BIOL 368: Blog

BIOL 368 (NJIT) and 28:120:368 (Rutgers)

Ecology and Evolution of Disease

This is a blog associated with the course above. Students are asked to post, in the comments section below, short vignettes of related news items that come up while the course is in session.


  • Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. Not only is gonorrhea asymptomatic, but it also has the ability to hold on to resistance genes long after exposure to antibiotics, making it very tricky to work with. Therefore, gonorrhea has been very difficult to treat because of antibiotic resistance. A significant population of people around the world are infected with gonorrhea that is resistant to all known antibiotics. The proliferation of this strain of gonorrhea could eventually lead to an incurable infection with severe health consequences. Researchers are developing a new drug called zoliflodacin, which will be the first new drug to combat drug-resistant gonorrhea in over twenty years. Recently, the last of the trails for this drug has taken place and scientists hope to make this drug available to the public by 2023. Until then, health providers across the nation are working to rapidly detect and treat this STD. Since half of STD cases occur in youths ages 15-24, younger adults are being encouraged to practice safe sex and get a routine STD screening.

  • There has been a rise in allergies in the past few decades, especially in developed countries. Between 1996 and 2016, the UK saw a five-fold increase in peanut allergies. Many theories about the rise of allergies have to do with the environment and Western lifestyles. Migrants show a higher prevalence of asthma and food allergy in their adopted country compared to their original country. One explanation offered by scientists is the improvement of hygiene. With less parasitic infections to fight, the immune system turns against what are usually harmless things, such as peanuts. Another theory suggests that vitamin D improves our immune system and helps build a healthy response, which makes us less susceptible to allergies. Most people in developed countries are vitamin D deficient, due to geography or spending less time in the sun in general, and the rate of vitamin D deficiency continues to rise. The “dual allergen exposure” theory proposes that the balance between timing, dose and form of exposure determines allergy development. A study from King’s College London showed that peanut allergies in five year olds decreased by 80% if they ate peanuts from the year they were born. Initial diagnosis can be challenging since the allergy test is stressful for children and can cause false positives. King’s College London developed a blood test that can detect allergies in children. Allergen immunotherapy reduces sensitivity of allergic patients. Other allergy treatments are still being investigated.

  • This article was about how HSV1, or Herpes Simplex Virus 1, could be associated with developing Alzheimer’s disease late in life. Research was done in Taiwan and three studies had been published about the development of senile dementia, which causes Alzheimer’s. The subjects in all studies had been severely affected by HSV1 at one point in their life and now had developed dementia. The link between HSV1 and Alzheimer’s is strong because viral DNA from the HSV1 was seen to be located within postmortem brain tissue from Alzheimer’s sufferers. Additionally, HSV1 was seen to occur more frequently in carriers of APOE- ε4, which is the gene variant that confers increased risk of Alzheimer’s. So, carriers of this gene variant may have more frequent or more harmful reactivation of HSV1-infected brain cells, which may result in the development of Alzheimer’s.

    The article suggests that antiherpes antivirals could help in treating Alzheimer’s because this treatment was seen to cause a dramatic decrease in the number of subjects who were severely affected by HSV1 and later developed dementia. The development of an HSV1 vaccine would also be most effective treatment. Additionally, more work needs to be done because this antiherpes antiviral treatment is only suggested for those who are several being affected by HSV1, not for all HSV1 sufferers. Also, those more research needs to be done on those who suffered from mild HSV1 and whether they developed dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life.

  • I found this article interesting because of our discussion on aging in class. I understood why aging leads to many problems later in our life, but reading an article touch upon aging and a neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s. This article stated that many biological processes don’t function the same way they used to, which have been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease as well. Some aging malfunctions listed in the article were impaired clearance of toxic misfolded proteins, mitochondrial and metabolic dysfunctions (such as diabetes), vascular problems and epigenetic changes and loss of synapses (which decreases communication between neurons in the brain).

    In order to treat this disease, the article discusses that new therapies that prevent, slow or stop the disease are needed and that these treatments could possibly be created with more research in aging biology. Additionally, the CDC projects that the burden of Alzheimer’s disease will triple to 14 million people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease by the year 2060. Some therapeutic attempts have already been made in removing or decreasing the product of beta-amyloid, one of the main components of amyloid plaques involved in Alzheimer’s disease. However, these attempts have been largely unsuccessful. That is why research in common biological process of aging are suggested by the article to be an effective approach in developing therapies to prevent age-related disease, like Alzheimer’s.

  • Source:

    According to the NORC (a research organization) at the University of Chicago, only 43% of surveyed people above the age of 18 reported that they received a flu vaccination. 14% said that they intended on receiving a flu shot some time soon, but close to 41% said they will never get vaccinated. This flu season is said to be a dramatic shift from the previous one in which over 80,000 people died from the flu related causes. Additionally, the H1-N1 strain is currently the dominant strain, which is said to be a good sign because the current vaccines are better matched for this strain as compared to the H3-N2 strain of last year. Although the flu season is currently mild, health experts say that it’s too early to say so, as incidences of the flu may rise later throughout the later months of the flu season. They urge all people that have not been vaccinated to do so as vaccinating yourself can help prevent or at least lessen the severity and duration of flu related illnesses.

  • An article recently published in The Washington Post details the nationwide shortage of a new vaccine called Shingrix to prevent shingles, a reactivation of chickenpox in later years that causes a painful rash and potentially lasting nerve pain. The disease affects 1 in 3 adults, with about 1 million cases per year. The risk for infection increases each year. A new version of the shingles vaccine was made available last spring and requires 2 doses. Demand has dramatically increased as the newer vaccine is supposed to provide significantly better protection than the older 1 dose version. Furthermore, people have been advised to get it even if they’ve had the older vaccine or have had chickenpox or shingles previously. GlaxoSmithKline, the British pharmaceutical manufacturer who creates the vaccine, was caught by surprise by the high demand and has been unable to keep up. One woman in Pennsylvania was told by her local pharmacy that the waiting time was 12 months. Not only is the vaccine in high demand, but also the vaccine takes 6 to 9 months to create. To further complicate the situation, many people cannot find a place to obtain the first dose let alone the second dose, which should be taken 6 months after the first. GSK did not study the immunity rate of just one dose, and recommends that people get their second dose as soon as possible.

  • Ramya Kommidi

    This article is about the possible connection between microbes in the digestive system and Parkinson’s disease. As the author mentions, the root cause of Parkinson’s is yet to be determined by scientists. It is only known that Lewy bodies and abnormally misfolded and clumped proteins kill certain neurons. Lewy bodies form when alpha-synuclein, which is produced by neurons and other cells, starts curdling into unusual strands. After a group of scientists conducted autopsies on patients, researchers found signs that Lewy bodies start to form in the nasal passages and intestine before they show up in the brain. The digestive problems associated with the onset of Parkinson’s disease for a long time were also not thought to be a cause of the disease, as much is also unknown about the gut microbiome. However, in a recent study it was found that when studying the relationship of gut microbiome and development of Parkinson’s disease in mice, when gut microbes from people diagnosed with Parkinson’s were transplanted into germ-free mice, the mice developed symptoms of the disease — symptoms that were much more severe than those in mice transplanted with microbes from healthy people. This article also presents a real life couple Martha and John Carlin, who became more interested In the link between the gut and brain after the onset of John’s Parkinson’s disease. Martha Carlin founded a company called the BioCollective to aid in microbiome research, providing free collection kits to people with Parkinson’s and the 15,000 microbiome samples she has collected so far are available to researchers. Hopefully, this accessible data will allow further research into this connection between gastroenterology and neurology that is at the forefront of much research. It may prove that our diets and environment play a larger role in our overall health because the intestine’s microbiome is very indicative of a person’s environment.

  • Ramya Kommidi

    This article details the possible link between Vitamin D deficiency and Schizophrenia. Although schizophrenia is one of the leading disabilities in the world, scientists still don’t know what exactly causes the condition. It has been noticed that schizophrenia is more common in areas of the world with less exposure to the sun. A recent study led by teams from Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, has found that newborn babies with low vitamin D levels are more at risk of developing schizophrenia later on.Previous research has additionally identified risk factors for schizophrenia as babies born in winter or spring or living in higher latitude countries. To further this research, a research team recently discovered that those born with a vitamin D deficiency had a 44 percent higher risk of developing schizophrenia later in life. Also, this deficiency in newborns could account for about 8 percent of all schizophrenia diagnoses in Denmark. A current hypothesis is that vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy may lead to this risk of schizophrenia in the child. Hopefully, with more research in randomized clinical trials of vitamin D supplements in pregnant women who are vitamin D deficient, scientists will better understand how to prevent some schizophrenia cases and how to well supplement a pregnant women’s health and nutrition.

  • This article presents the use of hydroxyurea as a safe treatment for the symptoms of sickle cell anemia for children in Africa. Before hydroxyurea, there was no way to treat the symptoms of sickle cell anemia and a lot of children died before the age of five. Sickle cell anemia is a disease in which blood cells twist themselves into a stiff semicircular shape caused by a genetic mutation thought to have arisen from Africa 7000 years ago. 300000 people died from sickle cell anemia every year, and about 75% of that number comes from Africa. Although there are upsides of being carriers of sickle cell anemia, such as protection from malaria, children who inherit both genes for sickle cell anemia are often weak from anemia, prone to infections, and liable to have crisis in which their blood cells clump and jam capillaries to the brain. The only way to treat sickle cell anemia in Africa was previously get blood transfusions and sometimes bone marrow transplants, both treatments either unavailable or extremely expensive in Africa. Without treatment, many children are at risk to opioid addiction and death from stroke or organ damage Hydroxyurea has already been used as a treatment in Europe and America, but there were fear that the pill may increase the risk of infection from local disease in African children, such as malaria.
    The drugs proved to be a success in a research done involving 600 children in Angola, Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The drug made it far less likely that children would die or need transfusions and half as likely to suffer from bouts of severe pain, and somehow less likely to get infections such as malaria. Hydroxyurea is on the WHO’s essential medicines list, and is available in generic form for about 50 cents a pill and can be stored in room temperature. Even thought the drug is available, we need to do further research as hydroxyurea has its limitations. There was no placebo group during the study of the 600 African children so the research is not complete. Hydroxyurea was originally developed to fight blood cancers like leukemia, and side effects include lowering your WBC and platelet count, lowering men’s sperm count, break off women’s hair, and turn fingernails grey. However, even with the side effects, hyroxyurea has already proven to be a huge improvement in sickle-cell anemia treatments in Africa.

  • Waterborne Vibrio bacteria that can lead to wound infections, sepsis and the stomach flu are also on the rise globally. Heat waves and high temperatures could also make Americans more vulnerable to germs in water, such as Vibrio bacteria, which can cause deadly infections. In the Northeast, shellfish are projected to make more people sick because warmer waters lead to to shell disease in lobsters and other pathogens in oysters. Vibrio is commonly found in the US via contaminated oysters and shellfish. Warming waters also require additional steps to ensure our oysters are safe to eat, because pathogenic strains of the bacteria—Vibrio parahaemolyticus have increased. Considering our love for the seafood diet, this is a serious issue impacts the food choices of Americans. This 1 degree increase in ocean climates can ultimately lead to an increase in infections. Vibrio has gone up 34% since 2006-2008, whereas other pathogens have gone down or stayed stagnant. While this isn’t exactly Vibrio cholorae, this prevalence of Vibrio is one to note for sure.
    Vezzulli, Luigi, et al. “Effects of Global Warming on Vibrio Ecology.” Microbiology spectrum (2015).

  • Yasmine Mohamed

    Article: “Game Changing” Tuberculosis Vaccine a Step Closer

    Tuberculosis is a very serious infectious bacterial disease. It mainly affects the lungs and can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The currently present vaccine, the BCG, is not very effective. This article presents a hopeful long term protection against the disease that kills up to 1.5 million people around the world every year. During a global summit on lung health in Southern India on Tuesday, it was claimed that the new vaccine is made up of bacterial proteins that are expected to trigger an immune response. Despite its initial success, the vaccine will still take a while to become licensed. What is revolutionary about the vaccine is that it is effective in adults who are already infected. Also, the new vaccine is very promising in terms of the current global TB situation. According to the World Health Organization, in 2018, an estimate of 10 million people fell sick with TB. Also, about 25% of the world’s population carries the bacteria in an inactive form which increases their risk of developing active TB by 5 to 10% percent.


  • Measles may have worse consequences than just the actual symptoms. A recent study shows that measles can destroy up to half of all immune memory cells (a condition termed ‘immune amnesia’), reducing immunity diseases we have previously been exposed to. Though these antibodies can be recreated through re-exposure, it may take up to years to do so. However, a vaccination against measles does not cause immune amnesia. This information makes the incidence of measles in the United States caused by the anti-vax movement much more serious. Clinicians are considering giving booster vaccines to children who recover from measles in order to combat this effect, and are starting to consider an previous infection from measles when ordering organ transplants in adults (since suppressing the immune system of an already immunocompromised person could be fatal).

  • There are numerous types of the influenza virus that circulate making it hard to develop just one universal vaccine that can be used to protect against the different virus types. However, a recent study shows promising results of a newly discovered antibody that has been proven to successfully protect mice against various influenza virus types. This antibody binds to the protein neuraminidase on the surface of the virus which is necessary for viral replication. But, the novelty of this new antibody is not that it targets neuraminidase. In fact, the most common drug used against flu viruses, Tamiflu, actually works to inactivate neuraminidase as well, but it is not always effective because of both drug resistance and the variation in neuraminidase between the different influenza viruses. This new antibody identified as 1G01 tackles this problem because it is not specific to one neuraminidase variation and when tested in mice, this antibody protected against all twelve tested strains which included human, nonhuman, and avian strains. The 1G01 antibody works by inserting a loop into the active site of neuraminidase without touching the variable regions around this conserved active site allowing it to be able to block most neuraminidases which have this conserved site. Not only does this antibody work against different strain types, it also can be administered upto 72 hours after infection and still be effective, in contrast to Tamiflu which must be administered 24 hours after flu symptoms. Clearly, this study shows that the 1G01 antibody might be the key to developing a new drug/vaccine to universally defend against most if not all different strains of influenza.

  • One key current global health concern is the influenza virus and treatments/prevention methods are continuously being studied. Specifically, one such prevention/treatment method researched in this article is using a ketogenic diet to induce the release of specific T cells that better protect an organism against influenza. In this study, the researchers used mice to compare if mice that were fed a ketogenic diet versus mice that were fed a normal high-carb diet had a greater survival rate when directly infected with the influenza virus. This proved to be true because the ketogenic diet seemed to induce the release of gamma T-cells in the mice which increased antiviral resistance. These gamma T-cells release mucus in the linings of the lung that serve as a stronger barrier against the virus development because they can almost “trap” the virus. However, the mice that followed a normal diet were not able to induce this same immune system response suggesting that there is a correlation between the ketogenic diet and protection against the flu virus. Furthermore, the study also tested if this same immune response would still be produced if the mice were directly given chemical ketone substrate essentially skipping the process of hepatic ketosis and found that these mice did not produce the T-cells and thus did not produce the improved immune response. This suggests that the immune response is only induced when the organism follows a ketogenic diet and goes through hepatic ketosis on its own. This may be an important thing for people to consider as now the ketogenic diet may be providing further benefits such as increased defense against influenza beyond just weight loss.

  • Yasmine Mohamed

    Link Between Inflammation and Mental Sluggishness Shown in New Study

    The study uncovers the relationship between mental sluggishness and illness. An estimate of 12 million UK citizens that are presented to have chronic medical condition also report that they are experiencing severe mental fatigue that is known as sluggishness or brain fog. The link between inflammation and cognition has long been suspected but it is hard to claim that it is a cause and effect relationship. This research clearly identifies that inflammation results in a specific critical process within the brain. It focused on the area of the brain that has to do with visual attention by testing a group of 20 young male volunteers that received a salmonella typhoid vaccine that causes temporary inflammation (the vaccine also has some other side effects). The goal was to test the effect of the inflammation on their cognitive responses a few hours after the administration of the vaccine. Their cognition was evaluated through their responses to simple images on a computer screen. To serve as a control, the same test was done a few days after during which the patients were injected with water (a placebo); the same attention tests were done. The test was used to assess three different attention processes (alertness, orientation, and execution). The results show that inflammation has an effect on the brain activity to stay alert but not on any of the other attention processes evaluated. This ties back to the discussion on how certain responses to diseases or infection can also increase susceptibility to other disorders.


    (the article is based on the following journal reference: Leonie JT. Balter, Jos A. Bosch, Sarah Aldred, Mark T. Drayson, Jet JCS. Veldhuijzen van Zanten, Suzanne Higgs, Jane E. Raymond, Ali Mazaheri. Selective effects of acute low-grade inflammation on human visual attention. NeuroImage, 2019; 202: 116098 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116098)

  • Shubhamkumar Gohil

    Antibacterial resistance in pathogens is a serious issue in our society. Scientists are researching new classes of antibiotics and trying to make known classes more effective. Studies found that certain bacteria send signals when attacked by antibiotics or bacteriophages, so the entire bacterial population survives. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is responsible for cystic fibrosis. When looking at a culture of this bacteria under a microscope, bacterium attacked by antibiotics sent out a signal that it was being attacked. In response, the other bacteria were seen swimming around the place the attack took place. A neat circle was seen around that bacterium. This is likely a big reason why antibiotics are not effective at fighting infections like this. This finding made it clear that research and development of a drug that could block signaling could lead the way for antibiotics to be more effective. Researchers questioned whether it would be possible for these bacteria to use this technique to maneuver when infecting humans with the initial infection. There has been no publicly released research on this so far.


  • Shubhamkumar Gohil

    Antibiotics are often inappropriately used. The agriculture industry uses antibiotics on livestock prophylactically, and people have often been prescribed antibiotics when they don’t need them. A recent study found one of the consequences this could have. When mice were infected with the flu, 80% of the population survived. When mice were given antibiotics prior to being infected with the flu, only a third of the population survived. A potential reason for this involved the gut microbiome, which antibiotics often kill. It was discovered that these bacteria play a key role in maintaining the first line of defense against viruses in the lungs. It usually takes 2 days following the initial infection for immune cells to start responding, during which time the virus is replicating in the lungs of the host. In the mice who were given the antibiotics, there was five times more virus in their lungs than the normal bacteria. Studies found that gut bacteria take part in type 1 interferon signaling, which activates a gene in mice that produces antiviral proteins that interfere with influenza virus replication. Humans have an equivalent of this gene, which could mean that this mechanism could also exist in humans, however, further research on this is needed.


  • Inflammatory processes drive progression of Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases

    Tau proteins are critical for maintaining the stability of neuronal skeletons. In neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, which are also known as “tauopathies,” tau proteins are chemically altered such that they detach from the cytoskeleton and attach to one another. Because of this, the mechanical stability of the cell is destroyed, resulting in cell death. A new study at the Department of Neurodegenerative Diseases and Gerontopsychiatry in Germany has shown that the brain’s inflammatory response is a driving force behind the transformation of tau proteins. The researchers studied NLRP3 inflammasome, a specific protein complex, which can influence certain enzymes to induce a “hyperphosphorylation” of tau proteins – causing them to detach from the neurons and accumulate. In Alzheimer’s, amyloid beta, or Abeta, also accumulates in the brain, in between neurons and much earlier in the progression of the disease than do tau proteins. The researchers involved in this study were able to show that the NLRP3 inflammasome can promote the aggregation of Abeta, which in turn can lead to the development of tau pathology, ultimately resulting in cell death. Moreover, Abeta deposits can activate the inflammasome, leading to further deposits of Abeta and tau protein detachment and accumulation; this drives neurodegeneration. These results can be used to improve therapies for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, potentially by modulating the immune response to contain tau pathology.


    Original Journal Reference: 10.1038/s41586-019-1769-z

  • Yasmine Mohamed

    Antibiotic-resistant bacteria more prevalent in device-related infections

    Antimicrobial resistance has been a rising issue and a public health priority. Our exposure to bacteria that are antibiotic resistant is extending which reflects the need of the urgent call to intensify our efforts in preventing the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance, especially in healthcare facilities. CDC mentions that healthcare associated infections related to the use of medical devices are more likely to be resistant than those that arise from surgical procedures.
    This article which reports data from 5626 facilities shows that resistance is consistently higher in device associated (HAI) than the resistance for the same bacteria that are associated with surgical procedures. The devices studied were not permanent implants but were devices that were used for a limited time in a hospital setting. The data collected also proved that the the bacteria associated with longer hospital stays are more resistant than those acquired in shorter hospital stays.
    This ties back to the similar discussion we had about MRSA resistance and how their resistance is higher in a hospital setting. The sterile environment reduces pathogenic competition allowing the resistant pathogens to become even more resistant. Also, the frequent interaction of the medical staff with the patients also plays a role in this increase in resistance.


    Journal Reference:
    Lindsey M. Weiner-Lastinger, Sheila Abner, Jonathan R. Edwards, Alexander J. Kallen, Maria Karlsson, Shelley S. Magill, Daniel Pollock, Isaac See, Minn M. Soe, Maroya S. Walters, Margaret A. Dudeck. Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens associated with adult healthcare-associated infections: Summary of data reported to the National Healthcare Safety Network, 2015–2017. Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, 2019; 1 DOI: 10.1017/ice.2019.296

  • Infecting Mosquitoes With Bacteria Could Have A Big Payoff

    Mosquito-borne illness poses a critical public health risk every year. Throughout Southeast Asia, dengue fever (a viral disease so painful it is colloquially known as “break-bone fever”) infects nearly 400 million people per year. With no known treatment except symptom abatement and one licensed vaccine with safety concerns, new methods of battling dengue are crucial.

    The World Mosquito Program has tried a new method: raising and releasing Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacterium. In laboratory tests, Wolbachia appears to prevent the transmission of arboviruses, which include dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and the Zika virus. Cameron Simmons, director of the impact assessment team for the World Mosquito Program, notes a marked reduction in dengue cases in test regions with Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes. In a community of 50,000 people in Indonesia, the World Mosquito Program has recorded a 75% decrease in dengue infections over the past 2.5 years.

    Researchers in other countries where the Aedes aegypti mosquito is endemic, such as Malaysia and Brazil, have begun introducing Wolbachia into the population to try to curb dengue and chikungunya. The World Mosquito Program notes 70-75% fewer cases of dengue in Brazil in Wolbachia-treated populations.


  • Humans co-evolved with immune-related diseases — and it’s still happening

    This article discusses a recent review paper that explores studies in genetics, immunology, microbiology, and virology to understand the relationship between humans and diseases: the authors utilized the mechanisms of infection underlying Malaria and Tuberculosis to explain how pathogens present a large evolutionary pressure on humans. Moreover, it was shown that evolving resistance against diseases causes an increase in our sensitivity to inflammatory diseases such as Lupus or Crohn’s. This idea of trade-offs was then discussed in the case of those with Neanderthal DNA: these people are more resistant against HIV-1 and staph infections but are likely to develop allergies and asthma. Lastly, the authors discuss how increased hygiene standards have reduced our exposure to infectious diseases that would help us develop tolerance during childhood: children growing up on farms are less likely to develop allergies and asthma. In essence, mutations that allow us to defend against deadly infections make us predisposed to to some inflammatory/autoimmune diseases.


  • Deforestation is leading to more infectious diseases in humans.

    This article aims to explain the hypothesized positive correlation between deforestation and the emergence of certain infectious diseases. Deforestation often displaces animals, leading to the spread of zoonotic diseases.

    With the current rate at which forests are being destroyed by forest fires, scientists are concerned about potential disease outbreaks. Within the last decade, an annual 10% increase in forest loss has been found to correlate with a 3% rise in malaria. Similar patterns have been observed in Panama, Bolivia, and Brazil. This past year, an area 12 times the size of Amazon has been destroyed, making scientists apprehensive about infectious disease transmission.

    The correlation between increased deforestation and increased disease transmission is not confined to the tropics, however. Deforestation in the Northeastern United States is increasing the spread of Lyme disease. The Lyme disease causing bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, is usually transmitted by ticks on forest deer or white-footed mice. The mice thrive in forest fragments caused by deforestation (which is where human settlements are typically established) facilitating the increase in Lyme disease infections.

    Researchers from Ecohealth Alliance, a non-profit organization based in New-York, conducted a study about the costs surrounding disease treatment and deforestation. They found that in Malaysia, the costs of treating the increased number of malaria infections overtime supasses any profits made from deforestation. Their study furthers the cause of protecting the environment, and therefore also protecting public health.

  • Antibiotic resistance in gram negative bacteria has been an issue of growing relevance in the recent past with a lack of new active substances. From a team of researchers from the Justus Liebig University Giessen and Northeastern University, there has been a discovery of a novel peptide, termed “Darobactin,” that attacks gram negative bacteria at a new site of action. The team at Northeastern came across Darobactin by testing extracts of bacterial symbionts of insect-pathogenic nematodes that were verified against E. coli. This peptide consists of seven amino acids linked via unusual ring closures. This new substance shows no cell toxicity, which is necessary for consideration of use as an antibiotic. Currently, the focus is on increasing production of the substance and creating comparable sequences. The researchers have also isolated the peptide’s site of action, determining that it binds to the BamA protein. Once bound to this protein, located in the external membrane of gram negative bacteria, the bacteria can no longer form a functional external membrane and eventually die off. The location of this active site is easily accessible by the peptide. Thus far, Darobactin has shown success in the case of infections of both wild-type and antibiotic-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, and Klebsiella pneumoniae strains. The peptide shows significant promise as a lead substance for the development of a new antibiotic.


  • Recent discoveries on the immune response to malaria infection could lead to improved treatments for both chronic infections and autoimmune disorders.

    A team of researchers led by Diana Hansen, PhD from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia showed that the same inflammatory signals are seen in malaria infections, chronic viral infections and autoimmune disorders. These signals affect the quality of the immune response and should be considered in developing novel treatments.

    Previously, it was believed that during malaria infection the inflammatory signals activated molecules that stunted the development of Helper T cells, preventing the production of effective antibodies by B cells. However, Hansen’s work shows the opposite: the inflammatory signals improved the quality of the antibodies produced by bettering the quality of the B cells. With the additional potency of the antibodies came the limited magnitude of the immune response, explaining why developing protective immunity to malaria infection requires much more than a single exposure. Hansen and her team hope that this discovery of the improved B cells suggest that there is a molecular “switch” that leads the immune system to produce highly potent antibodies. For chronic and viral infections, such as malaria, HIV, or hepatitis C, the ability to produce these strengthened antibodies could be essential in clearing infection. On the other hand, controlling this molecular switch and preventing the production of said antibodies may play a critical role in treating autoimmune diseases. As such, this molecular pathway shows great significance in developing treatment for these two types of diseases.


  • Immediate treatment with antiretroviral therapy helps infants with HIV.

    HIV infection is a global health challenge, but it is especially prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. This article followed a study conducted in Botswana on infants who contracted HIV at birth.. Infantile HIV progresses much faster than the adult equivalent due to the fact that infants have weaker immune systems than adults. In this study, it was found that when antiretroviral therapy was begun sooner in the infected infants, there was greater improvement in subsequent immune responses. In order to quantify the outcome of the treatment and to compare responses between individuals, researchers measured the number of virally infected cells(viral reservoir cells) in the participants. They found that the number of viral reservoir cells significantly declined after administration of antiretroviral therapy, and declined even more when the treatment was administered within the first week after birth. Moreover, the team was able to identify the specific immune response cells that increased as the viral reservoir decreased.

    Thus, this Early Infant Treatment(EIT) study followed infants who began antiretroviral therapy within a few days after birth, whereas typically this treatment would be initiated at around four months. Through a quantitative analysis, researchers found that by administering the treatment sooner in the infected infants, there was a large improvement in the outcome.


  • “Scientists Were Hunting for the Next Ebola. Now the US Has Cut Off Their Funding”

    Subsequent to the H5N1 bird flu scare in 2005, a program called Predict was created. This surveillance program, run by the United States Agency for International Development, was dedicated to detecting potentially dangerous animal viruses that might eventually infect humans. The cost for this program was relatively low in light of other sectors of government spending, totaling $207 million over ten years. Those working with the program were able to collect more than 140,000 biological samples from animals, finding over 1,000 viruses. Alongside this work, individuals working with Predict were able to train thousands of individuals in Africa and Asia, construct and fortify dozens of medical research laboratories predominantly within poorer countries.

    Under the current administration in the United States, this surveillance program is now being shut down.The officially cited reason is the apparent discomfort of “funding cutting-edge science like tracking exotic pathogens.” This lack of funding for this program is most certainly a loss, since it is much less expensive to prevent pandemics before their onslaught, rather than waiting for their emergence and then deciding to mobilize. Fighting Ebola in West Africa, for example, cost the United States $5 billion.

    Ultimately, this program was dedicated to tracking and predicting the emergence of zoonotic diseases, training local veterinarians and physicians to collect samples, and sponsoring epidemiological modeling to predict the most likely locations of outbreaks. Its de-funding leaves a major void that needs to be filled.

    Link to the article:

  • ‘Clever drugs for slimy bugs’ in fight against staph infections

    Staph infections cause many complications in the medical field, as they attach to medical devices and patient wounds. This can lead to chronic infections that are difficult to treat and the failure of antibiotic therapies. In order to treat such invasive Staphylococcus Aureus infections, researchers have developed a new hybrid treatment. These hybrid antibiotics penetrate the protective shield characteristic of golden staph infections.
    The research team responsible for this discovery found that the use of this new therapy worked well in the lab, destroying biofilms that were grown for this purpose–the bacteria were either directly eradicated or were left vulnerable for future killing. The team anticipates this strategy being widely applicable to combat a wide range of infectious diseases. In the wake of a growing global antibiotic resistance problem, hospitals and clinics would benefit greatly from this potential “stand-alone” therapy. Furthermore, this treatment could be applied to agriculture and other related industries.

  • Praveena Suresh

    “Dangerous Bacteria Communicate to Avoid Antibiotics”

    Bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics, so scientists are trying to develop new antibiotics or make current antibiotics stronger. A type of bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, is responsible for infecting patients with cystic fibrosis, a lung disease. It was recently discovered that these bacteria can send signals to other strains that warn them of antibiotics or bacteriophages that can kill bacteria. When the bacteria gets a warning signal from other strains, they move in a neat circle around the antibiotic as a defense mechanism. The bacteria strains act as one organism so that the entire population can survive. If the bacteria acts like this in humans, it can explain how some bacterial infections are unable to be treated by antibiotics. With this discovery, scientists can now try to create a substance that blocks any signaling that from bacteria. Patients can use this yet-to-be-discovered substance in conjunction with antibiotics to get rid of a bacterial infection that was thought to be resistant to antibiotics.

  • Jagathi Kalluru

    Early Menopause Increases Heart Risks

    Upon exploring the health records of 144,260 menopausal 60-year old women, women with early-onset menopause at age 40 were found to be at a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease, ischemic stroke, heart failure, blood clots, and heart valve complications than women with normal onset menopause. Other significant disease correlations include hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and type 2 diabetes. This cohort comprised of women with normal onset menopause, women with early-onset menopause secondary to natural causes, and women with early-onset menopause due to bilateral oophorectomies or surgical removal of both the ovaries. It was found that surgical intervention increased the risk of cardiovascular disease for oophorectomy patients by 1.6% compared to patients who had natural early onset menopause.

    The research study established a statistically significant correlation between postmenopausal women and cardiovascular disease and calls for further research to find the molecular mechanisms underlying this correlation so that a definitive cause and effect association can be determined. Furthermore, the article notes the importance of collecting a patient’s menopause history during cardiovascular check-ups to more effectively screen for cardiac illnesses and also discuss longitudinal health plans to prevent or manage disease. The study broadly addresses the potential connection between reduced fitness due to early menopause and reduced life expectancy due to the increased risk of developing chronic illnesses.

    Article Link:
    Research Paper Link:

  • “Drug resistance a rising threat in Canada – report”

    According to a newly published report by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), 26% of infections in Canada in 2018 were resistant to the drugs used to treat them. The report surmises that this percentage can reach as high as 40% by 2050, which would result in an estimated 13,000 deaths every year. The issue of antibacterial resistance has gotten so serious that it is drawing comparisons to global climate change in terms of its overall threat to humanity.
    The CCA report also mentions that this burgeoning resistance to antibacterial and antimicrobial drugs could potentially increase the risk of regular medical procedures, such as kidney dialysis, joint replacements, chemotherapy, and C-sections. In terms of financing healthcare, expenses can total in the billions with extended hospital stays and other courses of treatment. The report also details some of the social ramifications of drug resistance, namely that Canadian society as a whole could become less trusting and open, and less likely to travel.
    While there is a warning that Canada is currently not doing enough to address the issue, the report also details potential solutions and approaches: the judicious utilization of antibiotics, as well as an emphasis on infection prevention and control.

    Link to the article:

  • Jagathi Kalluru

    Early Menopause Increases Heart Risks

    Upon exploring the health records of 144,260 menopausal 60-year old women, women with early-onset menopause at age 40 were found to be at a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease, ischemic stroke, heart failure, blood clots, and heart valve complications than women with normal onset menopause. Other significant disease correlations include hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and type 2 diabetes. This cohort comprised of women with normal onset menopause, women with early-onset menopause secondary to natural causes, and women with early-onset menopause due to bilateral oophorectomies or surgical removal of both ovaries. It was found that surgical intervention increased the risk of cardiovascular disease for oophorectomy patients by 1.6% compared to patients who had natural early onset menopause.

    The research study established a statistically significant correlation between postmenopausal women and cardiovascular disease and calls for further research to find the molecular mechanisms underlying this correlation so that a definitive cause and effect association can be determined. Furthermore, the article notes the importance of collecting a patient’s menopause history during cardiovascular check-ups to more effectively screen for cardiac illnesses and also discuss longitudinal health plans to prevent or manage disease. The study broadly addresses the potential connection between reduced fitness due to early menopause and reduced life expectancy due to the increased risk of developing chronic illnesses.

    Article Link:

  • Typhoid vaccine ‘works fantastically well’

    Trials reported in the New England Journal of Medicine had seen cases of bacterial disease decline by 80% with this new “game-changing” vaccine. In Pakistan, where typhoid is now particularly resistant to antibiotics, nine million children are being immunized.
    The trial itself took place in Kathmandu, Nepal involving over 20,000 children. Of the half given the vaccine, the cases of typhoid fell by 81%. The conditions of these children are now being monitored to observe how long the protection lasts. This vaccine is particularly useful, according to the World Health Organization, because typhoid is acquiring concerning amounts of antibacterial resistance while the world is “reaching the limit” of treatment options. Faced with the onset of rapid urbanization within regions of the Global South, most of the preventative measures such as clean water and efficient waste disposal are untenable. Moreover, the two vaccines for typhoid already in existence are not licensed for the most vulnerable, children under the age of two.
    However, these sorts of innovations in treatment should be viewed cautiously and not as all-encompassing solutions due to the rapid pace of the ability of microorganisms to evolve resistance.

    Link to the reading:

  • Nicole Cheney

    Samoa measles outbreak: Government shuts down so everyone can get vaccinated

    We’ve all been taught to avoid red flags, but for the people of the Pacific Island of Samoa, doing so might mean life or death. Since November, over 4200 cases of measles have been reported in the island, with 62 deaths. The Samoan government is taking steps to curb the epidemic, including marking the houses of unvaccinated families with red flags.

    Due to the outbreak, Samoa has been under a state of emergency since November 15th. Schools have been shut down indefinitely, and children have been banned from congregating in public spaces. Since rapid emergency vaccination campaigns started on November 20th, over a quarter of the population – totaling 58,000 people – have received the measles vaccine.

    The severity of the outbreak has caused the Samoan government to resort to even more extreme measures, including arresting a leading internet anti-vaxxer for ”incitement against the government vaccination order.” Government officials affirm the harm of such anti-vax rhetoric, citing increases in delayed treatment and deaths.

    In the coming days, public health officials, with the help of global organizations like UNICEF, are focusing emergency vaccination campaigns and community education as the outbreak continues.

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