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April 2, 2007, 11:02 PM CT

Rapid response to 1918 flu pandemic

Rapid response to 1918 flu pandemic
One of the persistent riddles of the deadly 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic is why it struck different cities with varying severity. Why were some municipalities such as St. Louis spared the fate of the hard-hit cities like Philadelphia when both implemented similar public health measures? What made the difference, as per two independent studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was not only how but also how rapidly different cities responded.

Cities where public health officials imposed multiple social containment measures within a few days after the first local cases were recorded cut peak weekly death rates by up to half compared with cities that waited just a few weeks to respond. Overall mortality was also lower in cities that implemented early interventions, but the effect was smaller. These conclusions--the results of systematic analyses of historical data to determine the effectiveness of public health measures in 1918--are described in two articles published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

These important papers suggest that a primary lesson of the 1918 influenza pandemic is that it is critical to intervene early, says Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of NIHs National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which funded one of the studies. While scientists are working very hard to develop pandemic influenza vaccines and increase the speed with which they can be made, nonpharmaceutical interventions may buy valuable time at the beginning of a pandemic while a targeted vaccine is being produced.........

Posted by: Mark      Read more         Source


March 25, 2007, 8:09 PM CT

New Superbug Weapon

New Superbug Weapon
Imagine the desperation of trying to fight lethal infections when antibiotics fail to work.

That scenario usually found with "hospital superbugs" may well improve thanks to a discovery by a research team at the University of British Columbia, in collaboration with UBC spin-off company Inimex Pharmaceuticals, that has identified a peptide that can fight infection by boosting the body's own immune system.

"Antibiotics are now under threat because of the explosion in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A third of all deaths on this planet are the result of infection so there is an urgent need to create new therapies," says Robert Hancock, principal investigator and Canada Research Chair in Pathogenomics and Antimicrobials. "The beauty of this peptide is that it acts on the host to trigger a protective response and doesn't act on bacteria directly. That means it's unlikely bacteria will become resistant to it".

The team observed that a peptide, or chain of amino acids, they have dubbed innate defense regulator peptide (IDR-1), can increase innate immunity without triggering harmful inflammation, and offer protection both before and after infection is present.

The discovery, in animal models, will be published March 25 in the journal Nature Biotechnology.........

Posted by: Mark      Read more         Source


March 22, 2007, 10:37 PM CT

Viral enzyme recruited in fight against ear infection

Viral enzyme recruited in fight against ear infection
Parents might one day give their children a weekly therapy with a nasal spray of virus enzymes to prevent them from getting a severe middle ear infection, based on results of a study done in mice by researchers from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and The Rockefeller University in New York. Such a therapy would kill the disease-causing bacteria without the use of antibiotics, thereby avoiding the problem of antibiotic resistance. A report on this study appears in the recent issue of the online journal "PLoS Pathogens."

Middle ear infection, also called acute otitis media, is an inflammation of the middle ear space that can cause pain, fever, irritability, lack of appetite and vomiting. The middle ear is the space just before the eardrum. About half of all children carry the bacteria that cause acute otitis media, which migrate from the nose and throat to the middle ear after an initial influenza virus infection paves the way.

The researchers based their therapy on the ability of viruses called phages to break out of bacteria they infect by using a special enzyme to destroy the cell walls. Phages infect bacteria in a way that is similar to how viruses infect animal cells. Once inside, the virus hijacks the cells biochemical machinery and forces it to make a number of copies of the virus. After the new crop of viruses is made, a viral enzyme breaks apart the infected bacterial cell wall and allows the new viruses to escape and infect additional cells.........

Posted by: Sue      Read more         Source


March 20, 2007, 9:59 PM CT

Do feelings matter?

Do feelings matter?
Providence, RI As per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), adolescents and young adults currently account for fifty percent of new HIV infections on an annual basis. As a result, ongoing research and information on HIV prevention has become a high priority for this age group. Now a new study reveals that helping adolescents manage their emotions may be just as important as providing them with information on the practical side of safe sex in order to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Scientists from the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center and the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University studied 222 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 with psychiatric disorders and observed that feelings do matter when it comes to making decisions about safe sex. Specifically, the findings suggest that lack of self-efficacy (the belief that one could effectively engage in a particular behavior) when confronted with the stress of using condoms is a powerful barrier to their use.

"We observed that adolescents need help feeling more comfortable and less distressed about discussing and using condoms," says lead author Celia Lescano, PhD, with the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center and the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.........

Posted by: Mark      Read more         Source


March 6, 2007, 4:54 AM CT

Risk of HIV transmission highest early in infection

Risk of HIV transmission highest early in infection
New evidence suggests that the risk of HIV transmission may be highest in the early stages of infection. As per a research studyreported in the April 1 issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, now available online, early infection accounted for nearly half of all transmission occurrences in an HIV-infected population in the province of Quebec, Canada.

Bluma Brenner, PhD, and Mark Wainberg, PhD, of the McGill AIDS Centre in Montreal, and his colleagues from several hospitals and health clinics in Canada studied HIV transmission through phylogenetic analysisessentially, drawing the viruss family tree. The technique follows the history of a virus as it spreads from one person to another by looking at the evolution of viral genetic material in infected individuals.

Drs. Brenner, Wainberg, and his colleagues observed that 49 percent of early infections formed phylogenetic clustersvery close branches on the family tree. This indicated that a large portion of HIV acquisition could be attributed to individuals transmitting the virus who were themselves in the early stages of infection, before the virus had had time to mutate much. Therefore, early infectionalso known as primary infectionwhich represented less than 10 percent of the total samples, disproportionately accounted for about half of subsequent transmission events.........

Posted by: Mark      Read more         Source


March 6, 2007, 4:33 AM CT

Measles Virus To Kill Multiple Myeloma

Measles Virus To Kill Multiple Myeloma Measles Virus
Mayo Clinic Cancer Center has opened a new Phase I clinical trial testing an engineered measles virus against multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow that currently has no cure. This is the third of a series of molecular medicine studies in patients testing the potential of measles to kill cancer.

This is the beginning of a long but exciting process, says Angela Dispenzieri, M.D., hematologist and lead researcher on the multiple myeloma clinical trial in the measles virus investigation. We are very hopeful that this will be a step toward helping our patients.

Mayo Clinic Cancer Center is the only institution in the world currently pursuing using engineered measles viruses for cancer therapy. It has shepherded the research from basic laboratory science to therapies being tested today in several tumor types, including glioblastoma multiforme (a brain tumor), recurrent ovary cancer and now multiple myeloma.

The measles viruses being used for these studies were constructed by inserting additional genes into the measles vaccine strain.

A number of cancers, including multiple myeloma, overexpress a protein, CD46, which allows them to evade destruction by the immune system. Laboratory strains of measles virus seek out this protein and use it as a receptor by which to enter the cancer cells. Upon entry, the virus spreads, infecting nearby tumor cells and fusing them together, increasing cancer cell death.........

Posted by: Mark      Read more         Source


March 5, 2007, 5:10 AM CT

Natural antibiotics yield secrets

Natural antibiotics yield secrets
Frog skin and human lungs hold secrets to developing new antibiotics, and a technique called solid-state NMR spectroscopy is a key to unlocking those secrets.

That's the view of University of Michigan researcher Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy, who will discuss his group's progress toward that goal March 3 at the annual meeting of the Biophysical Society in Baltimore, Md.

Ramamoorthy's research group is using solid-state NMR to explore the germ-killing properties of natural antibiotics called antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), which are produced by virtually all animals, from insects to frogs to humans. AMPs are the immune system's early line of defense, battling microbes at the first places they try to penetrate: skin, mucous membranes and other surfaces. They're copiously produced in injured or infected frog skin, for instance, and the linings of the human respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts also crank out the short proteins in response to invading pathogens.

In addition to fighting bacteria, AMPs attack viruses, fungi and even cancer cells, so drugs designed to mimic them could have widespread medical applications, said Ramamoorthy, who is an associate professor of chemistry and an associate research scientist in the Biophysics Research Division.

While scientists have identified hundreds of AMPs in recent years, they're still puzzling over exactly how the peptides wipe out bacteria and other microbes. Unlike conventional antibiotics, which typically inhibit specific bacterial proteins, AMPs get downright physical with invaders, punching holes into their membranes. But they're selectively pugnacious, targeting microbes but leaving healthy host cells alone.........

Posted by: Mark      Read more         Source


February 19, 2007, 8:07 PM CT

HIV protein to kill cancer cells

HIV protein to kill cancer cells Hawkins and colleagues have linked anticancer agents to a PET tracer substance to deliver the treatment directly to tumors in mice (red and yellow color shows highest amounts of tracer).
Cancer cells are sick, but they keep growing because they don't react to internal signals urging them to die. Now scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found an efficient way to get a messenger into cancer cells that forces them to respond to death signals. And they did it using one of the most sinister pathogens around - HIV.

"HIV knows how to insert itself into a number of different types of cells," says senior author William G. Hawkins, M.D., assistant professor of surgery and a member of the Siteman Cancer Center at the School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital. "A portion of the HIV protein called TAT can transport biologically active compounds into cells. TAT is small, but it can move massive molecules. You could almost hook TAT up to a train, and TAT would drag it inside a cell. So we've taken advantage of this ability."

In an article published online in January 2007 in the Annals of Surgical Oncology, the scientists describe using TAT to pull a protein called Bim into cancer cells. TAT alone cannot cause AIDS and has no adverse health effects. Bim acts as a tumor suppressor and causes cancer cells to die through apoptosis, a process by which cells "commit suicide."

The research team observed that the TAT-Bim compound activated apoptosis mechanisms in cancer cells and augmented the cell-killing effect of radiation. When mice with cancerous tumors were treated with TAT-Bim, their tumors shrank, and they survived longer than mice that didn't get the therapy. After 40 days, 80 percent of mice receiving TAT-Bim were alive in comparison to 20 percent of mice that didn't get the therapy.........

Posted by: Mark      Read more         Source


February 13, 2007, 9:51 PM CT

Flu shot might protect against H5N1

Flu shot might protect against H5N1
The yearly influenza vaccine that health officials urge people to get each fall might also offer certain individuals some cross protection against the H5N1 virus, usually known as bird flu, as per researchers at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

The researchers observed that a protein present in the annual influenza shot can act as a vaccine itself and trigger some cross protection against H5N1 in mice; and that some human volunteers already had antibodies directed against the same part of this virus. Cross protection occurs when the immune response triggered by a vaccine designed to protect against one germ also offers some protection against a different germ.

The finding also suggests that the annual influenza vaccine might be particularly beneficial to populations in areas of the world where H5N1 routinely infects birds and poses a threat to people.

"The jury is still out on whether the seasonal flu vaccine is definitely a reliable way to offer people some protection from H5N1," said Richard J. Webby, Ph.D., assistant member in the Virology division of the Department of Infectious Diseases at St. Jude. "But our initial results suggest that this is a research trail worth following." Webby is senior author of the report that appears in the Feb. 13 issue of the online journal PLoS Medicine at www.plosmedicine.org........

Posted by: Mark      Read more         Source


February 13, 2007, 8:36 PM CT

Migration Played Key Role in HIV Spread

Migration Played Key Role in HIV Spread
Labor migration played a critical role in the spread of HIV in South Africa, as per new research reported in the journal AIDS.

Using data collected from nearly 500 men and women living in bustling towns and rural villages, scientists from Brown University, Harvard Medical School and Imperial College London created a mathematical model that shows that migration of South African workers played a major role in the spread of HIV mainly by increasing high-risk sexual behavior.

South Africa has one of the world's highest rates of HIV infection. As per UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, an estimated 5.5 million South Africans were living with HIV in 2005 and roughly 1,000 AIDS deaths occur in South Africa every day.

"The AIDS epidemic in South Africa is devastating - and the migration of workers played an incredibly important role in its spread," said Mark Lurie, an assistant professor in the Department of Community Health at Brown. "While the epidemic is already pervasive in South Africa, our findings have policy implications for other countries with high rates of population mobility. Countries like India and China could see a surge in HIV rates unless there is proper prevention and therapy efforts among migrants and their partners".........

Posted by: Mark      Read more         Source



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Did you know?
Scientists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston have found a genetic marker that may identify individuals at greater risk for life-threatening infection from the West Nile virus. Results of the study are reported in the Nov. 15 print edition of Journal of Infectious Diseases.

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