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    Fighting Cancer with T Cell Therapy

    Cancer is a brutal disease that so far has had no single cure. As cells mutate and grow uncontrollably, cancerous tumors plague the body. There are a few treatments that are used to either stop cell growth, shrink tumors, or attempt to cure the person of the disease. Mayo Clinic lists a few treatment methods including chemotherapy, radiation, cryoablation, hormone therapy, and bone marrow transplant. In this post, another method of cancer treatment will be discussed; the use of T cell therapy.

    Image by NIH Image Gallery via Flickr

    T cells are a specific group of white blood cells that utilize adaptive immunity and mature in the thymus. These special cells are part of the body’s frontline defense against disease. When we get sick, T cells are responsible for finding and attacking the cause of illness or infection. Penn Medicine notes that in the case of cancer, these T cells are not deployed in time to stop the disease; and when they are released, they are not effective.

    However, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are working to modify the T cells of cancer patients to hunt for cancerous cells before it is too late to fight the disease. This treatment is known as CAR T cell therapy, a process that begins with removing a patient’s own T cells through apheresis. The T cells are then reprogrammed in a research lab where a gene transfer technique is used to teach the cells to recognize the cancer. These newly engineered T cells are then introduced back into the patient’s immune system intravenously. Once infused into the bloodstream, the new T cells can begin to multiply and are prepared to fight the cancer. CAR T cell therapy is now FDA approved for several cancer types and is continuing to show promising results in clinical trials.

  • Image of infectious Mono by Ed Uthman via Flickr

    Urgency for the Malaria Vaccine

    Malaria is a vector-borne disease that is transmitted by mosquito bites. It is very common in tropical climates and is known for causing flu-like symptoms. In some cases, symptoms can become severe enough to be fatal. The CDC noted that there were approximately 241 million malaria cases in the year 2020. They also reported 627,000 people died from the disease that same year, and that the majority were children from sub-Saharan Africa. Until recently, there has not been a vaccine to control malaria fatalities.

    An article on Science.org investigates this issue noting that the new, and only approved vaccine has low efficacy and lingering safety concerns. The vaccine, named Mosquirix, has only a 30% protection rate against severe cases of malaria even after four doses. Furthermore, this immunity only lasts four years and experts are questioning whether this vaccine is cost efficient. More concerning are the safety risks associated with Mosquirix, as children who received the vaccine had a ten times higher risk of meningitis. This correlation worried the World Health Organization to the point that they set up a pilot for the vaccine, which is a closely monitored vaccination program to ensure its safety.

    Another source discusses the severity of this situation by referencing a 2020 outbreak in which an invasive mosquito posed a risk to the urban population of Africa. Most malaria outbreaks are common in rural areas, and researcher note that large cities are typically safe from the disease. However, the invasive species, Anopheles stephensi, can thrive in clean water and therefore in urban areas. The source calls attention to the urgency of the situation stating that events like this could drastically change the movement and location of malaria in Africa. It is crucial that access to a reliable vaccine is achieved to lower these concerning infection and death rates.

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    A Mediterranean Diet – Party Foods

    It has been noted that typical Western eating habits, high in fats and sugars, results in serious health concerns. These eating habits are amplified by stress eating and celebrations, a relevant topic considering our basketball team’s impressive advancement to the National Championship! However, when we eat these foods that are bad for us – chips and dip, Buffalo wings, fries, the list goes on – they feed the more harmful bacteria in our gut microbiome. Practicing a healthy diet feeds the helpful bacteria, contributing to microbiota diversity, and promoting overall wellness. There are many different alternatives to a Western diet, but many researchers have pointed to a Mediterranean diet for better health.

    Image via Penn Medicine

    Penn Medicine notes that the Mediterranean diet is “a way of life”, including few meats and carbohydrates and more plant-based options like vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. The benefits of this type of diet are extensive, starting with lowered cholesterol and reduced risk of heart disease. With game day approaching, there may be a lot of unhealthy party foods circulated. Taking inspiration from the Mediterranean diet, we can introduce some healthier options for any watch party.

    An article describes a few popular Greek finger foods including lamb kebabs, spinach pie, and stuffed grape leaves. Stuffed grape leaves, known as Dolmas, are particularly favorable because they are low calorie and the leaves contain several vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin A, and vitamin B (as noted by Vaya). To make this dish, place 1 tablespoon of rice filling in the leaves, fold in the sides, and roll to make a cigar shape. The dolmas can then be placed in a large pot with water to cook.

    I’m finalizing this post after the final four game that we just WON! Hope you all get to enjoy some new finger foods at your Championship watch parties on Monday!! ūüôā

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    The Vaccine Testing Process

    Image by U.S. Secretary of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

    Vaccines are known for their ability to reduce infection rates, create heard immunity, and protect the population from very serious illnesses. The process for testing a new vaccine is very thorough and consists of four phases. A YouTube video provided by John Hopkins Medicine explores each of these stages that new vaccines must pass before being approved by the FDA. It is widely known that several SARS-CoV-2, or Covid, vaccines have successfully been released in the last 24 months. An additional SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is currently being evaluated.

    The John Hopkins Medicine video describes the four phases of vaccine approval as follows. Phase I involves the introduction of the vaccine and an analysis of its safety given the immune response. Once the vaccine is considered safe at this level, it can move on to Phase II where the dosage and some side effects are tested on a few hundred subjects. Phase III involves efficacy studies with tens of thousands of people involved to see how a wider population will respond. The last phase is Phase IV, which is when the manufacturer can apply to the FDA to get a license for the vaccine (John Hopkins Medicine). 

    A new SARS-CoV-2 viral vector vaccine is being tested and is currently in Phase III of this testing process. An article in The New England Journal of Medicine details a study that examines AZD1222, its safety, and its efficacy. The methods involved a ‚Äúdouble-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, phase 3 clinical trial‚ÄĚ and the results determined that the vaccine was safe with an estimated efficacy of 83.5% (Falsey et al.) Though this vaccine has not reached the final stage in receiving approval, it has shown promising potential. An AstraZeneca article reports that “two different dosing regiments demonstrated efficacy…” and “no hospitalizations or severe cases of COVID-19 in participants treated with AZD1222”. Still, this vaccine will need to be approved by the FDA before it can be widely distributed.

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    The Vaccine Controversy

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    Over the years, parents have been choosing not to vaccinate their children for fear of possible side effects. An infamous study by¬†Wakefield¬†suggested that the MMR vaccine was correlated to autism diagnosis in children. However, there are several scientific studies that have disproved his theory and discredited his research. It seems that there was questionable variance between the information reported by Wakefield et al. and information found elsewhere pertaining to the subjects. Bias is also a significant factor considering that the participants were not randomly selected and were part of JABS, an organization with anti-vaccination undertones. It was also found that many of the participants involved in his study showed symptoms for the health conditions Wakefield claimed to be correlated with vaccination prior to actually being vaccinated. To top it all off, investigative reporter, Brian Deer, stated that “Wakefield was being paid ¬£435,000 to build a case linking the MMR vaccine to autism” (Zane 2018). After all of this controversy,¬†Wakefield’s paper was retracted¬†from the Lancet 12 years after publication in February of 2010.¬†

    Another study by¬†The New England Journal of Medicine¬†directly discredits Wakefield’s statements and concludes with evidence that the MMR vaccination is not the cause of autism. By tracing a cohort of children born between 1991 and 1998 in Denmark, the researchers found that autism is not statistically related to the MMR vaccine. The study followed 537,303 children, 440,655 of which received the vaccine. In this case, the children who were not vaccinated could be referenced for the control variable. Results determined that the relative risk (RR) of autism as compared to the unvaccinated group was 0.92. The CDC defines the (RR) as the ratio of risk among one group against another and determines that an RR less than 1.0 indicates low or decreased risk for the disease/occurrence. This information supports the study‚Äôs conclusion that the MMR vaccine is not posing a risk for autism.¬†

    In my opinion, the benefits of vaccines outweigh their risks. Even if an individual is personally against vaccines, getting vaccinated can help protect the greater community through herd immunity. I can understand hesitation to the possible side effects, but research has shown that even this possibility is very slim. More attention should be placed on the studies that use science and unbiased research methods to combat misinformation on the topic of vaccines.

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    Two Cases: Salmonella Outbreaks

    Salmonella is a foodborne disease caused by bacteria that commonly creates illness in the United States and around the world. The CDC reports that the Salmonella bacteria is responsible for about 1.35 million infections and 420 deaths annually in the U.S.. Symptoms of the disease include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps, which can improve on their own but can also become quite severe. A few notable outbreaks of this particular disease occurred in 2008 and 2021.

    Image by NIAID via Wikimedia Commons

    In the year 2008, a Salmonella outbreak caused by contaminated jalape√Īo and serrano peppers affected 43 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. Tomatoes were being considered a source for this outbreak, however an article by The Produce News determined that they were never involved in the transmission of this disease. With over 1,400 cases, it was reported that at least 286 people were hospitalized and that the illness contributed to two deaths (CDC 2008).

    A more recent outbreak occurred in 2021 and affected 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Approximately 1,135 people got sick as a result of this outbreak. A significant portion of the cases were children, with 25% of the infected population being younger than 5 years old and 12% being younger than 1 year old. The cause can be determined to be contact with backyard poultry as two-thirds of the people interviewed reported interaction with backyard poultry before falling ill (Food Safety News 2021). The reservoir for disease in this case would be animal.

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    Antibiotic Resistance: A Global Health Concern

    Image by Nick Youngson via Picpedia

    Antibiotic resistance is becoming a serious health concern as more and more microbes are adapting to survive treatment. There are several species that can be attributed to health complications associated with antibiotic resistance, and as more bacteria evolve the list will grow. Countries from all over the world collectively lose millions of lives due to this issue. Research and investment into this public health concern is vital in fighting it.

    A report by The Lancet discusses just how big of an issue antibiotic resistance is. The authors of this research study conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the effects antimicrobial resistance has had on 204 countries throughout 2019. Results of this study are unsettling. In 2019 alone, there were 4.95 million deaths associated with antibiotic resistance bacteria. The main bacteria responsible for these complications are Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. It was found that the most burdened region from this study was sub-Saharan Africa, while Australia was the least impacted. Still, this is an issue that is present worldwide and multiple species of bacteria are to blame.

    Image by Marco Verch Professional Photographer via Flickr

    To investigate further on this topic, I found information on the antibiotic resistance of foodborne illnesses, more specifically that of the bacteria Campylobacter. An article on this topic reports that “Campylobacter is one of the most commonly reported foodborne human bacterial gastrointestinal pathogens” (Yang et al. 2019). Generally, this disease does not require treatment; however, if the patient is immunocompromised the impact of this microbe can be severe and cause profound disease. The article reports that about 28 deaths in the United States occur annually due to this specific antibiotic resistance with approximately 310,000 potential cases. Attention is also brought to other areas that are affected by Campylobacter’s resistance such as India and Central America.

    So what is the solution? The CDC reports that it is taking action to “detect, respond, contain, and prevent resistant infections across healthcare settings” (2021). This includes raising money for research and antibiotic resistant combat efforts.

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    Effectiveness of Disinfecting

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    In the midst of flu season and the Covid pandemic, many of us are more intentional about cleaning and disinfecting our spaces to avoid getting sick. But how well do our cleaning products work? For this post, I will investigate one of the cleaning products I commonly use and how effective it has been. I will then discuss a method of making your own disinfectant product.

    Clorox wipes advertise themselves as disinfectant wipes that kill “99.9% of viruses and bacteria”. The active ingredients are n-Alkyl, Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Chloride, and Dimethyl Ethylbenzyl Ammonium Chloride and it is stated on the packaging that the wipes are effective in killing Covid-19, Staph, e. coli, MRSA, Salmonella, Strep, and Kleb. The directions indicate that the surface must be wiped for four minutes for disinfecting to be successful. I have used this product to clean door handles and desk surfaces, but have not followed the suggested directions to disinfect for four minutes. In this case, I have only been sanitizing my space and have not allowed enough time for the wipes to successfully disinfect. According to MedlinePlus, this means that the amount of microbes have been reduced to a safer level, but have not been eliminated.

    A big concern at the beginning of the pandemic was low supply of disinfectant products. USA Today presented a solution to this issue with an article on creating your own CDC-approved disinfectant wipes to clean your surfaces. There are two options mentioned in the article: a bleach-based solution and an alcohol-based solution. The only other materials needed for both options are water, an airtight container, and paper towels or cloths. The ratios of bleach to water or alcohol to water are stated in the article. According to this past week’s material, alcohol is effective in killing most microbes but do not eliminate endospores or non-enveloped viruses. Bleach is a germicide that reacts with organic matter and loses its effectiveness over time. Though some people may be hesitant about making their own disinfecting products and question their effectiveness as compared to name brands, I think creating your own products is just as effective because the same kinds of chemicals are being utilized.


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    Mutations in the Pandemic

    Image by Philippa Steinberg via Innovative Genomics Institute

    We are all very familiar with the term Covid and now are beginning to understand that there are several variants of the virus that have emerged over the past two years. The original virus, caused by SARS-CoV-2, was the strain that started the worldwide pandemic at the beginning of 2020. Over time, however, the original version of the virus has fizzled out as new versions become more noteworthy. As noted in a Johns Hopkins article, mutations in a virus’s genome are what cause new strains to emerge. These mutations are common in RNA viruses such as Covid, and are an ordinary occurrence when there is distinct geographic separation; a circumstance that is typical during a pandemic where the disease is spread throughout the world

    So what are the different strains, and how do they vary? The variants are distinguished by possessing one of the following qualities indicated by the WHO: increase in transmissibility, increase in virulence, and/or decrease in public health effectiveness over the virus (2022). The first few versions of the virus are known as Alpha, Beta, and Gamma; which emerged either in December of 2020 or January of 2021. Then came the Delta variant, first documented in India in October 2020, and now Omicron which was documented in multiple countries last November. Each of the new viruses possess a change in the genome as compared to the wild-type.

    Luckily, these genomic changes have not been severe enough to diminish the effectiveness of a vaccine. Even though some of the variants are more easily spread, updated vaccines and boosters should help in keeping the virus under control, similar to seasonal flu shots. Pfizer reports that Covid is mutating relatively slow for an RNA virus. This gives scientist sufficient time to update vaccines to protect the population.


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    How the Microbiome is Involved with Obesity Prevention

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    According to the World Health Organization, the obesity rate in recent years among adults was 13% and the percentage overweight was 39% worldwide (2021). Though these numbers are daunting, it is also definitively stated that obesity is a preventable disease. This week’s topic deals with the importance of the microbiome to human health, and specifically how it may be associated with the treatment and prevention of obesity.

    A New York Times article by Anahad O’Connor references quite a revolutionary idea for treating obesity – fecal transplants. Administered by means of a pill or colonoscopy, fecal transplants aim to reintroduce healthy microbes into the guts of obese individuals. O’Connor notes how the microbiomes in obese and lean people are strikingly different, with more biodiversity in those that are at a more healthy weight. When samples of microbes from healthy donors are introduced to recipients, their microbiome and metabolisms showed significant improvement. Though the studies mentioned in this article did not continue long enough to assess weight change, the resulting microscopic changes have favorable implications.

    An article from Nutrition Today, which also supports the promising potential of fecal transplants, notes a few other valuable treatment/prevention methods. The author remarks that diet has a huge effect on the composition of the microbiome and that diets high in fats and sugars create an abundance of some bacteria at the expense of other important microbes. Prevention methods for an unbalanced microbiome include taking prebiotics, probiotics, or synbiotics (a combination of pre- and probiotics) which directly aim to establish healthy bacteria in the gut. No matter the method employed, it is factual that obesity is a preventable condition and continued studies on the microbiome will help to lower the prevalence of this critical public health concern.


Image of infectious Mono by Ed Uthman via Flickr