Pharma backs latest attempt at a global health R&D treaty

Pharma backs latest attempt at a global health R&D treaty

The World Health Organization (WHO) kicks off its annual meeting in Geneva next Monday, and one of the most contentious issues on the agenda will undoubtedly be a proposed agreement to fund the development of drugs for diseases that overwhelmingly afflict the world’s poor. The proposal, outlined today in PLoS Medicine, would require the WHO’s 193 member states to commit to increase government funding for global health initiatives from the $3 billion or so spent worldwide today to more than $6 billion annually in the near-future.  Read more

One in six cancer cases are caused by preventable infection, study finds

One in six cancer cases are caused by preventable infection, study finds

You can’t catch cancer, or so many think. Cancer is considered a non-communicable disease by the World Health Organization, but among cancer’s many causes are viruses that can travel from person to person, and, if infection persists, lead to tumor growth. For example, the human pappilomavirus (HPV) often triggers cervical, anal and other cancers, which has prompted public health agencies to push mass vaccine campaigns for boys and girls alike (see ‘The value of HPV vaccination’).  Read more

‘The Vagina Catalogues’ show a microbiome in flux, sometimes daily

‘The Vagina Catalogues’ show a microbiome in flux, sometimes daily

When the vaginal microbiome gets out of whack, it causes an uncomfortable, often chronic condition known as bacterial vaginosis, which is associated with pregnancy complications such as premature birth as well as a heightened risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. But finding ways to return the disrupted vaginal microbiome to its normal, healthy state has proven difficult because nobody knows what ‘normal’ really means. As Nature Medicine reported in a July 2011 news feature, a team of scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore had found that there are many naturally occurring versions of the microbiome, in part because the bacteria present in a woman’s vagina may vary according to her ethnicity.  Read more

Is Chuck Schumer going to blunt US cannabinoid research?

Is Chuck Schumer going to blunt US cannabinoid research?

The press conference last Friday held by two New York state assemblymen was no doubt timed to coincide with observance of the 4/20 celebratory day in cannabis counterculture: On 20 April the duo announced a bill that would make New York the 41st state to deem possession or sale of the active ingredients in so-called ‘synthetic marijuana’ drugs a crime punishable by jail time. The drugs in question—known to the mostly teenagers who like to smoke them as K2, Spice, Killer Buzzz, Blaze and Mr. Nice Guy— are mixtures of herbs such as oregano laced with laboratory-produced cannabinoids, a class of chemicals that also includes marijuana’s psychoactive component, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).  Read more

With even Europe falling behind, can WHO meet new goals for measles?

With even Europe falling behind, can WHO meet new goals for measles?

Perhaps it takes falling behind to know that you have to get ahead: shortly after The Lancet released a report today saying the World Health Organization had failed to meet its 2010 goal for global measles reduction, the WHO announced that it has a new, more ambitious target of eliminating measles and rubella—also known as German measles—in at least five of six global regions by 2020. The expanded goals come as Europe, despite its historically strong public health systems, is struggling to recover from more than 26,000 measles cases in 2011, a number on-par with developing countries such as Nigeria and Somalia.  Read more

MRSA’s killing potential explained, providing a new drug target to halt the superbug

MRSA’s killing potential explained, providing a new drug target to halt the superbug

Since it first arose more than 50 years ago, the methicillin-resistant staph infection known as MRSA has ravaged hospital wards around the globe, causing untreatable, often lethal, infections in people already weakened by disease. As with most cases of antibiotic resistance, the rise of the first MRSA bacteria was the fault of humans. The Staphylococcus aureus bacterium, which causes everything from respiratory infections to meningitis, mutated to become resistant to all the first-line drugs used to treat it—first penicillin, and later methicillin and other drugs known as beta-lactams.  Read more

Database to help doctors grasp disease risk of duplications the genome

Database to help doctors grasp disease risk of duplications the genome

Copy number variations, in which a section of DNA is duplicated or deleted, have been a boon for geneticists hoping to explain the chromosomal causes of everything from autism to schizophrenia to colon cancer. CNVs that are deletions can be helpful in diagnosing a handful of developmental disorders and birth defects such as DiGeorge syndrome, an illness affecting skull formation in which a portion of chromosome 22 is missing. But when doctors find a CNV that is a duplication, they have difficulty knowing exactly which disorder their patient might have as a single duplicated region can cover multiple genes. For example, the clinical significance of rare duplication CNVs of the region including the gene DCLK2, which has been implicated in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are often missed by lab technicians and physicians.  Read more

FoldIt game’s next play: crowdsourcing better drug design

FoldIt game’s next play: crowdsourcing better drug design

Two years ago, FoldIt made headlines, lots of them, when players of the online protein-folding video game took three weeks to solve the three dimensional structure of a simian retroviral protein that is used in animal models of HIV, but whose structure had eluded biochemists for more than a decade. Seth Cooper, the game’s co-creator, captured the attention of the crowd at the TEDMED medical technology conference in Washington, DC by recounting how thousands of players competed in that FoldIt challenge despite the lack of prize money or prestige. He even brought on-stage the winner, a beaming British lab technician named Mimi Minet whose identity had not been previously disclosed to the public.  Read more

Global health advocates eye Ryan budget plan with concern

Global health advocates eye Ryan budget plan with concern

At a panel discussion on Monday organized by the national research advocacy group Research!America and hosted at the New York Academy of Sciences, speakers aired their concerns about the proposed 2013 US federal budget, which they say threatens to cut both grants for primary research and spending on foreign aid. “Under Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan, the number grants available for global health research would be reduced dramatically over the next decade,” Nita Lowey Democratic congresswoman of New York said at the conference. The plan of Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan budget would keep the 2013 budget for the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) flat, and  could decrease funding for basic research grants and for foreign aid between 2014 and 2024 by an unknown amount determined by a “review of the long-term budget outlook every 5 years”, as part of a larger goal to reduce federal spending by $261 billion.  Read more

Fledgling Pakistani group looks to train medical students in research

Fledgling Pakistani group looks to train medical students in research

A recent Nature Medicine opinion article that called on the UK to fund more research opportunities for medical students resonated thousands of miles away. Pakistani medical students are now also asking their government to put more money toward educating young physician-researchers.  Read more