Pandora Report 9.11.15

Miss us? Good news – the Pandora Report weekly update is back! With a new school year comes new faces and some organizational change-up. Dr. Gregory Koblentz is now the Senior Editor of Pandora Report and Saskia Popescu (yours truly) will be taking over from Julia Homstad as the Managing Editor. I come from the world of epidemiology, public health, and infection control. Having just started in the GMU Biodefense PhD program, I look forward to venturing down the rabbit hole that is the Pandora Report!

There’s been some pretty fascinating news over the past few weeks, so let’s try and catch up…

Lab Safety Concerns Grow 

Our very own Dr. Gregory Koblentz, director of the GMU Biodefense program, was interviewed by USA Today regarding the lab security issues that now involve mislabeled samples of plague. “Since there are now concerns about the biosafety practices at multiple DoD labs there needs to be an independent review of the military’s biosafety policies and practices,” Koblentz said Thursday. He said the Critical Reagents Program is an important biodefense resource. “It’s crucial that all problems with handling and shipping inactivated samples be resolved quickly so the program can resume its important role in strengthening U.S. biopreparedness.”

Reviving a 30,000-Year-Old Virus…Isn’t This How the Zombie Apocalypse Starts?

You may recall last year that French scientists stumbled across a 30,000-year-old virus frozen in the Siberian permafrost. Considered to be a “giant virus” (doesn’t that give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside?), this is actually the fourth ancient, giant viral discovery since 2003. The new plan is to try to revive the virus in order to better study it.

Dr. Claverie told Agency France-Presse, “If we are not careful, and we industrialise these areas without putting safeguards in place, we run the risk of one day waking up viruses such as smallpox that we though were eradicated.” Given the recent concerns over biosafety lab specimen transport, we’re all curious to see how this new organism, coined “Frankenvirus”, turns out!

Cucumbers and A Multi-State Salmonella Outbreak

CDC updates regarding the Salmonella Poona outbreak reveal the brevity of the potentially contaminated product. As of September 9th, there have been two deaths, 70 hospitalizations, and 341 confirmed cases across 30 states. Perhaps the most worrisome is that 53% of affected individuals are children under the age of 18. While the produce company, Andrew & Williamson, issued a voluntary recall of their “slicer” or “American cucumber on September 4th, there have been 56 additional cases reported since then. Isolated samples from cucumbers in question were found in Arizona, California, Montana, and Nevada. The California Department of Public Health issued a warning and pictures of the affected cucumbers. 

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Pandora Report 8.9.15

My apologies for lack of update last weekend…but that means a SUPER UPDATE this weekend! This week marked the 70th anniversary of atomic bombs being dropped in Japan. Rather than find an insufficient story that attempted to address the gravity of that event, we’re focusing on a successful Ebola vaccine trial, UN consensus on Syrian chemical weapons, and airplane bathrooms (because I can’t help myself when I see a story like that!) We’ve also got stories you may have missed.

Have a great week!

Vaccine Success Holds Hope for End to Deadly Scourge of Ebola

Some great news from West Africa: an Ebola vaccine trial in Guinea has returned results that are 100% effective. 4,000 people who had been in close contact with a confirmed Ebola case showed complete protection after ten days. A ring vaccination strategy—where those who have close contact with an infected person—was used, and after success was demonstrated, the vaccine is now being extended to 13-17 year olds, and possibly 6-12 year old children.

Reuters—“The success of the Guinea trial is a big relief for researchers, many of whom feared a sharp decline in cases this year would scupper their hopes of proving a vaccine could work. Another major trial in Liberia, which had aimed to recruit some 28,000 subjects, had to stop enrolling after only reaching its mid-stage target of 1,500 participants. Plans for testing in Sierra Leone were also scaled back. That left the study in Guinea, where Ebola is still infecting new victims, as the only real hope for demonstrating the efficacy of a vaccine.”

U.N. Approves Resolution on Syria Chemical Weapons

The UN Security Council unanimously—yes, even Russia—adopted a resolution aimed at identifying those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria over the past two years. The resolution established an investigative body that would assign blame for the attacks “so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice.”

Salt Lake Tribune—“‘Pointing a finger matters,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the council. “This sends a clear and powerful message to all those involved in chemical weapons attacks in Syria that the [new investigative body] will identify you if you gas people.” But she added that prosecuting perpetrators will take time because there is still no tribunal to investigate alleged crimes during the war in Syria, which has killed at least 250,000 people since it began in March 2011, according to the U.N.”

Airplane Toilets Can Help Researchers Find Disease Outbreaks

A recent study in Scientific Reports finds that researchers can tell what continent you’re from and give early indication of disease outbreaks, all from the poop left in airplanes. (I think this is the first time I’ve been able to say “poop” here on the blog.) The researchers gathered samples from 18 airplanes that departed from nine cities and landed in Copenhagen and were able to identify continental trends. Microbes from Southeast Asia had higher incidence of antibiotic resistance; food transmitted microbes were also more frequent in the Southeast Asian samples; and C. diff was much more common in the North American samples.

Popular Science—“These findings led the researchers to believe that they could start to create a typical microbiome for each continent. And any big shifts that happen in their makeup—say, the concentration of C. diff rises dramatically in samples from Southeast Asia—could indicate a growing public health issue. If it’s caught early enough, public health officials could take preventative action.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: CDC Global

Pandora Report 6.21.15

Changing things up this week, our lead story is a nuclear photo essay. We’ve also got Russian nuclear posturing and a bunch of other stories you may have missed.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Next Exit, Armageddon: Photos of America’s Nuclear Weapons Legacy

I love a good photo essay, especially those focused on abandoned places—so this is the perfect* combination of that and nuclear history. Many times on the blog I’ve made somewhat flippant comments about visiting nuclear sites on summer vacation. However, evidently there is great public interest in this. As such, the National Park Service and the Department of Energy will establish the Manhattan Project National Historical Park that will include sites as Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Hanford.

VICE News—“Elsewhere in the US, the ruins of the Manhattan Project and the arms race that followed remain overlooked. In North Dakota, a pyramid-like anti-missile radar that was built to detect an incoming nuclear attack from the Soviet Union pokes through the prairie grass behind an open fence. In Arizona, a satellite calibration target that was used during the Cold War to help American satellites focus their lenses before spying on the Soviet Union sits covered in weeds near a Motel 6 parking lot. And in a suburban Chicago park, where visitors jog and bird watch, nuclear waste from the world’s first reactor — developed by Italian physicist Enrico Fermi for the Manhattan Project in 1942 — sits buried beneath a sign that reads ‘Caution — Do Not Dig.’”

*Check out the photos. They’re truly extraordinary.

Putin: Russia to Boost Nuclear Arsenal with 40 Missiles

Everything old is new again, it seems. This week Vladimir Putin announced that Russia will put more than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles into service in 2015. It is said that the new missiles are part of a military modernization program. However, the announcement comes on the heels of a US proposal to increase its own military presence in NATO states in Eastern Europe.

BBC—“Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the statement from Mr. Putin was “confirming the pattern and behaviour of Russia over a period of time; we have seen Russia is investing more in defence in general and in its nuclear capability in particular”.

He said: “This nuclear sabre-rattling of Russia is unjustified, it’s destabilising and it’s dangerous.” He added that “what Nato now does in the eastern part of the alliance is something that is proportionate, that is defensive and that is fully in line with our international commitments.’”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: Federal Government of the United States

Pandora Report 6.14.15

I’ve got brunch reservations this morning so the big story about the coming egg shortage is hitting close to home. We’ve also got a story about ISIS’ WMD and a bunch of stories you may have missed.

As a final reminder, the Early Registration Deadline for the Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security is tomorrow, Monday, June 15. For more information and registration, please click here.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Egg Shortage Scrambles U.S. Food Industries

The unprecedented outbreak of avian influenza in the U.S. has meant massive losses in the domestic poultry industry which has left experts warning that U.S. consumers are very likely to see an increase in egg prices. Cases of avian flu have been reported in 15 states, with Iowa and Minnesota being some of the hardest hit. “In Minnesota, the number of lost turkeys represent about 11 percent of our total turkey production…of the chickens we’ve lost that are laying eggs, 32 percent… have been affected by this” In Iowa, about 40 percent of the state’s egg-laying chickens and 11 percent of its turkeys have been affected. All these losses will mean a shortage of whole eggs and other egg-based products.

U.S. News and World Report—“Consumers haven’t felt the pinch too much just yet, but they are unlikely to emerge with their pocketbooks unscathed, [Rick] Brown [Senior VP at Urner Barry, a food commodity research and analysis firm]. He says two-thirds of all eggs produced in the U.S. remain in a shell, many of which are placed in cartons and sold in grocery stores. This stock of eggs has been hit significantly less by the avian flu outbreak than those used in the egg products industry, which Brown says encompasses “everything from mayonnaise to salad dressings to cake mixes to pasta to bread.”

Australian Official Warns of Islamic State Weapons of Mass Destruction

You may have already seen this, since this story was everywhere this week. Julie Bishop, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said the Islamic State (ISIS) already has and is already using chemical weapons. Bishop made these comments in an address to the Australia Group—a coalition of 40 countries seeking to limit the spread of biological and chemical weapons. In a follow-up interview, Bishop also said that NATO was concerned about the theft of radioactive material and what that could mean for nuclear weapons proliferation.

The Washington Post—“‘The use of chlorine by Da’ish, and its recruitment of highly technically trained professionals, including from the West, have revealed far more seriou­s efforts in chemical weapons development,” Bishop said, using an alternate name for the Islamic State in a speech reported by the Australian. She did not specify the source of her information.  “… Da’ish is likely to have amongst its tens of thousands of recruits the technical expertise necessary to further refine precursor materials and build chemical weapons.’”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Hannahdownes

Pandora Report 6.7.15

We’ve got stories this week about MERS spread in South Korea and Ebola drugs that may already be in your medicine cabinet. We’ve also got some stories you may have missed.

As a reminder, the Early Registration Deadline for the Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security professional education course has been extended to June 15. For more information and registration, please click here.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

South Korea Grapples to Contain MERS as 1,369 in Quarantine

The big story this week is MERS in South Korea. Last week we reported that there were five cases. As of Friday, the number has jumped to 36 confirmed cases and three deaths. Hundreds of schools have closed in an effort to prevent further spreading of the disease, which arrived in a 68-year old index patient who had traveled in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. Many in public health have been surprised by the extent of the outbreak in South Korea because the virus has not been shown to pass easily from human to human and the health care system is “considered to be sophisticated and modern.”

CNN—“‘This is quite unusual. I think this is the only country, apart from those in the Middle East, that has such a number of cases,” said [Dr. Leo] Poon [a virology expert at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, who worked on the SARS outbreak more than a decade ago]. “It’s not entirely surprising. In the Middle East, people in Saudi Arabia had hospital outbreaks where a few people got infected. It’s a similar situation at the moment.’”

Drugs to Fight Ebola May Already Be in Your Medicine Cabinet, Study Suggests

A team from USAMRIID, the University of Virginia, and Horizon Discovery Inc. have been working to determine if any existing drugs could be used to fight Ebola. Using 2,635 compounds, including FDA-approved drugs, amino acids, food additives, vitamins and minerals they discovered a possible answer could already be in your medicine cabinet—Zoloft and Vascor.

The LA Times—“But Zoloft (also known by the generic name sertraline) and Vascor (generic name bepridil) had more encouraging results. Of the 10 mice that got Zoloft, seven survived for 28 days. Even better, all 10 of the mice treated with Vascor were still alive 28 days after [Ebola] infection. For the sake of comparison, all of the untreated mice that served as controls were dead within nine days.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Shikhlinski

Pandora Report 5.30.15

It was a slow-ish news week, this week with very few small stories but two huge ones about Chemical Weapons threats against airplanes and an inadvertent shipment of live Anthrax spores. We’ve also got a few stories you may have missed.

As a reminder, the Early Registration Deadline for the Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security professional education course has been extended to June 15. For more information and registration, please click here.

Have a great weekend!!

U.S. Military Says It Mistakenly Shipped Live Anthrax Samples

It was a big story this week when live anthrax spores were inadvertently shipped from Dugway Proving Ground—an army facility in Utah—to 19 military and civilian labs across as many as nine states and an overseas site. The shipments were supposed to contain dead spores. Army and CDC officials have emphasized that these shipments pose no risk to the public and there are no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infections among lab workers.

NBC New York—“The Defense Department, acting “out of an abundance of caution,” has halted “the shipment of this material from its labs pending completion of the investigation,” [Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve] Warren said.”

FBI Looking Into Chemical Weapons Threats Against Planes

While many of us had a day off from work on Memorial Day, the FBI was investigating threats made against at least 10 flights claiming that chemical weapons were aboard the planes. These included a Delta Airings flight from London Heathrow, a United Airlines flight from Edinburgh, Scotland, and an Air France flight into New York that was escorted to the ground safely by two F-15 fighter jets.

NBC News—“The threats are not deemed credible, but the information has been passed along to the airlines anyway, out of an abundance of caution.

The male caller made threats against at least 10 flights in a quick series of calls to local police around the country. All but three planes have landed with nothing of concern found.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: United States Government

Pandora Report 05.17.15

Yowza! That’s another semester in the books for the GMU Biodefense students. Please excuse the sparse activity on the blog, but with the semester over, things should be getting back to normal.

This weekend we have a updates on Ebola and the bird flu outbreak in the U.S., plus other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week, (enjoy the Mad Men finale!) and see you back here next weekend!

Ebola is (still) living in an American doctor’s eye

As an update, Liberia has (finally) been declared Ebola free, the number of cases in Guinea continue to rise due to transmissions at funerals, and those in Sierra Leone are dying less from Ebola than from other diseases due to the collapse of the healthcare system. It’s been over a year and we are still learning things about Ebola and its persistence on hospital surfaces, sexual fluids, and now, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the eye. WHO volunteer Ian Crozier was diagnosed in Sierra Leone and transported to Emory University where he was treated. Months later he returned to the hospital with symptoms like blurred vision and acute pain in his left eye. The cause? Ebola.

The Washington Post—“Ebola may have found refuge in patients’ eyes because, researchers said, the eye is walled off from the immune system. As the New York Times put it: “The barriers are not fully understood, but they include tightly packed cells in minute blood vessels that keep out certain cells and molecules, along with unique biological properties that inhibit the immune system.” This phenomenon is called “immune privilege” — and it means the eye can harbor viruses.”

America’s $45 Billion Poultry Industry Has a (Really) Bad Case of Bird Flu

The title says it all, frankly. Since early December 2014 three strains of highly pathogenic avian influenza have been circulating in North America. A state of emergency has been declared in Iowa (one of the hardest hit states) and over 21 million birds have been killed to contain and prevent the spread of the virus. Beyond the culling of birds, the outbreak is having an affect on business—China, South Korea, and Mexico have banned imports of U.S. poultry (to protect their own industries.)

The Motley Fool—“Falling exports could hurt farmers, but it could also help to offset domestic price increases from less supply. Although, with tens of millions of bird deaths and no end in sight to the pandemic, domestic food prices could be the largest casualty in the end.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: 8thstar

Pandora Report 11.16.14

Its getting pretty cold outside, right? So what better way to spend your Sunday than catching up on all the best stories of the week! This week we’ve got Wikipedia as a predictive took for the spread of disease, a catchy new name for Chikungunya, MERS CoV in Saudi Arabia, some stories you may have missed, and, of course, an Ebola update.

How Wikipedia Reading Habits Can Successfully Predict the Spread of Disease

In my absolute favorite story of the week, researchers have identified a link between the spread of disease and the corresponding page hits of those diseases on Wikipedia. No, the Internet isn’t giving people E-bola, but page views seem to have a predictive effect on infectious disease spread. During the three-year study, looking at readers’ habits, the researchers could predict the spread of flu in the U.S., Poland, Thailand, and Japan, and dengue in Brazil and Thailand at least 28 days before those countries’ health ministries.

The Washington Post—“Official government data—usually released with a one- or two-week lag time—lagged four weeks behind Wikipedia reading habits, according to Del Valle; people, she said, are probably reading about the illnesses they have before heading to the doctor.”

The ‘Vacation Virus’

As Chikungunya makes it way through the Americas, awareness of the disease becomes more important—including the creation of a catchy nickname! The vector, transmissibility, and symptoms are similar to Dengue and with Chikungunya being relatively new to the western hemisphere, a story like this one may be helpful in putting a human face on a growing problem.

The Atlantic—“It might be parochial to call Chikungunya a “vacation virus”; however, as Americans prepare to hit the Caribbean beaches in the coming winter months, awareness campaigns are ramping up. Last week, the travel section of the New York Times ran a feature on Chikungunya highlighting how tourism agencies and organizations are both downplaying the scope of the outbreak and advising simple measures to deal with the virus. (Avoid mosquitos.)”

MERS Cases on the Rise in Saudi Arabia

Since September 5, there have been 38 new cases of MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia, bringing the total number of cases in Saudi Arabia to 798. The WHO said that due to the non-specific symptoms of MERS, it is critical that health care facilities consistently apply standard precautions with all patients regardless of their initial diagnosis. Furthermore, until more is understood about MERS, immunocompromised individuals should practice general hygiene measures, like hand washing, and avoid close contact with sick animals. Nearly one third of the new cases were reported by patients who had recently had close contact with camels.

Outbreak News Today—“The continued increase in cases prompted Anees Sindi, deputy commander of the Command and Control Center (CCC) to say, “MERS-CoV is active and we need to be on full alert.” In addition, the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health launched a new public information campaign in Taif in response to the recent spike in new cases of MERS-CoV in the region. Medical professionals will be made available at public locations with the aim of educating citizens on the need to avoid unprotected contact with camels because of the risk of infection with MERS-CoV, underlining the crucial role of the community in preventing the spread of the disease in the Kingdom.”

This Week in Ebola

Ebola is on the rise again in Sierra Leone bringing the number of deaths to 5,147 and cases to 14,068. It appears that the virus is finding new pockets to inhabit including villages outside the Liberian capital and in Bamako, the capital of Mali (eclipsing earlier success in that country at containment.) Despite these new infections outside of Monrovia, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has ended the state of emergency in that country. Unsurprisingly, the epidemic has imposed a financial burden on the affected countries including losses in agricultural trade and the service industries. Elsewhere in Africa, Ugandan health officials have declared the country free of an Ebola-like Marburg virus. Stateside, a new report from the CDC outlines steps taken in Dallas to prevent further virus spread and a third Ebola patient headed to the bio containment unit at the Nebraska Medical Center for treatment. Finally, 80 U.S. Military personnel helping to fight Ebola in Liberia returned home this week, and though none are displaying symptoms, they will be monitored for 21 days at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Pandora Report 08.09.14

I spent about 12 hours at Dulles Airport yesterday. I didn’t fly anywhere, but I was ensuring that 120 international students were able to get from Washington DC to their host families all over the country. You may have noticed that in the security areas of Dulles Airport they have televisions that go over proper security screening procedures. On these same screens, they also show CDC travel alerts.

In June (when I was ensuring that 450 students were able to get back to their home countries), the alerts were for MERS and mosquito borne diseases like dengue and Chikungunya. Yesterday, Ebola was on alert for travelers to West Africa.

Last week we looked at the fever pitch of Ebola, today, lets look at the diseases designated by the CDCs travel alerts at Dulles.

 

Zika Virus: Another Threat from the Asian Tiger Mosquito

Travel alerts from the CDC often include Chickungunya and Dengue fever, but another disease from the same vector—the tiger mosquit0—is receiving alerts as well. Zika Fever, was isolated in humans in the 1970s, but has relatively few documented cases. In 2007, the virus demonstrated epidemic capacity with 5,000 cases in Micronesia. In 2013 there were 55,000 cases in Polynesia. Today the CDC has issued Watch Level 1 alerts for Zika in Easter Island, French Polynesia, and the Cook Islands and urges travelers to practice usual precautions.

Entomology Today—“Originally from Asia, the tiger mosquito was introduced to Africa in 1991 and detected in Gabon in 2007, where its arrival undoubtedly contributed to the emergence of dengue, chikungunya, and as shown by this new study, zika. The rapid geographic expansion of this invasive species in Africa, Europe, and America allows for a risk of propagation of zika fever around the world.”

 

Ramadan pilgrimage season in Saudi Arabia mostly free from MERS

Saudi Arabia reported only ten new cases of MERS from June 28- July 28 during the month of Ramadan. In April and May of 2014, hundreds of people were infected by MERS, which raised concerns about infection rates during Ramadan and during the Hajj, which will take place in October, when millions of pilgrims will travel to Mecca. Since 2012, Saudi Arabia has confirmed over 700 cases of infection resulting in nearly 300 deaths. The CDC designates the Hajj as an Alert Level 2, and urges U.S. residents to practice enhanced precautions.

Al Arabiya—“Saudi Arabia and the World Health Organization have said they are imposing no travel or other restrictions due to MERS during the Hajj, but have encouraged very young or old pilgrims, and those suffering from chronic disease, not to come this year.”

 

WHO: Ebola ‘an international emergency’

This week, the World Health Organization declared that the spread of Ebola in West Africa is an international health emergency. They urged coordinated response in order to keep the spread of the virus under control. Though no travel or trade bans have been enacted, the WHO recommends that Ebola cases or contacts should not travel internationally. This comes at a time when states of emergency have been declared in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone and the number of total cases has reached nearly 1,800 with over 950 deaths. The CDC designates outbreaks in these countries as a Warning Level 3, and urges U.S. residents to avoid non-essential travel.

BBC—“WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan appealed for help for the countries hit by the ‘most complex outbreak in the four decades of this disease.’

The decision by the WHO to declare Ebola a public health emergency is, by its own definition, an ‘extraordinary event’ which marks ‘a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease’.”

 

Image Credit: The Denver Channel

Pandora Report 6.7.14

We’re taking the bad news with the good news this week. Highlights include miscalculations in the MERS toll, rising numbers of Ebola deaths, innovations in vaccine delivery using rice, and progress with MRSA. Enjoy your weekend!

Saudi Arabia Reports Big Jump in MERS cases, Including 282 Deaths

On Tuesday, the Saudi Ministry of Health reported that 282 people have died from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) which is a major increase from the previously known official death toll of 190. The same day as the announcement, Deputy Health Minister Dr. Ziad Memish was “relieved” from his post according to the Saudi Health Minister. No reason was given.

CNN—“MERS is thought to have originated on the Arabian Peninsula in 2012. No one knows exactly where it came from, but evidence implicating camels is emerging. In a recently published study in mBio, researchers said they isolated live MERS virus from two single-humped camels, known as dromedaries. They found multiple substrains in the camel viruses, including one that perfectly matches a substrain isolated from a human patient.”

Resurgence of Ebola Epidemic in West Africa

Though overall the number of new cases of Ebola appears to be declining, new cases have been recently reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins San Frontieres have been supporting health authorities in both countries, treating patients, and working to put measures in place to control the epidemic. They have sent over 44 tons of equipment and supplies to assist the outbreak which has infected over 300 people and killed at least 125.

Doctors Without Borders—“The rise in cases may be due to a reluctance on the part of patients to go to hospital. The movement of infected people and cadavers is also a major issue. Families frequently transport dead bodies themselves in order to organize funerals in other towns. The multiplication of affected areas makes it difficult to treat patients and control the epidemic.”

Fighting Deadly Disease, With Grains of Rice

In an effort to fight common diarrheal illnesses including cholera and rotavirus, researchers at the University of Tokyo are working on bioenginerring rice in order to turn it into an easy and low-cost storage and delivery medium to combat these common illnesses.  According to the World Health Organization, cholera alone kills as many as 120,000 annually.  Both the cholera vaccine and rotavirus antibody versions of the rice have been tested on laboratory mice with plans to test on humans within the next few years in a country like Bangladesh where cholera is a major public health threat. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as several pharmaceutical companies have shown interest in developing drugs based on the research.

The New York Times—“Vaccines  or antibodies for both exist but require refrigerated storage, Yoshikazu Yuki, an assistant professor of mucosal immunology, said in an interview. Bioengineering vaccines or antibodies into rice would allow them to be stockpiled easily, without the cost of cold storage, for up to three years at room temperature, he said. The rice could be ingested orally, ground into a paste and drunk, delivering the antibodies to the intestine.”

A New Weapon in the Battle Against MRSA

Among serious concern for the growing levels of antibiotic resistant superbugs, it appears there is some promising news. Durata Therapeutics have developed a new drug, Dalvance, which in clinical trials has proven as effective as vancomycin—another powerful antibiotic—against acute skin and soft tissue infections including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA.) According to Durata, more than 4.8 million people were admitted to hospitals with skin and soft tissue infections between 2005 and 2011 and nearly 60% of these staph infections were the methicillin-resistant variety.

The Washington Post—“The drug, Dalvance, is the first approved by the FDA under the government’s Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now program, its effort to encourage pharmaceutical companies to produce new drugs to combat the growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Even asthe problem has grown around the world, the number of new drugs in the pipeline has dwindled, with drug companies focused on more profitable medications.”

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons