Humans 2.0 - "With CRISPR, scientists can change, delete, and replace genes in any animal, including us. Working mostly with mice, researchers have already deployed the tool to correct the genetic errors responsible for sickle-cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, and the fundamental defect associated with cystic fibrosis. One group has replaced a mutation that causes cataracts; another has destroyed receptors that H.I.V. uses to infiltrate our immune system." [more inside]
"Studies show that if you've served in the military -- any branch, any war, or even if you served in a time of peace -- you have a much higher risk of dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) than if you were not in the military. And no one seems to know why." [more inside]
New Ebola vaccine shows 100% success rate in clinical trial. Today the World Health Organization has announced that the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine had a 100% success rate in preventing onset of the disease if administered within 10 days of exposure (n=4,000). In response to the current outbreak in West Africa that has afflicted over 27,000 and killed over 11,000, this collaborative effort led by the WHO pushed the vaccine through a process that usually takes more than a decade in just 12 months. Official paper from The Lancet here (pdf).
The CRISPR Revolution [ungated: 1,2,3] - "Biologists continue to hone their tools for deleting, replacing or otherwise editing DNA and a strategy called CRISPR has quickly become one of the most popular ways to do genome engineering. Utilizing a modified bacterial protein and a RNA that guides it to a specific DNA sequence, the CRISPR system provides unprecedented control over genes in many species, including perhaps humans. This control has allowed many new types of experiments, but also raised questions about what CRISPR can enable." [more inside]
How Obesity Became a Disease [The Atlantic] And, as a consequence, how weight loss became an industry.
Humans have co-evolved with the resident microbes that call us "home", known as the microbiota, consisting of trillions of cells that colonize our bodies. The microbiota carry out many beneficial functions, such as producing vitamins, aiding in digestion, and protecting against invading microbes, but disruption from antibiotics or delivery by Caesarian section may have consequences for human health. Recently, antibiotic use has been linked with obesity and asthma. Using both human studies and experimentally observed mice, we are beginning to understand how antibiotics may lead to the disappearance of microbes and to identify key microbes that impact our health.[more inside]
There's been an ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. With 122 cases so far, this is the worst outbreak since 2007's 264-case outbreak. The worst outbreak was 2000-2001's 425 cases. What makes this one different is the way it has spread so widely. [more inside]
"My subject is a barren one – the world of nature, or in other words life; and that subject in its least elevated department, and employing either rustic terms or foreign, nay barbarian words that actually have to be introduced with an apology. Moreover, the path is not a beaten highway of authorship, nor one in which the mind is eager to range: there is not one of us who has made the same venture, nor yet one Roman who has tackled single-handed all departments of the subject."Naturalis Historia was written by Pliny the Elder between 77 and 79 CE and was meant to serve as a kind of proto-encyclopedia discussing all of the ancient knowledge available to him, covered in enough depth and breadth to make it by a reasonable margin the largest work to survive to the modern day from the Roman era. The work includes discussions on astronomy, meteorology, geography, mineralogy, zoology and botany organized along Aristotelian divisions of nature but also includes essays on human inventions and institutions. It is dedicated to the Emperor Titus in its epistle to the Emperor Vespasian, a close friend of Pliny who relied on his extensive knowledge, and its unusually careful citations of sources as well as its index makes it a precursor to modern scholarly works. It was Pliny's last work, as well as sadly his sole surviving one, and was published not long before his death attempting to save a friend from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, famously recounted by Pliny's eponymous nephew Pliny the Younger.
Here is a reasonable translation that is freely available to download from archive.org for your edification.[more inside]
We tend to think now of scurvy as mainly a punch line, if anything—“scurvy-ridden rats” is the kind of popular pirate epithet that appears in even the most G-rated family fare. Partly this is because now, fully understanding its mechanism, it seems a particularly ridiculous problem. But ask anyone who's suffered from it: it is a singularly horrid and terrible way to die.- The Spoil of Mariners, Colin Dickey, Lapham's Quarterly.
The iconic monarch of the North Woods is dying at an alarming rate. Is it climate change, a brain-piercing parasite, or is something else to blame?
291 diseases and injuries + 67 risk factors + 1,160 non-fatal complications = 650 million estimates of how we age, sicken, and die
As humans live longer, what ails us isn't necessarily what kills us: five data visualizations of how we age, sicken, and die. Causes of death by age, sex, region, and year. Heat map of leading causes and risks by region. Changes in leading causes and risks between 1990 and 2010. Healthy years lost to disability vs. life expectancy in 1990 and 2010. Uncertainties of causes and risks. From the team for the massive Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010. [more inside]
Drug-resistant and "extensively" resistant strains make containment and treatment of tuberculosis ever more difficult. Fortunately, researchers based in Switzerland have (re-)discovered a naturally-made antibiotic called pyridomycin, which will kill isoniazid-resistant M. tuberculosis bacteria.
The Burns Archive is a collection of over 700,000 historical photographs that document disturbing subject matter: obsolete medical practices and experiments, death, disease, disasters, crime, revolutions, riots and war. Newsweek posted a select gallery this past October, as well as a video interview and walk-through with curator and collector Dr. Stanley B. Burns, a New York opthalmologist. (Via) (Content at links may be disturbing to some.) [more inside]
Epidemiology: Study of a lifetime. "In 1946, scientists started tracking thousands of British children born during one cold March week. On their 65th birthday, the study members find themselves more scientifically valuable than ever before." [more inside]
Invasive amniocentesis and chorionic villi sampling (CVS) tests are commonly used to determine the chromosomal, structural and genetic abnormalities in fetuses. But could they eventually become obsolete? A Chinese study has found that a complete copy of the fetal genome exists in the mother's blood, suggesting many prenatal diagnoses could potentially be performed noninvasively. [more inside]
The UN's FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) have announced that they believe rinderpest, an frequently fatal viral disease that affects livestock and wild ruminants, to have been eliminated. This is only the second virus, after smallpox, to have been wiped out. The BBC and the Guardian discuss the story in brief, and Science has a slightly more in-depth look at it. The FAO themselves have put up an interesting history of the disease and its treatment.
"During World War I, the [US] Army lost 7 million person-days and discharged more than 10,000 men because they were ailing from STDs. Once Penicillin kicked in in the mid-1940s, such infections were treatable. But as a matter of national security, the military started distributing condoms and aggressively marketing prophylactics to the troops in the early 20th century." [more inside]
Are the Rules That Determine Who Can Donate Blood Discriminatory? Canadian AIDS researchers Dr. Mark Wainberg and Dr. Norbert Gilmore say that while the ban on blood donation from men who have sex with other men may have been ethically and scientifically justified in the 1980's, it no longer makes sense. (CMAJ.) Even though the US FDA reaffirmed their long-standing ban in 2007, they plan to revisit the policy in June. [more inside]
Polio: A Virus’ Struggle is a Graphic Novella by James Weldon. When we eradicate a disease, do we ever think about how it may effect the disease? Learn all about the history of Poliomyelitis, as he tells his story to the group.
Scientists Repurpose Adult Cells - "Scientists have transformed one type of fully developed adult cell directly into another inside a living animal, a startling advance that could lead to cures for a variety of illnesses and sidestep the political and ethical quagmires associated with embryonic stem cell research." [nature abstract, nature writeup, audio announcement]
Rehabilitating Carson: "Why do some people continue to hold Rachel Carson responsible for millions of malaria deaths?" [more inside]
Have You Eaten Your Dirt Today, Honey? A New Approach To The Hygiene Hypothesis. The hypothesis argues: The reason why there is so much asthma, eczema, allergies and maybe even childhood diabetes in the modern world is because we — well infants really — live in too clean a universe. What our baby immune systems need is a kickstart by exposure to viruses, bacteria, worms, pollutants and so on. If you don’t get an infant hit from these icons of uncleanliness, the immune system goes haywire and your body over-reacts to all sorts of invasive things that normally could be ignored. Via. [more inside]
This year, 500 million people will get malaria and about a million of them will die from it. Some scientists believe that one out of every two people who have ever lived have died of malaria. Here are some reports from Sierra Leone on efforts to control this deadly disease.
Living with half a brain - hemispherectomy, probably the most radical procedure in neurosurgery
Glaucoma [w/Flash audio. NB: mouse-over bottom-left for Elvis. Obviously]
May 12th is International ME/CFS/Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. If you aren't aware of these afflictions, then it's time to become so. "Fibromyalgia (FM) is an increasingly recognized chronic pain illness which is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal aches, pain and stiffness, soft tissue tenderness, general fatigue and sleep disturbances." The WebMD description. For those who live with chronic fatigue, systemic immunity problems, and long term pain, I think the rest of us, at least, owe our awareness of what these people cope with every day. Again, via the always excellent Watermark, who writes movingly of her relationship with Fibromyalgia.
Some numbers. 3.1 million in 2002 comes out to some 8,500 a day, 354 an hour, and almost 6 a minute. Each minute. Each hour. Each day. Deaths. Of AIDS.
Ecstasy is being hailed as the key to better treatments for the Parkinson's disease, marking a complete turnaround from a few weeks ago when ecstasy was condemned for causing the disease.
No More Malaria? The first step has been taken to making mosquitoes incapable of passing on malaria. But, should we?
Diane Petty, suffering from motor neurone disease, refused right to euthanasia by European Court. "Mrs Pretty, from Luton, who is paralysed from the neck down, had claimed the refusal breached the Human Rights Convention, which outlaws "inhuman or degrading treatment"."
Chlamydia seems to be on the rise. Working in a hospital lab I've seen an increase in tests for HPV, Herpes and Gonorrhea. It's enough to make one wonder if sex is worth the risk.
AIDS Timeline:1926-Present with comprehensive links, thanks to Sister Mary Elizabeth of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth of Hungary and AEGIS (AIDS Education Global Information System), "...a service the Centers for Disease Control calls 'the best of its kind'..." (See How Aegis Began) People making a difference.
Vaccine Prevents AIDS in Monkeys and could lead to human medicine. Exciting huh? Anyway, if that should happen, how much do you think they'll charge for treatment, considering the conspiracy theories and all that?
AIDS? SHMAIDS! Have you heard the news? "A growing group of bio-medical scientists claim the cause of AIDS is still unknown. These heretics do not believe in a lethal AIDS virus. They claim that the virus is indeed harmless. Most of them think AIDS is also not sexually transmitted; it probably has toxic causes. People die because they are poisoned to death by antiviral drugs. Part of the AIDS dissidents even question the existence of a virus entity. These skeptics say that the AIDS virus has never really been isolated, and the AIDS tests are worthless..." Yeah. And my childhood dog really did go live on a nice farm after he was hit by a car.
Today is World AIDS Day, and to commemorate this event (and the day without art and day without weblogs), I'll be posting AIDS/HIV-related links and I ask you all to do the same. A good information resource for today is the CDC's FAQ on AIDS. And I bet you've never seen the virus' life cycle before.