All posts by kdshives

Going against the herd: The importance of mass immunity in society

Why is it that members of the public health community are worried about falling vaccination rates in the US?

Do our personal health decisions for ourselves and our children have an impact on the health of society as a whole?

The answer to this is that yes, our individual decisions do matter to society when it comes to combating the spread of contagious disease. Continue reading Going against the herd: The importance of mass immunity in society

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Zika Virus: What You Need to Know

Once relatively unknown, Zika virus is in the middle of an explosive epidemic in Brasil and other South American countries. While common symptoms are mild, pregnant women should be wary as contracting Zika virus during pregnancy appears to be linked to microcephaly in their babies.

What can we expect from Zika virus in the Americas? Read on to find out.

Continue reading Zika Virus: What You Need to Know

Fighting Cancer with Viruses

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A glioma, or brain tumor (Photo credit: aktyuvinsk34)

While I’ve written in the past about viruses that can cause cancer, today I want to introduce the concept of using viruses to selectively kill cancer cells. These types of viruses are called oncolytic viruses, meaning that they kill (-lytic) cancer cells (onco-) but not normal healthy cells.

This makes them potentially very powerful tools in treating cancers that don’t respond well to established approaches of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery. This approach is still in its infancy, but the potential of viral oncology remains promising.

Keep reading to find out more about how scientists are learning to use these viruses to treat certain kinds of cancers. Continue reading Fighting Cancer with Viruses

Our Depleting Antibiotic Arsenal

In many ways, our generation is extremely fortunate when observed through the lens of history. Many of us will never know the pain of losing a sibling or child to polio, rheumatic fever, or diphtheria; or the worry of minor cuts and scrapes becoming a lethal infection.

The advances of modern science and medicine have provided us with an arsenal of antibiotics to combat bacterial diseases, as well as effective vaccines that prevent many viral and bacterial infections from taking hold in the first place. However, our widespread abuse of antibiotics in both clinical and agricultural settings has led to an alarming increase in the amount of antibiotic resistant bacteria circulating in the environment and in our own bodies. Continue reading Our Depleting Antibiotic Arsenal

The Concept of Viral Quasispecies

Many of us are familiar with the concept of a species at the macro (visible) scale. Dogs are dogs; pigs are pigs, and so on. Each is a distinct species based on the fact that they can only reproduce and generate fertile offspring with other members of the same species. Over the course of many generations mutations may arise in these populations which lead to different genotypes in the species. Left long enough, these two sub-populations may keep mutating to the point where they can no longer interbreed and become their own genetically distinct species. However, when you get down to the viral scale species becomes a much more difficult concept. Viruses don’t have sex in the traditional sense, so how do we determine what makes up a viral species?

Continue reading The Concept of Viral Quasispecies

The importance of cold chains: Getting potent vaccine to those in need

Vaccines: proven life-savers
Vaccines: proven life-savers (Photo credit: Gates Foundation)

Most of us alive today are familiar with vaccines. In the US where I live most of us have been vaccinated for major diseases such as whooping cough, Hepatitis A, measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria; the list goes on. However, due to our developed infrastructure and relative ease of access to medical care many of us have never worried about obtaining life-saving vaccines for our children or ourselves. This alone has contributed to some of the most startling gains in public health ever witnessed.

In other parts of the world this is a very different story. Less infrastructure and fewer opportunities for medical care has made vaccinating large segments of the human population extremely difficult with serious consequences for those who are not vaccinated.

One major hurdle in the race to vaccinate the majority of people on this planets is the maintenance of cold-chains for vaccine delivery.

Continue reading The importance of cold chains: Getting potent vaccine to those in need

Viral fossils in our genome: Endogenous retroviruses

The last twenty years have been marked by a veritable explosion in sequencing technology. The Human Genome Project and it’s completion in 2003 was the crowning jewel of this burgeoning genomics revolution . The amount of information to come from this relatively new branch of science is literally mind-boggling and only grows with each passing day.

Interesting observations have come out of this massive amount of genomic data relating to the  non-coding DNA in our genome. Less than 2% of the over 3 billion nucleotides in our genome are responsible for coding all of the protein that makes up a human being. This leaves a large question as to what exactly that other 98% of our genome is up to. Large parts (roughly 50%) are known as “junk DNA” with no accepted role, although new research is beginning to shed light on the functions of this DNA. The remainder of our genome is composed of long and short repeated sequences, transposons, retrotransposons and the topic of today’s article: endogenous retroviruses.

These elements are not human, they are fully viral in origin. This means that our genome is not just ours alone, we carry the DNA of many viruses that infected our ancestors in every cell in our own bodies.

Continue reading Viral fossils in our genome: Endogenous retroviruses