Another DNA Vaccine for Zika Shows Promise

A preventive DNA vaccine encoding two Zika structural proteins protected Rhesus macaques from viral infection. The results, published today (September 22) in Science, are encouraging for organizers of the ongoing Phase 1 clinical trial testing one of the two vaccines examined in this nonhuman primate study. The new work suggests a minimal antibody level in the blood that is likely necessary for protection against Zika virus infection in in people.

Read at The Scientist

Toward Preventing Transplant Rejection with Immunologically Matched Stem Cells

Donor stem cell–derived retinal epithelial cells whose immune proteins correspond to those of a recipient are tolerated following transplant into monkeys’ eyes, according to a report published today (September 15) in Stem Cell Reports. In an accompanying paper, the team also reports that such immune-matched retinal cells derived from humans prevent immune responses in cultured human lymphocytes.

Read at The Scientist

Zika-Associated Brain Injuries Found in Monkey Fetus

After scientists infected a pregnant pigtail macaque with Zika virus, the primate’s fetus developed brain lesions similar to those observed in some human babies born to Zika-infected mothers, the team reported yesterday (September 12) in Nature Medicine.

“Our results remove any lingering doubt that the Zika virus is incredibly dangerous to the developing fetus and provides details as to how the brain injury develops,” study coauthor Kristina Adams Waldorf of the University of Washington School of Medicine said in a statement.

 

Read at The Scientist

Toggling CRISPR Activity with a Chemical Switch

Researchers design a Cas9 enzyme that cuts DNA only in the presence of particular drug.

 

There are various ways to turn CRISPR/Cas9’s gene-editing activity on and off in cells, such as exposing tailor-made Cas9 enzymes to a particular type of light or to specific drugs. Each technique developed so far has drawbacks—either being complicated or irreversible. So researchers took inspiration from the Cre-recombinase-based method to control gene expression and built a “user-friendly” protocol for reversibly activating and inactivating CRISPR.

 

Read at TheScientist

Benefits of taking statins has been underestimated

The benefits of the cholesterol-reducing drug statins are underestimated and the harms exaggerated, a major review suggests.

Published in the Lancet and backed by a number of major health organisations, it says statins lower heart attack and stroke risk.

The review also suggests side effects such as muscle pain do occur, although in relatively few people.

But critics say healthy people are unnecessarily taking medication.

Statins reduce the build-up of fatty plaques that lead to blockages in blood vessels. According to the report authors:

  • About six million people are currently taking statins in the UK
  • Of those, two million are on them because they have already had a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event
  • The remaining four million take statins because of risk factors such as age, blood pressure or diabetes
  • Up to two million more should possibly take statins

The Lancet review, led by Prof Rory Collins from the Clinical Trial Service Unit at the University of Oxford, looked at the available evidence for the effects of taking an average 40mg daily dose of statins in 10,000 patients over five years.

It suggested cholesterol levels would be lowered enough to prevent 1,000 “major cardiovascular events” such as heart attacks, strokes and coronary artery bypasses in people who had existing vascular disease – and 500 in people who were at risk due to age or other illnesses such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

 

Read at BBC News

New drug ‘wakes up’ immune system to fight one of deadliest cancers

IMM-101 drug has extended lives of people with metastatic pancreatic cancer and appears to have no side-effects

A new drug that “wakes up” the immune system to attack cancer has extended the lives of people with metastatic pancreatic cancer and has no side-effects, raising hopes for a new and powerful tool against the most intractable form of the disease.

The drug, IMM-101, is considered groundbreaking because pancreatic cancer that has spread to other parts of the body usually kills within a few months.

The patients who were given the new immunotherapy drug actually felt better than those who were on standard chemotherapy, said Angus Dalgleish, professor of oncology at St George’s, University of London, who led the research.

Dalgleish is excited by the potential of the immunotherapy drug, although the trial is relatively small, involving 110 people. Only 18% of patients with advanced pancreatic cancer are alive after one year and 4% after five years, so new treatments for the disease are badly needed.

Read at The Guardian

Alzheimer’s drug study gives ‘tantalising’ results

A drug that destroys the characteristic protein plaques that build up in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s is showing “tantalising” promise, scientists say.

Experts are cautious because the drug, aducanumab, is still in the early stages of development.

But a study in Nature has shown it is safe and hinted that it halts memory decline.

Larger studies are now under way to fully evaluate the drug’s effects.

The build-up of amyloid in the brain has been a treatment target for many years.

This study, of 165 patients, was designed to test aducanumab was safe to take.

After a year of treatment, it also showed the higher the dose the stronger the effect on amyloid plaques.

 

Read at BBC 

 

Link to paper 

Zika Virus’s Spread Pushes Testing Labs to Expand Capacity

Study found a gap between resources, potential need in the case of a U.S. outbreak

 

As summer drew near, the nation’s health officials took stock of whether they could handle a surge in demand for Zika diagnostic tests if disease-carrying mosquitoes began to proliferate.

A survey of state and local laboratories found enough capacity to perform 3,500 to 5,000 tests a week for the Zika virus. But that wouldn’t be enough to meet demand under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s worst-case scenario for a domestic Zika outbreak.

The gap was “considerable,” said Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious diseases for the Association of Public Health Laboratories, which conducted the April survey.

The finding set off a rush to expand lab capacity that continues as Zika’s foothold in the U.S. expands. In recent months, dozens of public health laboratories—which work with the government to monitor public health and screen for disease—bought equipment, stockpiled supplies and trained employees needed to start Zika testing, said state and local health officials.

Twelve California public health labs are preparing to start performing Zika tests; five others already do. The health department in Houston conducts one type of Zika test and will perform a second “as soon as we can get the equipment in the door,” said Larry Seigler, director of the city’s health labs.

 

Read at Wall Street Journal

Hematopoietic Stem and Progenitor Cell Gene Therapy

The recent regulatory approval of the first hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell gene therapy (HSPC-GT) signals the start of a new era for gene therapy and highlights the potential contribution by high-throughput cell culture technologies in propelling HSPC-GT from curing rare diseases to curing more common diseases.

Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are the “fountain” for all blood cells that circulate in our bodies throughout life. Arguably, no other cell type has more profound and far-reaching influence on our well-being than HSCs. They reside in our bone marrow and continuously produce a variety of cells with vital tasks, for example, oxygenation via red blood cells, termination of bleeding via platelets, and immunity via leukocytes, which also provide immune defense to the central nervous system.

There is, however, a flipside to the pre-eminence of HSCs. When faulty HSCs emerge, devastating outcomes can ensue, such as autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and blood cancers like leukemia. Thankfully, a solution to these life-threatening indications is well at hand because HSCs can be removed and replaced with healthy HSCs using HSC transplantation (HSCT)—a highly effective procedure pioneered by Nobelist E. Donnall Thomas over five decades ago.

 

Read at GEN

Donald Henderson, epidemiologist who helped to eradicate smallpox-obituary

Donald Henderson, who has died aged 87, was the American epidemiologist in charge of the decade-long campaign to eradiate smallpox worldwide; the most significant public health initiative of the twentieth century.

The impact of the smallpox virus on the history of human development is as disastrous as it is incontestable. By the mid-eighteenth century the disease was endemic in Europe, with outbreaks affecting up to a third of the total population. For those who became ill, the mortality rate stood at around 30%. Though the arrival of effective vaccination methods precipitated a steep decline in the number of cases throughout Europe and America, attempts to replicate the effects elsewhere had been largely piecemeal until the late 1950s, when Henderson began to develop surveillance programmes for endemic diseases as part of his work with the Communicable Disease Center (CDC), stationed in Atlanta.

 

Read at The Telegraph