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Most governments listen to scientists

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates criticized the U.S. response to the coronavirus, telling CNBC the nation ranks “quite low compared to other countries” in executing testing and delivering a clear message on safe social practices such as wearing masks.

“Our response in most respects has not been very good. And we would have expected it to be good,” the Microsoft co-founder told “Squawk Box” co-host Becky Quick in an interview that aired Wednesday.

President Donald Trump, recovering from Covid-19 himself, has been dismissive of masks and even mocked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in their first debate for wearing them. Trump, who returned to the campaign trail this week, has also repeatedly flouted advice from medical experts on the importance of social distancing by holding packed rallies with spotty mask-wearing among supporters. Trump has defended having crowds at his recent campaign events, saying they’re being held outside, where coronavirus transmission is less likely than indoors.

Without mentioning Trump, Gates said that unlike the U.S., many countries have “done very, very well” using the behavioral tools available to help blunt the spread of the coronavirus. The founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which works to tackle complex global health challenges, said it has nothing to do with politics.

“That’s a purely technical thing, not a political thing. Most governments take advantage of their scientists and listen to them. They don’t undermine them and attack them,” he said. “Mask compliance in the United States is quite poor. And yet the cost of the mask and the productivity lost from [not wearing] the mask, it’s quite an intervention.”

Gates also pointed out that social measures such as masks, social distancing and hand-washing are the primary tools to fight Covid-19 until “therapeutics or vaccines get out there in big numbers.”

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Scientists confirm Nevada 25-year-old got coronavirus twice, second case was more severe

Scientists have confirmed the first case of coronavirus reinfection in the United States: a 25-year-old Nevada man whose second round of the virus was more severe than the first. 

The findings were published Monday in the medical journal The Lancet.

The man, who remains unnamed, first tested positive in April before recovering and testing negative in May. Then in June, he tested positive for the virus again, developing symptoms of COVID-19 a second time. 

According to the case study, his second infection included more severe symptoms than the first time around, including fever, cough and dizziness. 

The researchers sequenced the RNA from both virus samples and found they were two different strains, making it a true reinfection.

Scientists have not concluded why someone might contract the virus twice or if some people are more predisposed to reinfection. The Nevada case marks the fifth case globally of reinfection, and scientists say so far that instances are rare.

Yale University immunobiology professor Akiko Iwasaki told NPR a second positive test could happen for a number of reasons, including being exposed at higher levels to the virus or an immune response making the virus seem worse rather than better the second time around.

Generally, researchers are finding that people who get COVID-19 develop a healthy immune response, but it’s unknown how long it lasts. 

The case study was first sent to The Lancet in August, but it was officially published and the case was confirmed as the first U.S. reinfection this week.  

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Penn Medicine scientists engineer bacteria-killing molecules from wasp venom

PHILADELPHIA–A team led by scientists in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has engineered powerful new antimicrobial molecules from toxic proteins found in wasp venom. The team hopes to develop the molecules into new bacteria-killing drugs, an important advancement considering increasing numbers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria which can cause illness such as sepsis and tuberculosis.

In the study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers altered a highly toxic small protein from a common Asian wasp species, Vespula lewisii, the Korean yellow-jacket wasp. The alterations enhanced the molecule’s ability to kill bacterial cells while greatly reducing its ability to harm human cells. In animal models, the scientists showed that this family of new antimicrobial molecules made with these alterations could protect mice from otherwise lethal bacterial infections.

There is an urgent need for new drug treatments for bacterial infections, as many circulating bacterial species have developed a resistance to older drugs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has estimated that each year nearly three million Americans are infected with antibiotic-resistant microbes and more than 35,000 die of them. Globally the problem is even worse: Sepsis, an often-fatal inflammatory syndrome triggered by extensive bacterial infection, is thought to have accounted for about one in five deaths around the world as recently as 2017.

“New antibiotics are urgently needed to treat the ever-increasing number of drug-resistant infections, and venoms are an untapped source of novel potential drugs. We think that venom-derived molecules such as the ones we engineered in this study are going to be a valuable source of new antibiotics,” said study senior author César de la Fuente, PhD, a Presidential Assistant Professor in Psychiatry, Microbiology, and Bioengineering at Penn.

De la Fuente and his team started with a small protein, or “peptide,” called mastoparan-L, a key ingredient in the venom of Vespula lewisii wasps. Mastoparan-L-containing venom is usually not dangerous to humans in the small doses delivered by wasp stings, but it is quite toxic. It destroys red blood cells, and triggers a type of allergic/inflammatory reaction that in susceptible individuals can lead to a fatal syndrome called anaphylaxis–in which blood pressure drops and breathing becomes difficult or impossible.

Mastoparan-L (mast-L) also is known for its moderate toxicity to bacterial species, making it a potential starting point for engineering new antibiotics. But there are still some unknowns, including how to enhance its anti-bacterial properties, and how to make it safe for humans.

The team searched a database of hundreds of known antimicrobial peptides and found a small region, the so-called pentapeptide motif, that was associated with strong activity against bacteria. The researchers then used this motif to replace a section at one end of mast-L that is thought to be the chief source of toxicity to human cells.

In a key set of experiments, the researchers treated mice with mast-MO several hours after infecting them with otherwise lethal, sepsis-inducing strains of the bacteria E. coli or Staphylococcus aureus.

Scientists develop new precision medicine approach for pancreatic cancer

Scientists from the University of Glasgow are developing new ways to predict who will respond to drugs targeting damaged DNA in pancreatic cancer. 

Publishing their findings in Gastroenterology, the team used cells grown in the lab (cell lines) and mini replicas of patients’ tumours (organoids) to identify molecular markers that can predict which tumours will respond to a number of drugs that target damaged DNA.  

Dr David Chang, from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Cancer Sciences, called the results “a huge breakthrough in terms of what might be possible for future treatments.”

The team are now taking their strategy forward into a clinical trial to help doctors work out who might respond to the drugs, either alone or in combination. The trial – PRIMUS-004 – is part of our Precision Panc platform for pancreatic cancer, which aims to increase opportunities for people with pancreatic cancer to join clinical trials and to develop new treatment strategies. 

“The strategy we’ve developed is extremely promising, and we’re very pleased and proud to see it now be taken into clinical trial.” – Dr David Chang

Precision Panc

In 2017, we invested £10 million in Precision Panc to speed up our understanding of pancreatic and work towards more tailored treatment for the disease. It’s our biggest standalone in pancreatic cancer research to date, with the aim of driving progress for pancreatic cancer, where survival has remained stubbornly low.

A major barrier to treating pancreatic effectively is that there are very few treatment options. But there are some pancreatic cancers that cannot repair damaged DNA, which make them vulnerable to some new treatments. This is what researchers are aiming to target.

“We urgently need new ways to treatment pancreatic cancer,” says Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive. “The Precision Panc study offers a dynamic way to explore new tailored treatments, and it’s fantastic that we know have new drug candidates to add to the PRIMUS-004 trials.”

A menu of trials

PRIMUS-004 is a mid-stage (phase 2) clinical trial testing the new approach to help match people with pancreatic that’s spread to new targeted treatments.

The trial is due to open this month and will be an option for people who’ve already had platinum chemotherapy and whose cancer has a fault that means it cannot repair damaged DNA. Funded by AstraZeneca and endorsed by Cancer Research UK, it’s the first trial in the UK that will test this precision medicine approach in pancreatic cancer. 

PRIMUS-004 is the fourth trial that Precision Panc will feed into, with 3 studies already linked to the platform – PRIMUS-001 for people with pancreatic cancer that’s spread and PRIMUS-002, which is testing the benefits of 2 different chemotherapy combos before surgery. 

Another trial – PRIMUS-005, involving patients with locally advanced cancer – is also due to open this month. 

As well as helping to give people with pancreatic cancer better trial options, the Precision Panc study is also collecting and analysing tumour samples and looking for new biomarkers to

Scientists develop new ‘precision medicine’ approach to treating damaged DNA in pancreatic cancer

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Scientists have developed a new “precision medicine” approach to treating the damaged DNA in the cancer cells of Pancreatic Cancer patients.

The findings mark an important step forward for potential treatment options for pancreatic cancer, improving the options and outcomes for a disease where survival rates have remained stubbornly low.

The study detailing the approach—led by the University of Glasgow and published in Gastroenterology—used cell lines and organoids that were generated from patients with pancreatic cancer to develop new molecular markers that can predict who will respond to drugs targeting DNA damage.

The researchers tested these markers using multiple drugs, and have developed a strategy that are now being taken forward into clinical trial. The trial will help doctors and researchers predict which patient will respond to which one of these drugs, either alone or in combination.

Funding for the trail has come from AstraZeneca and will now be included in the PRIMUS-004 clinical trial as part of the Precision-Panc therapeutic development platform for pancreatic cancer.

PRIMUS-004 is a ground-breaking pancreatic cancer trial, which aims to match patients with more targeted and effective treatment for their tumors. Run by Precision-Panc, a flagship therapeutic development program dedicated to pancreatic cancer—led by the University of Glasgow with major funding from Cancer Research UK—the trial brings a precision medicine approach to pancreatic cancer treatment for the first time in the UK.

The trial will open for recruitment in Glasgow shortly, with 20 other centers throughout the UK to follow.

Although survival for many types of cancer has improved, pancreatic cancer survival has lagged significantly behind in the last 40 years. The disease is particularly hard to treat, partly because it’s often diagnosed at a late stage.

A major limitation to treating pancreatic cancer effectively is that there are very few treatment options for patients with the disease. Currently, some patients with pancreatic cancer cannot repair damaged DNA in the cancer cells, which makes the cancer vulnerable to some new and established drug treatments.

Dr. David Chang, from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Cancer Sciences, said: “Our study is a huge breakthrough in terms of what might be possible with future treatments. As part of our research, the strategy we’ve developed is extremely promising, and we’re very pleased and proud to see it now be taken into clinical trial. For us, this is a demonstration of a bench-to-bedside precision oncology approach to tackle this terrible disease.”

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “We urgently need new ways to treat pancreatic cancer. The disease only has a few treatment options and is generally diagnosed at a late stage, so survival has remained stubbornly low. The Precision Panc study offers a dynamic way to explore new tailored treatments, and it’s fantastic that we now have new drug candidates to add to the PRIMUS-004 trial. We look forward to seeing if these drugs, which have shown promise in the lab, have the same impact for people with pancreatic cancer.”

Hong Kong scientists say anti-microbe drug successful against coronavirus

An affordable anti-microbial drug used to treat stomach ulcers and bacterial infections has shown promise in combatting the coronavirus in animals, scientists in Hong Kong announced Monday.

Researchers set out to explore whether metallodrugs — compounds containing metal that are more commonly used against bacteria — might also have anti-viral properties that could fight the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

Using Syrian hamsters as tests subjects, they found that one of the drugs, ranitidine bismuth citrate (RBC), was “a potent anti-SARS-CoV-2 agent”.

“RBC is able to lower the viral load in the lung of the infected hamster by tenfold,” Hong Kong University researcher Runming Wang told reporters on Monday as the team presented their study.

“Our findings demonstrate that RBC is a potential anti-viral agent for Covid-19.”

The coronavirus has killed more than a million people since it first emerged in China last December and then spread across the globe.

As scientists scramble to find a vaccine, they have also been scouring readily available drugs that might alleviate symptoms caused by the Covid-19 disease or help the body fight infection.

Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral drug, and dexamethasone, a type of corticosteroid, have both been identified as having some success against the virus. Both were used by doctors to treat US President Donald Trump after he contracted Covid-19.

But they have drawbacks.

Remdesivir is expensive and there is a global shortage while dexamethasone has immunosuppression effects that are risky for all but the most ill patients. Other drug cocktails have shown liver damage can be a risk.

The Hong Kong scientists said RBC was a commonly available drug used against stomach ulcers with a safe and comprehensive pharmacological profile.

“It’s been used for decades so it’s pretty safe,” Wang said.

They added that their research, which has been published in the journal Nature Microbiology, suggested other metallodrugs might also have success against the virus and should be further explored.


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Scientists Study The Long Term Health Effects Of Wildfire Smoke : Shots

Smoke blankets Mill City, Oregon, which was evacuated for days following the nearby Beachie Creek Fire.

Nathan Rott/NPR

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Nathan Rott/NPR

Smoke blankets Mill City, Oregon, which was evacuated for days following the nearby Beachie Creek Fire.

Nathan Rott/NPR

Ariel Kinzinger had a headache. Clark Brinkman coughed and wheezed. LaNesha Collins, feeling physically fine, was frustrated by another day mostly trapped inside looking out at a sepia sun, in Portland, Ore.

“I’ve never been in the thick of smoke like this,” said Collins, an Oregonian like the others. “It’s insane.”

In recent weeks, tens of millions of Americans have lived and breathed through a thick haze of wildfire smoke. In places, it lasted for weeks. The immediate health effects of that are well known to the medical community and anyone who’s been exposed: Eyes sting, throats tighten, snot can turn black.

Respiratory problems like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be exacerbated, causing spikes in hospital visits. And recent research on the link between wildfire smoke and the flu, even suggests it could increase a person’s risk of contracting COVID-19.

Much less is known though about what happens after the smoke clears.

“Every person who asks me is like, ‘What does this mean for my health a long time from now?,'” says Colleen Reid, a geographer at the University of Colorado Boulder who studies the health impacts of wildfire smoke. “And unfortunately we don’t really know.”

The lack of data and information on the long-term health impacts of wildfire smoke is a hole scientists and epidemiologists are quickly trying to fill. Research teams are looking at long-term lung function after smoke exposure, and potential impacts on pregnant women and infants. These efforts have been slowed by the pandemic, but have taken on new urgency with recent events.

Record-breaking wildfires, like those the West Coast has experienced this year, have become a near-annual occurrence. Human-caused climate change is increasing the length and intensity of fire season globally. More people are moving to fire-prone areas. And there’s a growing understanding among land managers and the public that more “good fire” is going to be needed across broad swaths of the U.S. to chip away at a century’s worth of accumulated vegetation in some Western forests. All of this means more people are going to be exposed to smoke more frequently in the future.

“The paradigm’s changing where a [smoke event] is not just this one-time disaster for many communities in the West,” says Sheryl Magzamen, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Colorado State University. “They’re actually chronic disasters that occur every two to three years.”

Smoke travels far

Days of thick smoke are not a new occurrence in many Western communities. But the breadth and duration of the smoke generated by this year’s fires is without modern precedent.

An NPR analysis of air quality data on the West Coast found that 1 in 7 Americans have experienced at least a day of unhealthy air conditions during this

Chile scientists study potential coronavirus mutation in remote Patagonia

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Scientists in Chile are investigating a possible mutation of the novel coronavirus in southern Patagonia, a far-flung region near the tip of the South American continent that has seen an unusually contagious second wave of infections in recent weeks.

Dr. Marcelo Navarrete of the University of Magallanes told Reuters in an interview that researchers had detected “structural changes” in the spikes on the distinctive, crown-shaped virus. He said research is underway to better understand the potential mutation and its effects on humans.

“The only thing we know to date is that this coincides in time and space with a second wave that is quite intense in the region,” Navarrete said.

The Magallanes region of Chile is largely a remote, glacier-strewn wilderness dotted with small towns and the regional hub Punta Arenas, which has seen cases of COVID-19 spike in September and October following a first wave earlier this year.

Hospitals are nearing full occupancy in the hard-hit region. Chilean health ministry officials said they have begun evacuating sick residents from the region to the capital, Santiago.

Other studies outside Chile have also indicated that the coronavirus can evolve as it adapts to its human hosts.

A preliminary study that analyzed the virus’ structure following two waves of infection in the U.S. city of Houston found that a more contagious strain dominated recent samples.

Navarrete acknowledged similar mutations had been observed elsewhere, but he said the relative isolation and harsh climate of the famously cold and windy Magallanes region may have exaggerated its impacts.

“Some of these variables such as cold, wind, are associated with a higher rate of spread in the world,” Navarrete said.

Scientists say the mutations may make the virus more contagious but do not necessarily make it more deadly, nor do they necessarily inhibit the effectiveness of a potential vaccine.

(Reporting by Reuters TV, writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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2 scientists win Nobel chemistry prize for gene-editing tool

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Two scientists won the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for developing a way of editing genes likened to “molecular scissors” that offer the promise of one day curing inherited diseases.

Working on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A. Doudna came up with a method known as CRISPR-cas9 that can be used to change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms. It was the first time two women have won the chemistry Nobel together — adding to the small number of female laureates in the sciences, where women have long received less recognition for their work than men.

The scientists’ work allows for laser-sharp snips in the long strings of DNA that make up the “code of life,” allowing researchers to precisely edit specific genes to remove errors that lead to disease.

“There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all,” said Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry. “It has not only revolutionized basic science, but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to groundbreaking new medical treatments.”

Gustafsson said that, as a result, any genome can now be edited “to fix genetic damage.”

Dr. Francis Collins, who led the drive to map the human genome, said the technology “has changed everything” about how to approach diseases with a genetic cause, such as sickle cell disease.

“You can draw a direct line from the success of the human genome project to the power of CRISPR-cas to make changes in the instruction book,” said Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health that helped fund Doudna’s work.

But many also cautioned that the technology must be used carefully and that it raises serious ethical questions. Much of the world became more aware of CRISPR in 2018, when Chinese scientist He Jiankui revealed he had helped make the world’s first gene-edited babies, to try to engineer resistance to future infection with the AIDS virus. His work was denounced as unsafe human experimentation because of the risk of causing unintended changes that could pass to future generations, and he’s currently imprisoned in China.

In September, an international panel of experts issued a report saying it’s still too soon to try to make genetically edited babies because the science isn’t advanced enough to ensure safety, but they mapped a pathway for countries that want to consider it.

“Being able to selectively edit genes means that you are playing God in a way,” said American Chemistry Society President Luis Echegoyen, a chemistry professor at the University of Texas El Paso.

Charpentier, 51, spoke of the shock of winning.

“Strangely enough I was told a number of times (that I’d win), but when it happens you’re very surprised and you feel that it’s not real,” she told reporters by phone from Berlin after the award was announced in Stockholm by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. “But obviously it’s real, so I have to get used to it now.”

When asked

Trump advisers consult scientists pushing disputed herd immunity strategy

Mainstream medical and public health experts say that seeking widespread, or herd, immunity in the manner the scientists prescribe could result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands or even millions more U.S. residents.

The trio, who Azar described as “three distinguished infectious disease experts,” favors moving aggressively to reopen the economy while sidelining broad testing and other fundamental public health measures. “Three months, maybe six is sufficient time for enough immunity to accumulate … that the vulnerable could resume normal lives,” Gupta said Monday night in appearance on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show.

That aligns with the “herd-immunity” strategy endorsed by Atlas, who Bhattacharya said was their “point of contact” for the meeting. Atlas, a neuroradiologist and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, has emerged as a favored adviser to the president despite his lack of expertise in public health, infectious disease or epidemiology, and his skepticism of basic safety measures like wearing masks.

HHS refused to comment on the scientists’ meeting with Azar and Atlas’ role in it, or whether the Trump administration is shifting to a herd immunity strategy.

Studies by the CDC and academic scientists have concluded that fewer than 10 percent of Americans had antibodies to the virus by July. That’s far fewer than the 60 to 70 percent infection rate most experts believe is needed to achieve herd immunity. They say that getting there without a vaccine would dramatically increase the Covid-19 death toll and leave a large number of Americans with lasting health problems.

Given those facts, Azar’s tweet set off alarm bells among public health experts worried that the administration is pushing a return to normal life before the virus is contained or a vaccine is available.

“This is not a good faith attempt to talk to experts. This is an attempt to cherry pick credentialed people who happen to agree with the administration’s political instincts or political inclinations,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a former Obama administration official who oversaw disaster response.

The scientists who met with Azar have repeatedly advanced questionable theories about the virus’ risks and the impact of lockdowns.

Bhattacharya co-authored a study with colleagues at Stanford that suggested the coronavirus infection rate was up to 85 percent higher in Silicon Valley than previously estimated, suggesting that the virus was not nearly deadly enough to justify continued lockdowns.

The analysis, released in April without undergoing peer review, quickly came under attack from other scientists who questioned the accuracy of the antibody test used in the study, and the authors’ research methods — which included recruiting participants through Facebook and social contacts of the scientists, raising the risk of an unrepresentative sample.

Bhattacharya and his colleagues revised the study’s findings just two weeks after they released it, reducing their projection of how many people had been infected by one-third.

Across the pond, Gupta and colleagues in her Oxford research group opposed the stringent lockdown orders the U.K. imposed in March, arguing at the time that “the death rate or the