld monitor uses semiconductor sensors like those in a carbon monoxide detector. The current standard of practice for flu diagnosis is a nasal swab and using a PCR, which can take up to 30 minutes to complete. This can be cumbersome and uncomfortable. The device combines a nitric oxide and ammonia sensor, which Gouma found to be useful markers in confirming a flu infection. The device only takes seconds to complete and has the potential to catch illnesses early and be used in home settings. The device is more a proof of concept in its current rendition and clinical trials must be performed next in order to confirm the accuracy of the test.

 Vander Harris

Pet rats in Illinois, Wisconsin linked to Seoul virus outbreaks, CDC says

A rodent breeder in Wisconsin was found to be positive with a hantavirus as well as their close family member. In particular it was the Seoul virus which is not usually seen in the US and often associated with milder symptoms than hantavirus, but it can lead to renal disease. The initial cases of virus infection led to screening many other breeders in the area and six others were confirmed. This has led to health officals to implement routine screening in the area to try and catch any more cases of the virus. Also they have begun investigating and tracking where the virus may have originated from and become introduced into the Wisconsin population. Of course health officials are warning breeders to be cautious around rodents as they can carry many viruses and to wash hands frequently when working with them.

Vander Harris