News Trends Analysis

Oct. 1, 2008

The Observatory

Infectious diseases reports that U.S.
scientists have established a way to predict outbreaks of cholera,
making it easier to control, while also providing a prediction model for
other important infectious diseases. A team at the University of Maryland-College Park has used remote satellite imaging to
track environmental factors, including sea surface temperature, ocean
height, and biomass, and used the collected data to predict cholera
outbreaks. This ability could be a step in controlling the waterborne
disease by enabling rapid-response public-health measures. The bacterium
that causes cholera, Vibrio cholerae, has a known association
with the crustacean copepod which lives on zooplankton, a type of


Antibodies from survivors of the 1918 flu pandemic,
now aged 91 to 101, are still protected against the highly deadly virus. The
specific 1918 virus — an H1N1 strain — was lost to the world for decades
until it was reconstructed three years ago using genetic material from
victims. Researchers manipulated those survivors' antibodies into a vaccine
and found that it kept alive all the mice they injected with the killer flu,
according to a study published Aug. 17 online in the journal Nature.
The research suggests that antibodies from survivors might make a good
interim treatment for pandemic flu while a vaccine is formulated,
manufactured, and distributed — a process that takes months.

In late August, Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) officials reported that the outbreak of the rare strain of
Salmonella St. Paul, which began in April, sickened more than 1,400
people, and put 286 in hospitals in 43 states, appears to be over. The CDC
pointed to jalapeno and serrano peppers from Mexico as the main source of
the outbreak. The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 requires produce processors and
distributors to keep track of where food comes from and where it goes;
however, the measure excludes restaurants and farms.

In early September, according to CNN, the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) recently ordered stronger warnings on four
TNF-alpha blockers — which are widely used to treat rheumatoid arthritis,
Crohn's disease, juvenile arthritis, certain types of psoriasis, and other
conditions — cited for raising the risk of a possibly fatal fungal
infection: histoplasmosis. These injectable drugs — Enbrel, Remicade, Humira,
and Cimzia — suppress the immune system to keep it from attacking the body.
The FDA office that oversees arthritis drugs became concerned after
discovering that doctors appeared to be overlooking the fungal infection. Of
240 cases reported to the FDA, 45 patients died. The FDA's order means that
the risk of histoplasmosis will be flagged in a “black box,” the strongest
warning information in a drug's prescribing literature; the language varies
from drug to drug.

Another CNN report last month detailed the
government's posting of prescription drugs under investigation for potential
safety problems, in an effort to better inform doctors and patients. The
basic warning system is a bare-bones compilation naming 20 medications and
the potential risk for each. The list includes drugs whose problems have
already been publicized, such as the blood thinner heparin and
immune-suppressing medications as well as some drugs involved in overdoses
perhaps linked to confusing instructions. Drugs will be placed on the list
based on reports the FDA receives regularly from hospitals, doctors, and
patients; the list will be updated each calendar quarter. The FDA cautions
consumers to continue taking their medications, even if it appears on the
list of drugs under investigation, until advised by their physicians to

A website devoted to helping hospitals fight
healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) was unveiled at the Association for
Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology's (APIC) 35th annual
conference in June. The site,
, is a gathering place for
infection-prevention-and- control professionals and healthcare executives
committed to fighting HAIs. It serves as a central location for up-to-date
scientific information about the causes and prevention of HAIs, and includes
scientific studies, interviews with infection-prevention experts, and links
to infection-prevention resources. Healthcare-device manufacturer Cook
Medical, transferred the site to APIC in May after having launched it in
September 2006.

The Dark Daily Report's Sept. 5 issue notes
that The American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Registry
(ASCP-BOR) in Chicago and The National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory
Personnel (NCA) in Lenexa, KS, announced a letter of intent to form a
unified credentialing agency. The two parties are developing an agreement on
the details of governance; how the proposed single certification agency will
handle the credentials of currently certified individuals; and what
processes will be established to accommodate both re-certification and new

HIV/AIDS reported in early September
that a recent CDC report about new annual HIV infections in the United
States excluded data from Puerto Rico, with the fifth-largest concentration
of HIV cases nationwide. This omission could have widespread consequences
say Hispanic HIV/AIDS advocates. National HIV/AIDS estimates that do not
accurately reflect HIV incidence among Hispanics could result in fewer
resources allocated for prevention and treatment for that population. The
CDC did not include Puerto Rican HIV infections because it uses census
population data for the report, whereas Puerto Rico estimates population


The National Blood Foundation (NBF) Board of Trustees
recently announced the recipients of its 2008 NBF Scientific Research
Grants. Each grant recipient receives up to $65,000 to pursue either a one-
or two-year research project in the field of blood banking, transfusion
medicine, or cellular and related biological therapies. Since 1985, NBF has
awarded more than $5.5 million in grants to 152 early-career researchers.
This year's recipients are involved in research ranging from hematopoietic
stem cell mobilization by cannabinoids, to the role of platelets in
experimental transfusion-related acute lung injury, to the potential for
improving platelet cold storage, and blood-donation considerations in

Worth noting

Gunther Stent — one of the original thinkers in the
field of molecular biology whose research wrestled with and validated the
breakthrough discovery of the structure of DNA — died June 12 of pneumonia
near his home in Haverford, PA, at the age of 84. Dr. James D. Watson, one
of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA, called him “a major
intellectual” in the field. Stent, who wrote Molecular Biology of
Bacterial Viruses
, a textbook for the study of molecular genetics
following the finding of the double helix, served as chair of the department
of molecular biology at Berkeley from 1980 to 1986.

New studies

New research from the University of Rochester Medical
Center shows that some parents pass on the human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6) to
their children because it is integrated into their chromosomes. This is the
first time a virus has been shown to become part of the human DNA and then
get passed to subsequent generations. This unique mode of congenital
infection may be occurring in as many as one of every 116 newborns, and the
long-term consequences for a child's development and immune system are
unknown. For more information on the study, go to

Mice genetically engineered to overproduce the brain
chemical serotonin died at an early age after developing symptoms similar to
those of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), suggesting improper regulation
of serotonin may cause SIDS in humans. The majority of the mice died after
being unable to regulate their heart rate and body temperature, scientists
from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Monterotondo, Italy,
recently reported in the July issue of the journal Science. This was
a chance discovery when a scientist suggested that the mice, part of a study
on serotonin's role in aggression and anxiety, began dying. The findings
support autopsy-based results reported from 2006 in which researchers from
Children's Hospital Boston found that infants who died of SIDS had abnormal
serotonin-producing cells in their brain stems. Although differences exist
between the mice and babies who die of SIDS, both reports point to improper
regulation of the serotonin system as a cause of the disorder.


Nov. 3-6. American Public Health
Laboratories announces its 20th annual “Newborn Screening and Genetic
Testing Symposium” in San Antonio. Review developments in newborn
screening and collaborate on strategies to address changes in the
rapidly evolving field. For more information and registration, visit

Nov. 5. From 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET,
the AABB presents the audioconference “Changes in the New AABB Technical
Manual” as they relate to WBC cell and platelet serology, blood
donation, transfusion and transplantation practice, red-cell serology,
and transfusion-transmitted disease. Visit

Nov. 13-14. Attend the AACC “Laboratory
Medicine: Into the Future” conference at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort
and Spa. The AACC and the AustralAsian Association of Clinical Biochemists
(AACB) are joining together to cover laboratory medicine's greatest areas of
change, challenge, and advancement in the areas of management, science, and
technology. To learn more and register, visit