Today's Headlines: April 11, 2019
Biological Agents & Infectious Diseases
DRC Sees Record-setting Day, with 18 Ebola Cases ( CIDRAP ) Today the Democratic Republic of the Congo recorded 18 new cases in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri province, the largest single-day jump since the outbreak began last August. The previous record was 16 cases, on Apr 7. Go to article

Government Affairs & National Security
Pentagon Cancels Contract for JASON Advisory Panel ( Federation of American Scientists ) In a startling blow to the system of independent science and technology advice, the Department of Defense decided not to renew its support for the JASON defense science advisory panel, it was disclosed yesterday. “Were you aware that [the JASON contract] has been summarily terminated by the Pentagon?” That was one of the first questions asked by Rep. Jim Cooper, chair of the House Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee, at a hearing yesterday (at about 40’20”). Go to article
Global Health Security
Shifting the Paradigm — Applying Universal Standards of Care to Ebola Virus Disease ( New England Journal of Medicine ) As the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 10th outbreak of Ebola virus disease rages in this resource-limited, war-torn region, advances in the delivery of supportive care and the introduction of investigational therapies provide a glimmer of hope amid the mounting infections. In the absence of effective therapies or vaccines, EVD outbreak response has centered around the most basic of public health principles — identification and isolation of patients with suspected and confirmed EVD and tracking of all the contacts of the confirmed patients, who are then rapidly isolated if they show signs of disease. Go to article
Improving Access to Affordable Vaccines for Middle-income Countries in the African Region (Vaccine ) Despite the remarkable power of immunization reducing morbidity and mortality due to vaccine preventable diseases, one in five African children still does not receive all the basic, necessary vaccines. This is particularly true of the 10 middle-income countries in the WHO African Region, where data demonstrates that immunization coverage is decreasing. Go to article
Health Systems: Emergency-care Systems ( WHO ) The Sixtieth World Health Assembly, having considered the report on health systems: emergency-care systems. Recalling resolutions WHA56.24 on implementing the recommendations of the World report on violence and health and WHA57.10 on road safety and health, which respectively noted that violence was a leading worldwide public health problem and that road-traffic injuries caused extensive and serious public-health problems. Go to article

China’s African Swine Fever Epidemic Drives up Inflation in March ( South China Morning Post) China’s consumer price inflation rose sharply in March, as the country struggles to contain the impact of an African swine fever epidemic that has sent pork prices soaring. Consumer price inflation rose 2.3 per cent year-on-year, a large increase on February’s figure, when consumer prices rose by 1.5 per cent. Go to article
Medicine & Public Health
Should CRISPR Be Used to Edit Human Genes to Treat Genetic Diseases? ( Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health Magazine ) Gene editing to treat a disease is potentially an important pathway to alleviating suffering, and this research should be continued despite egregious misuse of the technology (a Chinese scientist’s recent claims of editing genes of human embryos). Understanding the safety and efficacy of proposed human somatic cell genome-editing applications in the context of risks and benefits is paramount. Transparent and inclusive public policy debates should come before any use of gene editing beyond treatment or disease prevention. Go to article
Risk Factors for MERS-CoV Seropositivity among Animal Market and Slaughterhouse Workers, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 2014-2017 ( Emerging Infectious Diseases ) Camel contact is a recognized risk factor for Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus infection. Because specific camel exposures associated with MERS-CoV seropositivity are not fully understood, we investigated worker–camel interactions and MERS-CoV seroprevalence. We assessed worker seroprevalence in 2 slaughterhouses and 1 live-animal market in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, during 2014-2017 and administered an epidemiologic survey in 2016 and 2017. During 2014-2017, we sampled 100-235 workers, and 6%-19% were seropositive for MERS-CoV at each sampling round. Go to article
Novel Method for Rapid Detection of Spatiotemporal HIV Clusters Potentially Warranting Intervention ( Emerging Infectious Diseases ) Rapid detection of increases in HIV transmission enables targeted outbreak response efforts to reduce the number of new infections. We analyzed US HIV surveillance data and identified spatiotemporal clusters of diagnoses. This systematic method can help target timely investigations and preventive interventions for maximum public health benefit. Go to article
Science & Technology
Chinese Scientists Have Put Human Brain Genes in Monkeys—and Yes, They May Be Smarter ( MIT Technology Review ) Human intelligence is one of evolution’s most consequential inventions. It is the result of a sprint that started millions of years ago, leading to ever bigger brains and new abilities. Eventually, humans stood upright, took up the plow, and created civilization, while our primate cousins stayed in the trees. Go to article
Deep Learning: New Computational Modelling Techniques for Genomics ( Nature Reviews Genetics ) As a data-driven science, genomics largely utilizes machine learning to capture dependencies in data and derive novel biological hypotheses. However, the ability to extract new insights from the exponentially increasing volume of genomics data requires more expressive machine learning models. By effectively leveraging large data sets, deep learning has transformed fields such as computer vision and natural language processing. Now, it is becoming the method of choice for many genomics modelling tasks, including predicting the impact of genetic variation on gene regulatory mechanisms such as DNA accessibility and splicing. Go to article
Early Existence and Biochemical Evolution Characterise Acutely Synaptotoxic PrPSc ( PLOS Pathogens ) Although considerable evidence supports that misfolded prion protein (PrPSc) is the principal component of “prions”, underpinning both transmissibility and neurotoxicity, clear consensus around a number of fundamental aspects of pathogenesis has not been achieved, including the time of appearance of neurotoxic species during disease evolution. Utilizing a recently reported electrophysiology paradigm, we assessed the acute synaptotoxicity of ex vivo PrPSc prepared as crude homogenates from brains of M1000 infected wild-type mice (cM1000) harvested at time-points representing 30%, 50%, 70% and 100% of the terminal stage of disease. Go to article

Other 21 st Century Threats
What Spy-satellite Companies Can Teach NASA About Climate Change ( The Atlantic ) The sky has filled with eyes, and NASA is starting to notice. Over the past several years, venture-funded start-ups have hurled hundreds of inexpensive satellites into orbit. For-profit companies have used smartphone technology to make compact satellites that look down at Earth and monitor its every oceanic gurgle, erupting volcano, or forest conflagration. Hundreds of these satellites might gaze down at the same time; they are organized in what are called (rather poetically) “constellations.” Go to article

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