In the Press

Viruses act as decoys, study finds, helping bacteria evade the immune system

By ERIC BOODMAN @ericboodman

MARCH 28, 2019

These viruses weren’t supposed to affect humans. They were supposed to ride along inside bacteria — unobtrusive hitchhikers taking advantage of another microbe’s machinery. But that wasn’t what Dr. Paul Bollyky and his colleagues saw in their lab dishes three or four years ago. The viruses seemed to be changing the behavior of human immune cells. Instead of gobbling up bacteria as they normally did, white blood cells just sat there.

“They basically don’t eat anything. They don’t move around much either,” said Bollyky, an immunologist and infectious disease specialist at Stanford University. “They would just ignore … the bacteria that were in the dish with them.”

Now, with a paper published Thursday in Science, what began as a chance observation has yielded a startling window into the inner lives of infections — one in which viruses tag-team with bacteria to trick the immune system by providing a decoy. Bollyky describes it as having someone trip the fire alarm so that the rest of the team can pull off a robbery in the chaos that ensues.

Scientists: US military program could be seen as bioweapon

By Candice Choi and Seth Borenstein - October 4, 2018

NEW YORK (AP) — A research arm of the U.S. military is exploring the possibility of deploying insects to make plants more resilient by altering their genes. Some experts say the work may be seen as a potential biological weapon.

In an opinion paper published Thursday in the journal Science, the authors say the U.S. needs to provide greater justification for the peace-time purpose of its Insect Allies project to avoid being perceived as hostile to other countries. Other experts expressed ethical and security concerns with the research, which seeks to transmit protective traits to crops already growing in the field.

Why your doctor wants to talk about guns

By Arman Azad, CNN - Sept 28, 2018

Your doctor already talks to you about sex, drugs and alcohol, but should they talk to you about guns, too? A newly-formed coalition of healthcare providers thinks so -- and patient intervention is just one part of their plan to reduce what they call an "epidemic" of gun violence.

The organization, Scrubs Addressing the Firearm Epidemic, known as SAFE, is demanding an increase in federal funding for gun violence research, and is calling on lawmakers to implement "evidence-based policy" on guns.

At more than 30 medical schools across the country last week, students and physicians wore scrubs with SAFE's bright red logo as they held demonstrations at their hospitals. According to Sarabeth Spitzer, a fourth-year medical student at Stanford who spearheaded the campaign, the group distributed about 2,700 of the special scrubs "to show the overwhelming consensus of health care providers that firearm violence is a public health crisis." 

What could be the source of higher blood lead level in pregnant women?

By Afrose Jahan Chaity - July 18th, 2018

A study was conducted on 430 pregnant women of Bangladesh to analyse BLL in their bodies.

A recent study has found higher blood lead levels (BLL) among pregnant women in rural Bangladesh. 

The information was published by a collaborative study by International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) and Stanford University titled “Prevalence of elevated blood lead levels among pregnant women and sources of lead exposure in rural Bangladesh: A case control study” in Environmental Research.

The study analysed BLL among 430 pregnant women and found multiple possible sources, including food and non-food sources.

Can bacteria-slaying viruses defeat antibiotic-resistant infections? A new U.S. clinical center aims to find out

By Kelly Servick - Jun. 21, 2018

One piece of good news can make all the difference. In the fight against antibiotic-resistant infections, a decades-old approach based on bacteria-slaying viruses called phages has been sidelined by technical hurdles, dogged by regulatory confusion, and largely ignored by drug developers in the West. But 2 years ago, researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), used phages to knock out an infection that nearly killed a colleague. Propelled by that success and a handful of others since, UCSD is now launching a clinical center to refine phage treatments and help companies bring them to market.

A first in North America, the center will initially consist of 16 UCSD researchers and physicians. It aims to be a proving ground for a treatment that has long been available in parts of Eastern Europe, but that still lacks the support of rigorous clinical trials....


What to Know About the Rare and Deadly Nipah Virus

By Korin Miller for Self - May 29, 2018

At least 14 people have died in a recent outbreak of Nipah virus in India's southern state of Kerala, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus—which is thought to be the inspiration for the 2011 science fiction movie Contagion—is rare but often deadly.

The outbreak is ongoing in Kerala, and there have been 16 confirmed cases, 12 suspected cases, and 14 deaths, the WHO reports.

Although there has never been a Nipah infection in the U.S., there have been local outbreaks in Malaysia, Bangladesh, and India.

China has a tapeworm problem, and it’s reinforcing the poverty cycle, study finds

By Zhuang Pinghui for South China Morning Post - May 17, 2018

A study has for the first time found high levels of tapeworm infection, potentially causing cognitive defects, among primary schoolchildren in rural mountainous areas.

Researchers in a joint study by Stanford University in the United States and Sichuan province health authority said that such infections made children highly vulnerable, with severe social consequences.

Neurological problems caused by the infections could lead to poor academic performance, dropping out of school and reinforcement the poverty cycle, it found.

How a bacterium that causes flesh-eating disease nearly killed me

By Erin Killian - December 2

Recently, a friend sent me a text, with a link to a news story: “Did you see this?!”

I clicked. The story was about a healthy 33-year-old woman in Nova Scotia who contracted a flesh-eating bacteria after giving birth in March. After going into septic shock, she was placed in a medically induced coma. She had all four of her limbs amputated and a total hysterectomy — and now she’s suing the hospital and doctors for negligence.

The story made my stomach drop, and I felt flutters in my chest. That story could have been about me.

Facing the bioterrorism threat: New Stanford group aims to find ways to minimize risks

Few topics generate more fear — in Hollywood movies and real life — than a biological weapons attack. This week Stanford University launched a Biosecurity Initiative that will bring together biologists, bioengineers, legal scholars, and policy experts to coordinate research and education about these threats.

One key goal: To help scientists understand how to mitigate risks that might come from their own experiments.

New insight to the effects of the Zika virus on cranial malformatity and brain size in infants

Dr. Catherine Blish and team published how the Zika virus effects the neural cranial crest cells. 

Zika fever is an effect of the tropical disease known for causing birth defects when mosquitoes carrying the virus transmits it to pregnant women.

Symptoms are mild and may cause fever, rash, aches in joints and red eyes.

Need no fear for antibacterial agent in consumer household products

Triclosan is an antibacterial ingredient found in toothpastes, soaps, detergents, some cosmetics—even toys and more.

However, consumers have been worried for 50 years how might this chemical disrupt the body's hormones in the longterm—so much so that manufacturers removed this agent from store shelves.

But a NIH-funded study by Dr. Julie Parsonnet and her team showed no significant effects to the body when exposed to triclosan-laden products.

Abstinence for hindering HIV isn't an effective method

Aimed at preventing the spread of HIV was the U.S. government's agenda for Africa the past decade under the PEPFA (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).

But researchers at Stanford did not see a correlation between promoting abstinence and prevention.

Dr. Eran Bendavid comments further in this NPR article.

C-section babies may miss important protective bacteria during birth

Babies born through the birth canal get a big dose of important microbiomes that may be important later in life. 

Researchers hinted at the possibility of partially giving back some of the mother's bugs to infants born by cesarean by swabbing a mother's microbes just after birth.

Exposure to certain bacteria can lead to a strong immune system, but so far, more research is needed to see if the swabbing technique works.


A common HIV drug may no longer be effective to some

A preferred drug called Tenofovir—used to help treat and prevent the human immunodeficiency virus worldwide—has become the epicenter of concern after cases of resistance to the virus that causes AIDS.

According to one doctor, drug resistance can either be caused by misuse of the drug and the virus mutates, or the person is infected with the mutated virus.

Dr. Bob Shafer comments further.


Jason Andrews tells BBC why extended parasitic treatment to adults is cost-effective

A large-scale de-worming treatment program is needed to rid 1.5 billion people of harmful parasites.

Currently, school-aged children in highly affected areas are the primary focus for treatment, but Stanford researchers suggest targeting whole communities.

Assistant Professor of ID, Dr. Paul Bollyky and his lab found a prevention for Type 1 diabetes in mice 

"Although the study was in mice, they believe the drug ultimately could be used to stop a disease that afflicts one in 300 people in the United States."