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Science Policy Around the Web – December 5, 2014

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By: Thomas Calder, Ph.D.

Global Public Health

‘Superbugs’ Kill India’s Babies and Pose an Overseas Threat

A recent study has found more than 58,000 newborn infants died last year in India from bacterial infections due to antibiotic resistant bacteria. These infants mostly succumbed to sepsis or pneumonia. According to Dr. Neelam Kler, chairwoman of the neonatology department at a New Delhi hospital, “Five years ago, we almost never saw these kinds of infections [but] now, close to 100 percent of the babies referred to us have multidrug resistant infections. It’s scary.” Infants have undeveloped immune systems and therefore cannot fight these infections long enough for doctors to identify an antibiotic that effective kills the bacteria. The growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria in India has been linked to their overuse of antibiotic medication and their insufficient sanitary system. More antibiotics are sold over the counter in India than any other country in the world, which increases the risk of creating new resistant strains of bacteria. Additionally, over 50% of the population use outside toilets, which leads to the spread of bacteria in sewage water. According to Dr. Timothy R. Walsh, a microbiologist at Cardiff University, “India’s dreadful sanitation, uncontrolled use of antibiotics and overcrowding coupled with a complete lack of monitoring the problem has created a tsunami of antibiotic resistance that is reaching just about every country in the world.” Indeed, antibiotic resistant “superbugs” have emerged from India, suggesting this problem poses a risk to the entire world. (Gardiner Harris, The New York Times)



Natural gas: The fracking fallacy

In recent years, hydraulic fracturing has led to a “shale revolution” in the United States that has allowed the natural gas industry to extract millions of cubic meters of gas daily from fine-grained rock known as shale. The US Energy Information administration (EIA) has projected that US natural gas production will continually grow until it peaks in 2040, but this forecast might be overly optimistic. A team of geoscientists, petroleum engineers, and economists from the University of Texas in Austin led a three year study to evaluate this prediction and derived a much more conservative forecast. They predict natural gas production will peak in 2020 and then begin to decline. The methodologies used to create these projected numbers differ in a variety of ways. For example, the EIA projections were based on average well productivity on the county level, but the UT Austin team projections were based on smaller areas of one square mile, which they believe provides a more detailed resolution. Additionally, the UT Austin team excluded certain territories that EIA had included in their projection because those areas will likely be too difficult and costly to drill. Scott Tinker, co-leader of the UT Austin team, believes this approach helps to “mimic reality.” Understanding when gas production will peak is important because “there’s going to be a pretty fast decline on the other side [and] that’s when there’s going to be a rude awakening for the United States,” says Tad Patzek, member of the UT Austin team. Therefore, the more conservative forecast might require US officials to reevaluate future plans for the US energy strategy. (Mason Inman, Nature News)


HIV Vaccine

Are we on the road to an HIV vaccine?

The spread of HIV is still a major problem globally as 2.1 million people were newly infected in 2013, bringing the total to about 35 million people. According to Dr. Wayne Koff, chief scientific officer for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, “Most people that transmit it don’t even know they have it. To get that epidemic, to say you’ve controlled it, requires vaccination.” Scientists are optimistic about the vaccination approach since a recent vaccine has showed some protective ability in a large clinical trial of 16,000 volunteers in Thailand. This vaccine consisted of two vaccines, ALVAC-HIV and AIDSVAX, administered sequentially to prime the immune response and maintain the response over time. The protection rate was only 31.2%, but this was the first vaccine to confer any protection to HIV. Creating a vaccine against HIV has been difficult because the virus frequently mutates. Researchers are now trying to develop vaccines that target regions of the virus particle that are more conserved, or constant. Additionally, researchers have discovered that a specific type of antibody termed “broadly neutralizing antibody” may be the most effective antibody type at targeting and sequestering the virus. Therefore, scientists are working to create vaccines that stimulate these antibodies. (Meera Senthilingam, CNN)



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Written by sciencepolicyforall

December 5, 2014 at 9:00 am

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