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

Genetic Studies’ Lack of Diversity May Lead to Misdiagnoses, Researchers Say

Harvard team concludes black patients’ gene mutations were misclassified as a higher heart-condition risk

Doctors increasingly rely on genetic testing to help diagnose a patient’s illness or risk of getting a disease. Now a new study warns of the potential for the technology to lead to misdiagnosis.

The study looked at gene mutations previously linked to the genetic heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and found that some patients may be at risk of being falsely diagnosed with the disease because some of the mutations are no longer considered a cause for concern.


Read at WSJ

DNA revelations from Ötzi the Iceman’s leather and furs

5,300-year-old mummy found in the Italian Alps wore clothes made from many different animals.

or the past two decades, scientists have analyzed every minute detail of Ötzi, a 5,300-year-old natural mummy found in the ice of the Italian Ötztal Alps. But one remaining mystery was the provenance of his clothing, made from leather and fur. Now, thanks to refined techniques in DNA sequencing, a team of scientists has identified how the clothing was made—and discovered something surprising about Ötzi’s domestic habits.

Ötzi lived during the Copper Age, when humans had been domesticating animals for a few thousand years, and our cutting-edge technologies included stone tools and fired pottery. From previous studies, we know that Ötzi was likely murdered by an arrow and a blow to the head. We also know he suffered from arthritis, and he ate a meal of deer and berries before he died.

The team’s new findings, published in Nature Scientific Reports, are as much a demonstration of DNA sequencing wizardry as they are about ancient fashion. It’s incredibly difficult to get genetic material out of tanned hides, because they’ve generally been scraped, heated, and exposed to fatty acids. Plus, the hides and furs themselves had disintegrated. But the researchers used several methods for extracting DNA from the hides that made up Ötzi’s shoelace, hat, loincloth, coats, leggings, and quiver. First they compared the strands of DNA they did find with other mapped genomes to identify species. Then the researchers targeted very small, specific regions in the DNA for reconstruction to learn more about the animals’ relationships with today’s domestic breeds.


Read at ArsTechnica

Can season and place of birth influence celiac disease risk?

Winter babies and people born in places with shorter days and less sunlight might have a lower risk of developing celiac disease than peers born in warmer regions or seasons, a Swedish study suggests.

About one in 100 people have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. People with celiac disease can’t tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye and barley. Left untreated, the condition can lead to complications such as malnutrition, low bone density, lactose intolerance and infertility.

While the exact causes of celiac disease are unknown, some previous research has pointed to the potential for the season of one’s birth to be among many environmental factors that might influence the risk, said lead study author Fredinah Namatovu, a public health researcher at the Umea University in Sweden.

“Season of birth and area of birth appears to play a role,” Namatovu said by email. “Season and region of birth could be a proxy for other factors such as vitamin D and viral infections.”


Read at Reuters

Sea anemones could be the key to treating hearing loss

Sea anemones could soon do a lot to help those of us living above the water. Researchers have discovered that proteins used by starlet sea anemones to repair their cells also repair the sound-sensing cells in mice and other mammals. If you bathe cells in those proteins for long enough (the team tried for an hour), they rapidly restore molecular links that bundle hearing-related hair cells together. In theory, you could reverse hearing damage among cells that haven’t been permanently lost — that exceptionally loud concert might not permanently limit your listening enjoyment.


Read at Journal of Experimental Biology

Zika found to remain in sperm for record six months



A patient, who developed fever and rash after returning from Haiti to Italy, was diagnosed with Zika virus (ZIKV) infection in January 2016. Longitudinal follow-up laboratory testing was performed to characterise ZIKV RNA and antibody dynamics during acute infection. A relevant finding in this case was the persistent shedding of ZIKV RNA in semen for six months after symptom onset.

Case report

In January 2016, a man in his early 40s returning to Italy from a two-week stay in Haiti developed fever (38.5 °C) and pruritic maculopapular rash on his trunk and arms that fully resolved after three days. The patient, who reported mosquito bites in Haiti, had an unremarkable past personal medical history. Laboratory analyses, performed at day 3 after symptom onset, showed blood cell count and liver function tests within the normal range. Testing for dengue, chikungunya and ZIKV infection, according to previously described methods [1], demonstrated the presence of ZIKV RNA in plasma and urine at 175 copies/mL and 25,600 copies/mL, respectively, and ZIKV-specific IgM but not IgG antibodies. Dengue virus (DENV) IgG antibodies were also detected by ELISA, but they represented cross-reacting antibodies induced by previous vaccination against yellow fever virus, as confirmed by virus neutralisation assays; DENV IgM, DENV NS1 antigen and chikungunya virus IgM and IgG were negative. Sequencing of the full ZIKV genome was obtained directly from a urine sample collected at diagnosis (GenBank KX269878), which demonstrated over 99.6% nucleotide sequence identity with ZIKV strains circulating in Haiti (GenBank KU509998 and KX051563).

Read at EuroSurveillance

Scientists Develop Device that Tricks Premature Babies’ Brains into Thinking They Are Running

As humans evolved over many thousands of years, our bodies developed a system to help us when we start running and suddenly need more oxygen. Now, using that innate reflex as inspiration, UCLA researchers have developed a noninvasive way to treat potentially harmful breathing problems in babies who were born prematurely. [Video]

The technique uses a simple device that tricks babies’ brains into thinking they are running, which prompts them to breathe.

Each year, about 150,000 babies are born after only 23 to 34 weeks of gestation, which puts them at risk for apnea of prematurity, a condition in which breathing stops, often for several seconds, accompanied by severe falls in oxygenation.

The condition occurs because — in infants whose systems not yet fully formed — the respiratory system ignores or cannot use the body’s signals to breathe. Compounding the danger, premature newborns’ lungs are not fully developed, and therefore do not have much oxygen in reserve. When breathing stops in these periods of apnea, the level of oxygen in the body goes down, and the heart rate can drop. That combination can damage the lungs and eyes, injure the nerves to the heart, affect the hormonal system (which can lead to diabetes later in life), or injure the brain (which can result in behavioural problems later in life).


Read at Scicasts

New target gives hope for better treatments for incurable myeloma

Researchers have discovered a new target for treating treating multiple myeloma, an incurable bone marrow cancer.

The research revealed that the majority of myelomas rely on a protein called MCL-1 to stay alive. Potential drugs that inhibit MCL-1, which are in pre-clinical development, may be a promising new treatment for multiple myeloma.

Each year more than 1700 Australians are diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which is a cancer of immune cells called plasma cells. Currently available treatments are only able to halt the progression of the disease and relieve symptoms, but cannot cure the disease.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers Dr Jianan Gong, Dr David Segal, Ms Yuan Yao, Professor Andrew Roberts and Professor David Huang, working with researchers at the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases, Monash University and theAlfred Hospital, investigated the ‘survival proteins’ that keep myeloma cells alive, allowing the cancer to persist.

Read at Walter+Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research