Pandora Report: 1.11.2019

Happy Friday! If you’re feeling the post-holiday lull about getting back into work, here’s a great podcast on the biology of zombies.

New Bat-borne Virus Discovered by Singapore Researchers
Researchers have identified a new genus of filovirus found in fruit bats. This virus is similar to Ebola and has the potential to cause infection in humans. “The researchers discovered the new virus while analysing the diversity of filoviruses in Rousettus bats. They named it the Mengla virus because it was discovered in Megla County, Yunnan Province, China. They detected the virus from a bat sample and conducted sequencing and functional characterization studies. The results showed that the Menga virus represents a new genus named Dianlovirus within the filovirus group. The Mengla virus is genetically distinct, sharing just 32 percent to 54 percent of its genetic sequence with other known filoviruses. It is found in different geographic locations compared to other filoviruses. This new genus, which could include more than one species, sits in between Ebola virus and Marburg virus on the evolutionary tree.”

House Passes Pandemic Response and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovations Act 
The House also passed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act 401-17, which organizes programs to react to terrorism, disease outbreaks, and natural disasters. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and top-ranking Republican Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon said in a statement that the bill would ‘strengthen our nation’s emergency preparedness and response efforts and modernize the nation’s regulatory framework for over-the-counter drugs. Thanks to this legislation our communities will be safer and better prepared for emergencies, and FDA’s regulatory standards for OTC drugs will be modernized to better ensure consumer safety’.” “U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) sponsored H.R. 269. U.S. Reps. Susan W. Brooks (R-IN), Bob Latta (R-OH), U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) are among the bill’s seven original cosponsors. Many of the same lawmakers also played key roles in the original law’s 2006 enactment and subsequent first reauthorization in 2013.”

WHO’s Draft Code of Conduct for Open/Timely Sharing of Pathogen Genetic Sequence Data During Outbreaks
WHO has just released their code of conduct to help enable the sharing of pathogen genetic sequence data during infectious disease outbreaks. “Pathogen genetic sequence data (GSD) is an increasingly valuable source of information in understanding and controlling outbreaks of infectious disease. With the advent of next generation sequencing, the depth/extent of available information will expand further. A key concern in recent outbreaks has been variable timelines between the start of an outbreak and the public availability of the first and subsequent genetic sequences. WHO strongly supports public access to sequence data to inform public health and research decision-making during outbreaks, the equitable sharing of benefits derived from the use of such data, and the legitimate interests of data providers. WHO has consulted with many stakeholders and institutions working in the pathogen sequencing arena, including those who have been involved in applications to recent outbreaks. Based on these consultations, and on lessons learned from recent outbreaks as part of the data sharing workstream of the WHO R&D Blueprint, WHO is proposing elements of a code of conduct for GSD sharing in infectious disease outbreaks.” You can access the full draft here.

EU Human Brain Project Opinion on Responsible Dual Use
The Ethics and Society Group of the Human Brain Project has just released their opinion on responsible dual use, which includes recommendations for dealing with concerns in relation to misuse of brain research. “As a consequence, The Human Brain Project has established a project-wide dual use working group to evaluate the research carried out within the project, and to disseminate the recommendations from the opinion, as well as experience accumulated through the work of the group itself. Target audiences include national governments, the European Commission, national and international research associations.” Not only does the report include political, security, intelligence, and military research of concern, but it also includes recommendations for the HBP, the EU, and other social actors. For example, “We recommend that the European Commission addresses the tension between the policy of ‘Open Innovation, Open Science, Open to the World’ and the need to regulate and restrict dual use research of concern.”

Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing: Continuing the Global Discussion
The National Academies have released their proceedings from the second summit held from November 27-29 in Hong Kong. The summit involved over 500 researchers, ethicists, policymakers, etc., to discuss the potential benefits and risks of human genome editing and ethical cultural perspectives. “The second international summit follows the First International Summit on Human Gene Editing, which was held in Washington, DC, on December 1-3, 2015.3 In a statement released at the end of the 2015 summit, the organizing committee of the 2015 summit observed that intensive basic and preclinical research on genome editing was clearly needed and that such research should be subject to appropriate legal and ethical rules and oversight. The statement said that genome editing of somatic cells—that is, cells whose genomes are not transmitted to the next generation— could be “appropriately and rigorously evaluated within existing and evolving regulatory frameworks for gene therapy, and [that] regulators […could] weigh risks and potential benefits in approving clinical trials and therapies.” However, the 2015 organizing committee stated that genome editing of germline cells, which can be passed on to subsequent generations as part of the human gene pool, would be “irresponsible” until safety issues were resolved and until there was broad consensus that the proposed use of genome editing was appropriate.” This summit is especially relevant as it came right after He’s announcement of using CRISPR in human embryos.

Government Shutdown Impacts FDA Food Inspections
It seems almost daily we’re learning more and more about how the government shutdown is impacting just about everything. The wave goes beyond travel and national parks, but now includes the routine food safety inspections of seafood, fruits, vegetables, and other high-risk foods. “F.D.A. inspectors normally examine operations at about 160 domestic manufacturing and food processing plants each week. Nearly one-third of them are considered to be at high risk of causing food-borne illnesses. Food-borne diseases in the United States send about 128,000 people to the hospital each year, and kill 3,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Domestic meat and poultry are still being inspected by staff at the Agriculture Department, but they are going without pay. The F.D.A. oversees about 80 percent of the nation’s food supply, as well as most overseas imports.” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb tweeted this week on how the shutdown has impacted several FDA operations.

One Health -Social Sciences Webinar Series
Don’t miss this webinar next Tuesday 1.15 at 11am EST on Addressing Gender Issues in One Health and Infectious Disease Preparedness. Hosted by One Health Commission and presented by Dr. Brigitte Bagnol and Dr. Janetrix Amuguni, you won’t want to miss it!

Ebola Outbreak Update
Two additional cases were reported in the DRC, bringing the total case count to 627, of which 579 were confirmed. 98 cases are still being investigated. “Five more deaths were reported: three in Butembo and one each in Beni and Katwa. The fatality from Katwa involves someone who died in the community, a factor known to increase the risk of Ebola transmission. The number of people who received the VSV-EBOV vaccine continues to rise. Since Aug 8, 58,866 people have been vaccinated. The World Health Organization (WHO) African regional office said today in a weekly outbreak and health emergency report that Butembo, Katwa, and Oicha are the current main hot spots in the outbreak, which is now entering its sixth month. It said resumption in response activities in the wake of recent election protest disruptions is encouraging, but more interruptions could pose serious problems for timely containment of the outbreak.”

Ebola Readiness- A False Sense of Security
GMU biodefense doctoral student and infection preventionist Saskia Popescu discusses a recent report on hospital preparedness and how surveyed administrators might have a false sense of security. “For many of us who worked in health care during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, memories of those months are filled with frantic efforts to bring ourselves and staff up to par on personal protective equipment (PPE) guidelines, confirm there were patient movement algorithms, and ensure that if someone with Ebola walked through our doors, we would rapidly identify and isolate them. To say that it was a stressful time would be an understatement. The question is: are we better off than we were in 2014?  The answer? Somewhat. Investigators on a new report by the Office of the Inspector General evaluated hospital preparedness across the United States for emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) after the Ebola outbreak. Administrators from 368 hospitals around the United States were surveyed, of which 10 were Special Pathogens Centers. When surveyed in 2017, 14% of administrators felt their facilities were unprepared for a patient with Ebola or an EID. Conversely, 71% of hospital administrators reported that their facilities were unprepared to receive an Ebola patient in 2014. The financial cost of maintaining competencies, PPE, and other specialized equipment was a challenge for many and ultimately, 79% of hospital administrators reported that other types of emergencies were more likely to occur than EID threats. The challenges of training necessary and often critical staff, obtaining full participation from clinicians, and even combating frequent turnover in staffing, all stressed the capacity for hospitals to maintain readiness.”

Quantum Computing, Biotech, And Other Threats to the U.S.
In the middle of a government shutdown and at the beginning of a new year, there is a lot to worry about. Some concerns are short-term, while others are long-term issues. Elisabeth Eaves discusses the list from the GAO regarding long-range emerging threats. “New and evolving diseases from the natural environment—exacerbated by changes in climate, the movement of people into cities, and global trade and travel—may become a pandemic. –It’s a question of when, not if. As Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Bulletin last year, ‘What we don’t know about flu is exactly when the next flu pandemic will occur, but I think all flu virologists and public health experts believe that it’s a matter of time’.”

Estrogen Receptor Modulators Could Tackle Infectious Diseases
The pursuit of infectious disease treatment options is challenging as they’re not often seen as strong sources of revenue for pharmaceutical companies. “Investigators on a new study have thrown their hat into the ring in this effort to repurpose already approved medications by exploring how estrogen receptor antagonists could be utilized for infectious disease treatments. They evaluated the triphenylethylene class of estrogen receptor modulators related to tamoxifen (ie, tamoxifen, clomiphene/clomifene, and raloxifene) as a potential agent against bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. Tamoxifen has shown analogs effective against HIV, Ebola, hepatitis C, Candida spp, Mycobacterium tuberculosisStaphylococcus aureus, and more. The antifungal activity of tamoxifen has been documented since the 1980s, while studies exploring its antiviral activities have gone back to the 1990s. Investigators reviewed these studies to assess just how much power tamoxifen could offer against infectious diseases. They found that antimalaria activity of tamoxifen and clomiphene was investigated in vitro and study results showed that parasitic growth was inhibited by 80%.”

Rift Valley Fever Endangers Pregnant Women
While many have focused on Zika virus as a danger to pregnant women, new research is showing that Rift Valley fever may cause severe injury to human fetuses if contracted during pregnancy. “In a study published last month in the journal Science Advances, researchers used infected rats and human fetal tissue to discover how the virus targets the placenta. Results showed that the virus may be even more damaging to fetuses than the Zika virus, which set off a global crisis in 2015 and left thousands of babies in Central America and South America with severe birth defects.” While it is primarily in livestock in sub-Saharan Africa, hundreds of human cases occur each year. “Two cases of infected fetuses have been documented. One infant was born with an enlarged liver and spleen, among other symptoms; the other died within a week. Because the disease can be asymptomatic in pregnant women, many more cases of abnormalities and stillbirths may have been misidentified. Among rats used in the study, 65 percent of the pups born to infected mothers died, compared to 25 percent of pups born from uninfected controls. Each infected mother lost at least one pup, and all of the infected mothers’ offspring contracted the virus.”

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • U.S. Flu Season – Looking for the latest trends this flu season? The CDC’s latest report can be found here. The majority of the cases have been Influenza A(H1N1N)pdm09  but H3 have been seen more in the southeastern U.S. “The proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness (ILI) increased to 4.1%, which is above the national baseline of 2.2%. All 10 regions reported ILI at or above their region-specific baseline level. The increase in the percentage of patient visits for ILI may be influenced in part by a reduction in routine healthcare visits during the winter holidays, as has occurred during previous seasons.”
  • New York Measles Outbreak – Despite measles being declared from the US in 2000, New York has seen a surge of cases. “Since September 2018, New York state health officials have seen approximately 170 measles cases to include 55 confirmed cases in the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, 105 cases in Rockland County, 7 in Orange County and one in Monroe County in western NY. According to the New York State Department of Health, the current outbreak is the largest in New York State since the 1990’s, prior to elimination of measles in the United States.”

 

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