Scientists close to universal flu vaccine
Flu season is a dreadful time that often causes mass panic. Hopefully, this won’t be the case for much longer. Researchers are working on a universal flu vaccine that could target all flu strains and prevent another pandemic from ever happening again (like the 2009 swine flu pandemonium).
Currently, there is a new flu vaccine every year to target the changing proteins on the surface of the flu virus. Researchers are now shifting their focus to hone in on the core of the virus, which changes less. A team of UK scientists at the Imperial College London reported on this approach in Nature Medicine. Using a natural experiment of a real flu pandemic, 342 volunteers donated blood and nasal swabs during the 2009 swine flu pandemic. The participants were tracked over time and answered questionnaires on their health and symptoms over the next two flu seasons. If they reported flu-like symptoms again, another nasal swab was sent in.
After analyzing the data, researchers discovered people who fell severely ill produced less CD8 T cells, an immune cell that kills viruses and target the core of the flu virus, compared to those who remained generally healthy. Therefore, the report concluded a vaccine that can prompt the immune system to produce more CD8 T cells would be effective in fighting all flu viruses.
There is still a long way to go in this possible vaccine development, but researchers are hopeful this new “blueprint” will make this hypothetical vaccine closer to a reality.
"Global Alzheimer's epidemic" predicted by 2050
The number of elderly needing care is predicted to almost triple by 2050—from 101 million to 277 million people— according to a report from Alzheimer’s Disease International. At the same time, the group notes, resources to help the elderly, including funding support and the number of caregivers, are expected to decrease.
The researchers say they are particularly concerned about the growing number of people needing care for dementia. They are warning of a looming “global Alzheimer’s epidemic.”
More than half of the 35 million people around the world living with dementia are located in low- and middle-income countries. Countries such as India and China are expected to see a significant upsurge in elderly care needs, researchers said.
Martin Prince, a professor at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry and author of the report, pointed to a number of factors contributing to the expected shortage of caregivers, including a decline in fertility rates, the increased education of women, resulting in more of them joining the workforce, and the migration of younger people into urban areas, meaning more older people will be left with fewer family members to care for them.
The report recommends giving paid and unpaid caregivers “appropriate financial rewards” and monitoring the quality of care more closely.
Smells used to calm fears while you sleep
Our sense of smell is attributed to a number of cognitive functions, like when the smell of a fresh apple pie triggers memories of home. What else can our sense of smell do? It may help diminish fear. A new study published in Nature Neuroscience suggests when people are exposed to specific smells while in a deep sleep, it mutes the feelings associated with certain fears.
Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine tested this method on 15 people who were shown pictures of two different faces while receiving a mild electric shock — to instill anxiety and/or fear — and certain scents, such as lemon, mint and wood. These same smells were then released while the participants slept deeply in a sleep lab. After they woke, the two pictures were shown to them again, without smells or shocks. Participants were less fearful of the face linked to a smell released during their sleep than the other face.
The amount of sweat from the skin and a fMRI were used to measure the level of fear. The fMRI revealed changes in the hippocampus, the area linked to memory, and the amygdala, the area linked to emotion. The experiment worked the best for people who slept longer.
These results show a promising new path for treating phobias. Researchers even suggest it may help to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, though more research is needed before expanding on this idea.
What are the worst U.S. cities for allergies?
In its latest ranking of the worst 100 U.S. cities for allergies, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America put Wichita at the top of the list of bad places to live if you have allergies. Other cities where those with allergies can expect to suffer are Jackson, Mississippi, which ranked number two, and Knoxville, Tennessee, which is listed third. By contrast, Colorado Springs, Sacramento and Portland, Oregon, finished at the bottom of the list.
The rankings were based on three factors: average pollen count, rate of allergy medicine use and ratio of allergists to patients.
This fall’s allergy season is expected to be worse than usual for the 40 million Americans suffering from allergies across the country. Experts say that a severe hurricane and tornado season contributes to a worse allergy season because it can increase the spread of pollen through wind. Last year’s Hurricane Sandy and other storms also resulted in residual outdoor molds, which could also help cause more severe allergies this year.
Dr. Leonard Bielory, an allergy specialist with the Rutgers Center for Environmental Prediction and a physician at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey, said a pattern of worsening allergies will continue in coming years. Pollen counts will increase by 20 percent by 2020, he said.
This year’s ranking, conducted annually, was funded partly by drug company Meda Pharmaceuticals, which produces an allergy medication.