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.

 

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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.

 

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Blood Banks Step Up Efforts Against Zika Contamination

CDC says virus poses a low risk to blood supply in U.S., but experts say precautions needed

 

As concerns rise about the spread of Zika in the U.S., regulators and blood banks are moving to protect the safety of the blood supply.

To guard against accidental transmission of the mosquito-borne virus through blood transfusions, the Food and Drug Administration on July 27 told banks in Florida’s Miami-Dade and Broward counties—where officials are investigating the first cases in the continental U.S. of local transmission of the virus—to stop collecting blood until they can screen each donation for Zika.

Some blood banks could start checking blood samples immediately, because the FDA allowed them to use one of two new lab tests for Zika even before they have been officially approved.

OneBlood, which collects 3,000 blood donations daily in Florida, George, Alabama and South Carolina, said it started screening for Zika late last week. “Everything we draw we check for Zika now,” said Rita Reik, chief medical officer.

She said she couldn’t disclose whether any sample had tested positive, but if one did the blood bank would notify both the donor and the Florida Health Department. So far, she said, “The results have been quite reassuring.”

 

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World Health Organization Drops Coffee’s Status as Possible Carcinogen

Move comes 25 years after group said beverage may lead to bladder cancer

 

Coffee drinkers have gotten some good news.

Twenty-five years after classifying coffee as a possible carcinogen leading to bladder cancer, the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm has reversed course, saying on Wednesday that coffee is not classifiable as a carcinogen.

The organization also said that coffee has no carcinogenic effects on other cancers, including those of the pancreas and prostate, and has even been seen to reduce the risk of liver and uterine cancers.

The agency is finally joining other major research organizations in those findings. Numerous studies in recent years have shown no conclusive link between cancer and coffee and have actually shown protective benefits in certain types of cancer.

The about-face by the WHO came after its International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed more than 1,000 studies that showed coffee is not a cancer culprit.

Dr. Dana Loomis, the IARC official who was responsible for the evaluation, told a group of reporters on Wednesday that the body of scientific evidence on coffee had become much larger and stronger since 1991, when the IARC first classified coffee as a possible carcinogen. He said the positive associations between coffee and bladder cancer upon which the previous classification was based were confounded by, among other things, the fact that some cancer patients in those studies also smoked.

Dr. Loomis said it is not the first time the IARC has downgraded the cancer risk of a substance “but it happens seldom.”

 

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To Fight Growing Threat From Germs, Scientists Try Old-Fashioned Killer

Bacteriophages, little-used for decades in the U.S. and much of Europe, are gaining new attention because of resistance to antibiotics

 

NANTES, France—A hospital nurse soaked a bandage in a colorless liquid containing viruses drawn from a toxic sewer in Paris, a well in Mali and a filthy river in India. Then she daubed it gently on an elderly woman’s severely burned back.

“It’s healing,” said Ronan Le Floch, the doctor overseeing the burned woman’s care. The painful wound’s greenish tinge, the telltale sign of a potentially deadly bacterial infection, had vanished.

The liquid treatment was a cocktail of about one billion viruses called bacteriophages, which are the natural-born killers of bacteria. Little known among doctors in the West, phages have been part of the antibacteria arsenal in countries of the former Soviet Union for decades.

Doctors in the U.S. and much of Europe stopped using phages to fight bacteria when penicillin and other antibiotics were introduced in the 1940s. Now, though, Western scientists are turning back to this Stalin-era cure to help curb the dramatic growth of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

 

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Instead of Computer Code, ‘Plant Hackers’ Tinker With Genetics

Do-it-yourself bioengineers tinker with genetic code; blue roses

 

After his parents go to bed, Sebastian Cocioba usually retires to the third bedroom of the family apartment, where he has built a laboratory.

Suntory ‘Applause’
Suntory ‘Applause’

There, amid the whir of climate-controlling fans and equipment harvested from eBay, he is working on what he hopes will one day become a lucrative career. Mr. Cocioba, 25 years old, is a plant hacker.

“I want to make flowers no one has ever seen,” he says, wearing shorts and a T-shirt on a recent day at his home in Queens, N.Y. “What would happen if you combined features of a pine tree with an eggplant?” He also wants to turn a rose blue.

Born into an earlier generation, Mr. Cocioba might have spent hours writing computer programs. Instead he is at the vanguard of a millennial niche: do-it-yourself bioengineering. In place of a keyboard, he has a homemade “gene gun” that fires genetic material into plants on a blast of tiny tungsten particles.

 

Link to full article at WSJ

How Quickly Are You Growing Old?

Measuring the pace of biological aging in young people could someday help prevent age-related diseases

 

Feel like you’re 40 years old going on 60? Or maybe, 40 going on 21?

Age may be just a number, but medical experts increasingly are saying it might not always be the right number to gauge your health.

Everybody grows older at a different pace, according to a recent study that found the processes of aging can begin fairly early in life. The study calculated the aging rate of 954 men and women—taking various measurements of their bodies’ health—when they were each 26, 32 and 38 in chronological years. By analyzing how these measures changed over time, the researchers were able to see who aged faster and who slower than normal.

The aim of the research is to be able eventually to identify signs of premature aging before it becomes evident years or decades later in chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or kidney and lung impairment. “Intervention to reverse or delay the march toward age-related diseases must be scheduled while people are still young,” according to the study, published online last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Link to full article at WSJ

Maple Syrup: New Way to Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria?

Concentrated extracts of maple syrup combined with antibiotics reduced the growth of four common bacterial strains

 

Maple syrup may help fight disease-causing bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant strains that often grow in health-care settings, says a study published online in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Concentrated extracts of maple syrup combined with antibiotics significantly reduced the growth of four common bacterial strains and bacterial communities called biofilms, the study found.

Bacterial biofilms accumulate on medical surfaces and devices, such as catheters and artificial joints, and are responsible for many antibiotic-resistant hospital infections, research has shown.

 

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At This Conference, Scientists Spout Bogus Theories on Bugs, Yawns and Belly Fat

That’s the goal of BAHFest, a satirical conference where researchers offer fake theories supported by real scientific evidence

 

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—At a recent scientific conference here, Justin Werfel, a Harvard University researcher who has studied termites in Africa, described to the crowd his theory on why bugs are so disgusting.

It is all about evolution, Dr. Werfel said. Increased competition among humans for food drove bugs to become ever more disgusting to keep people from eating them, he said.

Dr. Werfel used standard scientific methodology to develop his theory. His goal wasn’t to break new ground in entomology. It was to take top place at the Festival of Bad Ad-Hoc Hypotheses, or BAHFest, a satirical conference on evolutionary biology held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Six presenters, each armed with reams of research, vied to win over a panel of judges with a different bogus scientific theory. The winner got a statue of Darwin looking dubious—shoulders shrugging, hands turned upward.

“The lure of having that trophy on my desk at work is a very powerful one,” said Dr. Werfel. His research to develop tiny robots that can build complex systems was inspired in part by the mound-building termite colonies of Namibia and featured on the cover of the journal Science earlier this year.

 

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The Doctor Will See Through You Now

RealView Imaging Ltd., an Israel-based company that develops a 3D holographic display and interface system for use in medical procedures, has recently completed a $10 million investment round led by Chinese firm LongTec China Ventures.

The company’s technology enables doctors to view a real-time 3D hologram of a patient’s anatomy “floating in the air” and interact with it either by stylus or with their hands.

In 2013 the company concluded a clinical study intended to evaluate the use of live 3D holographic imaging in interventional cardiology, in a joint project conducted in collaboration with Philips Healthcare.

As part of this study the company’s system was used in August 2013 in minimally-invasive structural heart procedures at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Israel.

 

A real-time 3D hologram of a patient’s anatomy “floating in the air.”

RealView

In one of the procedures it projected a hologram of the pulmonary arteries of the patient, a 2-year-old boy.

 

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