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Posts Tagged ‘vaccination

Containing Emerging and Re-emerging Infections Through Vaccination Strategies

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By: Arielle Glatman Zaretsky, PhD

Source: CDC [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

           Throughout history, humans have sought to understand the human body and remedy ailments. Since the realization that disease can be caused by infection and the establishment of Koch’s postulates, designed to demonstrate that a specific microbe causes a disease, humans have sought to identify and “cure” diseases. However, while we have been successful as a species at developing treatments for numerous microbes, viruses, and even parasites, pure cures that prevent future reinfection have remained elusive. Indeed, the only human disease that has been eradicated in the modern era (smallpox) was eliminated through the successful development and application of preventative vaccines, not the implementation of any treatment strategy. Furthermore, the two next most likely candidates for eradication, dracunculiasis (guinea worm disease) and poliomyelitis (polio), are approaching this status through the use of preventative measures, via water filtration and vaccination, respectively. In fact, despite the recent pushback from a scientifically unfounded anti-vaxxers movement, the use of a standardized vaccination regimen has led to clear reductions in disease incidence of numerous childhood ailments in the Americas, including measles, mumps, rubella, and many others. Thus, although the development of antibiotics and other medical interventions have dramatically improved human health, vaccines remain the gold standard of preventative treatment for the potential of disease elimination. By Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Recently, there have been numerous outbreaks of emerging or reemerging infectious diseases. From SARS to Ebola to Zika virus, these epidemics have led to significant morbidity and mortality, and have incited global panic. In the modern era of air travel and a global economy, disease can spread quickly across continents, making containment difficult. Additionally, the low incidence of these diseases means that few efforts are exerted to the development of treatments and interventions for them, and when these are attempted, the low incidence further complicates the implementation of clinical trials. For example, though Ebola has been a public health concern since the first outbreak in 1976, no successful Ebola treatment or vaccine existed until the most recent outbreak of 2014-2016. This outbreak resulted in the deaths of more than 11,000 people, spread across more than 4 countries, and motivated the development of several treatments and 2 vaccine candidates, which have now reached human trials. However, these treatments currently remain unlicensed and are still undergoing testing, and were not available at the start or even the height of the outbreak when they were most needed. Instead, diseases that occur primarily in low income populations in developing countries are understudied, for lack of financial incentive. Thus, these pathogens can persist at low levels in populations, particularly in developing countries, creating a high likelihood of eventual outbreak and potential for future epidemics.

This stream of newly emerging diseases and the re-emergence of previously untreatable diseases brings the question of how to address these outbreaks and prevent global pandemics to the forefront for public health policy makers and agencies tasked with controlling infectious disease spread. Indeed, many regulatory bodies have integrated accelerated approval policies that can be implemented in an outbreak to hasten the bench to bedside process. Although the tools to identify new pathogens rapidly during an outbreak have advanced tremendously, the pathway from identification to treatment or prevention remains complicated. Regulatory and bureaucratic delays compound the slow and complicated research processes, and the ability to conduct clinical trials can be hindered by rare exposures to these pathogens. Thus, the World Health Organization (WHO) has compiled a blueprint for the prevention of future epidemics, meant to inspire partnerships in the development of tools, techniques, medications and approaches to reduce the frequency and severity of these disease outbreaks. Through the documentation and public declaration of disease priorities and approaches to promote research and development in these disease areas, WHO has set up a new phase of epidemic prevention through proactive research and strategy.

Recently, this inspired the establishment of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) by a mixed group of public and private funding organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, inspired by the suggestion that an Ebola vaccine could have prevented the recent outbreak if not for the lack of funding slowing research and development, to begin to create a pipeline for developing solutions to control and contain outbreaks, thereby preventing epidemics. Instead of focusing on developing treatments to ongoing outbreaks, the mission at CEPI is to identify likely candidates for future outbreaks based on known epidemic threats and to lower the barriers for effective vaccine development through assisting with initial dose and safety trials, and providing support through both the research and clinical trials, and the regulatory and industry aspects. If successful, this approach could lead to a stockpile of ready-made vaccines, which could easily be deployed to sites of an outbreak and administered to aid workers to reduce their morality and improve containment. What makes this coalition both unique and exciting is the commitment to orphan vaccines, so called for their lack of financial appeal to the pharmaceutical industry that normally determines the research and development priorities, and the prioritization of vaccine development over treatment or other prophylactic approaches. The advantage of a vaccination strategy is that it prevents disease through one simple treatment, with numerous precedents for adaptation of the vaccine to a form that is permissive of the potential temperature fluctuations and shipping difficulties likely to arise in developing regions. Furthermore, it aids in containment, by preventing infection, and can be quickly administered to large at risk populations.

Thus, while the recent outbreaks have incited fear, there is reason for hope. Indeed, the realization of these vaccination approaches and improved fast tracking of planning and regulatory processes could have long reaching advantages for endemic countries, as well as global health and epidemic prevention.

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January 26, 2017 at 9:47 am

Science Policy Around the Web – December 9, 2016

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By: Amy Kullas, PhD

Infectious Diseases

Current Mumps Outbreak is the Worst in Recent History

2016 has been the worst in recent history for mumps outbreaks. According to a report released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), almost 4,000 cases of mumps have been reported. This number is almost triple the number of cases reported in 2015. Mumps symptoms include: puffy cheeks and a swollen jaw (due to swollen salivary glands), fever, headache, tiredness, and loss of appetite.

In prevention of mumps, the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is ~88% effective when a person gets both of the recommended doses and ~78% effective when a person received a single dose. The mumps vaccination program began in 1967. Prior to this, mumps was considered a ‘classical’ childhood disease in the United States. Some clinicians say, “the efficacy of the vaccine wanes after 10 to 15 years.”

Though mumps outbreaks can still occur in vaccinated communities (particularly in close-contact settings like colleges), high vaccination rates aids to limit the size, length, and spread of the outbreak. This ongoing outbreak is hard-hitting college campuses. In fact, some universities have scaled back dining hall hours in addition to asking students to “cancel nonmandatory social gatherings” in an attempt to thwart the infectious disease. Other universities have begun to recommend and offer a third dose of the mumps vaccine to students. (Melissa Korn, The Wall Street Journal)

Vaccination

Antivaxers Meet with Trump

Andrew Wakefield, the orchestrator of the “anti-vaccine movement”, met with Donald Trump this past summer. This misguided movement began with a paper published in 1998 by the now discredited Wakefield in The Lancet. The authors claimed that 2/3 of children developed autism soon after receiving the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Though this study has been disproven numerous times and has been retracted, the impact still flows not only through the scientific community, but also into the general public. This is why the scientific community cringed when Trump appeared to be sympathetic towards their cause.

When parents refuse to vaccinate their children, they cite the belief that vaccines cause autism or state that vaccines are “unnecessary”. Vaccination is an extremely effective strategy for preventing infectious diseases. However, this strategy is only successful when the vast majority of individuals are immunized against a particular pathogen in order to offer some protection to individuals who are not medically able to receive the vaccine.

Wakefield stated, “For the first time in a long time, I feel very positive about this, because Donald Trump is not beholden to the pharmaceutical industry. He didn’t rely upon [drug makers] to get him elected. And he’s a man who seems to speak his mind and act accordingly.” While Trump has appeared to be interested and open-minded on vaccines, there are limits to what he can do to undercut vaccination policies. But the antivaxers remain hopeful that Trump will be a powerful ally who would trigger more of a cultural impact as opposed to passing laws. (Rebecca Robbins, STAT news)

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December 9, 2016 at 9:40 am

Science Policy Around the Web – September 6, 2016

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By: Amy Kullas, PhD

Vaccines

Parents remain apprehensive of vaccine safety and efficacy

In a recent survey published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, an alarming percentage of parents are refusing or delaying important vaccines. This percentage continues to increase because “parents believe they are unnecessary”. This phenomenon has directly resulted in outbreaks of measles and mumps in the United States, and polio in Syria.

The misguided “anti-vaccination movement” began with a paper published by Andrew Wakefield in The Lancet in 1998. The authors alleged that eight children (out of a very small sample size of 12) developed autism shortly after receiving the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The impact of this now-retracted paper still ripples through the scientific community and beyond, to within the general public in the United States.

Numerous celebrities (Jim Carrey, Robert De Niro, Jenny McCarthy-just to name a few) and the Republican party nominee, Donald Trump, continue to fuel the anti-vaccine fire spreading through the United States. Trump has gone as far to say: “Autism has become an epidemic. Twenty-five years ago, 35 years ago, you look at the statistics, not even close. It has gotten totally out of control.” Further, he said, “Just the other day, two years old, 2½ years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.” The ultimate result has been a “dangerous drop in MMR vaccinations” according to public health officials. Given Trump’s stance on vaccination and how the candidate has made vaccine policy into a political topic could have grave consequences on American youth for years to come.

Interestingly, there has been a change in reasoning as to why parents refuse vaccines for their children. In 2006, the number one reason cited was parental belief that vaccines caused autism. In 2013, this was no longer the popular belief; instead parents are stating vaccines are “unnecessary” and are failing to vaccinate their children. The “parental noncompliance” with the CDC’s recommended vaccination strategy continues to be “an increasing public health concern.” (Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post)

Zika and Insecticides

Millions of honeybees killed after insecticide spraying to combat Zika-carrying mosquitos

In an effort to annihilate Zika-carrying mosquitos in South Carolina, officials in Dorchester County approved an aerial spraying of Naled-a common insecticide. This decision ultimately led to millions of honeybees getting killed. The majority of the victims were from Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply. Co-owner, Juanita Stanley stated, “the farm looks like it’s been nuked.” The farm lost close to 50 hives which housed ~2.5 million bees.

Naled was approved for “mosquito control” in 1959. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that Naled “is not a risk for humans” and they “aren’t likely to breath or touch anything that has enough insecticide on it to harm them.” Unfortunately, Naled does not discriminate bees from mosquitos and efficiently kills them both. The EPA does recommend spraying the chemical between dusk and dawn, when bees are not typically foraging.

The county insists they gave residents plenty of notice prior to the spraying through a newspaper announcement and a Facebook posting. However, some residents suggest otherwise, stating “Had I known, I would have been camping on the steps doing whatever I had to do screaming, ‘No you can’t do this.’” The Dorchester county officials have issued a statement stating that they are “not pleased that so many bees were killed” and they have not offered to compensate the beekeepers for their losses. (Ben Guarino, The Washington Post)

Health

Bye-bye to antibacterial soaps

On the Friday before the holiday weekend, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its final ruling that will ban specific ingredients, such as triclosan and triclocarban, commonly used in antibacterial and antimicrobial soaps. Soap manufacturers will have an additional year to negotiate over less common ingredients, like benzalkonium chloride. Altogether, the FDA has taken a stance against 19 chemicals, which are used in almost half of soap products. Reasons behind the ban include: “are not generally recognized as safe and effective…and are misbranded.” To date, the manufacturers have not shown that these ingredients are safe for daily use as well as failed to demonstrate an increase in efficacy when compared with plain soap. Hand sanitizers and antiseptic products used in healthcare or the food industry are not affected by this ban.

In 2013, the FDA first issued a warning to the industry that unless it could provide substantial proof that compounds like triclosan and triclocarban were more beneficial than harmful, the chemicals would need to be removed. Triclosan is in more than 90% of the liquid soaps labeled as ‘antibacterial’ or ‘antimicrobial’. Triclosan disrupts the bacterial cell wall, breaking it open and ultimately killing the bacterium. However, this mechanism of killing occurs over a couple hours, much longer than it takes a person to wash his or her hands. Additionally, researchers found that triclosan can disturb hormone balance to interrupt the normal development of the reproductive system and metabolism in animals. Scientists warned that there could be similar effects in humans. Some of the large companies have been proactive and started removing the chemicals from their products. (Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times)

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September 6, 2016 at 9:15 am

Science Policy Around the Web – August 16, 2016

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By: Melissa Pegues, PhD

Photo source: Hu et al, 2016, under ACS AuthorChoice License

Public Health

Researchers find unsafe levels of industrial chemicals in drinking water of 6 million Americans.

A recent study by University of California Berkeley and Harvard University scientists found unsafe levels of firefighting chemicals in drinking water throughout the U.S. Over 36,000 samples collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were analyzed for levels of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Levels were detectable with 194 water supplies, but levels exceeded the EPA’s recommended safety limit in 66 of those water supplies. Those 66 water supplies were found across 14 states and affect up to 6 million people.

PFAS are use in a wide variety of products that include food wrappers, clothing, non-stick coating on pans, and firefighting foam. The study’s lead author, Xindi Hu, stated that “virtually all Americans are exposed to these compounds”. The chemicals are also commonly found at airports and military bases where firefighting foam is used in large volumes during training exercises and can then wash into surface and ground waters. They are also found at industrial plants that use them in manufacturing. They have been used for decades and persist once they are in the environment. Hu added, “They never break down. Once they are released in to the environment, they are there”.

The chemicals have been associated with a variety of health problems that include cancer, hormonal changes, thyroid problems, and high cholesterol. The federal government does not currently regulate PFASs, but they are on the EPA’s list of unregulated contaminants. Although it is difficult for the EPA to issue new regulations for contaminants, the agency has issued health advisories for these substances that urge utilities around the country to follow more stringent guidelines. Some communities have reacted to this advisory with one Alabama community declaring its tap water unfit to drink until officials could install a high-powered filter. Other communities in New Hampshire are receiving bottled water until the problem is addressed. (Brady Dennis, The Washington Post)

Global Health

A study takes the globe’s blood pressure and finds a dramatic rise

A recent study has found that greater than 30 percent of the global population now suffer from high blood pressure. Researchers at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine looked at numerous studies of individuals to determine rates of high blood pressure. The group led by Dr. Jiang He focused on people over the age of 20 and gathered data from 90 countries to assess the change in rates of hypertension between 2000 and 2010. The group found that there has been a dramatic increase in hypertension rates in low- and middle-income countries with an increase from 24% to 32%. Dr. He stated that “definitely it’s an epidemic”. Dr. Andrew Moran of Columbia University gave a cautionary interpretation of the study results citing that the current study inferred rates of hypertension from many countries, rather that collecting direct measurements. However, the trends from this study correlate with increases in obesity in low- and middle-income countries, further supporting the results of this new study. Additionally, the study did find a decrease in hypertension rates in high-income countries.

High blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, can contribute to heart disease, chronic kidney disease, and stroke. Hypertension is currently the leading preventable cause of death world wide, and the World Health Organization is striving to reduce rates of non-communicable diseases. The increase in hypertension rates are thought to be associated with urbanization in low- and middle- income countries. Urban diets tend to be high in fat and sodium, and when coupled with high stress and low physical activity are thought to lead to hypertension. Although there are drugs available to effectively treat high blood pressure, many people in less wealthy nations may not have access to health care or be able to afford the cost of medications. Lifestyle changes have been demonstrated to reduce hypertension rates. Moran commented that “it’s probably more realistic to focus on improving diets of people in rapidly urbanizing developing world by encouraging lower calorie intake as well as reducing salt in people’s diets”. (Richard Harris, NPR)

Polio

Polio eradication faces setback as Nigeria records first cases in two years

Nigeria has faced a major setback to the eradication of polio with its first cases of wild poliovirus in more than two years. In July, two children were found paralyzed by polio in the Gwoza district of the Nigerian state of Borno. In response to these new cases, health officials have stated that they will begin emergency-vaccination campaigns.

Polio causes paralysis in approximately 1 in every 200 infections. Although once feared worldwide, efforts to eradicate the disease, such as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, have reduced the number of cases by 99%. Because wild poliovirus cannot survive outside the human body, it is possible to eradicate the disease. Stopping the virus before it spreads further from Nigeria is crucial to the success of eradication efforts and will require millions of dose of vaccine and the coordination of several countries and numerous health organizations. The first of six vaccine campaigns will target children in the state of Borno. Further vaccination campaigns will extend to reach children across northeastern Nigeria and neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.

Eradication efforts have been hampered by violent attacks by Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group, that has targeted the northeastern states of Nigeria. Global Polio Eradication Initiative spokesperson, Oliver Rosenbauer, said that “clearly cases were missed” and that “It was to be expected that there would be problems with the quality of surveillance”. Although there will be setbacks and more cases are likely, Nigeria and the rest of the world can eradicate poliovirus eventually. Nigeria now joins Afghanistan and Pakistan as the only other countries that have never interrupted the spread of polio. However, significant gains have been made in battling the virus in recent years. (Ewen Callaway, Nature)

 

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August 16, 2016 at 10:09 am

Science Policy Around the Web – September 15, 2015

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By: Julia Shaw, Ph.D.

photo credit: Vaccination via photopin (license)

Vaccinations

How did Polio Pop Up in 2 Polio-Free Countries: Ukraine and Mali?

A total of three new cases of polio appeared this month in two countries that were thought to be polio-free. Two children from Ukraine, where the vaccination rate is about 50%, and one Guinean infant in Mali fell ill due to a mutated form of one of the poliovirus strains used in the oral polio vaccine (OPV). Polio is a highly contagious disease that replicates in the gut before entering the bloodstream from where the virus can then infect the nervous system, causing paralysis or death. Because the virus can spread through feces, children living in areas with poor sanitation are particularly vulnerable. Like the injected vaccine, OPV protects against systemic infection and nervous system damage; but unlike the injected vaccine, OPV also generates protective immunity in the gut, effectively preventing transmission after at least three doses. In addition, because it is easier and less expensive to administer, lower-income countries usually prefer the OPV. According to officials at the World Health Organization (WHO), the OPV has prevented over 650,000 polio cases per year over the past 10 years. However, because the vaccine is generated from a weakened form of live poliovirus, the vaccinated can shed virus in their stool for 6-8 weeks. Although very rare, it is possible for the weakened virus strain to replicate and mutate over time to a point where it again becomes virulent and able to cause paralysis as happened in these recent cases. In under-immunized communities, vaccine-derived polioviruses can circulate from person to person long enough for a reversion to virulence to occur. Ukraine is considered under-immunized due to vaccine supply and logistics as well as a significant anti-vaccine attitude among the public. Mali has infrastructure problems that complicate distribution and in Guinea, surveillance and immunization rates have dropped due to the Ebola crisis, creating potential “gaps” in the polio-immune population. Because of these vulnerabilities, a large-scale outbreak response is planned in both countries that is designed to quickly immunize as many children as possible; step-up surveillance; train health workers; trace and test contacts of the paralyzed children; and educate the community on the importance of vaccine vigilance. (Diane Cole, NPR and Michael Toole, The Conversation)

Energy Security

DOE releases new energy technology report

The Department of Energy (DOE) released their Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR) on Thursday, September 10th. Over 700 energy experts contributed to the over 400-page review that found “enormous, underappreciated, and underexploited” ways to both conserve and increase our energy supply. In comparison to its 2011 predecessor, which was the first QRT report, this version is broader in its scope and depth. A main target for energy conservation was buildings, which account for 76% of all electricity use and 40% of all energy use in the United States. Adoption of Energy Star equipment could reduce consumption by an estimated 20% and emerging technologies that promise greater energy efficiency could potentially slash energy use by 35%. The United States leads the world in the combined production of oil and gas. The report stresses the need to improve carbon dioxide capture technologies to offset the burning of these fossil fuels. While the administration’s Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, and White House science adviser, John Holdren, attributed the approximately 10% reduction in emissions since 2007 to a decrease in coal consumption and concomitant 3-fold increase in wind and 20-fold increase in solar energy generation, the QRT highlighted the potential of wind power. The report suggested that increased turbine hub height and use of advanced computer programs to predict wind farm location could help wind-power provide 35% of the country’s electricity by 2050. A modern and secure energy grid capable of tracking energy flow as well as improved batteries for computing support and energy storage were also key to the QTR’s vision. In addition, Moniz emphasized the need for new, advanced materials and technologies in order to maintain energy security and limit climate change. (Emily Underwood, ScienceInsider)

Health and Aging

Federal researchers urge older adults to aim for much lower blood pressure

A study supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHBLI), a component of the National Institutes of Health, was ended prematurely after preliminary results showed a striking benefit to reducing systolic blood pressure to 120 or less. The Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) enrolled adults over 50 who had a history of cardiovascular disease and systolic blood pressure of 130-180. Half of the patients were treated to keep their blood pressure at 140, which is the current clinical recommendation for adults (advocated by the NHBLI in 2013), the other half were given “intensive treatment” with an average of 3 medications to reduce blood pressure to 120. In the latter group, risk of heart attach, stroke, and heart failure dropped by one-third and risk of death dropped by 25% compared to those maintaining blood pressures at 140. But according to Randall M. Zusman, director of the division of hypertension at the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, many blood pressure medications levy significant side effects. Physicians will need to evaluate patients on an individual basis, taking into account age, health, and lifestyle before attempting to more aggressively reduce blood pressure. Aside from medication, diet, exercise, and relaxation techniques are all known to lower blood pressure. In reference to the study, Gary H. Gibbons, director of the NHBLI, stated, “This study provides potentially lifesaving information that will be useful to health care providers as they consider the best treatment options for some of their patients, particularly those over the age of 50.” (Lenny Bernstein, The Washington Post)

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September 15, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – August 25, 2015

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By: Eric Cheng, Ph.D.

Photo source: pixabay.com

Climate Change

New U.S. climate rules target methane leaks

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new measures to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. These new measures will mainly target industrial sources which will include the capturing of natural gas from hydraulically fractured oil wells, as well as limiting emissions from new and modified pneumatic pumps and other equipment used at natural gas transmission compression stations.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, has been found to be 80 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when measured over a 20-year period. Preventing the escape of methane from gas fields and pipelines is predicted to have a measurable affect on reducing gases which contribute to global warming by reducing the equivalent of 7.7 to 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. In addition, reduction in carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is estimated to have a net climate benefit of $120 to $150 million in 2025.

Critics of the new proposals argue that there is already a “strong economic incentive to capture and utilize methane” and “that producers have already made deep cuts in methane emissions through voluntary measures and best practices.” U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R–OK), chair of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a statement believes that these new measures are “not only unnecessary, but another example of the [Obama] administration’s punitive expansion of their war on fossil fuels.” The EPA will take comments on the proposals for 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register. (Eli Kintisch, ScienceInsider)

Infectious Diseases

Tackle Nepal’s typhoid problem now

Nepal continues to struggle to rebuild their infrastructure stemming from the two earthquakes in April and May of 2015. This damage to the country’s infrastructure has disrupted the water resources of up to 1.3 million people as well as sanitation support for up to 1.7 million. In addition to the disruption to water and sewage systems, thousands still live in temporary shelters and camps. All these issues along with the current monsoon season has lead to an increase in typhoid outbreaks which can easily lead to an epidemic in the hardest hit areas such as the Sindhupalchowk and Gorkha districts of Nepal.

Typhoid fever, a potentially fatal multisystemic illness caused by Salmonella enterica, can be treated with antibiotics. However, Salmonella enterica strains resistant to antibiotics such as fluoroquinolones and azithromycin are emerging. Currently, prevention of infection is key to tackling the typhoid problem. Clean water and sanitation is still the best way to prevent typhoid, but it will take decades for Nepal to repair and build the necessary infrastructure to pre-earthquake levels. Typhoid can also be prevented through vaccination. However, the Nepalese government does not have sufficient funds to vaccinate millions of people using the vaccine recommended by the WHO.

There are cheaper vaccines that Nepali health officials can deploy that are not pre-qualified by the WHO, and it is unclear why they have not yet done so. What is known is that buying and delivering enough doses will almost certainty require outside financial support for Nepal. This support could come from institutions such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, based in Geneva, Switzerland, which is committed to increasing access to vaccination in poor countries, or support could come from the profits of pharmaceutical companies. (Buddha Basnyat, Nature: News & Comment)

Ethics in Research

Apparent ‘pay to cite’ offer sparks Internet outrage

This past June Cyagen, a contract research organization and cell culture product manufacturer, sent out an email entitled: “Cite us in your publication and earn $100 or more based on your journal’s impact factor!” Based on Cyagen’s formula: Voucher Value = (impact factor) * $100, a citation in Science magazine (impact factor = 30) could entitle the author to $3,000. It is only in recent days that this email promotion was picked up by Twitter and bloggers about the possible conflict of interest involved with participating in this promotion.

Upon more careful reading of the promotion, the deal is not what it appears at first glance. The reward is not cash, but store credit for a future purchase from the company. In addition, the citation Cyagen requires for the store credit is nothing more than a notation in the materials and methods section of the journal that a Cyagen product or service was used in that particular paper. This notation is something that is already required by most scientific journals in order assist in other researchers to be able to faithfully replicate a particular experiment. Some believe this promotion is akin to receiving “undisclosed funds in exchange for a citation.” While others such as a developmental biologist from the University of Amsterdam do not believe that this promotion would generate any conflict of interest because it does not appear any different “from any other discount you often get when buying lab equipment, antibodies, transgenic services.” (John Bohannon, ScienceInsider)

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August 25, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – August 21, 2015

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By: Amy Kullas, Ph.D.

Photo source: pixabay.com

Genetically Modified Organisms

Scotland says ‘no’ to GMOs        

In March 2015, the European Union (EU) agreed on an amendment to its genetically modified organism (GMO) regulation. The amendment allows individual member countries and devolved authorities to restrict or prohibit GMOs (including reasons ‘other than science’) in food or feed once the EU has approved a GMO. Previously, GM crops were approved at the European level.

This amendment allows Scotland to ban GMO crops. As Richard Lochhead, Scotland Rural Affairs Secretary, confirmed that the Scottish government will submit a request that Scotland be excluded from any European consent for allowing GM crops. Thus, the growth of crops containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will not be allowed in Scotland. To justify this decision, Mr. Lochhead stated: “Scotland is known around the world for our beautiful natural environment – and banning genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status.” Latvia and Greece have already submitted their requests to the EU to ban GM crop cultivation in those countries.

This decision by Scotland has troubled many scientists because Lochhead made his decision without public consultation. Almost 30 scientific societies and organizations are urging the Scottish government to reconsider this ban. Further, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the British Society of Plant Breeders have requested a meeting with Lochhead to discuss the “scientific evidence on GM crops”. Lochhead responded “I will be happy to meet representatives of the science community and reassure them that these changes will not affect research as it is currently carried out in Scotland. (Ned Stafford and Chemistry World, Scientific American and Erik Stokstad, ScienceInsider)

Animal Rights and Biomedical Research

Has U.S. biomedical research on chimpanzees come to an end?  Follow-up from post on June 26, 2015: ZERO labs have applied for a permit!

Earlier this summer, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) revealed its plan to change its classification of captive chimpanzees, including those used in research laboratories, to endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Additionally, the USFWS also announced that it was going require a permit for doing scientific research on captive chimps.

However, with the implementation deadline of September 14 looming less than a month away, no labs have applied for an ESA permit to conduct research on chimpanzees in the United States. At this point, it is unclear if the biomedical research on chimps has stopped or will stop; however, once stopped it will be significantly more difficult to start that line of research again. The USFWS requires at least 90 days for review of the permit request; therefore no labs will have a permit before upcoming deadline meaning any ongoing projects must stop on September 14. Dr. Robert Lanford, the current director of the Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC), said no research is currently being done on any of the chimpanzees in the Center and that recent research ended early to avoid the upcoming deadline. He further stated “public opinion is currently heavily influencing this process…nobody wants to be the first test case.” (David Grimm, ScienceInsider)

Global Policy

Incentives for vaccination and beyond

In an attempt to increase the immunization rates of poor children, 70 local health clinics, in the Indian state of Haryan, have begun offering parents a free kilogram of sugar if their child(ren) begins the standard vaccination series. Additionally, if the child(ren) finishes the series of vaccines, then the parent will get a free liter of cooking oil. This concept of giving incentives mirrors the model currently used in randomized controlled trials to test the efficacy of new medicines or treatments.

Based on a pilot study, scientists, epidemiologists, and economists gained insight into why the immunization rates are low. In contrast to regions of the United States, the issue is not that people are opposed to immunization. Ester Duflo, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reveals that instead “it is certain obstacles, such as lack of time or money, are making it difficult for them to attend the clinics.” Further, this ideology is translating to other social programs, such as educational programs. This philosophy is generally welcomed in the global development arena as a mechanism to enable governments to: “promote development, relieve poverty and focus money on things that work.” (Jeff Tollefson, Nature)

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August 21, 2015 at 9:00 am

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