TAG: "Vaccines"

Project uses tech to help boost vaccination rates in India


UC Berkeley students turn to crowdfunding to support further software development.

Emmunify co-founder Anandamoy Sen, now a UC Berkeley alumnus, holds a prototype of the portable record system. The chip, which contains vaccine records, is attached to a cell phone, ready to be synced to a health care worker’s mobile device. (Photo courtesy of Julia Walsh)

By Sarah Yang,  UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley students are creating a new tool that could soon make it far easier for children in developing nations to get life-saving vaccines.

As part of a project called Emmunify, the students simplify medical record-keeping by storing patient vaccination records on a portable chip that can then be accessed by a health care provider without the need for Internet access.

“Electronic health records are not new, but in developed nations, there is more IT infrastructure in place that allows some health providers and patients to have access to medical data,” says project team member Jennifer Sisto, a graduate student in public health. “We wanted something that would be effective in areas with limited healthcare data and IT resources, so we focused on providing crucial information, not setting up an entire electronic health record system.”

Emmunify was the brainchild of three Berkeley MBA students, who entered the project in the campus’s 2012 Hacking Health competition for the most innovative ideas in digital health. The project emerged as the grand prize winner, earning $2,000 in seed money to help build a better prototype and conduct feasibility testing.

With the leadership of faculty adviser Dr. Julia Walsh, adjunct professor of maternal and child health, the team connected with nonprofit health providers in India and began preparing to pilot-test the technology in New Delhi, where under half the children are fully immunized.

Rather than attempt to include a patient’s entire medical history on this chip, the Emmunify team kept the data focused on vaccination history.

“We know that raising vaccination rates among children raises school attendance, improves cognitive abilities, decreases malnutrition and increases earning power as adults,” says Walsh. “This is a simple tool to help get kids out of poverty.”

The Emmunify chip is attached to a user’s cell phone, and data is transferred to the health provider’s phone, tablet or other computer through near-field communication, a feature that is increasingly common in today’s mobile devices. A free app must be downloaded so the device can read the data on the chip. The researchers note that most families have access to at least one cell phone, and that the system is designed to be operable on various platforms.

“In many cases, families have to go to six different places at different times to get vaccinations for their children, and they are expected to keep the records on a form or other piece of paper that easily gets lost,” says Walsh. “This tool solves that problem by keeping the data on a phone and in an easily readable format.”

Emmunify could also be used to help direct resources where they are needed. Communities can track how many vaccines have been delivered and used, and health administrators will know when supplies are low and more vaccines are needed.

Ultimately, the system could help increase vaccination rates by sending patients automated voicemail reminders in their local language to remind them when their next shot is due.

“There is a lot of evidence from epidemiological studies that when it comes to basic healthcare, it’s not the new flashy gizmos that are important,” says Sisto. “We just want something basic that works. The tool can be really simple.”

The current team consists of two Berkeley alumni, including co-founder Anandamoy Sen, and six undergraduate and graduate students from Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and the School of Public Health.

Since Emmunify’s debut in 2012, the researchers have won additional funding through other contests, including Big Ideas@Berkeley, which is supported by several campus centers and institutes. This year, Big Ideas partnered with Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site, to help raise money for winning projects.

The Emmunify team hopes to raise $25,000 to support further software development and to deploy the technology in New Delhi.

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Biochemists build largest synthetic molecular ‘cage’ ever


New nanoscale protein container could lead to synthetic vaccines.

Todd Yeates and Yen-Ting Lai, UCLA

UCLA biochemists have created the largest-ever protein that self-assembles into a molecular “cage.” The research could lead to synthetic vaccines that protect people from the flu, HIV and other diseases.

At a size hundreds of times smaller than a human cell, it also could lead to new methods of delivering pharmaceuticals inside of cells, or to the creation of new nanoscale materials.

The protein assembly, which is shaped like a cube, was constructed from 24 copies of a protein designed in the laboratory of Todd Yeates, a UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry. It is porous — more so than any other protein assembly ever created — with large openings that would enable other large protein molecules to enter and exit.

The research was recently published online in the journal Nature Chemistry and will appear in a future print edition.

Yeates, the study’s senior author, has sought to build complex protein structures that self-assemble since he first published research on self-assembling proteins in 2001. In 2012, he and colleagues produced a self-assembling molecular cage made from 12 protein pieces combined perfectly like pieces of a puzzle. Now they have done so with 24 pieces, and they are currently attempting to design a molecular cage with 60 pieces. Building each larger protein presented new scientific challenges, but the bigger sizes could potentially carry more “cargo.”

In principle, these molecular structures should be able to carry cargo that could then be released inside of cells, said Yeates, who is a member of the UCLA–Department of Energy Institute of Genomics and Proteomics and the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

Yeates’ research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the UCLA–DOE Institute of Genomics and Proteomics. The lead author was Yen-Ting Lai, who conducted the research as a UCLA graduate student in Yeates’ laboratory and is now a postdoctoral scholar at Arizona State University.

The molecular cube is probably too porous to serve as a container — for medicine, for example — inside a human body. “But the design principles for making a cage that is more closed would be the same,” Yeates said, adding that there are ways to make the cage less stable when it gets into a cell, so that it would release its cargo, such as a toxin that could kill a cancer cell.

Yeates said that his lab’s method also could lead to the production of synthetic vaccines that would mimic what a cell sees when it’s infected by a virus. The vaccines would provoke a strong response from the body’s immune system and perhaps provide better protection from diseases than traditional vaccines.

Yeates has started a research collaboration with Peter Kwong, chief of the structural biology section at the National Institutes of Health and a national leader in the structural biology of disease viruses. They will conduct research on attaching viral antigens to molecular cages.

Other co-authors of the Nature Chemistry research were Carol Robinson, Eamonn Reading and Arthur Laganowsky of the University of Oxford; Francisco Asturias and Kuang-Lei Tsai of the Scripps Research Institute; and John Tainer and Greg Hura of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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Related link:
Building molecular ‘cages’ to fight disease

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Ebola genome browser now online


UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute releases bioinformatic tool to assist vaccine efforts.

Jim Kent, UC Santa Cruz

The UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute late Tuesday (Sept. 30) released a new Ebola genome browser to assist global efforts to develop a vaccine and antiserum to help stop the spread of the Ebola virus.

The team, led by UC Santa Cruz researcher Jim Kent, worked around the clock for the past week, communicating with international partners to gather and present the most current data. The Ebola virus browser aligns five strains of Ebola with two strains of the related Marburg virus. Within these strains, Kent and other members of the UC Santa Cruz Genome Browser team have aligned 148 individual viral genomes, including 102 from the current West Africa outbreak.

UC Santa Cruz has established the UCSC Ebola Genome Portal, with links to the new Ebola genome browser as well as links to all the relevant scientific literature on the virus.

“Ebola has been one of my biggest fears ever since I learned about it in my first microbiology class in 1997,” said Kent, who 14 years ago created the first working draft of the human genome.  “We need a heroic worldwide effort to contain Ebola. Making an informatics resource like the genome browser for Ebola researchers is the least we could do.”

Scientists around the world can access the open-source browser to compare genetic changes in the virus genome and areas where it remains the same. The browser allows scientists and researchers from drug companies, other universities, and governments to study the virus and its genomic changes as they seek a solution to halt the epidemic.

The release of the new Ebola genome browser comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday confirmed the first case of Ebola in the United States.

The Ebola browser was started shortly after a phone conversation between Kent and his sister, an epidemiologist at the CDC, who spoke of how she and her staff were consumed with Ebola research in the face of the escalating crisis. UC Santa Cruz professor Phil Berman, an HIV specialist, had also asked Kent for help with his efforts in developing a vaccine for Ebola.

Kent asked his supervisor, UC Santa Cruz bioinformatics researcher David Haussler, if he could divert his team to Ebola work.  Haussler replied with an enthusiastic affirmative, and they pulled together a team of UC Santa Cruz bioinformatics scientists that, within a week, was able to create a fully functional Ebola genome browser.

“The incredible speed with which this group was able to assemble all the genetic information about Ebola and make it available to the world shows what a great team Jim Kent has assembled,” Haussler said.

In June 2000, Kent and Haussler released the first working draft of the human genome sequence on the Web. Two months later, Kent developed the UCSC Genome Browser, which has become an essential resource to biomedical science.

In a similar marshaling of forces in the face of a worldwide threat 11 years ago, UC Santa Cruz researchers created a SARS virus browser.

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New vaccine may be stronger weapon against both TB and leprosy


Research finds variant of existing vaccine offers stronger protection against both diseases.

Antigen 85B structure

In many parts of the world, leprosy and tuberculosis live side-by-side. Worldwide there are approximately 233,000 new cases of leprosy per year, with nearly all of them occurring where tuberculosis is endemic.

The currently available century-old vaccine Bacille Calmette-Guerin, or BCG, provides only partial protection against both tuberculosis and leprosy, so a more potent vaccine is needed to combat both diseases. UCLA-led research may have found a stronger weapon against both diseases.

In a study published in the September issue of the peer-reviewed journal Infection and Immunity, the researchers found that rBCG30, a recombinant variant of BCG that overexpresses a highly abundant 30 kDa protein of the tuberculosis bacterium known as Antigen 85B, is superior to BCG in protecting against tuberculosis in animal models, and also cross protects against leprosy. In addition, they found that boosting rBCG30 with the Antigen 85B protein, a protein also expressed by the leprosy bacillus, provides considerably stronger protection against leprosy.

“This is the first study demonstrating that an improved vaccine against tuberculosis also offers cross-protection against Mycobacterium leprae, the causative agent of leprosy,” said Dr. Marcus A. Horwitz, professor of medicine and microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, and the study’s senior author. “That means that this vaccine has promise for better protecting against both major diseases at the same time.

“It is also the first study demonstrating that boosting a recombinant BCG vaccine further improves cross-protection against leprosy,” he added.

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A key step toward a safer strep vaccine


UC San Diego gene discovery identifies molecular pathway to potential preventive treatment.

Electron micrograph, false color, of group A Streptococcus bacteria

An international team of scientists, led by researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, have identified the genes encoding a molecule that famously defines Group A Streptococcus (strep), a pathogenic bacterial species responsible for more than 700 million infections worldwide each year.

The findings, published online in today’s (June 11) issue of Cell Host & Microbe, shed new light on how strep bacteria resists the human immune system and provides a new strategy for developing a safe and broadly effective vaccine against strep throat, necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) and rheumatic heart disease.

“Most people experience one or more painful strep throat infections as a child or young adult,” said senior author Victor Nizet, M.D., professor of pediatrics and pharmacy. “Developing a broadly effective and safe strep vaccine could prevent this suffering and reduce lost time and productivity at school and work, estimated to cost $2 billion annually.”

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Potential lung cancer vaccine shows renewed promise


Tecemotide a potential maintenance therapy to prolong survival, improve quality of life.

Michael DeGregorio, UC Davis

Researchers at UC Davis have found that the investigational cancer vaccine tecemotide, when administered with the chemotherapeutic cisplatin, boosted immune response and reduced the number of tumors in mice with lung cancer. The study also found that radiation treatments did not significantly impair the immune response. The paper was published on March 10 in the journal Cancer Immunology Research, an American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) publication.

Though tecemotide, also known as Stimuvax, has shown great potential at times, the recent Phase III trial found no overall survival benefit for patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, further analysis showed one group of patients, who received concurrent chemotherapy and radiation followed by tecemotide, did benefit from the vaccine. As a result, tecemotide’s manufacturer, Merck KGaA, is sponsoring additional post-clinical animal and human studies, so far with good results.

“There aren’t any good options for patients with inoperable stage III lung cancer following mainline chemotherapies,” said UC Davis professor of medicine and lead author Michael DeGregorio. “We are looking at tecemotide as a potential maintenance therapy to prolong survival and improve quality of life.”

Tecemotide activates an immune response by targeting the protein MUC1, which is often overexpressed in lung, breast, prostate and other cancers. The vaccine stimulates production of interferon gamma and MUC1-targeted killer T-lymphocytes, which seek out and destroy MUC1 cancer cells.

The team, which included investigators from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and the Department of Radiation Oncology, wanted to know if cisplatin/tecemotide treatments, along with radiation therapy, could boost the immune response and alter lung cancer’s trajectory, stabilizing the disease.

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Jonas Salk’s personal papers going to UC San Diego Library


Physician developed the world’s first successful polio vaccine.

Jonas Salk (left) with an unidentified man in front of the Salk Institute, during construction.

The UC San Diego Library has become the official repository for the papers of Jonas Salk, noted physician, virologist and humanitarian, best known for his development of the world’s first successful vaccine for the prevention of polio.

The papers — which constitute almost 600 linear feet (or nearly 900 boxes) — were recently donated to the Library’s Mandeville Special Collections by Salk’s sons, Peter, Darrell and Jonathan, all of whom, like their father, trained as physicians and are involved in medical and scientific activities.

While recognized worldwide for his significant contributions, Jonas Salk is particularly noted locally for his founding of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies adjacent to UC San Diego and the impact this had on the city’s metamorphosis into a major center for biomedical and scientific research and discovery. The institute will celebrate the Jonas Salk Centenary in the fall of 2014 and, as part of this notable milestone, the library will hold a major exhibition of the Salk Papers and collaborate with the institute on other celebratory events.

“It is a great honor for the library to be the official repository for Jonas Salk’s papers,” said Brian E. C. Schottlaender, The Audrey Geisel University Librarian at UC San Diego. “The UC San Diego Library’s Mandeville Special Collections houses the papers of some of the world’s most prominent and accomplished scientists, including Francis Crick, Stanley Miller and Leo Szilard, as well as Nobel laureates Harold Urey, Hannes Alfven and Maria Goeppert Mayer. The papers of Jonas Salk are an excellent complement to these materials.”

The Salk papers constitute an exhaustive source of documentation on Salk’s professional and scientific activities. The papers cover the period from the mid-1940s to his death in 1995; best documented are activities largely related to the development of the Salk polio vaccine in the mid-1950s to the early 1960s and the founding of the Salk Institute. The papers cover general correspondence, files relating to polio, his writings, photographs, artifacts — including two dictating machines — personal writings and various research materials.

The collection includes correspondence with a number of prominent scientists and others, including Basil O’Connor and officers of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis/March of Dimes; immunologists Thomas Francis and Albert Sabin; physicist and biologist Leo Szilard; mathematician and philosopher Jacob Bronowski; architect Louis Kahn and other important figures in the worlds of art, science, education, public administration and humanitarianism.

Salk came to La Jolla following a career in clinical medicine and virology research. After obtaining his M.D. degree at the New York University School of Medicine in 1939, he served as a staff physician at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He then joined his mentor, Dr. Thomas Francis, as a research fellow at the University of Michigan. There he worked to develop an influenza vaccine at the behest of the U.S. Army. In 1947, he was appointed director of the Virus Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where he began to put together the techniques that would lead to his polio vaccine.

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Why parents should immunize their children


The importance of getting vaccinated against the measles.

Behnoosh Afghani, UC Irvine

Nearly half a century after the measles vaccine became routine for U.S. children, few people remember how dangerous the disease can be. But each year, the virus — which is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes — still kills more than 120,000 people around the globe who haven’t been immunized.

Given today’s interconnected world of international travelers, it is vital for parents to get their children vaccinated against the measles, to ensure their health and everyone else’s, said UC Irvine Health pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Behnoosh Afghani.

“Measles is a deadly disease and one of the most contagious,” said Afghani, “It’s associated with serious complications. In addition to rash, diarrhea and high fevers, dehydration is very common.” About one patient in 20  who contract measles develop pneumonia; one in 1,000 measles patients develop encephalitis and one or two in 1,000 patients die, she added.

When at least 95 percent of a given population is immunized, the risk of measles spreading is very low. However, in recent years, unfounded fear that autism is linked to the measles vaccine or to combination vaccines has led to lower immunization rates in parts of the United States.

“Because of the decrease in vaccination rates, we are seeing more cases of the measles,” Afghani said. “Parents should look at the scientific evidence and sources rather than listen to hearsay. By not vaccinating, parents put their own child and other children at risk of getting the disease.”

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New clinic provides immunization information to Sacramento-area parents


Clinic at UC Davis Children’s Hospital will start Jan. 14.

Dean Blumberg, UC Davis

Dean Blumberg, UC Davis

UC Davis Children’s Hospital will open a new clinic this month to provide information and counseling to parents who are considering choosing not to immunize their children.

The Immunization Information Clinic will start Jan. 14 and will be open Tuesday mornings in the Glassrock Building, 2521 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento.

The clinic was created in response to the new state law, effective Jan. 1, 2014, which requires parents to get a medical practitioner’s signature to enroll their children in school without immunizing them.

Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis, started the clinic to assist parents without a primary care provider or those with a health provider who refuses to sign the form.

“Parents are making an important decision for their loved ones, and we want to offer them resources and let them know about the risks and benefits,” said Blumberg, who will be staffing the clinic along with pediatric nurse practitioner Lisa Ashley. “Having this dialogue with parents is valuable, even if the parent still opts to not immunize.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, the number of kindergarten students in the state who are not vaccinated due to a personal belief exemption has increased annually over the past decade.

To make an appointment, contact (916) 734-3112. Appointments must be scheduled in advance. The cost of a visit will be $25 per child, and health insurance will not be billed.

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Can a glass of wine a day keep the doctor away?


Moderate consumption of alcohol can improve immune response to vaccination.

Can a glass of wine a day keep the doctor away? (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

Can a glass of wine a day keep the doctor away? (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

It’s the time of year when many of us celebrate the holidays with festive foods and drinks, including alcohol. No better time then to ask if it is true, as is widely held, that moderate consumption of alcohol is beneficial to health.

A research team led by an immunologist at UC Riverside now has data that could put the question to rest. The researchers found that moderate alcohol consumption could bolster our immune system, and potentially our ability to fight infections.

The finding, to be published Dec. 17 in the journal Vaccine, can help lead to a better understanding of how our immune system works. It also can pave the way for potentially new interventions to improve our ability to respond to vaccines and infections, benefiting vulnerable populations, such as the elderly for whom the flu vaccine, for example, has been found to be largely ineffective.

“It has been known for a long time that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with lower mortality,” said Ilhem Messaoudi, an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the UC Riverside School of Medicine and the lead author of the research paper. “Our study, conducted on non-human primates, shows for the first time that voluntary moderate alcohol consumption boosts immune responses to vaccination.”

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Using microRNA fit to a T (cell)


Researchers show B cells can deliver potentially therapeutic bits of modified RNA.

A colored scanning electron micrograph of a human T lymphocyte. (Image courtesy of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease)

A colored scanning electron micrograph of a human T lymphocyte. (Image courtesy of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease)

Researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine have successfully targeted T lymphocytes – which play a central role in the body’s immune response – with another type of white blood cell engineered to synthesize and deliver bits of non-coding RNA or microRNA (miRNA).

The achievement in mice studies, published in this week’s online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may be the first step toward using genetically modified miRNA for therapeutic purposes, perhaps most notably in vaccines and cancer treatments, said principal investigator Maurizio Zanetti, M.D., professor in the Department of Medicine and director of the Laboratory of Immunology at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center.

“From a practical standpoint, short non-coding RNA can be used for replacement therapy to introduce miRNA or miRNA mimetics into tissues to restore normal levels that have been reduced by a disease process or to inhibit other miRNA to increase levels of therapeutic proteins,” said Zanetti.

“However, the explosive rate at which science has discovered miRNAs to be involved in regulating biological processes has not been matched by progress in the translational arena,” Zanetti added. “Very few clinical trials have been launched to date.  Part of the problem is that we have not yet identified practical and effective methods to deliver chemically synthesized short non-coding RNA in safe and economically feasible ways.”

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Reassuring findings for moms who have flu shot during pregnancy


National study gathers data on safety of flu vaccine during pregnancy.

Christina Chambers, UC San Diego

Christina Chambers, UC San Diego

Researchers from the UC San Diego School of Medicine and Boston University, in collaboration with the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), have found evidence of the H1N1 influenza vaccine’s safety during pregnancy. The national study, which was launched shortly after the H1N1 influenza outbreak of 2009, is summarized in two companion papers published online on Sept. 19 in the journal Vaccine.

“The overall results of the study were quite reassuring about the safety of the flu vaccine formulations that contained the pandemic H1N1 strain,” said Christina Chambers, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the nonprofit Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS) Research Center and lead investigator of UC San Diego’s team. “We believe our study’s results can help women and their doctors become better informed about the benefits and risks of flu vaccination during pregnancy.”

Despite federal health authorities’ recommendations that all pregnant women be vaccinated for influenza, it is estimated that less than 50 percent  of women follow this advice, largely because they are concerned about the effects flu vaccines might have on the developing baby.

Since it was anticipated that the 2009 H1N1 influenza season would be severe, a national study was launched by the Vaccines and Medications in Pregnancy Surveillance System (VAMPSS), a collaboration between UC San Diego School of Medicine and Boston University and coordinated by AAAAI to gather data on the safety of this vaccine during pregnancy.

The team from UC San Diego followed 1,032 pregnant women across the United States and Canada who either chose to receive an influenza vaccine or were not vaccinated during one of the three seasons from 2009-12.  Women were recruited through MotherToBaby, a service of OTIS.

Chambers’ team found that women vaccinated during pregnancy were no more likely to experience miscarriage, have a baby born with a birth defect or have a baby born smaller than normal compared with those who did not receive a vaccination. Although vaccinated women were more likely to have their babies before term, on average these infants were delivered three days earlier than those born to unvaccinated women.

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