Immunology

In 1928, Alexander Fleming opened the door to treating bacterial infections when he stumbled upon the first known antibiotic in a Penicillium mold growing in a discarded experiment.

Nearly eight decades later, chemist Helen Blackwell and her research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have devised a more deliberate method to tackle a newer bacterial conundrum - resistance to commonly used antibiotics. Early tests of their tool, called a "small-molecule macroarray," have already identified four promising new compounds with preliminary antibacterial activity comparable to that of some of the most potent antibiotics currently available.

There are two types of screening programs – proactive and opportunistic. Proactive screening uses population registers to invite people to be screened at regular intervals, while opportunistic screening targets people attending health services for unrelated reasons.

The value of opportunistic chlamydia screening is being called into question.

Current methods used to sniff out dangerous airborne pathogens may wrongly suggest that there is no threat to health when, in reality, there may be.

But researchers have found a better method for collecting and analyzing these germs that could give a more accurate assessment of their actual threat. For example, the findings may make it easier to detect airborne pathogens in low concentrations.

A new study by Christopher Plowe and colleagues (University of Maryland School of Medicine) on a malaria vaccine used at a testing site in Mali calls into question whether the best vaccine was chosen to be tested at this particular site.

The development of an effective malaria vaccine is not easy, in part because there are different strains of the Plasmodium parasite that causes the disease. The different strains carry different variants (alleles) of the genes encoding parasite components (antigens) used in test vaccines, which means that the parasites causing infection in a given location may differ from the ones used for vaccination. If this is the case, the immune response generated by the vaccine might be less effective or even ineffective.


Each year, malaria results in more than a million deaths. Controlling this disease involves understanding its transmission, and understanding its transmission means understanding its basic reproductive number, R0. For all infectious disease, R0 describes the most important aspects of transmission as it is the expected number of hosts that can trace their infection directly back to a single host after one disease generation. For vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, R0 is given by a classic formula. In a new study published in PLoS Biology, David Smith and colleagues demonstrate that estimates of R0 range from around one to over 3,000, providing much higher estimates than previously thought, with serious implications for the control of the disease.

In a study spanning the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, researchers writing in the Feb. 15 New England Journal of Medicine say a nasal spray flu vaccine reduced the influenza "attack rate" in children by 55 percent when compared with a group of children who received the traditional flu shot in the arm or thigh.

"Children get the flu twice as often as adults," said Robert Belshe, M.D., a vaccine researcher at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and the lead author of the study. "It's important to vaccinate kids against influenza -- and to identify new and more effective flu vaccine options -- because kids have a higher attack rate for influenza infection than adults.

Malaria kills more than one million people each year, most of them young children living in Africa. Now physicists in the UK have shared their computers with biologists from countries including France and Korea in an effort to combat the disease.

Using an international computing Grid spanning 27 countries, scientists on the WISDOM project analysed an average of 80,000 possible drug compounds against malaria every hour. In total, the challenge processed over 140 million compounds, with a UK physics Grid providing nearly half of the computing hours used.

The computers are all part of EGEE (Enabling Grids for E-sciencE), which brings together computing Grids from different countries and disciplines.

British physicists have shared computer time with biologists around the world in an effort to combat malaria, which kills one million people annually.

Using an international computing grid spanning 27 nations, scientists analyze an average of 80,000 possible drug compounds against malaria every hour. In total, the network has processed more than 140 million compounds, with the United Kingdom's physics grid providing nearly half of the computing hours used.

The international WISDOM project, for World-wide In Silico Docking On Malaria, is designed to speed the search for anti-malarial drugs. The computers calculate the probability that molecules will dock with a target protein.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have developed an experimental vaccine that could, theoretically, eliminate malaria from entire geographic regions, by eradicating the malaria parasite from an area's mosquitoes.

The vaccine, so far tested only in mice, would prompt the immune system of a person who receives it to eliminate the parasite from the digestive tract of a malaria-carrying mosquito, after the mosquito has fed upon the blood of the vaccinated individual. The vaccine would not prevent or limit malarial disease in the person who received it.

An article describing this work was published on the Web site of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mosquitoes' thirst for sugar could prove to be the answer for eliminating malaria and other mosquito-transmitted diseases, says Hebrew University researcher Prof. Yosef Schlein in a study published in the American Science magazine and the International Journal for Parasitology.