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New Treatments Now Show Promise to Make Lyme Disease Curable

lyme-disease-symptomAmanda Sherry (11 AM Micro) found an article from Science Daily, describing new research on Lyme Disease by researchers at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.

This is a summary from an article dated November 3, 2014, “New test shows promise in identifying new drugs to treat Lyme disease,” which is published in Science Daily.  Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have developed a test that will allow them to quickly and efficiently test current drugs to see if they will cure patients that still suffer from long-term effects they have after contracting Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

Each year thousands of people come down with Lyme disease, a disease named after the town in Connecticut where it was first recognized in 1975, and are healed after a few weeks on antibiotics. However, it is estimated that about 20% of the patients that contact this disease are not cured and suffer completions after taking the standard drug regimen. They suffer fatigue, headaches and memory loss. And if the disease continues to persistent and is left untreated, it may lead to systemic problems such as neurologic and arthritis problems. Patients with Lyme disease are prescribed the antibiotic doxycycline or amoxicillin, which effectively treats those that are in the early stages of the infection; however, these antibiotics are ineffective for patients with the late-stage disease. It is very likely that these symptoms occur because the standard course of antibiotics does not kill all of the bacteria – it remains in the body, going untreated.

A research team from Johns Hopkins led by Ying Zhang, MD, PhD, modified a test typically used for counting DNA in samples in the lab, to determine how many Borrelia burgdorferi are alive and how many are dead after certain drugs were added to the bacteria. This test will stain the living bacteria green and the dead or dying bacteria red. While blood tests are used to confirm that a patient has Lyme disease, there is no definitive test to test for the bacteria that persist after taking the antibiotics.

This new test, called the SYBR Green I/PI assay enables researchers to analyze thousands of drugs at a time. And putting it into practice has yielded exciting results. The team has successfully identified a series of antibiotics that will treat the lingering Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, known as persisters because they are persistent bacteria that appear immune to the current Lyme antibiotics. While the new drugs identified by the SYBR Green I/PI assay show success against these persisters in a lab environment, the next step would be to test this in animals and/or humans.

There are a significant number of people that contract Lyme disease each year and many that complain of long-term complications, due to these persisters still alive in their body. So, if the creation of this test turns out to be successful and they have identified antibiotics that will treat humans with Lyme disease symptoms months and even years after they have been told they are “cured” of the disease, then this would be a great achievement for the medical community. Many people would be grateful for their success.

A universal flu vaccine?

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Via Science Daily

Via a news alert on Science Daily, which reports research done at Imperial College London, some data which suggests that annual flu shots might become something of the past. Influenza viruses are notorious for their genetic flexibility, and protection afforded either by vaccination or by actually suffering through and recovering from the flu does not offer appreciable resistance to influenza strains that arise in the future. 

The study reported in this news alert recruited subjects to follow over several consecutive flu seasons, to see how individual flu experiences correlated with immune system function. Blood was drawn from the subjects at the start of the 2009 “swine” flu pandemic, and they reported any flu-like symptoms through the end of the 2011 seasonal flu outbreak. What was found was that patients who reported more severe flu symptoms through the study had lower levels of T-cytotoxic (CD8) cells in their blood; these are the cells that are actively fighting a viral infection when it is underway, but they are not the immune cells that are generally activated by standard vaccination procedures. In contrast, patients with elevated levels of the CD8 cells had greatly diminished to non-existent disease.

Influenza vaccines cause the immune system to produce antibodies against the virus antigens, and this process uses a different type of immune cell (CD4 cells). Since the virus antigens change from year to year, antibodies from one year’s vaccine do not protect in the subsequent annual outbreaks. Because the CD8 cells recognize core components of the virus during an active infection, these do not change with the same regularity and therefore might offer an opportunity for developing a novel approach to prevent the disease in the first place. 

The research suggests that new vaccine approaches should cause the immune system to produce more CD8 immune cells instead of the usual CD4 cells to target influenza virus infections as they begin to occur. By analyzing what allowed the patients in this study to develop these types of immune cells naturally, it can suggest approaches to promoting this via a vaccine.

Diversity of our microbial flora

National Public Radio had a neat piece on Morning Edition today, called “From Birth, Our Microbes Become as Personal as a Fingerprint.” The radio story is essentially a tour of the parts of the body where microorganisms can be found in the absence of any disease. SPOILERS: it’s pretty much everywhere on the body, and instead of being completely innocuous, they are actually pretty important for normal body function and we would be unhappy if they disappeared.  The piece is brief, and written for the non-microbiologist, however, everyone in BIO230 would benefit from spending 8 minutes of their day with this. Listen to this:

For the fans

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Pippin relaxing with his little buddy

Updates may be intermittent over Winter Break, but fortunately we have a new catnip mouse to keep us busy while the lab reports grade themselves.

Michael T. Enochs, YCP Nursing Class of 2012

I learned via Facebook today that Michael Enochs lost his battle with glioblastoma multiforme yesterday. He was 21 years old, and had been fighting the cancer for 2 years. I first met Mike when I showed up for BIO230 class the first day of the fall semester in 2009. I had been at YCP for a year at that point, and was starting to get into the groove of pushing the course in the directions that I wanted to go. It was a big class with almost 40 students in it, due to the large enrollment in Nursing from the previous year, and it would have been easy to be just a face in the crowd. Not Mike; he picked a spot about 1 row back, right in the middle of the class, and you could never miss him. Mike wasn’t the leader of the pack with the grades in the course, but he was a strong student, and furthermore I always felt that he approached the class with an incredible amount of intellectual vigor and it served him well. He always asked insightful questions, and brought an energy to the class that carried to the other students and transformed the class.

I was glad have you in that class Mike, and I was also proud to get to know you. You will be missed.

Why science matters in Allied Health

I had the pleasure of attending the 2011 Winter commencement at York College of Pennsylvania yesterday. I’ve now been to 7 commencements since I arrived here in 2008, and I have reached a milestone with the most current event: students who have been in my class are now walking across the stage to receive their diplomas, and this is truly the most fulfilling part of the experience for me.

As most long time followers of YCPMicro know, students fall into two camps with regards to how they react to a basic science course; they either love it or they hate it and there is not a huge amount of middle ground. For the former group, class for me is a fun, engaging, exciting place to be. We had an instance in the 5 PM class just a week ago, where a student asked a question regarding where the AIDS virus came from in human populations. An interesting topic, and one that definitely wasn’t going to be on the exam. I asked the class “Can we digress for just a bit?” and we spent 20 minutes talking about the various theories of HIV epidemiology. A cool discussion, I had a lot of fun with it, and I think the class did too. And again, not on the exam. For the latter group, going to class is tough for me, as I am quite frankly surprised that students sometimes don’t really seem to care about the “How do things work?” questions. To my mind, if you understand how something works, then you can fix it, and that to me is what health care is all about!

Students who struggle with Micro say to me “I don’t see why this is important.” The hardest part of my job is to offer ways to make these connections between scientific concepts and their applications. It’s hard because those connections always came easily for me, and it surprises me when they don’t to others. The making of connections is the most important part of the higher education process. No longer is it sufficient to recognize and summarize, words like “analyze” and “apply” are now part of the learning process, and part of the expectations for success. There’s a reason that Gram negative bacteria are the largest group of pathogens, and there’s a reason you will have to continue to watch your patient after the appropriate antibiotic has been administered. Understanding the “why” helps to ensure that they don’t have a complication which could have been avoided.

I’d like to think I am not so vain as to think that Microbiology is the end-all of health care, although I do have to prolong my feud with Professor Hodgson as to the relative essential nature of Micro versus A&P in the sophomore Nursing curriculum. The truth is, it’s all important, and not necessarily for the reasons that might be apparent from the start. Patient outcomes are demonstrably enhanced by understanding. Some of that understanding comes later, but it will always be facilitated by forming the connections earlier on.

So congratulations Winter 2011 graduates! You guys were great, and it was my pleasure to get to know you while you were here. I promise to not be too difficult of a patient when the situation presents itself, and if I am, I’ll try to not argue with you too much!

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