NEWS SCAN: Cholera aid, norovirus in nursing homes, ricin vaccine patent, universal flu vaccine, virus sensor

Nov 23, 2010

PAHO: Cholera outbreak outpacing aid donations
Health officials responding to Haiti's cholera outbreak recently put out a plea for $124 million for outbreak response, but so far only 10% of that amount has been delivered, Dr Jon Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said today at a press briefing. Medical groups predict they will need enough medical supplies, equipment, and staffing to treat 400,000 cases over the next year, with about half of the illnesses expected to occur over the next 3 months. Authorities are investigating clusters of cases in new areas, Andrus said, adding, "Cholera is virtually everywhere in the country." PAHO is doubling its staff in Haiti, though he said civil unrest has confined some workers to their living quarters. According to preliminary data today from Haiti's health ministry, 60,240 people have been treated for cholera, of whom 25,248 were hospitalized and 1,415 died.

Norovirus outbreak hits 129 Illinois nursing-home residents
Three nursing homes in McHenry County, Illinois, have reported 129 people sick with suspected norovirus, according to the Northwest Herald, a county newspaper. Norovirus has been confirmed in 14 of the cases, and 5 people have been hospitalized due to the outbreak, according to the McHenry County Department of Health. Norovirus, which is very contagious, affects the gastrointestinal tract and causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, with symptoms typically lasting 1 to 2 days.
Nov 22 Northwest Herald story

Firm receives third patent for ricin vaccine
Soligenix Inc. of Princeton, N.J., yesterday reported receiving a third patent for its vaccine against ricin, a potent poison that is derived from castor beans and is viewed as a potential biological weapon. The vaccine, called RiVax, contains a recombinant subunit of the A chain of ricin and induces neutralizng antibodies in humans and animals, the company announcement said. The patent covers claims about alteration of sequences in the A chain that affect vascular leak, one of ricin's toxic effects, the company said. The induced mutations in the A chain eliminate the toxic effects of the molecule without changing its structure. Soligenix received two previous patents, in 2003 and 2005, for defined changes in the molecule. One phase 1 clinical trial of the vaccine has been completed and a second one, involving a more potent formulation, is under way, the company reported. The development of RiVax has been supported by the National Institutes of Health through challenge and cooperative grants to Soligenix and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where the vaccine originated. The second phase 1 trial is being supported by the US Food and Drug Administration's Office of Orphan Products Development.
Nov 22 Soligenix news release

Australian 'universal' flu vaccine to get clinical trial
An influenza vaccine that was developed in Australia and is described as a potential "universal" flu vaccine will get its first clinical trial in Indonesia, according to an Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) News report today. The vaccine, called Gamma-Flu, was developed at the Australian National University in Canberra and is made by Canberra-based Gamma Vaccines. According to the company, the vaccine consists of a whole flu virus that is inactivated by gamma radiation, which destroys the virus's genetic material, preventing replication, but leaves its proteins intact. The company said the vaccine stimulates effective cytotoxic T-cell activity that, in mice, protects against different influenza A strains.
Nov 23 ABC News story
Company information on Gamma-Flu vaccine

Miniature sensor said to sniff out Ebola, Marburg viruses
Researchers at Boston University (BU) say they have developed a biosensor the size of a quarter than can rapidly detect RNA-based viruses such as Ebola and Marburg in blood and other biologic samples, according to a BU press release. The findings were first described in a Nov 5 early online report from Nano Letters. Unlike PCR and ELISA testing, the samples don't need any preparation such as amplification or fluorescent tagging. Instead, the method uses nanohole arrays that transmit light more strongly at certain wavelengths. Measuring the shifts in resonance frequency can reveal the presence and concentration of virus in the solution. Dr Hatice Altug, assistant professor of engineering at BU, said in the press release that the testing platform can be adapted for point-of-care use to detect a broad range of viral pathogens in limited clinical settings, including defense and homeland security applications.
Nov 22 BU press release
Nov 5 Nano Letters abstract

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