Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Poirot & Me

Yes Prime Minister

HIGNFY

Steve Bell - The Guardian

importance of ongoing hepatitis B vaccination programs

Michael Carter for Aidsmap (June 30, 2010)

Vaccination programmes reduce hepatitis B prevalence in the US, but racial disparities persist

Vaccination programs have reduced the prevalence of hepatitis B amongst children and younger adults in the US, the results of a large study in the July 15th edition of the Journal of Infectious Diseases show.

Investigators determined the prevalence of hepatitis B infection and immunity in representative samples of the US population between 1999-2006 and 1988-1994.

They found “a significant reduction of 68% hepatitis B virus prevalence in children”, and “a smaller, yet significant decrease in the prevalence of hepatitis B virus infection…among US-born adults 20-49 years of age.”

However, the researchers found enduring racial disparities in the prevalence of the infection.

The US has a relatively low prevalence of hepatitis B in comparison with some Asian countries, but due to its large population the absolute number of people infected with hepatitis B is considerable. Left untreated, hepatitis B infection may result in liver cancer or progressive liver disease in life.

In 1991 a strategy to eliminate transmission of the virus was implemented. All children are vaccinated against the infection, and the vaccine is also available to adults who have a high risk of acquiring the infection through their behavior or occupation.

Investigators wished to assess trends in the prevalence of hepatitis B infection and immunity following the introduction of these vaccination programs.

“In summary”, write the investigators “this analysis…provides new evidence of the impact of domestic and global childhood hepatitis B vaccination programs on preventing hepatitis B virus infections, while illustrating the large burden of chronic hepatitis B virus infection in the United States, which consists of approximately 730,000 persons.”

They conclude, “these results are relevant to public health policy makers and highlight the importance of ongoing hepatitis B vaccination programs and of programs to identify persons with chronic hepatitis B virus infection.”

Reference

The prevalence of hepatitis B virus infection in the United States in the era of vaccination. Annemarie Wasley, Deanna Kruszon-Moran, Wendi Kuhnert, Edgar P. Simard, Lyn Finelli, Geraldine McQuillan, and Beth Bell
Journal of Infectious Diseases 202: 192-201, 2010. DOI: 10.1086/653622

Link to JID abstract

Link to Aidsmap article

`No sex` as a `fire break`

Keith Alcorn for Aidsmap (June 30, 2010)

`No sex` months proposed as fire-break for HIV in worst-affected countries

Two leading HIV researchers say that countries worst affected by HIV should test whether promoting a national month of sex abstinence could slow the spread of HIV, by interrupting the chain of transmission during the primary, highly infectious stage of HIV infection.

Professor Alan Whiteside of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD) at the University of Kwazulu-Natal and Dr Justin Parkhurst of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) say that if mathematical modeling shows the idea to have possibilities, national campaigns to test the hypothesis should follow.

Swaziland is already considering the idea, Professor Whiteside says.

HIV levels are highest in the month to six weeks after infection, before immune responses begin to control the virus. Individuals in this phase of infection may account for anywhere from 10-45% of new HIV infections.

Stopping large numbers of recently infected people from passing on the virus for a month could act as a `fire break`, in the same way that trees are chopped down in a forest fire to break the progress of the fire.

Prof. Whitseside and Dr Parkhurst speculate that in addition to universal male circumcision, one reason why Muslim nations have much lower HIV prevalence is because during the fasting month of Ramadan observant Muslims are expected to abstain from sex during daylight hours.

But, while converting people to a religion is not a practical public health strategy, the authors highlight the World Health Organization’s ‘tobacco-free’ days and suggest that campaigns – even temporary – can reduce risk behavior across a population.

The authors point out that a month of ‘safe sex/no sex’ can also produce easily verifiable data with regards to adherence, evidenced in the number of births occurring nine months after the campaign.

They suggest the idea could be adapted for different populations, depending on what is driving the epidemic. Among miners in South Africa, for example, a `no commercial sex` month may be most appropriate. In other contexts, promoting a `safe sex only` month might be worth trying.

Permanent monogamy may be a challenging long-term goal for some, but a `month of monogamy` might be a useful starting point…In hyper-endemic countries policy-makers, populations and politicians are open to new ideas to address the epidemic,” they conclude.

Reference

Innovative responses for preventing HIV transmission: the protective value of population-wide interruptions of risk activity.
Justin O. Parkhurst and Alan Whiteside
Southern African Journal of HIV Medicine, 19-21, April 2010.

Link to SA Journal HIV Med abstract

Link to Aidsmap article

understanding HIV viral protein structure

UK's National Physical Laboratory (NPL) (June 21, 2010)

Viral Protein Structure Study Offers HIV Therapy Hope

The UK's National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is involved in a collaborative project that is helping to further the understanding of HIV viral protein structure which could lead to new molecular medicines.

In May 2010 the project team, comprising biotechnology experts from NPL, the University of Edinburgh and IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, published some of their research in Journal of Physical Chemistry B.

The article sets out to resolve controversy over how part of an HIV protein is structured. The research team present a definitive structure of the protein, which was obtained using experimental techniques and computer simulation. It is important to know exactly how viral proteins are structured so that drug developers can target weaknesses within it, and therefore devise better treatments for people.

NPL's Eleonora Cerasoli says: "In this research, we were looking at a part of the HIV virus that helps it fuse with, and then infect, healthy cells within the human body. By confirming the structure of this tiny, but significant, fragment of the HIV-1 protein we are helping to shed more light on its infection mechanism. Further work in this area will hopefully lead to a full understanding of exactly how it works, and therefore lead to better treatments for HIV."

To continue their efforts to understand the interactions between human cells and the HIV virus proteins, the research team will also be using the unique synchrotron facility available at Diamond Light Source. The insight this provides may help enable the next steps towards rational drug design and commercial exploitation.

This study is the first outcome of different investigations the research team are carrying out on biomedically important model systems. The overall scope, therefore, goes beyond understanding HIV's structure alone. The team are working on establishing structure-activity relationships which will further our understanding and treatment of other diseases, such as Alzheimer's.

This work is part of the project 'Multiscale measurements in biophysical systems' which is funded by NPL's Strategic Research programme.

Reference:

Conformational Plasticity in an HIV-1 Antibody Epitope.
P. R. Tulip, C. R. Gregor, R. Z. Troitzsch, G. J. Martyna, E. Cerasoli, G. Tranter, J. Crain.
The Journal of Physical Chemistry B, 2010; 114 (23): 7942 DOI: 10.1021/jp100929n

Link to J Phys Chem abstract

Link to Diamond Light Source

Link to NPL news release

Beeglue for MRSA

Science Daily (June 29, 2010)

Bees Help to Beat MRSA Bugs

Bees could have a key role to play in urgently-needed new treatments to fight the virulent MRSA bug, according to research led at the University of Strathclyde.

The scientists found that a substance known as beeglue or propolis, originating from beehives in the Pacific region, was active against MRSA.

Dr Véronique Seidel, a Lecturer in Natural Products Chemistry at the Institute, led the research. She said: "MRSA can have a devastating impact on people who contract it and on their families, often compounding illnesses they already have.

"One of the few available drugs to treat MRSA infections is an antibiotic called vancomycin. But new strains have been emerging which show limited susceptibility, or even resistance, to vancomycin.

"This means that there is a pressing need to discover and develop alternatives to current anti-MRSA drugs. We investigated propolis, as part of a program aimed at discovering new antibiotics from natural sources, because bees use it as an antiseptic glue to seal gaps between honeycombs and preserve their hives from microbial contamination.

"Beeglue is also a natural remedy widely-used in folk medicine for a variety of ailments but little has been known until now about its capacity to target MRSA. Our results have been highly encouraging and we will be taking our research further to understand how active substances in propolis work and to seek the treatments which patients urgently require."

The Strathclyde researchers have been working in partnership with Nature's Laboratory in North Yorkshire, a world leader in propolis research and campaigner for deeper scientific understanding of natural medicines. They tested extracts of propolis on 15 MRSA strains obtained from the NHS and isolated two compounds, Propolin C and Propolin D, which showed good activity against all the MRSA strains tested.

The research is the first to report anti-MRSA activity in propolis originating from the Pacific region and the first to describe the anti-MRSA properties of Propolin C and Propolin D. These could possibly act as templates for the development of improved anti-MRSA agents.

Reference:

Antimethicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) activity of 'pacific propolis' and isolated prenylflavanones.
Raghavendra Raghukumar, Leila Vali, Dave Watson, James Fearnley, Véronique Seidel.
Phytotherapy Research, 2010; DOI: 10.1002/ptr.3096

Link to PR abstract

Link to Science Daily article

‘revolutionize the history of the origins of Western thought’

University of Manchester (June 28, 2010) —

Science Historian Cracks the 'Plato Code'

Plato was the Einstein of Greece's Golden Age and his work founded Western culture and science. Dr Jay Kennedy's findings are set to revolutionize the history of the origins of Western thought.

Dr Kennedy, whose findings are published in the leading US journal Apeiron, reveals that Plato used a regular pattern of symbols, inherited from the ancient followers of Pythagoras, to give his books a musical structure. A century earlier, Pythagoras had declared that the planets and stars made an inaudible music, a 'harmony of the spheres'. Plato imitated this hidden music in his books.

The hidden codes show that Plato anticipated the Scientific Revolution 2,000 years before Isaac Newton, discovering its most important idea -- the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. The decoded messages also open up a surprising way to unite science and religion. The awe and beauty we feel in nature, Plato says, shows that it is divine; discovering the scientific order of nature is getting closer to God. This could transform today's culture wars between science and religion.

"Plato's books played a major role in founding Western culture but they are mysterious and end in riddles," Dr Kennedy, at Manchester's Faculty of Life Sciences explains.

"In antiquity, many of his followers said the books contained hidden layers of meaning and secret codes, but this was rejected by modern scholars.

"It is a long and exciting story, but basically I cracked the code. I have shown rigorously that the books do contain codes and symbols and that unraveling them reveals the hidden philosophy of Plato.

"This is a true discovery, not simply reinterpretation."

This will transform the early history of Western thought, and especially the histories of ancient science, mathematics, music, and philosophy.

Dr Kennedy spent five years studying Plato's writing and found that in his best-known work the Republic he placed clusters of words related to music after each twelfth of the text -- at one-twelfth, two-twelfths, etc. This regular pattern represented the twelve notes of a Greek musical scale. Some notes were harmonic, others dissonant. At the locations of the harmonic notes he described sounds associated with love or laughter, while the locations of dissonant notes were marked with screeching sounds or war or death. This musical code was key to cracking Plato's entire symbolic system.

Dr Kennedy, a researcher in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, says: "As we read his books, our emotions follow the ups and downs of a musical scale. Plato plays his readers like musical instruments."

However Plato did not design his secret patterns purely for pleasure -- it was for his own safety. Plato's ideas were a dangerous threat to Greek religion. He said that mathematical laws and not the gods controlled the universe. Plato's own teacher had been executed for heresy. Secrecy was normal in ancient times, especially for esoteric and religious knowledge, but for Plato it was a matter of life and death. Encoding his ideas in secret patterns was the only way to be safe.

Plato led a dramatic and fascinating life. Born four centuries before Christ, when Sparta defeated plague-ravaged Athens, he wrote 30 books and founded the world's first university, called the Academy. He was a feminist, allowing women to study at the Academy, the first great defender of romantic love (as opposed to marriages arranged for political or financial reasons) and defended homosexuality in his books. In addition, he was captured by pirates and sold into slavery before being ransomed by friends.

Dr Kennedy explains: "Plato's importance cannot be overstated. He shifted humanity from a warrior society to a wisdom society. Today our heroes are Einstein and Shakespeare -- and not knights in shining armor -- because of him."

Over the years Dr Kennedy carefully peeled back layer after symbolic layer, sharing each step in lectures in Manchester and with experts in the UK and US.

He recalls: "There was no Rosetta Stone. To announce a result like this I needed rigorous, independent proofs based on crystal-clear evidence.

"The result was amazing -- it was like opening a tomb and finding new set of gospels written by Jesus Christ himself.

"Plato is smiling. He sent us a time capsule."

Dr Kennedy's findings are not only surprising and important; they overthrow conventional wisdom on Plato. Modern historians have always denied that there were codes; now Dr Kennedy has proved otherwise.

He adds: "This is the beginning of something big. It will take a generation to work out the implications. All 2,000 pages contain undetected symbols."

The paper

‘Plato’s forms, Pythagorean Mathematics, and Stichometry’

is available on Dr Kennedy’s web site
Link to Dr. Kennedy’s site [with links including his paper]

Link to Manchester U. news release