Archive for the ‘Vaccines: General’ Category

Thabo Mbeki rides again. Let’s knock him off his horse, then!

7 March, 2016

Sixteen years ago, two colleagues and I wrote a letter to Nature expressing our concern about our then-President Thabo Mbeki’s denialist views on HIV and AIDS – views he then tried to push into national policy, and which almost certainly were highly influential in delaying the rollout of ARVs in South Africa.  I was also active for several years in the media and in public lectures in trying to negate some of the damage he was causing – and I was very relieved when he took a back seat eventually, and then effectively vanished from the public stage.

However, in an unwelcome development as of this week, it appears that Mr Mbeki has finally, in his ongoing quest to rewrite history, addressed the elephant in the room: his views on HIV/AIDS.

To say this “letter” is self-serving would be to pay it a compliment.  Indeed, he himself has this to say concerning the awful “Castro Hlongwane, Cats, Geese, Caravans, Foot and Mouth and Statistics…” that he almost certainly was the main author of, back there in 2002:

“Thirteen (13) years later today I would stand by everything said in this excerpt and still ask that the questions posed should be answered by those who have the scientific capacity to do so!”

So in other words, he still holds with much of the rubbish he wrote then.  Right – well, so will I revisit something I helped write, back in 2000, after reading that Mbeki had written to Bill Clinton to dispute conventional ideas on HIV/AIDS.

Nature 405: 273, 2000

AIDS dissidents aren’t victims – but the people their ideas kill will be

Sir – As South African scientists working in the field of HIV/AIDS vaccine research, we are extremely concerned about the letter president Thabo Mbeki recently sent other heads of state (Nature 404, 911; 2000). As an individual Mr Mbeki is entitled to his point of view, but as our head of state we feel he risks binding our country to an untenable position.

We would like Mr Mbeki and others to consider how the mass of South Africans would react if he were to give a sympathetic ear to unrepentant proponents of apartheid. His willingness to be influenced by people with no credibility causes as much anguish to those of us working to combat HIV/AIDS.

The simple facts, as shown by a huge volume of scientific and medical research, are that HIV causes AIDS; that in Africa (as in other developing regions) the disease is mainly spread heterosexually; and that AIDS kills poor people in disproportionate numbers. We most emphatically do not need to revisit the debate on the causation of AIDS. What we do urgently need is to educate, train and medicate, to save lives.”

This is germane, because Mbeki has the gall to go back to his Castro Hlongwane crap at the end of his latest letter, and say:

“Beneath the heartening facts about decreased mortality and increasing life expectancy, and many other undoubted health advances, lie unacceptable disparities in wealth. The gaps between rich and poor, between one population group and another, between ages and between sexes, are widening. For most people in the world today every step of life, from infancy to old age, is taken under the twin shadows of poverty and inequity, and under the double burden of suffering and disease.”

“Castro Hlongwane…” says: “Given that our minds on this matter (of HIV and AIDS) have become thoroughly clogged by the information communicated by the omnipotent apparatus, a miracle will have to be achieved to get all our people to use their brains, rather than perish on emotional responses based on greatly heightened levels of fear.”

Really, Thabo??  You’re going to harp on about poverty, again?  Oh, and the “omnipotent apparatus” that is Western Pharma, and of course US capitalism?

Please do us a favour, Comrade: go back to your pipe, and your old friends Johnny and Jack, and stop trying to justify the indefensible.  And I will close with something I wrote for the Mail & Guardian on March 1st back in 2002:

“It does not seem to matter what happens in our country; it does not matter how many people try to engage the slippery python that is the president’s policy and thinking on HIV/Aids; it does not seem to matter how many people die of Aids, and how many babies are needlessly born with HIV – there remains the stubbornness and wilful failure to comprehend that is leading us into disaster. Mr Mbeki, you make an idiot of yourself, and fools of us all for putting up with your views. Leave health policy alone, or resign. Please.

Ed Rybicki, Pinelands”

I see no reason to change my views either, Comrade.

Your next DNA vaccine might come from tobacco

12 February, 2016

We don’t have much practice at this sort of thing, but seeing as we just got something REALLY cool published, and the man who largely made it possible is now a science writer, we decided to ask him to write a press release.  So he did.  Thanks, Paul Kennedy – take a bow, twice!


“In a pioneering step towards using plants to produce vaccines against cervical cancer and other viruses, University of Cape Town (UCT) researchers have generated synthetic human papillomavirus- derived viral particles called pseudovirions in tobacco plants.

“We’ve succeeded in making a completely mammalian viral particle in a plant – proteins, DNA, everything. That’s enormously exciting,” says Dr Inga Hitzeroth of the Biopharming Research Unit (BRU) at UCT.Dr_Inga_Hitzeroth

In an Open Access study just published in Nature Scientific Reports, BRU researchers report using tobacco plants to create a synthetic viral particle known as a pseudovirion.

A pseudovirion looks like a virus, but it contains no infectious viral DNA. A virus is usually made up of a shell surrounding the virus’s own genetic material. Pseudovirions instead carry whatever DNA the researcher wishes to include within the shell of proteins that make up the outer coating of the virus.

Until now, such particles have only ever been created in yeast or mammalian cell cultures – this is the first time researchers have successfully created pseudovirions in plants.

The BRU is part of a new movement known as biopharming, which means using plants as biological factories. Biopharming has been used to create flu vaccines, potential Ebola drugs, and an enzyme used to treat Gaucher’s Disease in humans. The technique employs the cellular machinery within tobacco plants or other plant cells to manufacture enzymes, antibodies or even the viral capsid proteins (the proteins that make up the shell of a virus), which act as vaccines.

In this research, the BRU has taken biopharming one step further by using plants to create a viral shell that encloses ‘custom’ DNA selected by researchers. “What’s unique here is that DNA that was manufactured within the tobacco plant is now being incorporated into a viral particle to form a pseudovirion,” says Hitzeroth.

The shell of this pseudovirion was that of human papillomavirus (HPV) type 16, the virus responsible for over 50% of cervical cancer cases worldwide.

The BRU team hope this new plant-based technology could one day be used to test future HPV vaccines. First author of the study, Dr Renate Lamprecht, renateexplains: “We need pseudovirions to test any new HPV vaccine candidates. At the moment it is very expensive to make pseudovirions – we need to make them in mammalian cell culture, it needs to be sterile, and the reagents are very expensive.”

All these factors contribute to the high cost of current HPV vaccines, which are actually virus-like particles. Virus-like particles (VLPs) are similar to pseudovirions, but they contain no DNA. Plant- made pseudovirions, as demonstrated by this study, could reduce the cost of testing and manufacturing such vaccines, thus helping to make HPV vaccines affordable where they are needed most: the developing world.

PsVs

Plant-made HPV pseudovirions containing geminivirus-derived DNA

The BRU team compared these new plant-made pseudovirions against the more widely-used mammalian cell culture-produced particles by using what’s known as a neutralisation assay. In this test (which is commonly used to test new HPV vaccine candidates), cells are ‘infected’ with pseudovirions, with or without pre-treatment with neutralising antibodies. The DNA inside the pseudovirion carries a ‘reporter gene’ that produces a protein that can give off a light signal. Thus, an infectious pseudovirion gets into the cell and gives off light, but one that is stopped by neutralising antibodies does not.

“I was jumping up and down the first time I saw the neutralisation results, but I repeated the experiment a few times to be sure, asking myself, ‘is everything correct, are all the controls there?’” explains Lamprecht. “It was a very exciting moment for us when we confirmed that neutralisation had occurred.”

Right now, every laboratory makes pseudovirions for such neutralisation experiments themselves. Dr Hitzeroth hopes that one day, they won’t have to: “we’re in the initial stages, but if we optimise the process and get the yield much higher, we think it’s a product that could be sold all over the world.”

ed ebola

Ed’s Ebola shirt

For Professor Ed Rybicki, Director of the BRU, this achievement was enormously satisfying, as it brought together two strands of his research interests that have co-existed for over 20 years.

“Seventeen years ago, I had the idea to combine making HPV VLPs in plants with a DNA plant virus we were working on, to see if we could make pseudovirions. It took until now for the technology to finally come together, but it shows what can happen in biotechnology if you’re willing to persevere.”

The BRU are also hoping to use this technology to create a therapeutic vaccine, which would also be a first of its kind. The idea would be to use the pseudovirion to deliver DNA that could treat an ongoing HPV infection or even a tumour.

With global acceptance and support for the biopharming movement growing rapidly, it might not be too long before the first plant-produced HPV vaccine is making a difference in Africa and around the world.”


For further enquiries, contact Dr Hitzeroth. For more info on biopharming, check out this Q&A session from Sense About Science.

“Online ‘recipes’ for bird flu virus add to bioterrorism threat!” No. No, they don’t.

10 December, 2015

The means of engineering potentially deadly avian influenza is freely available on the internet.

Despite continuing global efforts to contain avian influenza, or bird flu, the means of engineering this potentially deadly H5N1 virus to render it transmissible to humans is freely available on the internet. So too are similar instructions for engineering a virus like the “Spanish flu”, which killed some 50 million people in the pandemic of 1918-19.

The digital floodgates opened in 2011 when a peak US regulatory watchdog came down in favour of scientists seeking to publishing their work engineering the H5N1 virus. The decision to uphold such “scientific freedom” was and remains, highly contentious among the global scientific community. Its implications, however, are readily available as online “recipes” for potentially dangerous viruses, which add a new risk to the already considerable challenges of maintaining global biosecurity in the 21st century. For all the recent advances in biomedical science, drugs, vaccines and technology, this is a challenge we remain ill-equipped to meet.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/online-recipes-for-contagious-diseases-means-australias-bioterrorism-threat-is-real-20151208-gli97v.html#ixzz3tvWn63AE ;
Follow us: @theage on Twitter | theageAustralia on Facebook

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.theage.com.au


 

OFFS: seriously!  Again?!  Someone else has just discovered that entire virus genomes are freely available via PubMed, along with papers on gain-of-function experiments, and immediately leaps to the conclusion that this means “…the means of engineering this potentially deadly H5N1 virus to render it transmissible to humans is freely available on the internet”.

I’m sorry, this is being simple-minded to the point of parody.  I have written elsewhere – here in ViroBlogy, and in Nature Biotech’s Bioentrepreneur blog section – on how it is MOST unlikely that bearded fellows in caves in Afghanistan or remote farms in Montana are going to whip up weaponised batches of H5N1 flu or Ebola.

Yes, the papers are available; yes, the sequences necessary to make a potentially (and I say potentially advisedly) deadly virus are available online; yes, one can bypass the blocks on getting resynthesised genes in developing countries (hint: China).

But could anyone outside of a sophisticated lab environment use these to make anything nasty?

No.

Seriously, no.

Just think about what you would need to make weaponised flu, for example.  There are two ways to go here, these being the totally synthetic route (“mail order” DNA – HATE that term!), with some serious molecular biology and cell culture at the end of it, and the “natural” route – which would involve getting a natural and nasty isolate of H5N1 / H7N9 / H9N2, and being able to culture it and engineer it as well.

Both routes require a minimum of a serious 4-yr-degree-level training in microbiology / mol biol, as well as laboratory resources that would include incubators, biohazard cabinets, and disposables and reagents that are not on your normal terrorist’s priority purchase list.

In fact, the kinds of resources you’d find at a University or Institute Infectious Disease unit – or state-sponsored biowarfare lab.

Seriously, now: in order to use the information that is “freely available”, you’d have to do what amounts to an entire postgrad degree’s worth of work just to set up the kinds of reverse genetics necessary to WORK with recombinant flu, presuming you already had an isolate, and even more than that if you were to start with synthesised DNA and try to recreate infectious virus.

Again, this is the kind of work they do in biowarfare / biodefence labs (funny how they’re pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?) – because it’s finicky, expensive, laborious – and potentially dangerous to the researcher.

And it’s interesting that the only rumoured escapes of biowarfare agents have been of flu in 1977 in the old Soviet Union, and of anthrax in Sverdlovsk in the USSR in 1979. And in the US in 2001, and again in 2014.  ALL of them from official facilities, I will discreetly point out.

Oh, there have been rumours that Saddam’s Iraq weaponised camelpox; that the USSR/Russia cloned Ebola into a poxvirus; that Al-Qaeda tested anthrax – but the first two took state resources, and if the third happened at all, it’s nothing that the UK and USA and friends hadn’t already done in the 1940s.

IT IS NOT THAT EASY TO MAKE RECOMBINANT VIRUSES.

Seriously.

See on Scoop.itVirology News

Testing out a textbook on Virology

5 December, 2015

Like my recent books on History of Viruses and Influenza, I’m constructing an ebook Introduction to Virology textbook – and I’d like people’s opinions.

It’s going to look something like this:

Virus_Picture_Book_copy_2_iba

 

It will be based on my web pages that were so cruelly destroyed, but will be PROFUSELY illustrated, using all of the bells and whistles built into the iBooks Author app, with liberal use of Russell Kightley’s very excellent virus picture library.

And I will sell it for US$20 or less.

Tell me what you think of the taster – and there will be more.

“Plant cell pack” workshop

23 November, 2015

As molecular farmers, we were much impressed last year by a technology developed by the folk at the Fraunhofer IME in Aachen: this is “METHOD FOR THE GENERATION AND CULTIVATION OF A PLANT CELL PACK“, with Thomas Rademacher as sole inventor on the patent application.  Basically, this involves

  • making a “cookie” or cell pack with cultured plant cells, by suction of a suspension onto a membrane
  • drizzling recombinant Agrobacterium tumefaciens onto the cookie, then sucking away excess fluid
  • incubating the cell cookie in a humid environment for a few days, until the desired level of protein expression has been reached

There are all sorts of things one could dream up for the application of this technology, given that one can make cookies of all sorts of depths and widths, in everything from spin columns to multiwell plates – and high-throughput screening of expression constructs comes to mind immediately.

Now fortunately, Inga Hitzeroth of our Biopharming Research Unit here at UCT (the BRU) has a National Research Foundation-administered bilateral grant with the folk at the Fraunhofer IME, which has meant we have money for joint workshops and the like – so we are having a hands-on Workshop on “Plant Cell Packs for Transient Expression: Innovating the Field of Molecular Biopharming” affiliated to our “Virology Africa 2015” conference next week.  We plan to develop an illustrated manual along with a full suite of technical tips after the Workshop.

And as part of which, one has of course to feed and entertain the participants – hence our expedition to The Spice Route wine farm complex yesterday.  Hard work, this science…B-)

The BRU-IME Cookie Workshop team: from left; Romana Yanez (BRU), Tanja Holland, Susanne Bethke, Markus Sack, Juergen Drossard, Gueven Edgu all IME), Ed Rybicki (BRU)

The BRU-IME Cookie Workshop team: from left; Romana Yanez (BRU), Tanja Holland, Susanne Bethke, Markus Sack, Juergen Drossard, Gueven Edgu (all IME), Ed Rybicki (BRU)

 

 

Rounding Up The Last Of A Deadly Cattle Virus

16 November, 2015

Rinderpest, or cattle plague, was declared eradicated in 2011. But many research institutes still have samples of the rinderpest virus in storage. Disease experts want those samples destroyed.

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.npr.org

I have written a lot about rinderpest, and covered it in my book on virus history, as well as covering the debate on whether or not smallpox virus stocks should be eliminated.

And if they haven’t yet, despite years of debate, why should rinderpest virus stocks?

Consider: we have an effective vaccine(s); we still have the related peste des petits ruminants virus knocking around, with vaccines to it – so why shouldn’t stocks of the live virus strains be preserved?

How many viruses have in fact made it out of fridges, and back into the world?  Well, there was that purported 1977 H1N1 release in Russia/Mongolia…but can anyone think of another well-documented one?  Just one?

The fact is that it is FAR easier to deliberately spread endemic viruses around – like foot-and-mouth disease virus – than it would be to reactivate and spread something from a lab freezer.

Rather let us conduct an inventory of who has what, consolidate it like they did with smallpox, and forget about the unknowable, which is obscure freezers in far-flung rural centres where no-one remembers what is there – and where powercuts have probably thawed the samples more than once.

See on Scoop.itVirology News

So that’s what you lot like, is it?

21 October, 2015

My_Stats_—_WordPress_com

Emerging Infectious Diseases 20-year Timeline – Emerging Infectious Disease journal – CDC

7 September, 2015

Emerging Infectious Diseases 20-year Timeline

Sourced through Scoop.it from: wwwnc.cdc.gov

It is well worth remembering that the CDC’s EID has been in the forefront of reliable reporting on emerging viral diseases – as well as others, of course – for a quarter century now.

And I’ve been getting it that long…they used to send it out for free, AND it was available on the Web from very early on, so I used to regularly use articles from it for teaching 3rd year students.

It is a great institution, and I wish it well!

See on Scoop.itAquatic Viruses

Virology Africa 2015: Update and Registration

19 August, 2015

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN – VIROLOGY AFRICA 2015

On behalf of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine of the University of Cape Town and the Poliomyelitis Research Foundation, we are pleased to invite you to Virology Africa 2015 at the Cape Town Waterfront.

VENUE AND DATES:

The conference will run from Tuesday 1st – Thursday 3rd December 2015. The conference venue is the Radisson Blu Hotel with a magnificent view of the ocean. The hotel school next door will host the cocktail party on the Monday night 30th November and in keeping with Virology Africa tradition, the dinner venue is the Two Oceans Aquarium.

IMPORTANT DATES

Early Bird Registration closes – 30 September 2015
Abstract Submissions deadline – 30 September 2015

The ACADEMIC PROGRAMME will include plenary-type presentations from internationally recognised speakers. We wish to emphasise that this is intended as a general virology conference – which means we will welcome plant, human, animal and bacterial virology contributions. The venue will allow for parallel workshops of oral presentations. There will also be poster sessions. Senior students will be encouraged to present their research. We have sponsorship for students to attend the meeting and details will be announced later in the year.

A program outline has been added to the website

WORKSHOPS

Our preliminary programme includes two workshops.

There is a hands-on workshop on “Plant cell packs for transient expression: Innovating the field of molecular biopharming”, with the contact person being Dr Inga Hitzeroth – Inga.Hitzeroth@uct.ac.za. This workshop will run at UCT one day before the conference, 30th November, and a second day, 4th December, after the conference.

The second workshop is on “”Viromics for virus discovery and viral community analysis”. The workshop at UCT will be on 4 and 5 December with the contact person being Dr Tracy Meiring – tracy.meiring@uct.ac.za.

Some of the workshop presenters will be integrated into the conference programme but the practical components will be run at University of Cape Town. Separate applications are necessary for each workshop.

If you are prepared to fund an internationally recognised scientist to speak at the conference or if you wish to organise a specialist workshop as part of the conference, please contact
Anna-Lise Williamson or Ed Rybicki.

For any enquiries please contact
Miss Bridget Petersen/ Email: conference1@onscreenav.co.za or phone: +27 21 486 9111
Ms Deborah McTeer/Email: conference@onscreenav.co.za or +27 83 457 1975

Laurie Garrett on Ebola: the recent history

18 August, 2015

20 years after I first posted something by Laurie Garrett – who has written two of the the most thought-provoking, informative and frightening books I have ever read (The Coming Plague, and Betrayal of Trust) – I see she has just published possibly the single best account of the recent Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa.

Seriously.  Exhaustive, deep, analytical – and like her books, throwing some harsh light on world health care systems (or the lack thereof, in the case of the WHO), while at the same time making useful suggestions.

Like this one:

“And so it comes back to money. The world will get what it pays for—and right now, that is not very much.”

Absolutely: consider that the late and haphazard and meagre response by most governments let the epidemic peak and then start to subside – without actually, in the case of the US, managing to get more than one treatment centre functional in Liberia, before they ran out of patients.  That the health systems of all three countries are in such bad shape that they can’t deal with childbirth and malaria right now.

Laurie, it’s a great piece, really it is. It’s also depressing as hell.  But that’s life!


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