New (as yet unnamed) Ebola strain found in Uganda

Since its discovery, only a few countries have really been affected by Ebola. The virus has surfaced multiple times in the Democractic Republic of Congo, in Sudan, in Gabon, and now in Uganda. This country was last hit (and hit hard) by Ebola in 2000, when an outbreak there caused at least 425 cases, and killed more than half of those it infected. Now it’s currently causing yet another outbreak, just weeks after the outbreak in the DRC was confirmed to have ended–and the strain that’s causing this one seems to be distinct from the four known types of virus we’ve seen to date. More after the jump…
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The Discovery Institute’s a-comin’ to Iowa

Like the gift that never stops giving, the Discovery Institute is taking its dog and pony show on the road, and heading right here to Iowa in order to plead (via press conference) Discovery Institute fellow Guillermo Gonzalez‘s case for tenure. You may recall the Iowa State assistant professor of astronomy was denied tenure there this past May, and he and the DI have contended that this was due to his support for intelligent design, rather than any other issues with his performance or scholarship.

Not content to simply leave it at that, Gonzalez has appealed his tenure denial, and is continuing to do so all the way to the Board of Regents, which will visit the issue in February. However, as PZ and Wes highlight, the DI is kick-starting their “Gonzalez as martyr” case a bit early. More after the jump…
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“Tree man” diagnosis and treatment upsets Indonesian health minister

Revere has been covering the situation in Indonesia regarding sharing of influenza viruses with the US and other countries. For those of you who don’t follow these issues, Indonesia has been the country hardest hit thus far by H5N1 (113 cases and 91 deaths as of 11/12/07). However, while one might think they would welcome outside help with diagnostics and strain typing, they’ve been very reluctant to share their viruses. Revere explains:

But Indonesia still refuses to share its human H5N1 isolates, contending they get nothing tangible from an arrangement which is likely to lead to vaccines they won’t be able to afford. Under the current system, which allows intellectual property rights to cover vaccines developed from WHO supplied seed strains to Big Pharma, they are probably right. Their position is a grim example of how the crazy patenting system can come back to bite us.

This concern reaches beyond H5N1, and intersects with Dede’s (the “Tree man”) plight to obtain a diagnosis and treatment for his weird condition. Turns out the Indonesian health minister is not happy about Dede’s samples being removed from the country; more after the jump.
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Grand Rounds 4.10

Apologies for the lack of posting; been a busy fall here. I’ll have a real post up later today; in the meantime, I’ll note that the latest edition of Grand Rounds is up over at Prudence, M.D.

Of jackalopes and tree men–and the virus they have in common

It still amazes me sometimes what viruses are capable of doing. I’ve written a number of times about one virus in particular, the human papilloma virus (HPV). This is the virus implicated in cervical cancer, and it also plays a role in head and neck cancers. There are a number of different strains of HPV–some of them are oncogenic (cancer-causing), while others cause more benign infections, such as warts.

A related virus in rabbits also causes a type of warts, which can replicate out of control and form horny growths (indeed, this is the likely origin of the jackalope myth). Humans are usually able to keep these growths under control, and warts, while annoying, typically don’t have major effects on one’s quality of living. However, like rabbits, sometimes these infections can get out of control, as in the recently reported case of Dede, an Indonesian fisherman dubbed the “tree man” due to his root-like warty growths (video at the link). More after the jump…
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Help save the Tasmanian devil

Last month, I wrote an update on the strange cancer affecting Tasmanian devils–a tumor cell that’s taken on a life of its own, and is spreading through the population as the animals fight. Now, via PZ comes something you can do to help–donate and help to save this species:

Help the Tasmanian devil with 6 top funding priorities:

1. Investigating the tumour and its chromosomes, looking for clues to resistance
2.Keeping some area or areas of Tasmania free from the disease i.e. wild management
3.Maintaining backup captive populations of devils in Tasmania as ‘insurance’
4.Developing a diagnostic test for the disease
5.Developing a vaccine against the disease
6.Monitoring changes in populations affected by the disease

Revamping funding via powerpoint and IM?

Now that a proposed increase of funding to NIH has again been shot down, scientists have to once again face the reality of intense competition for very scarce funds.

However, the process of awarding research grants is, well, a bit crazy. Scientists work for months on a grant, drafting, revising, trying to winnow it down to fit the page limitations, finding collaborators and assembling potential research teams, obsessing about minutiae in the methods section. We then cross our fingers and send them off for review (which can take many months), and hope that they’ll be well-received. When they’re not, at least they usually come back with helpful comments and suggestions to strengthen the proposal for the next attempt at funding.

However, sometimes it’s clear that the reviewers either didn’t read the proposal carefully (somewhat understandably, as reviewing grant applications is a difficult and rather thankless job), or simply didn’t “get” what was being proposed. A problem with the latter is the time lag–again, it can take months from submission to the point where the researcher receives comments on the grant application, and by the time the grant is revised and resubmitted, another few months may go by. Therefore, quite literally years may be spent just trying to secure funding–sometimes longer than the project itself would take.

Many agree that the process is a problem. What’s more contentious is how to fix it. Michael at Only in it for the gold sends a plea to science funding agencies for a different tactic besides the traditional proposal:

I want to do what I would do in a business setting. I want to look you in the eye and explain to you why you would be foolish not to fund my proposal; i.e.;

1) that you have a problem,
2) that I know how to solve it
3) that my team has or can find the right people to solve it
4) that those objections which make any sense are already accounted for in the plan

If I can’t look you in the eye, could we at least try instant messaging?

Comments on the post range from agreeable to Michael as “another well-meaning gullible innocent to the slaughter…” What’s your take on it?

A study in contrasts

Two recent stories highlight the good and the bad when it comes to infectious disease prevention.

The good

Death rates for vaccine-preventable diseases are at an all-time low:

The study, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (link), is the first time that the agency has searched historical records going back to 1900 to compile estimates of cases, hospitalizations and deaths for all the diseases children are routinely vaccinated against.

In nine of the diseases, rates of death or hospitalization declined more than 90 percent since vaccines against them were approved, and in the cases of smallpox, diphtheria and polio, by 100 percent.

In only four diseases — hepatitis A and B, invasive pneumococcal diseases and varicella (the cause of chickenpox and shingles) — did deaths and hospitalizations fall less than 90 percent. Those vaccines are all relatively new — the one for chickenpox, for example, was adopted nationally only in 1995. Also, some diseases like hepatitis typically strike adults, who are less likely to be immunized.

(More after the jump…)
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