Is This the Future of Flu Vaccines?
See that picture up above? You’re looking at one of the most advanced weapons (to fight a microscopic enemy) the human race has ever created. It’s a nanoparticle (in gray) coated with synthetically produced coat proteins (HA, to be precise) from the influenza virus. Normally, flu mashes its coat proteins together like so:
The nanoparticles may be a major step toward a universal vaccine, which, of course, would be an awesome thing to have, save millions of lives, help us prevent a mass pandemic, etc.
Because flu viruses mutate, shuffle and swap their genes so frequently, the precise shape of the proteins that make up their spiky suit of armor is constantly being tweaked. It’s like how, from afar, a Sarahan sand dune might appear the same shape and height from day to day, but when you look closely, the precise contours of its windswept dimpled have been changed ever so slightly by erosion. On and on it changes, never the same twice.
Our immune system relies on sentry proteins called antibodies in order to recognize foreign invaders like flu based on their binding to those precise contours and shapes, like tiny chinks in the armor. The exact set of antibodies that killed last year’s flu are stored in your immune system’s memory, ready to keep you safe from that infection in the future. Because the flu virus shuffles and tweaks its shape from year to year, we are constantly playing catch-up, reacting to new armor every year. It’s like going home to find the lock changed, every day having to cut a new key.
If we could just make antibodies that bind to an unchanging part of the viral protein, like the trunks of those blue protein trees up there, we might be able to defend ourselves from future mutants with a single vaccination. But the virus keeps those parts hidden just enough to keep otherwise universal antibodies from attacking it.
That’s where this new research from Gary Nabel and his group might come in handy. By attaching the HA coat protein (again, the blue thing) from influenza to nanoparticles, their Achilles Heel is exposed and strong, universal antibodies are amplified and stored in your body’s defense bank. They built this nanoparticle vaccine from a 1999 strain’s HA protein, and it protected animals from a half-century’s worth of H1N1 viruses! It’s as close to universal as I’ve ever heard.
Point: humans. But, these are tricky bugs, and we shouldn’t get cocky, especially without human trials (yet). But we have brains, and they don’t. That’s really our best weapon, no?
The story of Andrew Wakefield and his (unethical/unscientific/infuriating) fight against vaccine science is not only worth knowing and sharing (because vaccines are so important to our health), but it also serves as one of our era’s most challenging and enlightening scientific and philosophical battles.
I try to stress to my patients that you can’t predict when [vaccine-preventable diseases] are going to show up — and you can’t protect your child any other way. Pediatricians have no hidden agenda; our agenda is to protect kids. We’ve been there with incredibly sick children, and when you see that, you want to do everything you can to stop it.
Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician and author of the Baby 411 books.
A must-read in Parade magazine from vaccine defender Seth Mnookin: Why So Many Parents Are Delaying or Skipping Vaccines.
How 3 vaccines can save us $63 billion, in an infographic.
Of course, four could save us more. And five, well that means even more are alive.
Six, seven, eleven? Polio goes to heaven.
It’s been almost a year and a half since I visited the Jenny McCarthy Body Count. In that time, it looks like over 250 unnecessary vaccine-preventable deaths and over 20,000 illnesses have occurred because of Jenny and her ilk spreading brain-meltingly frustrating misinformation about the safety of vaccines.
This from a woman whose website has the following headline up today: 21 Benefits of Enzymes and Why You Need Them … oh I dunno, maybe to complete basic biological functions and literally BE ALIVE?!?!
A society that cares about science more will be a society that cares less about Jenny McCarthy. Keep up the good fight, and keep sharing science with your friends. Someone’s life may depend on it.
She was Blossom. She plays Amy Farrah on The Big Bang Theory. She holds a real-life PhD in neuroscience. There’s a lot to love about Mayim Bialik.
Marziah had this to say on the Wired "GeekMom" blog:
Stop being responsible for the measles or pertussis revivals. Once you blog about it and talk about it on interviews, like the one you did recently for Science Friday, you’re no longer just influencing your friends. It’s no longer a private, personal decision. You’re influencing everyone within earshot. Stop being a disease vector. Stop pretending like the only person affected by your decisions is you. Start acting like the role model you aspire to be.
Someone with Bialik’s influence and credentials shouldn’t be endorsing this kind of behavior. She plays someone very smart on TV, and she should start acting like that instead of sharing a pediatrician with Jenny McCarthy.
I say this because so many of my readers are fans of hers and of her show, and if you believe in science you know that this is wrong.
That was the announcement from Arianna Huffington this morning. HuffPo will be launching a science section, a “one-stop shop for the latest scientific news and opinion.” It will be anchored by Cara Santa Maria, and established science writer, and edited by David Freeman, former CBSNews.com health editor.
Science writers at large have made no secret of our distaste for HuffPo’s previous commentary on science. I’m no exception, as I wrote this scathing criticism on my old (now-dead) blog in 2010. My opinion has not changed much since then. Their record on woo medicine and anti-vaccine commentary has been the stuff of legends.
I have to confess that I haven’t read anything on HuffPo in over a year. This is expressly because of their attitudes toward science up to now (I’m also not a huge fan of their habit of not paying their writers). But maybe this is a sign of a new era for Arianna and crew. I mean, HuffPo did invite Seth Mnookin, lead soldier of the anti-antivax crew, to contribute to their launch. Strangely, Arianna’s opening letter made no mention of their past transgressions … so are they departing from them or just ignoring them?
But it might also be a way to capitalize on the growing wave in science blogging and web journalism that the rest of us are helping push, putting a few more ad-revenue clicks in their coffers inflating their reach a bit more.
Needless to say it will be interesting, and we’ll be watching.
If you need irony to fuel your anger, Jenny McCarthy will be co-hosting ABC’s NYE coverage. Help prevent potentially millions of people from being fed dangerous, unscientific lies.
I mean, if anywhere on Earth could be considered a public health/communicable disease nightmare in the making, it’s a bunch of drunk people in Times Square swapping spit at midnight.
Here’s the ad in question:
The National Vaccine “Information” Center (NVIC) is running a misleading and dangerous anti-vaccine ad on the ABC screen in TImes Square that could be seen by millions during televised NYE celebrations.
Help get this ad pulled. I encourage you to sign the petition.