NEWS SCAN: Possible CJD treatment, public health funding, NCoV replication study

Apr 4, 2013

Study suggests astemizole may be useful for prion diseases
Scientists from the Florida campus of the Scripps Research Institute say an existing drug, astemizole, has potential for treating prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). CJD and variant CJD, the human form of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, are fatal neurodegenerative illnesses caused by misfolded prion proteins. The scientists used an innovative high-throughput screening technique to find compounds that decrease the amount of normal prion protein on cell surfaces, according to a Scripps press release. They found that astemizole, an antihistamine, and tacrolimus, an immune suppressant, reduced cell-surface prion protein and inhibited prion replication in neuroblastoma cells, according to the release and the authors' report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). In addition, astemizole, but not tacrolimus, increased the survival time of prion-infected mice. Although astemizole can cause rare cardiac arrhythmias in high doses, it has a well-established safety profile. Senior author Corrine Lasmezas, PhD, said astemizole seems to stimulate autophagy, the process by which cells eliminate unwanted components. She suggested the drug also may hold promise for treating other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Apr 1 PNAS abstract
Apr 3 Scripps press release

Report profiles sinking public health funding and state health statistics
A new report from the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation couples a profile of declining US public health funding with key health statistics for states. In a statement, TFAH, a nonpartisan advocacy group, said federal public health funding has been deficient and fairly flat for years. The budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after cresting at $7.31 billion in fiscal year 2005, dropped to $6.13 billion in FY 2012; per capita CDC spending in 2012 was $19.54. Average state spending on public health was $27.40 in 2012, down from $33.71 in 2008, amounting to a total cut of $1.15 billion. State and local health departments have shed 45,700 jobs since 2008. The report also notes wide differences in disease rates and health behaviors from state to state and among counties within states. Regarding infectious diseases, the report, titled Investing in America's Future: A State-by-State Look at Public Health Funding and Key Health Facts, looks at variables such as state rates of pneumococcal and influenza vaccination and tuberculosis cases.
Apr 4 TFAH statement

Tropism study identified key differences between NCoV and SARS
The novel coronavirus (NCoV) that has infected at least 17 people worldwide over the past year, killing 11, replicates in bronchial tissue more readily than the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) coronavirus, according to a study yesterday in the Journal of Virology. Hong Kong and US researchers used ex vivo cultures of human bronchus and lung tissue to explore tropism and viral replication following experimental infection with NCoV and the SARS virus, as well as human coronavirus 229E, which can cause the common cold. The investigators also noted innate immune responses to NCoV. They found that NCoV replicated well in both lung and bronchial tissue, but that the SARS virus replicated well in lung but not bronchial tissue. Immunohistochemistry revealed that, contrary to 229E, NCoV infected nonciliated bronchial epithelium, bronchiolar epithelial cells, alveolar epithelial cells, and endothelial cells. They also found that treatment of ex vivo lung cultures with type I interferons (IFNs) alpha and beta 1 hour after infection reduced NCoV replication, "suggesting a potential therapeutic use of IFNs for treatment of human infection."
Apr 3 J Virol abstract

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