Newly Engineered Highly Transmissible H5N1 Strain Ignites Controversy About Balancing Scientific Discovery And Public Safety
Scientists have engineered a new strain of H5N1 (commonly known as bird flu ) to be readily transmitted between humans. Two perspectives being published early online in Annals of Internal Medicine, the flagship journal of the American College of Physicians, raise concerns about if and how this research should be continued, and how the data should be shared for the benefit of public health. The currently circulating H5N1 virus has an extremely high case-fatality rate, killing about 60 percent of the over 500 confirmed human cases. However, unlike seasonal flu, to date H5N1 has not easily spread between humans. Recently, two scientific teams (not associated with the Annals perspectives authors) engineered the H5N1 virus to make it readily transmissible between ferrets. This means that it may be able to make it easily transmissible between humans as well.
Saturated Fatty Acids Lead to Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Insulin Resistance Excessive levels of certain saturated fatty acids cause mitochondria to fragment, leading to insulin resistance in skeletal muscle, a precursor of type 2 diabetes, according to a paper in the January issue of the journal Molecular and Cellular Biology. This is the first time mitochondrial fragmentation has been implicated in insulin resistance, says corresponding author Yau-Sheng Tsai, of the College of Medicine, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan, Republic of China. Mitochondria are the intracellular machines that turn sugar into energy, and skeletal muscle is packed with them. Normally, cells respond to insulin, a hormone, by importing glucose from the bloodstream. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance, a cellular impairment in glucose uptake.
A Georgetown University Medical Center professor says the voluntary action taken by two research teams to temporarily halt work involving the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 is "laudable." In the researchers' statement, published by Science and Nature, the authors stated that they "recognize that we and the rest of the scientific community need to clearly explain the benefits of this important research and the measures taken to minimize its possible risks." The statement comes in the wake of a debate following the U.S. government's request that Science and Nature withhold scientific information related to the genetically modified H5N1 virus because of biosecurity concerns. "This is a laudable decision to make sure that all voices are heard on such an important issue, " says John D.
US scientists propose that flu pandemics follow La NiĆ a weather conditions in the equatorial Pacific. The conditions alter bird migration patterns and this promotes new strains of flu (migrating birds are known to be primary pools of human influenza virus). However, since La NiĆ a occurs more frequently than global flu pandemics, the researchers suggest other factors must also come into it, and their findings are just one piece of the puzzle. Jeffrey Shaman of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard School of Public Health, write about their findings in a paper due to be published in PNAS this week. Shaman is assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School. He said in a statement that: "We know that pandemics arise from dramatic changes in the influenza genome.
On Thursday the Vietnamese authorities reported that a duck farmer has died of bird flu, coinciding with reports that a two-year-old boy in Cambodia has also died of the virus this week. The Vietnamese victim died on 11 January. According to the authorities this was the first human death from avian flu for nearly two years. The farmer kept ducks in the Mekong delta province of Hau Giang, but experts have yet to establish whether he caught the virus from his birds, according to an AFP report from Hanoi. The Cambodian toddler died early on Wednesday. He is the 17th person in Cambodia to die from bird flu, where fewer than 20 people are known to have become infected with the deadly H5N1 virus. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the boy came from Banteay Meanchey Province.