Infectious disease

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CDC bar graph of positive flu tests Feb 2018

Current Flu Season Sparks Discussion of Prevention, Vaccines

February 21, 2018

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) host Mike Mulcahy interviewed two experts yesterday about this year's unusually strong — and deadly — outbreak of influenza. Patsy Stinchfield of Children's Minnesota focused on steps to prevent the illness. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), a Consortium member, outlined the challenges to developing effective vaccines. Osterholm co-authored a New York Times op ed in January, with Mark Olshaker, sounding the alarm on our lack of preparedness for a flu pandemic. They write: "A worldwide influenza pandemic is literally the worst-case scenario in public health — yet far from an unthinkable occurrence. Unless we make changes, the question is not if but when it will come."

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C difficile bacteria

Research Reveals Exciting New Possibilities for Microbiome Therapies

February 15, 2018

A major paper just published in Cell Host & Microbe sheds light on a question that has puzzled scientists for years: while we know fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) works for people suffering from recurrent Clostridium difficile infection, how exactly does it work? The research team behind the paper includes Consortium collaborators Alexander Khoruts and Michael J. Sadowsky, the director of the Biotechnology Institute, a Consortium member center. They used clinical experiments and statistical modeling to uncover the "rules" for how donor bacteria grafts itself to existing gut microbes in the host. One of the outcomes of the research is Strain Finder, a method to predict which types of bacteria will best colonize a microbiome being treated via FMT. In addition to its implications for the treatment of C. diff, the study findings may also help with therapies for metabolic syndrome as well as other common conditions. Prof. Khoruts gave a lecture on The Evolving Human Microbiome that was moderated by Michael J. Sadowsky; it's been viewed thousands of times because it provides a coherent overview of this fascinating subject; you can view it here. More recently, Martin J. Blaser spoke about the effects of antibiotics on the human microbiome; you can view his lecture here

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Martin J. Blaser

Blaser Shares Groundbreaking Research on Antibiotics and Microbiome Health

February 7, 2018

Today, Martin J. Blaser of New York University's School of Medicine spoke to a standing-room-only crowd on "The Dark Side of Antibiotics." Prof. Blaser provided an overview of what we've learned about changes to the human microbiome over the past 70+ years. His talk focused on obesity, diabetes, asthma and other harms that appear to be linked to the aggressive use of antibiotics. Prof. Blaser also outlined research indicating that microbiome characteristics can be passed from mother to child, leading to ever more limited microbiotic diversity over generations. He looked at global differences in the human microbiome related to the number of antibiotics prescribed, and discussed the more judicious use of these drugs in countries like Sweden, where antibiotics are prescribed less frequently but health measures are still strong. Finally, he described some possible approaches to microbiome restoration. James R. Johnson, an infectious disease specialist, provided a commentary in which he discussed the various ways antibiotics have been viewed by medical professionals since coming into wide usage in the early 1940s. Prof. Johnson offered a clinical perspective on the challenges of limiting their use. A video of the entire talk can be viewed here.  

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MERS virus

NIH Lifts Ban on Making Lethal Viruses

December 21, 2017

The National Insitutes of Health (NIH) has ended "a moratorium imposed three years ago on funding research that alters germs to make them more lethal," according to the New York Times. The goal of such research is to better understand the mechanisms that drive pathogens to mutate and become deadly; the new guideline requires the germ pose a "serious health threat" and that the research be done in a highly secure lab. The Times article notes, "There has been a long, fierce debate about projects — known as 'gain of function' research — intended to make pathogens more deadly or more transmissible." The ban on such reseach was put in place after an incident in which lab workers at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were accidentally exposed to anthrax. Michael T. Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), a Consortium member, is quoted in the article. He believes this type of work could be done safely, but wanted restrictions on what would be published, noting "if someone finds a way to make the Ebola virus more dangerous, I don’t believe that should be available to anybody off the street who could use it for nefarious purposes. . . . We want to keep some of this stuff on a need-to-know basis."

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World Health Org logo

WHO Recommends Against Antibiotic Use for Healthy Animals

November 8, 2017

New guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals. According to the WHO, "Over-use and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance," a serious danger to global health that's the subject of the Consortium's 2018 lecture seriesDr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at WHO, states "The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.” However, H. Morgan Scott, DVM, PhD (Texas A&M University), who will be delivering the second lecture in the Consortium series, emphasizes that veterinarians and producers must work to achieve reductions in the need for preventive use of antimicrobials. In his talk, he'll explore the social norms, moral imperatives (to both humans and animals), and ethical features that should frame future antimicrobial stewardship practices. To register for the lectures, which are free and open to the public, click here

News

Andres Perez

Leadership Change at Center for Animal Health and Food Safety

October 11, 2017

Prof. Andres Perez, DVM, PhD, is the new director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS), an interdisciplinary team at the University of Minnesota. The Center is coordinated by the College of Veterinary Medicine, and is a Consortium member. Perez takes over for Dr. Scott Wells, who is stepping down after serving as director and co-director for the past six years. Prof. Perez joined the College in 2014 and is a veterinary epidemiologist specializing in the prevention and control of food animal diseases. He also holds the Global Animal Health and Food Safety endowed chair. Prof. Perez notes, “CAHFS has been an effective catalyst for lasting change in the animal health and food safety sectors, and I hope to continue that success. . . . The goal is to increase CAHFS’ portfolio in areas such as policy, online education and outreach, quantitative data analysis, aquatic health, and antimicrobial resistance.”

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1960s photo of public health workers examining little girl's smallpox vaccine scar

Smallpox Cousin Synthesized in Lab, Raising Bioterrorism Concerns

July 17, 2017

The Washington Post reports that scientists in Alberta have "used commercially available genetic material to piece together the extinct horsepox virus, a cousin of the smallpox virus that killed as many as a billion human beings before being eradicated." While the lead researcher's efforts are "aimed at developing vaccines and cancer treatments," his achievement led the former head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Tom Frieden, to assert "the need to monitor more closely 'dual-use' experiments — research that could be used either for protective purposes or, in theory, to create a deadly pathogen." Consortium collaborator Alta Charo, who currently serves on the National Working Group for the LawSeq project, says "we are still struggling with how to manage the dual-use dilemma. How do we get the benefit of the research without the risk of it being turned against us?" Meanwhile, other researchers emphasize the greater threat of naturally evolving pathogens such as Zika and Ebola. Michael Osterholm, director of Consortium member the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), notes another aspect of the horsepox synthesis: “How many other people have done it[?] We never thought or expected it to come from a place like Alberta. It's not one of the leading universities in the world for microbiology and synthetic biology. If it came out of there, how many other places like this are also doing the same work right now?” Osterholm continues, "This has been the storm coming for years. We’ve known about it, but unfortunately, we’re not ready."

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Ilhan Omar speaking at podium

Minnesota Measles Outbreak Result of Anti-vaccine Efforts

May 18, 2017

More than 60 Minnesota children, mostly from the state's large Somali-American community, are infected with measles. The outbreak is a direct result of efforts by anti-vaccine activists such as Andrew Wakefield, the discredited researcher behind the film Vaxxed, who has visited Minneapolis and met with Somali parents. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the rate of measles immunization among Somali-American children has plummeted from rates as high as 92% in 2004 to just 42% today. Alarms were sounded in 2008, when it was reported that a disproportionate number of Somali-American children were participating in a preschool program for those diagnosed with autism. Some members of the Somali-American community have been alarmed by claims that autism can result from the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, concerns shared by a significant portion of the general public despite efforts by public health workers to combat that perception. An article in Snopes details how one discredited anti-vaccine study was recently published, then unpublished, by two academic journals, digging into the "suspect statistics and devil-may-care attitude toward methodological design" in the paper. Meanwhile, Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American legislator in the US, is working with the Minnesota Department of Health to encourage vaccination and rebut myths about autism, an effort that is showing results.

News

Julie Gerberding

All-star Panel Charts a New Course for Disaster Preparedness

April 17, 2017

Last week, the Consortium hosted the final of three lectures on Emerging Diseases in a Changing Environment, featuring Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH, FACP. Dr. Gerberding is Executive Vice President at Merck and the former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In her talk, she described what she's learned about emergency preparedness through responses to anthrax, SARS and other biothreats, and proposed steps that should be taken to improve such responses. Dr. Gerberding was joined by Prof. Amy KircherDrPH (Director, Food Protection and Defense Institute) and Prof. Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH (Director, Center for Infectious Disease and Policy). In a lively conversation, they discussed pandemic threats and responses and from the perspectives of their disciplines, ultimately arriving at the importance of advance planning by collaborations such as the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to contain crises before they balloon out of control. A video of the entire event can be viewed here. Videos of the first lecture in the series, "Finches, Dogs, Lions and Zika: An Ecologist Looks at Emerging Disease" by Prof. Andrew Dobson, DPhil, can be viewed here. The second, "Ending the Pandemic Era: Science at the Animal-Human-Environmental Interface" by Jonna Mazet, DVM, MPVM, PhD, can be viewed here

News

Book cover -- Deadliest Enemy

New Book by Consortium Colleague Offers Strategies for Emerging Diseases

March 22, 2017

Renowned epidemiologist Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, director of Consortium member the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), has published a new book laying out how humanity can protect itself against catastrophic infectious disease and pandemic. In Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, Prof. Osterholm and co-author Mark Olshaker apply knowledge and strategies acquired during fights against bioterrorism, pandemic influenza, Ebola and other public health emergencies. The book's goal? To describe "the latest medical science, case studies, policy research, and hard-earned epidemiological lessons. . . we need to develop if we are to keep ourselves safe from infectious disease." You can view a lecture delivered by Prof. Osterholm on the subject of the book here. He moderated a lecture on a closely related topic, Combating Microbial Terrorists, by former head of the Centers for Disease Control Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, on April 13; view a video of that event. 

News

Turkey

Poultry DNA Sequencer a Powerful Tool in Antibiotic Resistance Research

December 21, 2016

A state-of-the-art genetic analysis tool has been deployed to Willmar, Minnesota, the heart of the state's burgeoning turkey business. According to an article in Agweek, beginning in 2017 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is implementing new restrictions that change how livestock producers use antibiotics in feed to promote growth. The action is being taken to address growing concerns that antibiotic resistance could threaten public health. Veterinary science professor Tim Johnson is leading the project, which is housed at the U's Mid-Central Research and Outreach Center. According to Johnson, the DNA sequencer "will improve the speed and the resolution of our ability to detect pathogens of the bad bacteria and the bad viruses" by helping researchers understand how pathogens travel and examining "emerging diseases of poultry and other animals to be able to quickly identify what's causing problems." The Consortium is hosting a three-part series on a related topic, Emerging Diseases in a Changing Environment, starting on Jan. 24; learn more and register here

News

HPV microbe

Research Shows HPV Antibodies Influence Head, Neck Cancer Prognosis

December 8, 2016

A new study led by a researcher at Consortium member the Masonic Cancer Center (MCC) provides important new information about the connection between human papillomavirus (HPV) antibodies and five-year survival rates for some types of cancer. The paper, "Immune Response to HPV16 E6 and E7 Proteins and Patient Outcomes in Head and Neck Cancer,” was published in JAMA Oncology; it demonstrates that measuring a patient’s immune response to HPV provides a robust prognostic signal, suggesting that in the future a blood serum test for two specific HPV antibodies may replace traditional pathology testing. Lead author Heather Nelson, PhD, MPH, is co-leader of the Screening, Prevention, Etiology and Cancer Survivorship (SPECS) Program at MCC. 

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Gaetan Dugas

Vindication of "Patient Zero" Highlights Power of Disease Narratives

November 21, 2016

In the early 1980s, during the initial throes of the AIDS epidemic, a flight attendant named Gaetan Dugas came to be identified as "Patient Zero" because he was represented in popular culture as the person who brought HIV to North America. A recent study published in Nature used genomic data to map the spread of HIV during that time, demonstrating conclusively that Dugas was not the North American index case as previously depicted. An analysis of the case by Greg Clinton explores "the spectacle of disease narratives, not only what they emphasize, but what they tend to obscure." Drawing on the groundbreaking work of Priscilla Wald and others, Clinton describes how epidemiological narratives, most famously that of Typhoid Mary, are "typically bound up with literary concerns, such as the assignment of 'hero' and 'villain' status to a person or group." He argues for consumers to apply "critical consciousness" to such media-driven spectacles, resisting the all-too-human temptation to passively absorb narratives that assign meaning, "even if that meaning is false and only serves to perpetuate fear of the Other." Read the entire article here

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Flock of turkeys

UN Tackles Antibiotic Resistance

September 22, 2016

A new declaration by the UN General Assembly is intended to slow the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms. According to National Public Radio, the resolution "requires countries to come up with a two-year a plan to protect the potency of antibiotics. Countries need to create ways to monitor the use of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture, start curbing that use and begin developing new antibiotics that work." While concerns about "superbugs" are widespread in public health circles, it took data showing the potentially catastrophic economic implications of antibiotic resistance to spur this action. One expert, Ramanan Laxminarayan, is optimistic about the outcomes of this campaign, comparing this effort to a similar one begun by the UN about the HIV pandemic; the article notes, "since 2004, there has been a 45 percent drop in AIDS-related deaths in countries supported by global HIV campaigns."

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Olympic logo made out of mosquito silhouettes

Despite Zika's Spread, Experts Caution Against Overreaction

August 5, 2016

The confluence of the Zika outbreak in Latin America and the Rio Olympic games has led some athletes to make a tough decision: forgoing competition to avoid the disease. This week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed homegrown transmissions of the virus in the US. These developments lead to questions about how significant Zika is as a public health hazard, and whether the Olympics will increase its spread into countries that don't currently have it. An article in FiveThirtyEight explains why the latter isn't a major concern: despite Brazil being the origin of the current Zika outbreak, there are a lot more tourists to the entire outbreak area than people traveling to the Olympics. In other words, "a 30-person Olympic delegation and 100 spectators don’t present much additional risk to a country that’s already seeing 50,000 visitors a year from areas with Zika." For countries like the US, which already have an active, mosquito-borne outbreak, experts like Michael Osterholm of Consortium member the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) emphasize the importance of basic public health measures. In an interview on the Diane Rehm Show, Osterholm recommended focusing on "eliminating the breeding sites – the water sources, the garbage. We now live in a plastic garbage world where one bottle cap sitting in a ditch is more than enough, is a great breeding site for this mosquito." CIDRAP maintains a Zika website that's a up-to-date, scientifically accurate, and global in scope; here's a link.

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Poo lookalike ice cream sundae from Beijing

Consortium Lecturers Discuss Fecal Transplant Pill

August 2, 2016

An article by Ed Yong in The Atlantic describes attempts to create effective stool substitutes to replace fecal transplants used to treat Clostridium difficile, which kills almost 30,000 Americans each year. One such substitute, from Seres Therapeutics, recently failed during a phase 2 drug trial. Yong quotes Dianne Hoffmann, who spoke last spring during the Consortium's Microbiome Therapeutics lecture series: she notes that "whole stool" is clearly more effective than bacterial pills. "Something in there is working. We just don’t know what it is, and it might be hard to deconstruct.” Another speaker in the lecture series, Alexander Khoruts, adds "The full spectrum of microbes harvested from donors has been designed by nature, and has a proven safety track record in the original host. That’s a very hard benchmark to improve upon with any kind of synthetic." You can view Diane Hoffmann's lecture on regulating microbiome therapeutics here; Alex Khoruts' talk, The Evolving Human Microbiome, is here.

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