Steps toward a universal flu vaccine

Researchers at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine have developed a novel influenza vaccine that could represent the next step towards a universal influenza vaccine eliminating the need for seasonal immunizations. They report their findings today in the inaugural issue of mBio™, the first online, open-access journal published by the American Society for Microbiology.

Current influenza vaccines are effective against only a narrow range of influenza virus strains. It is for this reason that new vaccines must be generated and administered each year…

The main reason the current seasonal vaccine is so strain-specific is that the antibodies it induces are targeted at the globular head of the hemaglutinin (HA) molecule on the surface of the influenza virus. This globular head is highly variable and constantly changing from strain to strain.

In this study [.pdf] the researchers constructed a vaccine using HA without its globular head. Mice immunized with the headless HA vaccine showed a broader, more robust immune response than mice immunized with full-length HA, and that immune response was enough to protect them against a lethal viral challenge…

In a related article, also appearing in the inaugural issue of mBio™, Antonio Cassone…and Rino Rappuoli…comment on the research and movement in the future towards universal vaccines.

“Recent research demonstrating the possibility of protecting against all influenza A virus types or even phylogenetically distant pathogens with vaccines based on highly conserved peptide or saccharide sequences is changing our paradigm,” they write. “Is influenza the only disease that warrants approaches for universal vaccines? Clearly it is not.”

They go on to note that a universal pneumococcal vaccine is already being discussed, as well as one for HIV. Universal vaccine strategies could also be used to protect against antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi for which no vaccine is currently available.

Bravo! Production of universal vaccines would be an enormous step forward for availability and cost.

“Thrill of the chase” led to encouraging suicides – WTF?

Melchert-Dinkel leaving court in Minnesota
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

A judge in the US state of Minnesota has ordered a former nurse accused of encouraging suicide on the internet to stay offline.

William Melchert-Dinkel, 47, is charged in connection with the deaths of Briton Mark Drybrough in 2005, and Canadian Nadia Kajouji in 2008.

He allegedly posed as a female nurse, advising people in chatrooms on how to take their own lives. He reportedly admitted helping up to five people kill themselves…

If convicted, Mr Melchert-Dinkel faces up to 15 years in prison.

Prosecutors say Mr Melchert-Dinkel admitted he had encouraged “dozens” of people to commit suicide for the “thrill of the chase”…

The criminal complaint mentions two people: Mark Drybrough, 32, who hanged himself in Coventry in 2005, and Nadia Kajouji, 18, who drowned in 2008 in a river in Ottawa…

Some legal experts say it could be difficult to prosecute Mr Melchert-Dinkel because he allegedly only encouraged the victims to kill themselves without physically helping them.

On one hand, I’ve long counseled and fought politically to support the right to die with dignity. On the other, a nutball like this who’s active on the Web just to see how many people he can push over the edge is disgusting.

The tale of how he was caught by an amateur geek-sleuth is a special tale on its own.

Bush era oil rig inspectors were on the take

Federal inspectors overseeing oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico accepted meals and tickets to sporting events from companies they monitored, the Interior Department’s inspector general concluded in a report released today.

In one case, an inspector in the Minerals Management Service office in Lake Charles, Louisiana, conducted inspections of four offshore platforms while negotiating a job with the company, the report states. Others let oil and gas company workers fill out their inspection forms in pencil, with the inspectors writing over those entries in ink before turning them in.

Some in the same office accepted tickets to the 2005 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, a college football bowl game. One inspector told an office clerk, “Everyone has gotten some sort of gift before at some point” from companies they regulated, according to the report.

Investigators from the Inspector General’s Office, the Interior Department’s independent watchdog agency, took their findings to federal prosecutors in Louisiana, the report states. But the U.S. attorney’s office in Lake Charles declined to bring charges, according to the report…

The period covered in the report is well before the April explosion that sank the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, resulting in a massive oil spill that well owner BP and federal authorities are trying to cap a month later. But Mary Kendall, the Interior Department’s acting inspector general, said she pushed for the report’s early release after the disaster.

“Of greatest concern to me is the environment in which these inspectors operate — particularly the ease with which they move between industry and government,” Kendall wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Many of the inspectors joined the Minerals Management Service from the industry and had relationships with people in the business that originated “well before they took their jobs with industry or government.”

Their peers in the Pentagon and the U.S. military had the same revolving door/country club buddy relationship with corporate vendors from the military-industrial complex. State bureaucrats always thought it part of the official processes to be wined and dined at the Petroleum Club in Shreveport.

The standards for Federal Attorneys during the Bush years are already well established. If you weren’t a flunky for the Republican Party – you were out of a job.

I’m not certain that 8 years of an Obama administration is long enough to clean all the manure out of the stables – from 8 years of Bush and Cheney?

Don’t tell the TSA to piss off! There’s a Federal database for that.

Get in line! Keep your hands where I can see ’em! No talking!
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Airline passengers who get frustrated and kick a wall, throw a suitcase or make a pithy comment to a screener could find themselves in a little-known Homeland Security database.

The Transportation Security Administration says it is keeping records of people who make its screeners feel threatened as part of an effort to prevent workplace violence.

Privacy advocates fear the database could feed government watch lists and subject innocent people to extra airport screening…

A TSA report says the database can include names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, home addresses and phone numbers of people involved in airport incidents, including aggressors, victims and witnesses.

Incidents in the database include threats, bullying or verbal abuse, remarks about death or violence, brandishing a real or fake weapon, intentionally scaring workers or excessive displays of anger such as punching a wall or kicking equipment, the report says…

A TSA document published in February says database information can be given to government agencies and to airports, airlines and rail and bus systems in cases involving their workers or job applicants. “They may be contacted by the TSA if an incident involves their employee,” Lee said.

Uncle Sugar continues to expand the Big Brother act. It begins to feel as if every new agency formed to protect us really focuses on keeping an eye on us.

Though I suppose pissed-off Americans who don’t have anything to do with terrorism are easier to track. Probably should revise the TSA mission statement to identify folks who are disagreeable – or cranky?

Obama finally gets off the fence on “Don’t ask, don’t tell!”

Gay rights advocates handcuffed to White House fence to protest Obama foot-dragging
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Following a pair of meetings with advocates, the White House issued a statement in support of attaching an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would repeal the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy this year but delay implementation until President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen certify the Pentagon’s review of the policy…

Under the proposal, Congress would repeal the statute this year, but the current military policy would remain in place until officials certified the results of the study. Servicemembers could presumably be discharged under the more lenient guidelines enforcing the ban released by Gates in March.

The administration finally backed what repeal advocates have previously described as the delay-implementation strategy [Read the full letter HERE [.pdf]]:

While there appear to be enough votes to pass repeal in the House, advocates are most concerned about attracting the 15 votes needed to attach the amendment to the defense authorization bill in the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is scheduled to begin marking up the measure tomorrow. Votes on both measures have been tentatively scheduled for Thursday.

Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), the third-ranking House Republican, “promised unified GOP opposition to lifting the ban.”

Republicans will continue to stand firm to their homophobe agenda – opposing civil rights for all citizens of American. Screw the Bill of Rights, eh?

Abortion services advertised on UK television for first time

Sexual health charity Marie Stopes has launched the first UK TV commercial to offer advice on abortion services.

The TV ad shown on Channel 4, features a number of women from different walks of life who are “late”. A voiceover says that being late for a period could mean pregnancy.

“If you’re pregnant and not sure what to do Marie Stopes International can help,” runs the voiceover. The ad finishes with the strapline “Are you late?…”

Marie Stopes said that the ad, which has been made by ad agency icreate4, will “empower women to reach confident, informed decisions about their sexual health”.

Many will be surprised that only now will the first advert be broadcast on television to give women information about options they have following an unwanted pregnancy,” said Naomi Phillips, the head of public affairs at the British Humanist Association.

“It is vital that women with unintended and unwanted pregnancies are able to access, in a timely way, accurate, objective information about all of the options open to them. It seems that television advertising could be an effective way of reaching thousands of such women, and is to be welcomed.”

Even if our government here in the States would back up the right to offer such an advert, we’d have to sue most TV networks to get them to run it.

Stepping forward into the 21st Century ain’t too likely when dealing with religions, politicians and corporate governance rooted solidly in the 19th Century.

Scotch distillery turns whisky into watts

Creating renewable energy from whisky might sound like a harebrained scheme conceived at the end of a long evening drinking the amber nectar. But an independently-owned Scottish distillery is hoping that the installation of a new biogas generator will prove to be a lasting moment of environmental clarity and help solve their energy problems.

This month, Bruichladdich — one of eight distilleries to be found on the Scottish isle of Islay — will take delivery of an anaerobic digester which will start turning their whisky waste into electricity.

Mark Reynier, owner of Bruichladdich Distillery, hopes the digester will meet around 80 percent of its electricity needs and save the company up to $175,000 every year.

Reynier told CNN: “Our waste product is basically water left over after you’ve stripped all the alcohol out. It’s called, rather unromantically, pot ale.”

Every year, several hundred thousand liters of pot ale waste are taken away by a tanker and poured down a pipeline that feeds it into the Sound of Islay off the eastern coast of the island.

Its disposal is a costly business (in the region of $30,000 annually) and allied to rising energy costs it has forced the distillery to rethink how it sources its energy.

“We’ve looked at biomass and green energies and dismissed them one by one as being completely impractical and uneconomic for an industrial purpose,” Reynier said. “But one thing we can do is use this proven technology and generate biogas…”

If the biogas trial proves a success, the pot ale that was pumped into the sea on a daily basis will instead be continuously fed into the digester creating something of a virtuous production circle.

But Reynier says transforming the distillery isn’t about being “some sort of eco-warrior” but rather about just trying to be sensible.

“We are practical people — you have to be on an island like this,” he said.

I’d love to help him out with practical solutions like this. They could pay me in single malt – anytime.