• Infectious diseaseGMOs lead the fight against Zika, Ebola and the next unknown pandemic

    By Jeff Bessen

    The shadow of the Zika virus hangs over the Rio Olympic Games, with visitors and even high-profile athletes citing worries about Zika as a reason to stay away (even if the risk is probably quite low). The public’s concerns are a striking example of the need to rapidly combat emerging infectious diseases. In the fight against Zika, public health experts have turned to what may sound like an unlikely ally: genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. To protect the public, scientists have embraced GMO technology to quickly study new health threats, manufacture enough protective vaccines, and monitor and even predict new outbreaks. With the help of GMOs, infectious disease experts have the tools to get ahead of the next outbreak, moving beyond reaction to quick detection, containment and even prevention.

  • Gene drivesThree ways synthetic biology could annihilate Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases

    By Andrew Maynard

    There are tried and tested approaches in the arsenal of weapons against the mosquito-borne disease, but to combat Zika and other mosquito-borne disease, more is needed. Gene drives, synthetic biology-based genetic engineering techniques, offer one solution by reengineering mosquitoes or obliterating them altogether. Yet we still have only the vaguest ideas of how the systems we’re hacking by using gene drives actually work. It’s as if we’ve been given free rein to play with life’s operating system code, but unlike computers, we don’t have the luxury of rebooting when things go wrong. As enthusiasm grows over the use of synthetic biology to combat diseases like Zika, greater efforts are needed to understand what could go wrong, who and what might potentially be affected, and how errors will be corrected.

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  • Gene drivesGene-drive modified organisms not yet ready to be released into environment: Scientists

    The emerging science of gene drives has the potential to address environmental and public health challenges, but gene-drive modified organisms are not ready to be released into the environment and require more research in laboratories and highly controlled field trials, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences.

  • Public healthUN urges heightened vigilance after H5N1 outbreaks in West and Central Africa

    The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) alerted Western and Central African governments to be vigilant, and to continue their raised surveillance and prevention efforts after H5N1 avian influenza outbreaks were recently confirmed in chicken farms in Cameroon. The UN notes that the recent outbreak in Cameroon has brought the number of countries that have battled bird flu in West and Central Africa to six, also including Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Niger, and Nigeria.

  • Public healthNew control strategies needed for Zika, other unexpected mosquito-borne outbreaks

    A recent spate of unexpected mosquito-borne disease outbreaks — most recently the Zika virus, which has swept through parts of the Americas — have highlighted the need to better understand the development and spread of little-known diseases and for new strategies to control them, researchers say. They say that despite the discovery of Zika in Uganda in 1947 and the identification of the first confirmed human infection in Nigeria six years later, few cases were reported in humans until 2007. Even then, no one understood the grave risk the disease posed to pregnancies until the recent outbreak in Brazil, which began less than two years ago.

  • Zika virusZika epidemic likely to burn itself out within three years

    The current Zika epidemic in Latin America is likely to burn itself out within three years, suggests new research. The findings also conclude the epidemic cannot be contained with existing control measures. The researchers predict the next large-scale epidemic is unlikely to emerge for at least another ten years — although there is a possibility of smaller outbreaks in this time.

  • Zika virusWidespread outbreak of Zika virus in U.S. unlikely: Expert

    An infectious disease expert says that Americans should not concerned about a widespread Zika virus outbreak in the United States. “The density of mosquitoes in the United States is not what it is in other countries,” says the expert, a member of the World Health Organization Emergency Committee on Zika virus. “In order to sustain an epidemic, a large population of mosquitoes that are close together with a dense population of people is needed for Zika virus to transmit more efficiently.”

  • EbolaLessons of 1976 Ebola outbreak analysis are relevant today

    With the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa reviving interest in the first outbreak of the deadly hemorrhagic fever 40 years ago, scientists have released a report highlighting lessons learned from the smaller, more quickly contained 1976 outbreak. “Key to diagnosis in 1976 was the relatively quick clinical recognition of a severe, possibly new disease by national authorities,” according to one of the researchers.

  • SuperbugsSecond U.S. patient infected with superbug resistant to antibiotics of last resort

    Scientists announced earlier this week that a second American patient has been infected with a superbug which is highly resistant to antibiotics of last resort. “We are very close to seeing the emergence of enterobacteria that will be impossible to treat with antibiotics,” said Lance Price of George Washington University.

  • AnthraxFDA completes pre-approval inspection of Emergent BioSolutions’ anthrax vaccine manufacturing facility

    Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Emergent BioSolutions Inc. last week announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had completed its Pre-Approval Inspection (PAI) of Building 55, the company’s facility for large-scale manufacturing of BioThrax (Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed).

  • Zika virusZika threatens world's blood supply: Experts

    Blood safety researchers say it is highly likely that the mosquito-borne Zika virus can be transmitted through blood transfusions and are calling for an evidence-based approach to protecting the blood supply from the threat of Zika virus.

  • Public healthFloridians uncomfortable with use of genetically modified mosquitoes to limit spread of disease

    A small survey of residents of a Florida Keys neighborhood where officials hope to release genetically modified mosquitos to potentially reduce the threat of mosquito-borne illnesses such as Zika finds a lack of support for the control method.

  • Zika virusZika virus expert: Tourists should “think twice” about going to Disney World

    A leading public health expert has warned tourists to “think twice” about visiting parts of the United States, including Walt Disney World in Florida, because of the future threat of the Zika virus in the country. Pregnant women and couples looking to conceive should be particularly wary of going on holiday to southern states such as Florida, Texas, and Louisiana, he said.

  • Zika virusPredicting the spread of the Zika virus

    Countries that are well connected to Brazil have been at particularly high risk of importation of the Zika virus, according to researchers. However, subtropical and tropical countries with a history of dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases have the greatest risk of the virus spreading once it arrives in the country.

  • SuperbugsPennsylvania superbug infection could mean "the end of the road" for antibiotics: Researchers

    Researchers have, for the first time, found a person in the United States carrying a bacteria resistant to antibiotics of last resort. Top U.S. public health officials say this is alarming, and could mean “the end of the road” for antibiotics. Researchers say that the discovery “heralds the emergence of a truly pan-drug resistant bacteria.”