Vaccines and treatments

  • Public healthPre-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.

  • EbolaScientists 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.”

  • SuperbugsSearching for weapons in the fight against drug-resistant bacteria

    Researchers are taking a very close look at bacterial cells in hopes of figuring out how to stop the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as CRE, or carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. Dubbed the “nightmare bacteria,” CRE infections are immune to even the strongest antibiotics and have the ability to transfer that drug resistance to other bacteria. The infections, which can lead to pneumonia, sepsis, meningitis, and more, have a 50 percent mortality rate. “That’s worse than Ebola,” says one researcher.

  • AntibioticsAlternative to antibiotics

    Ever since the development of penicillin almost ninety years ago, antibiotics have remained the gold standard in the treatment of bacterial infections. The World Health organization (WHO), however, has repeatedly warned of a growing emergence of bacteria that develop antibiotic resistance. Once antibiotics do no longer protect from bacterial infection, a mere pneumonia might be fatal. Scientists from the University of Bern have developed a novel substance for the treatment of severe bacterial infections without antibiotics, which would prevent the development of antibiotic resistance.

  • Food safetyDetecting horse-meat fraud in the wake of a recent food scandal

    As the United Kingdom forms a new crime unit designed to fight food fraud — in response to an uproar last year over horse meat being passed off as beef — scientists from Germany are reporting a technique for detecting meat adulteration.

  • EpidemicsScientists develop a new way to prevent the spread of deadly diseases

    For decades, researchers have tried to develop broadly effective vaccines to prevent the spread of illnesses such as HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. While limited progress has been made along these lines, there are still no licensed vaccinations available that can protect most people from these devastating diseases. So what are immunologists to do when vaccines just aren’t working? Whereas vaccines introduce substances such as antigens into the body hoping to illicit an appropriate immune response — the generation of either antibodies that might block an infection or T cells capable of attacking infected cells — Caltech scientists have approached the problem in a different way: Why not provide the body with step-by-step instructions for producing specific antibodies that have been shown to neutralize a particular disease?

  • EbolaThree infected Liberian health workers receive rare Ebola serum

    Three Liberian health care workers who have been infected with the Ebola virus while treating patients, have on Friday received a scarce experimental serum – Zmapp — at a hospital outside the national capital, Monrovia, the Liberian capital. This is the same serum given to two American workers, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who contracted Ebola while working at ELWA Hospital in Monrovia. Brantly and Writebol were evacuated to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where they have been showing promising signs of recovering from the disease. Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego, which provided the drug, said the “available supply of ZMapp has been exhausted.”

  • U.S. sends 50 epidemics expert to West Africa in an effort to contain out-of-control outbreak

    The United States has announced plans to send at least fifty public health and epidemics experts to West Africa to help in the desperate effort to contain the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola. Senior U.S. and European health officials said the outbreak is now out of control, but insisted it could still be stopped. The Ebola outbreak has so far claimed more than 700 lives in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. The current mortality rate is about 55 percent.

  • MalariaWiping out malaria-carrying mosquitoes with male-only offspring

    Over 3.4 billion people are at risk from contracting malaria, and an estimated 627,000 people die each year from the disease. Scientists have modified mosquitoes to produce sperm that will only create males, pioneering a fresh approach to eradicating malaria.

  • Public healthNo-refrigeration, spray vaccine to help fight diseases in remote areas

    A new kind of single-dose vaccine that comes in a nasal spray and does not require refrigeration could dramatically alter the public health landscape — get more people vaccinated around the world and address the looming threats of emerging and re-emerging diseases.

  • BioterrorismPositive safety results Marburg drug candidate announced

    Marburg hemorrhagic fever is a severe and potentially fatal disease in humans first recognized in 1967. It is caused by an RNA virus of the Filoviridae family and is understood to be endemic to Africa. The Marburg virus is classified as a Category A bioterrorism agent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and in 2006 was determined by DHS to be a material threat to national security and public health. There are currently no treatments for Marburg virus infection beyond supportive care. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Sarepta Therapeutics, a developer of innovative RNA-based therapeutics, announced positive safety results from a Phase I multiple ascending dose study of AVI-7288 in healthy volunteers. AVI-7288 is the company’s lead drug candidate for the treatment of Marburg virus infection.

  • MalariaNew malaria vaccine offers a new mode of protection

    Malaria kills more than 660,000 people each year, most of whom are children in Africa. A novel malaria vaccine developed at Oxford University has shown promising results in the first clinical trial to test whether it can protect people against the mosquito-borne disease.

  • SuperbugsRapid detection of superbugs

    Scientists developed an array that could test for 116 antibiotic resistant genes from one class of bacteria, and 90 resistant genes from the other class of bacteria. This new lab test detects antibiotic resistance genes quickly, helping doctors choose the right drugs to knock out superbugs.

  • MalariaStopping malaria transmission

    See video

    Malaria is preventable and treatable. Yet, according to the World Health Organization, an estimated 219 million malaria cases occurred globally in 2010. The disease killed about 660 000 people, most of them children under five years of age, at the same time that increasing drug resistance might soon limit treatment options. Researchers say that to eradicate this disease, there is a need to look beyond treatment, and seek drugs that block transmission between humans and mosquitoes.

  • BioterrorismLying in wait: Anthrax toxin may lurk for days in cells as a lingering threat

    An anthrax infection can be fatal even when the infectious agent is no longer detected. The bacterium responsible for anthrax develops a strategy reminiscent of the Trojan horse tale. Its pathogenic factor is able to penetrate inside a cell in such a way that it becomes completely invisible to both the immune system and medical analysis. Furthermore, it manages to exit the cell several days later, and then it continues to poison other cells.