Vaccine skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr. to lead commission on vaccine safety? #wtf

The real news is starting to sound more and more like the Onion. Today, it was announced that Trump has asked major vaccine skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr. to chair a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity. Full details on WaPo.  REALLY?!

The nightmare keeps going on. I don’t know how many more times this blog is going to have to discuss that there is no link between vaccines and autism or how many more times we need to advocate for vaccination. I’ll save my full rant for another day, but it’s infuriating that in this “post-truth” world, scientists have to spend SO MUCH TIME convincing politicians that a discredited study is actually false and that it is inappropriate to make political decisions based on this false claim.

I still don’t understand how politicians come to these scientific conclusions such as vaccine skepticism when the overwhelming majority of established scientists argue otherwise. If 99% of dentists told me I had to get my tooth pulled, but 1 businessman told me no need, guess who I’d listen to? The dentists. Even though it will hurt, it’s going to be best in the long run.

In the case of climate change denialism, I can at least somewhat understand that accepting climate change means having to accept some very uncomfortable realities (as I discussed previously), and politicians and society may not want to accept that out of their own self-interest. But what is the financial, political, or personal gain in overturning vaccination laws and denying the efficacy of vaccines? I DO NOT get it. Seems like everyone will lose.

 

*note- As a scientist, obviously I think it is incredibly important to ensure quality control and safety when it comes to vaccine design, production, and testing. And that there’s always room for improvement in these areas. However, I’m worried that the intentions of skeptics like Robert Kennedy Jr. is not to improve and enhance vaccines, but to debunk and overturn progress under the guise of “safety”.

 

The Chan-Zuckerberg initiative: end all disease by 2100 #YAAAAS

THIS IS AWESOME! Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have launched the Chan-Zuckerberg initiative where they will be giving $3 billion to prevent, cure, or manage ALL disease by the end of this century. Their mission:

We want every child to grow up in a better world. Our hopes for the future center on two ideas: advancing human potential and promoting equality. We’ll focus first on personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities. We will make long-term investments over 25, 50 or even 100 years because our greatest challenges require time to solve.

It is a beautiful thing when very wealthy people spend their money on scientific research and innovation. YAAAAAS.

Baracktrema Obamai- new parasite named after the president #LifeGoals

I guess when you become president, you get the honor of having a newly discovered organism named after you. Introducing Baracktrema Obamai, a newly discovered freshwater parasitic flatworm that is found in Malaysian turtles. The full discovery is published in the Journal of Parasitology. Enjoy!

Stomach pump- new FDA approved weight loss device. #isthisforreal

No, this is NOT an onion article… the FDA has just approved a weight loss device called Aspire Assist which is essentially a stomach pump that can directly remove food from your stomach after it has been consumed. Glad we’re doing something to battle the obesity problem in this country, however, what happened to good old fashioned diet and exercise?

The Food and Drug Administration approved a weight loss device on Tuesday that pumps food out of a person’s stomach after they eat a meal.

While some have criticized the device as “assisted bulimia,” the FDA stressed in a statement, that the AspireAssist device is not meant for anyone with an eating disorder, and should only be used by adults 22-and-older who are obese and have failed to lose weight through non-surgical methods.

To place the device, a surgeon makes a tiny incision and endoscopically puts a tube in the patient’s stomach, which is attached to a “disk-shaped port that lies outside the body,” according to the statement.  To drain the contents of the stomach, a person should wait twenty or thirty minutes after they eat, and then attach an external connector to the port and open the valve.

According to the statement, 30 percent of the calories consumed during a meal can be removed by the device, which takes five-to-ten minutes to drain the food from the stomach into the toilet. Continue reading

A hangover that’s out of this world- literally! #TimPeake

What’s it like to return to earth after several months in space? According to Tim Peake, it’s the “world’s worst hangover”. Read on, from the Guardian:

British astronaut Tim Peake is experiencing the “world’s worst hangover” after spending six months in space.

Now back on Earth at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, he faces three weeks of rehabilitation during which he will undergo a barrage of medical tests and maintain a strict exercise regime.

Doctors will draw blood, conduct Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans, and question Peake to improve their understanding of the physical and psychological effects of space travel.

The astronaut will also be examined on a tilt table that can rotate his body from a horizontal to a vertical position to monitor how his heart and blood circulation are responding to gravity.

It will take Peake a few days to learn to walk again. Soon after landing in Kazakhstan on Saturday he could be seen making his first attempts at walking in Earth’s gravity supported by two helpers.

Sense of balance is also greatly affected by the transition away from an environment where there is no “up” or “down” as defined by gravity.

On Earth, the vestibular system in the inner ear that keeps us on our feet can be over-stimulated. Dizziness and nausea are common problems experienced by astronauts returning from orbit, as are feelings of faintness caused by a drop in blood pressure.

After arriving in Cologne, Peake said he was experiencing dizziness and vertigo every time he moved his head. Such effects normally disappear very quickly; others could take much longer to recover from and some may cause permanent changes.

Tim Peake is carried to a medical tent after the landing in Kazakhstan.
Tim Peake is carried to a medical tent after the landing in Kazakhstan. Photograph: Bill Ingalls/Rex/Shutterstock

Months in space will have weakened Peake’s muscles and bones and temporarily shrunk the size of his heart. Astronauts lose up to 1.5% of their bone mass for each month spent in space. The loss is greatest in the upper thighs and pelvis, and can increase the risk of injuries such as hip fractures.

Over time, the influence of gravity helps the bone regrow, but full recovery can take as long as three years depending on the individual. Muscles get stronger quickly, but the weakness can be deceptive to begin with and astronauts have reported straining their necks by turning their heads too quickly.

While in space, unprotected by the Earth’s magnetic field, Peake will have been exposed to a radiation dose equivalent to about 1,200 chest x-rays. That is enough to increase his risk of cancer, but not by more than about 3%.

Peake and his crewmates – American Nasa astronaut Colonel Tim Kopra and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko – made the trip back to Earth on Saturday in a tiny Soyuz descent module measuring just over 6ft (1.8 metres) across.

Two other elements of their Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft – the orbital module providing extra living accommodation while in orbit, and the service module housing propulsion and control systems – were allowed to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

As they plunged through the atmosphere, friction on the craft’s forward-facing heat shield slowed its speed from 17,398mph (28,000kph) to 514mph (827kph) and raised the temperature to 1,600C.

The capsule parachuted down to a remote spot on the vast scrubland of the Kazakhstan steppe. A second before touch down, a burst of fire from six retro rockets reduced the impact speed to 3mph.

Peake was the second crew member to be lifted out of the capsule, which was rolled on to its side after landing by a gust of wind. He described the journey as “incredible – the best ride I’ve been on ever” and said he was tempted to celebrate his arrival home with pizza and a cold beer.

On Sunday, Peake flew in to Cologne where he was greeted with a hug from his mother, Angela. His father, Nigel, was also there to meet him. He said: “It’s a job well done, I’m so proud of him and what he’s achieved.”

On Tuesday, Peake will give his first press conference since arriving back on Earth at the European Astronaut Centre, the European Space Agency’s astronaut base.

 

First Zika vaccine to be tested in humans #progress

Reported by CNN:

(CNN)The first human trial of a Zika vaccine will begin soon, Inovio Pharmaceuticals said Monday.

Inovio, which is based in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, and GeneOne Life Science, which is based in Seoul, South Korea, worked together on the vaccine. They previously collaborated to create vaccines for Ebolaand MERS, both of which are being tested.

The Zika vaccine, with the clinical-sounding name GLS-5700, will first be tested in 40 healthy volunteers. The first tests in humans should start in the next few weeks, Inovio said in a news release.
In the animal testing stage, the vaccine caused a strong antibody response, the company said. It is still very early in the vaccine’s development. Phase I of a vaccine trial ensures that it can be tolerated well in human subjects. If successful in this first round of human testing, it will need additional approval for further testing.
At the next stage, the vaccine would be tested on people who have Zika. Then there would be a stage to see how well it works on a larger group of people. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease at the National Institutes of Health, is leading a team that is trying a few approaches to a vaccine, including an approach using DNA like Inovio’s does. He believes that trial could start by the end of August. In the coming months, he said, we will probably be hearing about a number of vaccine candidates going into Phase I trials. “This is all good news,” Fauci said.

COOL! What happens to your DNA after a year in space?

kelly2

White House launches #Microbiome initiative!

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in collaboration with Federal agencies and private-sector stakeholders, is announcing a new National Microbiome Initiative (NMI) to foster the integrated study of microbiomes across different ecosystems, and is hosting an event to bring together stakeholders vital to advancing the NMI.

Microbiomes are the communities of microorganisms that live on or in people, plants, soil, oceans, and the atmosphere. Microbiomes maintain healthy function of these diverse ecosystems, influencing human health, climate change, food security, and other factors. Dysfunctional microbiomes are associated with issues including human chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and asthma; local ecological disruptions such as the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico; and reductions in agricultural productivity. Numerous industrial processes such as biofuel production and food processing depend on healthy microbial communities. Although new technologies have enabled exciting discoveries about the importance of microbiomes, scientists still lack the knowledge and tools to manage microbiomes in a manner that prevents dysfunction or restores healthy function.

The NMI aims to advance understanding of microbiome behavior and enable protection and restoration of healthy microbiome function. In a year-long fact-finding process, scientists from Federal agencies, academia, and the private sector converged on three recommended areas of focus for microbiome science, which are now the goals of the NMI:

  1. Supporting interdisciplinary research to answer fundamental questions about microbiomes in diverse ecosystems.
  2. Developing platform technologies that will generate insights and help share knowledge of microbiomes in diverse ecosystems and enhance access to microbiome data.
  3. Expanding the microbiome workforce through citizen science, public engagement, and educational opportunities.

The NMI builds on strong and ongoing Federal investments in microbiome research, and will launch with a combined Federal agency investment of more than $121 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 and 2017 funding for cross-ecosystem microbiome studies. This includes:

  • The Department of Energy proposes $10 million in new funding in FY 2017 to support collaborative, interdisciplinary research on the microbiome.
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)proposes $12.5 million in new funding over multiple years to expand microbiome research across Earth’s ecosystems and in space.
  • The National Institutes of Health will invest an extra $20 million into microbiome research in grants in FY 2016 and FY 2017 with a particular emphasis on multi-ecosystem comparison studies and investigation into design of new tools to explore and understand microbiomes.
  • The National Science Foundation proposes $16 million in FY 2017 for microbiome research that spans the spectrum of ecosystems, species, and biological scales.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture proposes more than $15.9 million for FY 2017 to expand computational capacities for microbiome research and human microbiome research through the Agricultural Research Service, and approximately $8 million for FY 2017 to support investigations through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the microbiomes of plants, livestock animals, fish, soil, air, and water as they influence food-production systems.

In addition, following OSTP’s national call to action issued in January, more than 100 external institutions are today announcing new efforts to support microbiome science. These include:

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will invest $100 million over 4 years to investigate and develop tools to study human and agricultural microbiomes.
  • JDRF will invest $10 million over 5 years to address microbiome research related to type 1 diabetes.
  • The University of California, San Diego, is investing $12 million in The Center for Microbiome Innovation to enable technology developers to connect with end users.
  • One Codex is launching a public portal for microbiome data, allowing greater access to this data for researchers, clinicians, and other health professionals.
  • The BioCollective, LLC, along with the Health Ministries Network, are investing $250,000 towards building a microbiome data and sample bank, and the engagement of underrepresented groups in microbiome research.
  • The University of Michigan, with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Procter and Gamble, will invest $3.5 million in the Michigan Microbiome Project to provide new research experiences for undergraduate students.

Click here to learn more about Federal involvement in microbiome research, and about all of the commitments and announcements being made today.

Measles and Pertussis outbreaks tied to vaccine refusal @NIHDirector #science

Parents have a responsibility not only to their own children, but to their communities—it’s only by achieving a very high level of population immunity that outbreaks can be prevented. Vaccination is particularly crucial for children with cancer and other diseases that cause immunosuppression. They cannot be vaccinated safely, but are at high risk of severe consequences if they are infected—and, thus, they depend on the community’s so-called “herd immunity” for protection against a potentially fatal illness.

While some parents continue to express concern about a possible link between vaccines and autism spectrum disorders, the original report claiming this connection has been debunked and retracted.  A large number of carefully designed follow up studies have been carried out, and the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence shows no evidence for such a link. That’s why it continues to be so important to get the word out to parents: Have your kids vaccinated.