BIOL 368: Blog

BIOL 368 (NJIT) and 28:120:368 (Rutgers) — Fall 2016

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.




  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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