Travelin’ again, and Grand Rounds

I’m in DC again at the American Institute of Biological Sciences meeting, hearing all about evolutionary biology and human health. It’s been busy, but yesterday I ran into fellow sciencebloggers Chris Mooney (who was giving his “Framing science” talk along with Matt Nisbet, who I didn’t have a chance to meet). I also saw Jason Rosenhouse and got to chat with him for a few minutes. More sessions today, then back to Iowa…

In the meantime, this week’s Grand Rounds, the weekly medical blogging carnival, is up over at Medical Humanities.

Ask A Scienceblogger: Creation of Vaccines

Readers may have noticed that a re-vamped “Ask a Scienceblogger” has appeared, with prior questions and responses at Cognitive Daily and Thoughts from Kansas. Aetiology gets the current installment, discussing the question, “Why is it possible to create vaccines for some microbes and not others?”

First, let me start off with a quibble about how this question was phrased, which suggests that it isn’t possible to create a vaccine for some organisms. This suggests a pessimistic view not shared by researchers in the field. Just because we’ve not been able to create them up to this point–or more pointedly, to create successful ones with the potential for human use–doesn’t mean that we’re down and out. It just means that we have to come up with new targets, new technologies, and even potentially new ways of getting them tested and out into the field.

With that said, there are a number of reasons why we’ve not yet created successful vaccines yet, even against some pathogens that cause a great amount of morbidity and mortality (including the big three: M. tuberculosis, which cause tuberculosis, Plasmodium species, which cause malaria, and HIV):
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YearlyKos science panel update

….or, where I impersonate PZ.

As PZ noted last month, he was tapped to moderate the science caucus at YearlyKos, featuring fellow Sciencebloggers Chris Mooney and Ed Brayton, along with Cosmic Variance’s Sean Carroll. However, PZ had to go and get himself some other plans, and I was fortunate enough to be chosen to step in. It’s still early, so I’m brainstorming and have read the comments at Pharyngula and DailyKos regarding what everyone would like to get out of the science sessions at YearlyKos, but in case you didn’t see either of those threads the first time around, or if you did but have additional ideas, feel free to toss them out here. Since it’s YearlyKos, we’re looking at the intersection of science, blogging, mainstream journalism, and politics, so any of that is fair game…

Canada’s TB legacy

Last month I noted the story of Robert Daniels, a patient with drug-resistant tuberculosis who’s been held in isolation in Arizona in order to prevent spread of the deadly pathogen. While some patient’s rights advocates have been outraged, Mr. Daniels’ treatment pales in comparison to what Mona at Science Notes writes about:

News has broken that the Canadian government continued to require Native Canadian children to attend residential schools where they could learn “civilized,” Christian, European ways, for years after they knew that tuberculosis was rampant in those schools, and they continued to house sick and well children together. So the healthy children caught tuberculosis from the sick ones and spread it back to their communities–and we didn’t prevent it. We made it happen! Nobody cared enought to stop it, to speak up, or even to burn down those schools before another child caught a deadly disease.

Check out ScienceNotes for the full, tragic story.

Finally, this angle gets some press

I’ve mentioned several times here at Aetiology that, when it comes to pandemic influenza preparedness, we need more than just vaccines specific for H5N1. Though this virus looks like a looming threat right now, we can’t be 100% certain that it will actually cause the next global pandemic; while we’re focused on H5N1, a new strain of H2N2 (or another serotype) may pop up out of the woodwork, catching us unawares. However, while this is well known in the infectious disease community and the scientific community, it’s been rare to read such information in the mainstream media. Therefore, this new article made me happy:
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The long shadow of smallpox

Smallpox is, without a doubt, the biggest success story in all of vaccination. The practice of variolation, or the purposeful inoculation of naïve individuals with material from scabs of smallpox victims, was practiced for years prior to Edward Jenner’s substitution of cowpox for the smallpox (Variola) virus. The vaccinia virus, thought to be a derivative of cowpox, has been used in the 20th century in smallpox vaccination campaigns. Vaccina elicits antibodies that protect from smallpox infection, yet typically causes an asymptomatic or only mildly symptomatic infection. This worldwide effort led to the last known naturally-occurring case of smallpox, which occurred in 1977 in Somalia. (The last known U.S. case dates back to 1949). However, in the aftermath of 9/11 and fears over the use of bioweapons, the U.S. military instituted the controversial smallpox vaccination program, as part of the Department of Defense’s “national strategy to safeguard Americans against smallpox attack.” To date, over a million service people have been vaccinated. This program has been in the news several times recently, as vaccinia infections have spread beyond the vaccinated individual and to family members and now, sexual partners. More after the jump.
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New blogs!

Busy today and have family visiting from out of town, so I’ll take a few minutes instead to highlight some fairly new blogs.

First I’ll note that my friend and colleague over in the Biology department, John Logsdon, has a new blog: Sex, Genes, and Evolution. He’s a real live evolutionary biologist working on a number of projects revolving around, well, sex and genes. And he has great hair.

Second, the American Society for Microbiology now has an official blog, Small Things Considered, written by past ASM president Moselio Schaechter. I’ve been meaning to mention it for awhile and keep forgetting, so if you’re new to it, you might want to check out his 6 month update post along with the rest of the microbiology content.

Third, Scienceblogs has been steadily adding additional blogs, and the newest one will likely interest many of you who read the HIV denial and intelligent design/creationism posts here: denialism blog, written by Mark and Chris Hoofnagle.

Finally, my blogroll maintenance has fallen by the wayside. Since I’ve had little time to devote to blogging period in the last few months, my efforts have been focused mostly on content and the other stuff has been ignored. So, I know there are a number of other blogs out there that I should probably add to ye olde blogroll, and I’ll probably do an overhaul after finals are over next week. If you have a blog, or know of a good one out there that I should check out, feel free to add suggestions in the comments.