BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Vaccine

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett…the brains behind it all

As the month of February is regarded as “Black History Month”, it allows us to reflect on and acknowledge those who put their lives on the line to better our safety and who don’t always get recognition. In regards to COVID-19, the deadly virus that struck the world last January, many have spent countless hours researching new therapeutics and vaccines that counter the symptoms of this deadly virus. We tend to gloss over the founders of research and key discoveries pertaining to COVID-19, and instead use these findings as signs of hope for ourselves for the future. As we sit cocooned in our homes and limit our exposure to the virus, first responders and researchers are working day and night to preserve our safety of this great nation. Meet Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a 34 year old researcher and scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC). Dr. Corbett is a highly prestigious African American women who was one of the leading scientists at the forefront of the COVID-19 vaccine development. She along with her colleagues paved the way into the development of the well-renowned Moderna vaccine.

Kizzmekia Corbett graduated from Maryland University and received a B.S. in Biological Sciences. She was a Meyerhoff Scholar, which is an aggressive program that mentors minorities and women in science. She was then enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2014. Dr. Corbett then used her expertise to propel novel vaccine development for pandemic preparedness. When president Trump paid a visit to the NIH last March, the leads of the vaccine research center explained their life-saving mission. The focal point behind that mission was no other than Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. Two weeks after the president’s visit, Corbett’s team began their first stage of clinical trials. Corbett expressed that “they took a lot of the knowledge they have gained in the last six years and applied it to a vaccine platform in collaboration with Moderna…..The vaccine rolled out 10 months later”.

Dr. Corbett explains the vaccines effectiveness at the molecular level, as “the vaccine teaches the body how to fend off a virus, because it teaches the body how to look for the virus by basically just showing the body the spike protein of the virus….the body then says ‘Oh, we’ve seen this protein before. Let’s go fight against it”. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 6.5 million Americans have received the first dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine thanks to Dr. Corbett, and that number is expected to rise daily. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, credited Dr. Corbett by stating “The vaccine you are going to be taking was developed by an African American woman and that is just a fact”.

As we continue to reflect on inspirational African American men and woman around the world risking their lives to ensure our safety, let us take time to dig deeper into where these research discoveries come from. Let us not shroud the remarkable findings that scientists all around the world work endlessness to uncover. “In a time where vaccine skepticism is high among African Americans, Corbett hopes Black people will put faith in the vaccine and faith in the scientists working behind the scenes to bring it to the American people” states CBS news. If you are one of the fortunate people that have received this vaccine, maybe take some time to reflect on the countless hours of research that scientists such as Dr. Corbett experienced, because with out them the world would be a much different place.

The Incredible Work of Veterinary Microbiologist Jessie Price aka “Duck Doctor”

Dr. Jessie Price is the veterinary microbiologist responsible for developing a vaccine against Pasteurella anatipestifer, a respiratory disease which killed roughly 10% to 30% of ducks annually around the 1940s. A Black woman from a poor family, she overcame many obstacles before achieving success as an acclaimed scientist. Born in the year 1930, Dr. Price was raised by a single mother in Pennsylvania. Growing up, she was one of the three Black children in the entire school. Nonetheless, she achieved excellent grades and dedicated herself to academic excellence with the encouragement of her mother and teachers. After a gap year studying in New York, Dr. Price attended Cornell University. Despite initially wanting to become a physician, financial constraints did not enable her to follow that path, so instead she decided to study veterinary microbiology. She decided to continue her education at graduate school, and in order to pay off her tuition, Dr. Price worked as a lab technician at the Poultry Disease Research Farm of the New York State Veterinary College at Cornell University. She earned her Masters in bacteriology, pathology,and parasitology, and she earned her PhD based on her research and thesis titled, “Studies on the Pasteurella anatipestifer Infection in White Pekin Ducklings.”

Along with her two assistants, Dr. Jessie Price created the vaccine for Pasteurella anatipestifer, saving the meat industry millions of dollars as well as saving the lives of innocent ducklings! In addition, through numerous autopsies and trials using vaccinations, Dr. Price identified Pasteurella multocida, Escherichia coli, and Duck hepatitis as the main culprits responsible for killing the several flocks of ducklings she was studying.

The vaccine for Pasteurella anatipestifer connects to topics learned in AP Biology because a vaccine contains the weakened or inactive fragments of an antigen which, when injected into an organism, activates the immune system, prompting it to create antibodies which aid with immunity.

Dr. Jessie Price had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. She loved bettering herself and continued studying and researching most of her life. Very sadly, Dr. Price passed away on November 12, 2015, due to Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Jessie Price’s story inspires us to work hard for our dreams and overstep limitations. She dedicated herself to uncovering solutions, reminding us the value of enjoying the process just as much as arriving at the destination.

CRAZY NEW COVID-19 Mutation Makes Virus Weaker Against Antibodies

As revealed in a fascinating article that details a study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a mutated form of the virus has been discovered to be much more susceptible to antibodies produced by antibody drugs. This means that it is more easily disabled by antibodies produced by drugs such as the new vaccine. However, this may not all be good news as this new strain, called D614G, is also much more transmissible. D614G originated in Europe and has quickly become the most prevalent form of the virus. According to professor of epidemiology at UNC Ralph Baric, “The virus outcompetes and outgrows the ancestral strain by about 10-fold and replicates extremely efficiently in primary nasal epithelial cells, which are a potentially important site for person-to-person transmission.” These nasal epithelial cells act as a physical barrier against any pathogens attempting to enter the body and play a significant part in the control of the innate and acquired immune response. As we learned in biology, one method of innate immune response that our bodies have is mucous that traps pathogens. The nasal epithelial cells contain cilia that act to push the mucous and the pathogen contained inside out of the body. This means that if this new virus reproduces exceptionally well within the nasal epithelial cells, then it is extremely transmissible through any expulsion of mucous by either sneezing or coughing. It is also far more capable of bypassing the barrier of the mucous and entering the body. These epithelial cells also help the innate immune system by producing various cytokines. If a virus manages to make it past the barrier defenses, the epithelial cells will secrete cytokines. These cytokines will attract a type of cell called a neutrophil that digests pathogens. This means that these nasal epithelial cells are vital to the innate immune response and having a virus strain reproduce so effectively inside of them is extremely worrying.

The researchers believe that D614G is so effective at reproducing because it increases the virus’ ability to enter cells. The D614G mutation opens a flap on the tip of one of the spikes on the side of the virus which allows it to infect cells more effectively. However, this mutation also creates a weakness in the virus. When the flap is open, it becomes much easier for antibodies to bind to the spike proteins, preventing the virus from attacking additional cells.

Two researchers from the University of Wisconsin contributed to this study by experimenting with hamsters. To test the airborne aspect of this mutation, the hamsters were placed into different cages and groups so they could not touch and inoculated with either the original strain or D614G. By day two, in the group exposed to the mutation, six out of the eight hamsters were infected with D614G. In the group of hamsters exposed to the original virus, no additional hamsters were infected by day 2. This shows that this D614G is extremely effective at being transmitted airborne. However, the mutation had the same symptoms and effects as the original virus meaning it is not more severe. The researchers have also noted that these results may not be the same in human studies. I think that this study is equal parts of good and bad news. I am glad that the most prevalent form of the virus is much easier to deal with, but it is quite terrifying that it could mutate to be so much more contagious. How do you feel about this new development? Let me know in the comments. 

LION: The King Of The COVID Vaccines

As the SARS-CoV-2 virus (also known as COVID-19) continues to rage across the world killing millions, more time, effort, and money is being put into researching the best vaccines to help bring the world back to a state of normalcy.  One such vaccine is being developed at the University of Washington using replicating RNA is called LION (Lipid InOrganic Nanoparticle). In its animal trials in July, the vaccine already found some success inducing “coronavirus-neutralizing antibodies” in mice young and old which has given researchers a lot of hope for the future of the vaccine.

 

One might wonder, why do we need a vaccine at all? Vaccines are used to expose your body to small doses of a virus or in this case by mRNA, which teaches your body to produce the antibodies needed to fight the virus and makes memory cells. The next time you are exposed to the virus, your body will be able to produce the necessary antibodies to a much larger degree, much quicker, for longer so you will be protected from becoming sick.

One of the lead researchers on LION, Professor Deborah Fuller of the University of Washington School of Medicine qualified the goals of a successful COVID-19 vaccine saying it, “will ideally induce protective immunity after only a single immunization, avoid immune responses that could exacerbate virus-induced pathology, be amenable to rapid and cost-effective scale-up and manufacturing, and be capable of inducing immunity in all populations including the elderly who typically respond poorly to vaccines.” This is quite a lot to accomplish but LION lends itself very well to these goals, conquering most of the problems a typical DNA vaccine would have. DNA vaccines work by coding for the antigens which are then exposed to the immune system to create memory cells so the body can treat the virus later. The downsides of a DNA vaccine is sometimes those antigens fail to create an immune response or can even cause the cell to become cancerous when the DNA joins the host cells DNA, disrupting it. There is far less risk with RNA vaccines which occupy the cytoplasm and only interact with ribosomes.

Shown above us a basic drawing of what SARS-CoV-2 virus looks like.

LION is a replicating RNA vaccine, but how does replicating RNA work? RNA codes for spike proteins and ribosomes in the body make the necessary proteins. Replicating RNA allows for more spike proteins and ribosomes to be coded at a greater rate, which produces a greater number of proteins continuously while triggering “a virus-sensing stress response that encourages other immune activation.” For the vaccine the RNA replicates proteins that tell the body to reject the SARS-CoV-2 and attack them “with antibodies and T cells”  which stop the protein spikes on the virus from interfering with the cell. The development of B cells, which remember how to make the antibodies to fight the virus when infected again, as well as T cells is especially critical for the vaccine as they can develop immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 antigens. What makes the LION vaccine special is the nanoparticle it is named after which “enhances the vaccine’s ability to provoke the desired immune reaction, and also its stability.” This makes it more valuable than other vaccines of the same kind as it can achieve effective results with a longer shelf life. It can also be mixed simply using a two vial method as the mRNA component is made separately from the main vaccine formulation. For all these reasons, the scientists are optimistic as the vaccine goes into the next stages of testing that this vaccine could help provide a long term solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As COVID-19 vaccines start becoming available to essential workers in the coming weeks and my father prepares to take one, it can be quite unnerving to think about all the potential negative side effects of the vaccine. These vaccines have been developed without the typical ten years of testing, so knowing more about the research behind the vaccines serves as a comfort me and many others. Our future is in these vaccines and research so knowing which we should invest our time and money in is always a good idea.

We have vaccines- is the pandemic over?

Does a vaccine mean the end of this pandemic?

For this portfolio project, I will be focusing on the vaccine development process and how the developing vaccines each prepare the immune system to fight COVID-19. The goal will be to explore the stages of development, testing, and distribution to the public and how these new vaccines function. Since there has been recent progress with a few vaccine candidates, namely the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, this blog post will be about the implications of vaccine distribution in coming months.

Firstly, a new vaccine does not mean that it will be safe for society to return to normal just yet. While we’re all definitely excited about the news of successful vaccine trials, the effects of vaccination are not immediate, and the goal of herd immunity will not be reached for a little while. Also, the vaccines have not been tested yet on children and pregnant women, and since women around childbearing age are highly represented in the population of health care workers, it is important that the vaccine work for pregnant women. With the trials so far, we do know that there have been no unexpected negative side effects to vaccination, just the typical mild ones such as injection-site soreness and fatigue.

So why is getting a vaccine so important? It’s true that none of the vaccines are 100% effective, but they have been proven to decrease the severity of symptoms. (Both vaccines have reported about 95% efficacy rates in preventing COVID-19.) There are many good reasons to get a vaccine. Not only will it protect you, but it will be a safer path than widespread infection to build herd immunity. Since the trials did not measure rates of infection, it remains unclear whether the vaccines prevent infection and transmission, though results from another vaccine’s trials suggest that it might somewhat protect against infection. Either way, the rate of subjects who became severely ill was lower for those vaccinated in these two prominent vaccines’ trials. The high rates of hospitalization are due to development of severe symptoms, so reducing symptoms would also help to slow the pandemic’s adverse effects.

So, we’ve seen that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective in reducing symptoms, but that brings us to another question. How do these vaccines work? Both of these vaccines are mRNA vaccines. This means that they deliver synthetic messenger RNA that is taken in by immune cells that then produce the spike protein, just as would happen if the cells came into contact with the actual virus. However, since it is just the proteins, there is no risk of getting infected with COVID-19 from the vaccine itself. The immune system will then recognize the protein as a foreign substance and develop an immune response and produce memory cells that will respond swiftly in the case of seeing that protein again. As we learned, the adaptive immune defense depends on the recognition of the epitope of a virus, in this case the spike protein. After first infection, the memory B and Tc cells that are produced via clonal expansion remain in the lymph nodes until the same virus attacks again. However, this mRNA vaccine removes the need for a first infection in developing adaptive immunity because the spike proteins are produced without the rest of the virus needing to be introduced.

Now, let’s imagine it’s a few months from now, and the distribution of vaccines has begun. Can we skip the precautions we have in place now? Do we still need social distancing and mask-wearing? Well, until most people are able to be vaccinated, it will be important to maintain safety protocols that reduce the spread. Even once somebody is vaccinated, they will need to follow guidelines, because it takes several weeks for the immune defense to build up, and both vaccines require a booster dose about a month after the first one. Also, we’ve already addressed the uncertainty about transmission after vaccination, so it’s best to err on the side of caution. 

So, even though these vaccines may not be perfect, they will help control the pandemic. The main question that remains is how efficiently and fairly vaccines can be distributed to best reduce deaths and bring about an end to the pandemic.

Vaccines: The Start of the End?

As you all know, unless you have been living under a rock for the past year, COVID-19 is something that has most likely impacted everyone on the planet in some way, and in some ways worse than others. At this point in time, I think we can all agree that we just want this madness to end, which is looking like it will come from a vaccine. The vaccine trial process began in March of 2020, where phase 1 was conducted, which was giving the vaccine to healthy volunteers to test the safety and how the vaccine reacts in the human body. This first version of the vaccine was a two dose vaccine, which was designed to get the immune system to create antibodies to fight against what is called the “spike” of the virus, which is how the virus attaches itself and enters human cells. In this specific testing, the researchers used a total of 45 healthy adults ranging from 18 to 55 years of age, each of which receiving two injections of the vaccine, ranging in doses of 25, 100, and 25o micrograms. From this testing, participants received no serious side effects from the vaccine, however, more than half of the participants reported feeling fatigued, chills, and pain at the injection site. This is similar in concept to the taste bud lab we did during class recently, as the miraculin tablets altered our taste buds to have change the taste of certain food items, similar to how the vaccine test altered how the participants felt after taking the test vaccine.

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the goal is for vaccines to be distributed by the end of 2020 in the United States. However, when a vaccine is approved and authorized for distribution, there may not be enough resources for all adults to receive the vaccine when it first comes out. If this is the case, where a vaccine is approved by the end of 2020, and there are not enough resources for all adults at the time, over time, resources will increase leading to all adults being able to have received the vaccine at some point in 2021. As for children, a vaccine may not be available to them as soon as it is available for adults, as more studies are needed to complete a safe vaccine for young children.

 

What is Nanotechnology, and How is it Transforming Vaccine Development for SARS-CoV-2?

1,000+ Free Covid-19 & Coronavirus Illustrations - PixabayCOVID-19 Spike Protein

In an era of mask-wearing and social distancing, the big question on everyone’s mind is when will things go back to normal? Scientists all over the world have been working quickly and intensely to develop a solution–one that is safe. 

Nanotechnology is the process of manipulating atoms and molecules on a microscopic scale. According to a UC San Diego ScienceDaily Article, scientists have been using this technique to design vaccine candidates for COVID-19. Nicole Steinmetz, a nanoengineering professor at UC San Diego, has been one such scientist. Instead of relying on older vaccine models, such as live-attenuated or inactivated strains of the virus itself, these “next-generation vaccines” are more stable, easier to manufacture, and easier to administer. 

Since June 1 of 2020, there have been more than one-hundred vaccines in play, with more than a few triumphing through clinical trials. Although many may be years away from deployment, the act of their development will prepare our nations’ leaders for future pandemics. 

There are three forms of these novel vaccines in the mix: peptide-based, nucleic-acid based, and subunit vaccines. All of these are alternatives to classic vaccines, which are slower to produce and sometimes pose the threat of inducing allergic responses.

scientist, microbiologist, virus, molecular biology, laboratory, coronavirus testing, COVID-19Vaccine Development

Peptide-Based Vaccines

Peptides are short chains made up of amino acid monomers. Simple and easily manufactured, peptide-based vaccines are typically made from VPLs, or virus-like particles, which come from bacteriophages or plant viruses. They are composed of peptide antigens, and mimic the patterns of pathogens, making those patterns visible to the immune system. However, they do not produce a strong enough immune response on their own, and thus must be accompanied by adjuvants.

Nucleic-acid Based Vaccines

In the midst of a fast-spreading pandemic, the world needs a vaccine that can be both developed and deployed rapidly. DNA and mRNA vaccines have this potential. DNA vaccines contain small, circular pieces of bacterial plasmids that are engineered to target the nucleus and produce parts of the virus’s proteins. They have a lot of stability, however, they also pose the risk of messing up a person’s pre-existing DNA, leading to mutations. In contrast, mRNA-based vaccines release mRNA into the cytoplasm, which the host cell then translates into a full-length protein of the virus. Because it is non-integrating, it does not have the same mutation risks as DNA-based vaccines.  

Subunit Vaccines 

Subunit vaccines have minimal structural parts of the pathogenic virus, meaning either the virus’s proteins or VLPs. These vaccines do not have genetic material, and instead, mimic the topical features of the virus to induce an immune response. 

The Power of Masks

Delivery Development

One of the most important aspects of a vaccine is accessibility and deployment. In the past, when dealing with live or inactivated vaccines, the lack of healthcare workers to administer the vaccines emerged as a significant concern. Yet, through nanotechnology, researchers have developed devices and platforms to ease these previous issues. They have created single-dose, slow-release implants and patches that can be self-administered, removing pressure from health care workers. Open reporting and the mass culmination of data has allowed for this rapid development of vaccine technologies. Because of these revolutionary advancements, some researchers optimistically predict that COVID-19 has the potential to become merely another seasonal flu-like disease over time.

What Lies Ahead

In these bleak times, it is promising to look at such amazing scientific developments. While a good portion of the general public feels skepticism towards the speed at which these COVID-19 vaccines are being produced, and thus claim they will not take it, I believe that the work of these scientists will not go to waste. As a nation, and as a global community, we will get past it, and come out stronger than ever on the other side. 

Now, ask yourself, would you take a COVID-19 vaccine? 

COVID-19 Vaccine Poses a Serious Threat to Sharks

Recent studies suggest that shark populations may be in grave danger. By enhancing immune responses, squalene—a polyunsaturated hydrocarbon found in the liver of sharks—has been proven to make vaccines, such as malaria and flu vaccines, more effective. Thus, squalene can be found in some of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates, posing a potential threat to sharks.

If the final COVID-19 vaccine contains squalene, about 500,000 sharks could be at risk. Already, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed annually. While shark fin soup—a cultural Asian dish—poses the greatest threat to the animals, an estimated 2.7 million sharks are already being harvested for squalene which, apart from being used in vaccines, is a popular moisturizing ingredient in cosmetics. Squalene works as a great moisturizer because it is a lipid, one of the four main classes of organic compounds found in living things as learned about in AP Biology. Specifically, squalene is a polyunsaturated hydrocarbon which means that the structure contains rings composed of bonded carbons and hydrogens. Similar to lipids that are composed of fatty acid tails, the molecule is hydrophobic, making it a good moisturizer. When squalene comes into contact with the skin, it repels water which traps moisture inside it’s layer. This keeps moisture from leaving the skin.

There are other alternatives. Squalene can be found in non-animal resources such as olive oil, wheat germ, sugar cane, bacteria, and yeast; however, extracting the lipid from sharks is more efficient for producers, offering a greater yield at less of a cost. Nonetheless, sharks play a vital role in our oceans as a top predator, and relying on them for a vaccine is not only unsustainable but would also be very costly to our environment and world.

In addition, the question of morality comes into play—do we, as humans, have the right to place ourselves above the lives of complex creatures such as sharks? Personally, I think it is incredibly unethical to even consider harvesting hundreds of thousands of sharks for a vaccine, especially when there are other methods of obtaining squalene.

It still remains unclear whether half-a-million sharks will actually be killed for the potential vaccine, but the very idea is frightening for shark-lovers like myself. We must protect our sharks, our oceans, and our world!

 

A Super Self-Assembling Vaccine Booster to the Rescue!

Vaccines: a topic on the forefront of the minds of scientists, researchers, and the general public. With the novel coronavirus and fiery online debates led by coined “anti-vaxers” about the effectiveness and dangers of vaccination, biologists are racing to discover more methods to improve these life-saving injections. An essential component of many vaccines, including ones used to prevent cervical cancer, influenza, and hepatitis is the adjuvant: a “booster” ingredient that helps the vaccine create a longer-lasting, stronger immune response in the patient. Recently, a team of scientists in Japan discovered a new adjuvant—a molecule called cholicamade—that was equally as effective in treating influenza in mice as its predecessor, Alum. The emergence of this new ingredient is exciting, but the real novelty lies in the process these biologists used in discovering chloicamade: looking at molecules that could self-assemble.

What is the self-assembly of a molecule, or multiple molecules? Multiple molecules are said to self-assemble if they are able to organize into a defined pattern without the intervention of an external source, such as heat. These molecules will form ionic or hydrogen bonds with each other, similar to the joining of water molecules, since they don’t share electrons equally. Identifying molecular structures that self-assemble is a common practice in materials science, but not often used in researching adjuvants. This team of biologists and chemists hypothesized that utilizing molecules that form in this fashion for disease treatments may be effective because pathogens in viruses also form through self-assembly. They wondered if a similar method in structural formation between a treatment and its virus would trigger a similar immune response.  

And it did! Cholicamide self-assembles through ionic bonds to create a structure which looks almost identical to a virus, triggering the same immune system cells to react. The structure of the molecule

An image of the influenza virus, which the treatment would attempt to replicate.

lends itself to the formation of ionic bonds because of its inherent polarity and electronegative elements. The molecule can be injected directly into vacuoles that will connect it with the specialized receptors which will trigger the appropriate immune response. A vacuole’s ability to store water and other nutrients as well as transport these nutrients throughout an animal cell is vital in ensuring the treatment binds to the correct receptors. Uesugi, a leading scientist in the study, hopes “the new approach paves the way for discovering and designing self-assembling small molecule adjuvants against pathogens, including emerging viruses.” What do you think about this new method in discovering vaccine treatments? How do you see the future of vaccines changing as more adjuvants are researched? I believe there is nothing more exciting than not only confirming the effectiveness of a new treatment, but also conducting the research with a new approach or perspective.

 

Does Exposure to Toxins In the Environment Affect One’s Offspring’s Immune System?

A study has recently surfaced stating that maternal exposure to industrial pollution may harm the immune system of one’s offspring and that this impairment is then passed from generation to generation, resulting in weak body defenses against viruses.

Paige Lawrence, Ph.D., with the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Department of Environmental Medicine, led the study and conducted research in mice, which have similar immune system functions as humans. Previously, studies have shown that exposure to toxins in the environment can have effects on the respiratory, reproductive, and nervous system function among generations; however, Lawrence’s research is the first study to declare that the immune system is also impacted.

“The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is a touchstone for many aspects of human health,” said Lawrence. “But in terms of the body’s ability to fights off infections, this study suggests that, to a certain extent, you may also be what your great-grandmother ate.”

“When you are infected or receive a flu vaccine, the immune system ramps up production of specific kinds of white blood cells in response,” said Lawrence. “The larger the response, the larger the army of white blood cells, enhancing the ability of the body to successfully fight off an infection. Having a smaller size army — which we see across multiple generations of mice in this study — means that you’re at risk for not fighting the infection as effectively.”

In the study, researchers exposed pregnant mice to environmentally relevant levels of a chemical called dioxin, which is a common by-product of industrial production and wast incineration, and is also found in some consumer products. These chemicals eventually are consumed by humans as a result of them getting into the food system, mainly found in animal-based food products.

The scientists found the production and function of the mice’s white blood cells was impaired after being infected with the influenza A virus. Researchers observed the immune response in the offspring of the mice whose mothers were exposed to dioxin. Additionally, the immune response was also found in the following generations, as fas as the great-grandchildren (or great- grandmice). It was also found that this immune response was greater in female mice.  This discovery now allows researchers to have more information and evidence to be able to more accurately create a claim about this theory.

As a result of the study, researchers were able to state that the exposure to dioxin alters the transcription of genetic instructions. According to the researchers, the environmental exposure to pollutants does not trigger a genetic mutation. Instead, ones cellular machinery is changed and the immune response is passed down generation to generation. This discovery explains information that was originally unexplainable. It is obviously difficult to just avoid how much toxins you are exposed to in the environment, but it is definitely interesting to see the extent of the immune responses in subsequent generations. We can only hope that this new information, and further discoveries, help people adjust what they release into this world that results in these harmful toxins humans are exposed to, and their offsprings.

 

 

 

A Cure for Zika? Scientists successfully test a DNA-based Zika Vaccine

The Zika virus, widely known for its 2015 Latin and North America outbreak, is a mosquito-borne and transmitted virus that develops neurological complications and birth-defects in those infected. The Zika virus is able to be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her fetus, causing microcephaly– abnormal development of the brain. Currently, there exists no vaccine that would fully treat the virus, however, a solution may be in the works.

(Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

David B. Weiner, Ph.D., an executive vice president of The Wistar Institute and a developer of the Zika vaccine notes that, “Synthetic DNA vaccines are an ideal approach for emerging infectious diseases like Zika”. Synthetic DNA vaccines are vaccines with genetically engineered DNA. They work in the same way as regular vaccines, inciting cells to produce specific antigens for immunological responses. Synthetic DNA vaccines can also have potential benefits over traditional vaccines, including a higher predictability, stability, and ability to be manufactured and distributed safely and rapidly.

The current Zika vaccine in development, GLS-5700, houses multiple strains of genes with DNA instructions that tell a hosts’ cells how to react and fight off a Zika virus antigen. In late 2016, researchers tested the vaccine on 40 participants. Two groups of 20 received different does of the vaccine at zero, four, and twelve week intervals. At the end of the experiment, researchers found that all participants had developed Zika-specific antibodies and 80 percent of the participants developed neutralizing antibodies against the Zika virus.

Zika 2015-2016 Outbreak (Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

Although rare in the United States, Zika continues to threaten millions living in South and Central America. Despite being in its last stages of development, GLS-5700 and other Synthetic DNA vaccines are still prohibited from being used in the United States- although this may change with the introduction of the Zika vaccine. The future of Synthetic DNA vaccines and viral disease prevention lies in the success of the GLS-5700.

 

 

 

 

Is All the Hype Around This Years Flu True, or Is The Government Just Trying To Kill Us?

In December(2012) 9 polio vaccination workers in Pakistan in were murdered. And just last week 7 men and women that were on their way home from work at a community health center in Pakistan were shot dead.  Do you notice a trend?

Urban legends and conspiracy theories are what provoked people to think that these health workers need to be killed.  Due to various reasons, discussed in this article, people have been lead to believe that there are malicious motives behind their medical acts and patients resist medical treatment in fear of being killed for their organs or being poisoned with a fake vaccine. The illegitimate distrust from the patients can originate because the doctor is foreign(usually Western) or a lot wealthier then the patients.

But there is some justifiable skepticism about these doctors. In an interview Dr. Jehuda Hiss, head of Israel’s main forensic institute, stated that in the 1990’s, body parts were taken from dead bodies(of Israelis, Palestinians, and others) without consent and were transplanted into Israeli soldiers.  Although the Israeli military said they stopped the illegal taking of organs 10 years ago, people still believe that doctors will let their patients die rather then help them because their organs will be beneficial to them. People have been resistant to getting vaccines since the late 1700’s, after the creation of the smallpox vaccine.The fact that a vaccine injection actually puts bacteria or a virus into your body is scary and illegitimate to many. The article mentions a true incidence of doctor with ulterior motives.  “A Pakistani doctor who was hired by the Central Intelligence Agency to give out a hepatitis B vaccine was actually trying to collect DNA samples from bin Laden’s suspected compound to verify his presence.”

Although there are rare cases of these myths holding truth, a doctors medical assistance will almost always be in the patients’ best interest and health. Do you think the government is keeping things from us and our actual doctors appointments are much more then just a check up?

Medical students and staff at Tripler Army Medical Center

Photographer: Army Medicin
Licensing: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

 

Main Article: http://www.livescience.com/26108-medical-urban-legends-kill.html

Secondary Articles: http://www.livescience.com/5955-body-part-theft-truth-myth.html and http://www.dovaccinescausethat.com/

Picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/armymedicine/6382971901/ and http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

Can we fight off AIDS?

AIDS is a tragic epidemic world wide. More than 34 million people are affected by AIDS and in 2011 alone, 1.7 million people died from AIDS. The people affected by AIDS are largely from regions in Africa and Asia, but more than one million people in the US are living with AIDS.

Obviously such a prevalent disease attracts scientists looking to help find a cure from all over the world. There have been significant advances in medications that can prevent symptoms and prolong life, but there is yet to be a cure.

A new discovery in treatment for AIDS gives hope for a long term or even permanent control over the HIV. The treatment includes a vaccine with a disabled version of the virus. The heat-inactivated version of HIV “awakens immune protection in some patients”. This means certain patients didn’t have to take their medication for weeks or even months. Thought the affects of the vaccination are temporary, this method of treatment shows promise.

Even if scientists don’t come up with a more permanent treatment for HIV in the near future, the temporary suppressing of the virus results in “knocking the virus down to extremely low levels would mean many patients wouldn’t need drugs, wouldn’t show disease symptoms and wouldn’t be likely to transmit HIV to others.” This is a significant accomplishment. It could lower the amount of people infected with AIDS world wide by stopping the transmission between people and would also improve the quality of life for AIDS infected people.

 

Sources:

main article:

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/347357/description/Inactivated_virus_shows_promise_against_HIV_

extra articles:

http://www.amfar.org/about_hiv_and_aids/facts_and_stats/statistics__worldwide/

http://aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/statistics/

photo:

Earth taken by Galileo after completing its first Earth Gravity Assist

Koalas in danger

We all know that species have been going extinct when faced with threats such as climate change, reduced habitat and diseases. A recent New York Times article reveals one such species that people have realized is in danger is the koala. Besides the loss of habitat and climate changes in Australia, a new bacterium has been found in wild koalas called chlamydia.

There are two strains now known which have been affecting the koala population in Queensland. The first is Chlamydia pecorum and the second is C. pneumoniae. The bacteria are transmitted through mating and birth and possibly fighting. Some of the symptoms are eye infections, which can lead to blindness that will make it hard for them to find eucalyptus leaves, respiratory infections, and cysts that cause female koalas to be infertile.

The bacteria is growing so much in the area of Queensland since many of the koalas there are infected with koala retrovirus which acts like H.I.V. in koalas making their immunes system shut down. There is no way to treat the retrovirus but researchers are trying to create a vaccine to prevent the spread of chlamydia. There is no set plan on how to distribute the vaccine yet but they are still trying to figure out what the most efficient method of vaccination will be after tests have been completed.

Getting closer to a cure for cancer!

Many cancer cells can be detected because the sugars on their surface proteins undergo specific changes from regular cells. The tumors produce a lot of the protein known as MUC1. Our immune systems have trouble recognizing the difference between these cancerous cells and the healthy cells because they both develop within the body.

Researchers have been testing a new vaccine on mice with cancers similar to the ones that develop on human cell. Luckily, the mice have been showing promising results and responding well to the vaccine! “This is the first time that a vaccine has been developed that trains the immune system to distinguish and kill cancer cells based on their different sugar structures on proteins such as MUC1,” Dr. Gendler says.  The MUC1 can be detected on 70% of all cancer cells. Can this really be the answer?!

It’s suppose to help with breast, pancreatic,  ovarian and multiple myeloma cancer. The vaccine will help the immune system recognize the MUC1 as a harmful foreigner. The vaccine has 3 parts. As we learned recently in our AP Biology class, the immune system attacks foreign cells with antibodies. Therefore the vaccine first has the immune system recognize the cells with MUC1 has harmful bacteria and then the immune system can send out the antibodies to fight off the cancer. Lastly, the  vaccine stimulates a response from a lymphocyte.

This vaccine should be ready by 2013 to improve cancer treatment! The vaccine would be life changing for many patients out there that experience triple – negative deadly cancers. I am looking forward to hearing more about this research and hearing the wonders its will do!

Antibodies to the Rescue!

Photo Credit: RambergMediaImages Flickr

 

 

HIV is an extremely dangerous virus because our own antibodies cannot effectively attack it. HIV uses a coat of sugars to hide itself from our antibodies. Although the body cannot effectively fight HIV, it does its best by making new antibodies to try and attack this powerful virus. These new antibodies attach to different spots on the sugar coating of the virus. It uses the sugar coat to bind to a site on the virus where amino acids are exposed. Then the antibody attacks the virus from that site, disabling it.

 

The discovery of this antibody and the way it binds to the virus is important because it can lead to advances in a cure and a vaccine. It gave scientists key information about binding sites made out of sugars and amino acids. They can use this information, as well as information from other projects and discoveries to make a more effective vaccine. In fact, some recent tests have shown that the antibodies play an important role in the health of someone infected with HIV.

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