Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015

This year’s Nobel Prize is awarded to three scientists for their discovery of novel therapies against infections caused by parasites.

One half of the prize goes to Youyou Tu for the discovery of artemisinin, used to treat malaria. The other half is shared by William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura for the discovery of Avermectin, the derivatives of which are used to fight river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.

More details in the press release.

In brief (September 2015): saliva and radiotherapy, cold and insulin sensitivity, and a giant virus

Keeping saliva secretion up after radiotherapy, or how finding where stem cells crucial to salivary gland regeneration reside may help prevent irreversible tissue damage and loss of saliva production after head-and-neck cancer radiotherapy
Getting cold in type 2 diabetes, or how a protocol involving sitting in a cold room for several hours can improve insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes
Another big, big, big virus, or how a new giant virus was recently discovered in a 30,000-year-old permafrost sample from Siberia Continue reading

6-week online course on vaccinology

The Pasteur Institute, together with the CNAM, offers a free online course on vaccines. The course has just started and will go on for 6 weeks, so still time to have a look!

“The objective of this course is to offer an integrated overview of vaccinology, from public health and scientific data justifying the development of a vaccine, to its delivery to the populations in the context of industrialized and developing countries.”

Note: the course is aimed at people with some scientific/medical background, so some parts may be a bit difficult to follow for lay persons; nevertheless, there should be some more general/introductory videos from which anyone can learn at least a little something!

When zebrafish have scoliosis

“Don’t slouch, sit up straight, or you’ll get scoliosis!”

Getting this kind of comment from adults used to infuriate me when I was a teenager, since 1) I did sit up straight, and 2) I already had scoliosis (despite all the sitting-up straight). In my mind, it ranked somewhere up there with, say, telling kids not to make a face because, if the wind happened to turn at that same time, their face would remain stuck that way, (I’m not the only one who’s ever heard that, am I?)

Scoliosis is a deformation of the spine. To be precise, it is defined as a lateral curvature of the spine of more than 10° (measured with the Cobb’s method), accompanied by a rotation of the vertebrae. In lay terms: one’s spine is not straight – in my case, it looks like a vertically elongated S.

Often, there is no known reason why the scoliosis developed. Continue reading

In brief (March 2015, part I): immune variability and HPV vaccine

Two picks from what I’ve read over the past couple of months:
the adaptability of the immune system, or how our immune system is more heavily shaped by our environment and the microbes we encounter than by our genes,
HPV vaccine safety profile, or how a nationwide study conducted in Sweden and Denmark found no increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis or other demyelinating diseases following quadrivalent HPV vaccination. Continue reading

In brief (October 2014): immunology, sea levels, gender stereotype, and nanomedicine

A selection from what I’ve read over the past couple of months:
immune response and genetic variation, or how interindividual genetic variation affects immune cell behavior, contributing to differences in how people respond to pathogens and how susceptible they are to develop autoimmune diseases,
ice melting and sea rising, or how global seal levels and ice volumes have changed over the past 35,000 years,
gender and speaking up, or how stereotypes related to gender affect an individual’s decision to contribute his/her ideas to a group,
anticancer nanomedicine, or how nano should nanoparticles be to optimally penetrate tumor tissue and exert their anticancer effect. Continue reading

Thoughts on World Mental Health Day

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, with the theme for 2014 being “Living with schizophrenia”. Perhaps not as popular as any given cancer initiative. Or diabetes day. And yet.

The brain is an organ like any other in our bodies, but we don’t react to diseases of the mind the way we react to diseases of the heart, pancreas, etc. Once upon a time, people whose brains were “malfunctioning”, i.e. not functioning like those of the majority of human beings, were declared “crazy” or “retarded” and were more or less discarded from society. Fortunately, things have improved, but there is still a lot of stigma out there. Continue reading

Pediatric respiratory tract infections and antibiotics: overprescribing?

10344775_815628761791470_2583354142570698374_nAntimicrobial resistance is a serious threat to human health. As the WHO global report published in April 2014 highlighted, it is no longer a concern for the future but happening right now, in every part of the world. It threatens to undo many of the achievements of modern medicine that allow people to live longer and healthier.

A number of concerted actions are needed to tackle the resistance problem, and one of them is to improve the way antibiotics are currently used, both in agriculture and in medicine. Mostly, this means curbing antibiotics use.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics in October tried to assess how often antibiotics were prescribed in cases of acute respiratory tract infections in children in the US in relation to how often these infections actually involved bacteria (many of these infections are indeed caused by viruses). Continue reading

Breastfeeding: let’s talk more about mom’s health

A couple of days ago, I listened to a TEDMED 2014 talk by Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, director of the Women’s Health Services Research Unit at the University of Pittsburgh. The point of her talk was to raise awareness about the fact that breastfeeding may be a good thing for the long-term health of mothers and that adequate support should be more widespread (be it support at time of delivery in hospitals or longer maternity leaves). Continue reading

HPV and cancer: not just a concern for women

I haven’t forgotten about my summer resolution to go through my pile of papers and Firefox tabs waiting to be read. In fact, I have now gone through quite a few of them, but there is never enough time to write about it, at least not in depth. Also, new interesting studies keep getting in the way … Here is now something that I really wanted to write about: the link between HPV and head and neck cancer.

Some time last fall I read a news article in Nature about human papilloma virus (HPV), and the associated risk of cancer. The article was not simply about the recognized link between HPV and cervical cancer, but it also (and mostly) talked about the growing body of data implicating HPV in a large proportion of head and neck cancers. Continue reading