Public health

  • U.S. Army seeking to end environmental testing at Indiana nuclear firing range

    The U.S. Army wants to end its Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license at the Jefferson Proving Ground in southern Indiana. The Army’s appeal comes after years of water and soil testing at the site. Currently, an estimated 162,040 pounds of depleted uranium projectiles and shows are still on the firing range. The site was last used in 1995. Uranium munitions, specifically the kind used to penetrate armor during Operation Desert Shield, were used there throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

  • Link between power lines and ill-health called into question

    Several past studies have suggested that the magnetic fields created by phones, high-voltage power lines, and other electrical equipment are harmful for humans. Research first carried out in the 1970s and again subsequently, found an association between people living near overhead power lines and an increased risk of childhood leukemia, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has categorized low frequency magnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic.” A mechanism for this association has never been found, and now a research team studying the effects of weak magnetic fields (WMFs) on key human proteins, including those crucial for health, found that they have no detectable impact.

  • Can a hacker stop your car or your heart? Security and the Internet of Things

    An ever-increasing number of our consumer electronics is Internet-connected. We’re living at the dawn of the age of the Internet of Things. Appliances ranging from light switches and door locks, to cars and medical devices boast connectivity in addition to basic functionality. The convenience can’t be beat, but the security and privacy implications cannot and should not be ignored. There needs to be a concerted effort to improve security of future devices. Researchers, manufacturers and end users need to be aware that privacy, health and safety can be compromised by increased connectivity. Benefits in convenience must be balanced with security and privacy costs as the Internet of Things continues to infiltrate our personal spaces.

  • Texas Ebola task force calls for revamping state’s preparations for epidemics

    The Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Responsehas called for the establishment of two specialized Ebola treatment centers in Texas, and for new methods to monitor vulnerable health care workers, especially those returning from West Africa.The state acknowledges that it alone is unable to handle an infectious disease outbreak like Ebola. The task force wants federal health and disease authorities to provide actionable information during disease outbreaks.

  • Tech investors turning to agriculture as a safe bet

    Investors and entrepreneurs are turning their sights toward the world of farming, seeing the next decades as especially challenging for because of the need to feed the expected ten billion people who will then people the planet. The technologies that these companies are investing in include not just the expected hallmarks of advanced efficient farming — robot workers, better software, and food substitute technology — but also farmland itself.Manysee the investment as a more solid and safer relative one amidst to the much more volatile tech prospects. “Farmland is more of a safe way to invest your savings,” says one investor. “Farmland isn’t going to disappear. Dropbox could disappear.”

  • World can be separated into seven regions for vectored human diseases

    Researchers have for the first time mapped human disease-causing pathogens, dividing the world into a number of regions where similar diseases occur. The findings show that the world can be separated into seven regions for vectored human diseases — diseases which are spread by pests, like mosquito-borne malaria — and five regions for non-vectored diseases, like cholera.

  • World's response to Ebola slow, inconsistent, inadequate: Médecins sans Frontières

    The NGO Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) has harshly criticized the international community for its slow and inconsistent response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. MSF says the world’s response risks creating “a double failure” because ill-equipped locals in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea have been left to run hospitals and treatment centers. MSF international president, Dr. Joanne Liu, said it was “extremely disappointing that states with biological-disaster response capacities have chosen not to deploy them.”

  • Satellites help assess risk of epidemics

    Changes in the environment, global trade, and travel are all factors in the ever-increasing numbers and movement of pests. Identifying and predicting the distribution of existing local species as well as the spread of new exotic ones are essential in assessing the risk of potential epidemics. Researchers have developed Vecmap — an all-encompassing software and services package including a smartphone app for field studies with a time and location information system, all linked to an online database. The database pools satellite information with results from field research, and satnav adds location information. The new approach greatly reduces the complexity of tracking species compared to traditional methods.

  • Portable, fast Ebola test kit in trials in Guinea

    Scientists say that early diagnosis is key to surviving Ebola once a person has been infected. Roughly 50 percent of those known to be infected with Ebola have died, but scientists hope to reduce the number as a new test designed to diagnose the Ebola virus in humans in under fifteen minutes will be tried out at a treatment center in Conakry, Guinea. The test is six times faster than tests currently used in West Africa.The mobile testing device is one of six projects jointly funded by Wellcome and the U.K.’s Department for International Development under the 6.5 million pounds Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises initiative.

  • Subjects produce immune response, develop antibodies in Ebola vaccine test

    All twenty research subjects recruited by the University of Maryland School of Medicine in partnership with the National Institute of Health (NIH) to test an experimental Ebola vaccine developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in collaboration with drug maker, GlaxoSmithKline, have produced an immune response and developed anti-Ebola antibodies. Half of the research participants were initially injected with ten billion particles of a chimpanzee cold virus modified to resemble Ebola, while the other half received a dose with ten times as many particles.

  • NIAID/GSK experimental Ebola vaccine appears safe, prompts immune response

    An experimental vaccine to prevent Ebola virus disease was well-tolerated and produced immune system responses in all twenty healthy adults who received it in a phase 1 clinical trial conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health. The results from the NIH Phase 1 clinical trial will support accelerated development of candidate vaccine.

  • Developing a global workforce to tackle emerging pandemic threats

    When a new pandemic threat like this year’s Ebola outbreak emerges, the importance of preventing and limiting disease spread becomes apparent. Well-trained global health professionals play a key role in preventing and responding to emerging zoonotic disease. Under a new 5-year award of up to $50 million, the University of Minnesota and Tufts University will be part of an international partnership of universities to strengthen global workforce development against emerging pandemic threats.

  • Public health officials work to ensure that the lessons of Ebola are not forgotten

    Hospitals find it difficult to remain fully prepared for disease outbreaks because they rarely occur and preparation and frequent training are expensive. Public health professionals and infectious disease experts are working to ensure that lessons learned and protocols put in place in response to the Ebola outbreak will be used to prevent and respond to future virus and disease outbreaks.

  • Pre-empting flu evolution may make for better vaccines

    Influenza is a notoriously difficult virus against which to vaccinate. There are many different strains circulating — both in human and animal populations — and these strains themselves evolve rapidly. Yet manufacturers, who need to produce around 350 million doses ahead of the annual flu season, must know which strain to put in the vaccine months in advance — during which time the circulating viruses can evolve again. An international team of researchers has shown that it may be possible to improve the effectiveness of the seasonal flu vaccine by “pre-empting” the evolution of the influenza virus.

  • Scientists identify weak spots in Ebola’s defenses

    Scientists have identified weak spots on the surface of Ebola virus that are targeted by the antibodies in ZMapp, the experimental drug cocktail administered to several patients during the recent Ebola outbreak. “The structural images of Ebola virus are like enemy reconnaissance,” said one of the scientists involved in the research. “They tell us exactly where to target antibodies or drugs.”