Immunology

Among the popular mythologies built up around native American cultures is that they had no disease before Europeans arrived full of pathogens. It's a common narrative in anthropology, it just was never science.

A new study documents that again, finding isolated Mycobacterium pinnipedii from skeletons found in Peru which are at least 1000 years old. The pathogen is a relative of the TB bacterium that affects seals, so it likely that seals carried the pathogens from Africa to the Peruvian coast.


In a world that is constantly changing, are attempts to eradicate disease realistic?

Over 40 years ago, researchers were happy to have a War on Cancer. President Richard Nixon made it a national priority and it came with a lot of funding, so no one corrected what became an obvious point decades and billions of dollars later; you can't cure cancer.

Efforts at eradicating diseases may be doomed because of a mismatch between the ways humans structure the world and the ways pathogens move through the world, according to a paper in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Polio is the poster child for diseases science has successfully conquered but the deadline for its eradication came and went in 2013 and is now 2018. What is going to change by then?

Scientists have altered key biological events in red blood cells, causing the cells to produce a form of hemoglobin normally absent after the newborn period.

Because this hemoglobin is not affected by the inherited gene mutation that causes sickle cell disease, the cell culture findings may give rise to a new therapy for the debilitating blood disorder. Their approach uses protein-engineering techniques to force chromatin fiber, the substance of chromosomes, into looped structures that contact DNA at specific sites to preferentially activate genes that regulate hemoglobin. 


The latest outbreak of Ebola virus disease that has claimed more than 1,000 lives in West Africa and poses a serious, ongoing threat to that region: the spread to capital cities and Nigeria —Africa's most populous nation — presents challenges for health care professionals. 

The situation has garnered significant attention and fear around the world, but proven public health measures and sharpened clinical vigilance will contain the epidemic and thwart a global spread, according to a new commentary by Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.


A modified version of the Clostridium novyi (C. noyvi-NT) bacterium can produce a strong and precisely targeted anti-tumor response in rats, dogs and now humans, according to a new report from Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers.

In its natural form, C. novyi is found in the soil and, in certain cases, can cause tissue-damaging infection in cattle, sheep and humans. The microbe thrives only in oxygen-poor environments, which makes it a targeted means of destroying oxygen-starved cells in tumors that are difficult to treat with chemotherapy and radiation. The Johns Hopkins team removed one of the bacteria's toxin-producing genes to make it safer for therapeutic use.


Bacteria in the gut help the body to digest food, and stimulate the immune system. A PhD project at the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, examines whether modulations of the gut bacterial composition affect intestinal integrity, i.e. the ability of the body to maintain a well-regulated barrier function that hinders bacteria from entering the body unintentionally.

The human gut contains more than 100 trillion bacteria, which help the body digest food, produce vitamins protect against disease-provoking bacteria in food, and stimulate the immune system. All these bacteria are separated from the rest of the body by the intestinal wall, which functions as a selective barrier aimed at allowing only useful substances to pass and be absorbed in the body.

Effective new drugs and screening would make hepatitis C a rare disease by 2036, according to a new computer simulation conducted by The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. 

Hepatitis C, a virus transmitted through the blood, is spread by sharing of needles, the use of contaminated medical equipment, and by tattoo and piercing equipment that has not been fully sterilized. Those at the highest risk for exposure are baby boomers – people born between 1946 and 1965. Widespread screening of the U.S. blood supply for hepatitis C began in 1992. A majority of people were infected through blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992.


Researchers have discovered an enzyme that regulates production of the toxins that contribute to potentially life-threatening Staphylococcus aureus infections. 

The enzym is fatty acid kinase (FAK) and FAK is formed by the proteins FakA and FakB1 or FakB2. The new study demonstrated how FakA and FakB work together to replace fatty acids in the bacterial membrane with fatty acids from the person infected. 


Muslim clerics get a bad rap in an interconnected world. It was once possible to be anti-women, anti-medicine and anti-science without much notice - just control the media - but today that is a difficult task.

In some parts of the world, imams, Islamic school teachers and traditional rulers are making a positive difference and pushing back the vestiges of conspiracy theories about medicine. In defiance of past teaching, they are working with doctors, journalists and polio survivors to turn the tide against polio vaccine rejection in northern Nigeria. 


Parasite is colloquially a bad word but about half of all known species are parasites and biologists have long hypothesized that the strategy of leeching off other organisms is a major driver of biodiversity. 

Perhaps being called a parasite is a negative but in the evolution of life on Earth, being one is a winner. Studying populations of Galápagos hawks (Buteo galapagoensis) and feather lice that live in their plumage (Degeeriella regalis), a group led by University of Arizona ecologists and evolutionary biologists has gathered some of the first field evidence suggesting that a phenomenon called co-divergence between parasites and hosts is indeed an important mechanism driving the evolution of biodiversity.