A simple approach to accurately predict disease outbreaks

via Royal Society Publishing

Article Highlights
  • Infectious diseases have a substantially growing impact on the health of communities around the world and pressure to both predict and prevent such diseases is ever-growing
  • Here is a simple approach to accurately predict disease outbreaks by combining novel statistical techniques and a large dataset on pathogen biogeography
  • “Our approach leverages data on the entire network of pathogens and countries in order to forecast potential pathogen outbreak, emergence and re-emergence events,” Dallas said. “Emergence events, which are first records of a pathogen recorded in a given country, are incredibly difficult to predict, as they are sort of by definition unexpected.”
  • “Infectious disease outbreaks, whether they be widespread like Influenza or fairly geographically restricted like Ebola, may be difficult to prevent,” he said. “However, if we can forecast outbreak potential in time, public health officials and governments can preemptively prepare for a potential outbreak event.”
  • “By combining aspects of community ecology into the study of human infectious disease, we were able to gain some insight into the distribution of pathogens at a global scale,” he said. “And to apply ideas across subfields, it helps to have a great team of collaborators from somewhat different fields, as I definitely found in Colin Carlson and Timothée Poisot.”
  • The rapid spread of pathogens can be accredited to growing contact between wildlife and humans, changes in climate and land use, food insecurity as well as geopolitical conflict.

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Time to look much closer at climate engineering disease impacts

via Dezeen

Radical solutions to climate change might save lives, but a commentary in the October 2018 issue of the journal Nature Climate Change calls for caution because geoengineering still lacks a “clean bill of health.”

With global fossil-fuel emissions reaching an all-time high and the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, climate experts have become increasingly interested in “climate engineering,” a set of ambitious and largely undeveloped technologies that could artificially counteract global warming. One proposed approach, called solar radiation management (SRM), would reduce incoming sunlight by injecting tiny aerosol particles into the stratosphere or by brightening clouds. Other approaches would directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Even if some combination of these worked, scientists warn that the climate wouldn’t be the same as it was before climate change. And those differences might make a big difference for global health, ecologists Colin Carlson and Christopher Trisos argue in the Nature Climate Change article. The article was written while both were postdoctoral fellows at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), a unique University of Maryland center funded by the National Science Foundation that brings together science of the natural world with science of human behavior and decision-making.

So far, Carlson and Trisos say, almost nothing is known about the potential health consequences of such geoengineered “solutions.”

“We’re a step before saying these technologies will probably save lives or saying they’re too dangerous to use,” says Carlson. “Right now, what we know is climate and disease are already closely linked, and that raises basic questions about climate engineering. Now, we need answers.”

Carlson gives the example of malaria, a disease mostly confined to the tropics today, but was once widespread in Europe and North America. Recently, scientists found that malaria transmits best at cooler temperatures. In some projections, SRM would disproportionately cool off the tropics–and that might make malaria worse.

“But it’s all guesswork–we can qualitatively talk through possible risks, and that’s what we do here. But we can’t make any judgements without solid, quantitative evidence. And no one’s run those models yet. There’s no data to go off.”

Carlson and Trisos hope to shed some light on these issues over the next two years. They are part of an international, interdisciplinary team that has been recommended for a $50,000 grant from the DECIMALS Fund (Developing Country Impact Modelling Analysis for SRM), which was launched by the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative to help scientists understand how SRM could affect the “global south”–a term that refers to less developed countries. Eight projects will receive DECIMALS grants that will be announced in October. The fund is administered by The World Academy of Sciences.

“Links between climate change and health are often complex, so climate engineering may impact health in unexpected ways,” says Trisos, now a research affiliate at the African Climate and Development Initiative. “Governments have pledged to prevent ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference’ with the climate system, so it’s critical that we can compare public health risks from climate change to those from climate engineering, in order to decide if climate engineering should even be considered.”

Carlson and Trisos’ DECIMALS research proposal was put together in collaboration with lead researchers Shafiul Alam and Mofizur Rahman (International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh) and includes epidemiologist Shweta Bansal (Georgetown University), climatologist Alan Robock (Rutgers University), and world-renowned microbiologist and cholera expert Rita Colwell (University of Maryland, formerly the ninth director of the National Science Foundation).

Their team is designed to produce important results on a fast deadline.

“Climate scientists, ecologists and public health researchers are increasingly working together to understand what climate change means for infectious diseases,” says Trisos. “We’re lucky to take advantage of that partnership to tackle a problem this complicated–and this urgent.”

In a perfect world, understanding the possible health impacts of climate engineering might help policymakers make the right call, if other options seem limited. But Carlson says there’s another reason this work is important.

“From a public health standpoint, we’re not likely to be the ones making the call about climate futures. But we want to know what’s coming if climate engineering does happen, and we want to be prepared, first in places like Bangladesh that might have the most to gain but also have the most to lose.”

Bangladesh is the world’s hot spot for cholera and has led the global research program to prevent the disease for several decades, with medical care reducing fatalities from 50 percent to less than 5 percent. Climate change will only increase the pressure that countries like Bangladesh face from infectious diseases like cholera and malaria.

“Whether or not the climate engineering ‘button’ gets pushed, the research we do here still helps us,” Carlson explains. “We’re building our toolbox and getting better at predicting cholera and malaria, and that should save lives, whatever climate change looks like.”

Learn more: Now is the time to answer questions about climate engineering disease impacts

 

 

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Breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research, Georgetown seeks volunteers

English: This image shows a PiB-PET scan of a patient with Alzheimer's disease on the left and an elderly person with normal memory on the right. Areas of red and yellow show high concentrations of PiB in the brain and suggest high amounts of amyloid deposits in these areas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A huge international medical trial could be a gamechanger for millions of people at risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers at 60 sites in the United States, Canada and Australia are getting ready to test an antibody that they believe could break-up a dangerous form of plaque that builds in the brain.

It is called amyloid plaque and this abnormal protein has the ability to kill nerve cells, triggering the dementia of Alzheimer’s.

The theory goes, detect the plaque early, destroy it, and the disease will never take hold.

For many years that was an illusive goal because the only way to find the plaque was through an autopsy. But a new form of imaging – the PET scan — is giving doctors the ability to find amyloid plaque years before the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear.

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The Test Could Be the First Step in Developing Treatments to Halt or Slow Alzheimer’s

blood testing (Photo credit: biologycorner)

A blood test has the potential to predict Alzheimer’s disease before patients start showing symptoms

In March of this year, a team of Georgetown University scientists published research showing that, for the first time ever, a blood test has the potential to predict Alzheimer’s disease before patients start showing symptoms. AACC is pleased to announce that a late-breaking session at the 2014 AACC Annual Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo in Chicago will expand upon this groundbreaking research and discuss why it could be the key to curing this devastating illness.

According to the World Health Organization, the number of Alzheimer’s patients worldwide is expected to skyrocket from the 35.6 million individuals who lived with it in 2010 to 115.4 million by 2050. Currently, however, all efforts to cure or effectively treat the disease have failed. Experts believe one explanation for this lack of success could be that the window of opportunity for treating Alzheimer’s has already closed by the time its symptoms manifest.

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Who Says Math Has to Be Boring?

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Saarbrücken, HTW, Mathematics Workshop (Photo credit: flgr)

American students are bored by math, science and engineering. They buy smartphones and tablets by the millions but don’t pursue the skills necessary to build them.

Engineers and physicists are often portrayed as clueless geeks on television, and despite the high pay and the importance of such jobs to the country’s future, the vast majority of high school graduates don’t want to go after them.

Nearly 90 percent of high school graduates say they’re not interested in a career or a college major involving science, technology, engineering or math, known collectively as STEM, according to a survey of more than a million students who take the ACT test. The number of students who want to pursue engineering or computer science jobs is actually falling, precipitously, at just the moment when the need for those workers is soaring. (Within five years, there will be 2.4 million STEM job openings.)

One of the biggest reasons for that lack of interest is that students have been turned off to the subjects as they move from kindergarten to high school. Many are being taught by teachers who have no particular expertise in the subjects. They are following outdated curriculums and textbooks. They become convinced they’re “no good at math,” that math and science are only for nerds, and fall behind.

That’s because the American system of teaching these subjects is broken. For all the reform campaigns over the years, most schools continue to teach math and science in an off-putting way that appeals only to the most fervent students. The mathematical sequence has changed little since the Sputnik era: arithmetic, pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and, for only 17 percent of students, calculus. Science is generally limited to the familiar trinity of biology, chemistry, physics and, occasionally, earth science.

These pathways, as one report from the National Academy of Education put it, assume that high school students will continue to study science and math in college. But fewer than 13 percent do, usually the most well-prepared and persistent students, who often come from families where encouragement and enrichment are fundamental. The system is alienating and is leaving behind millions of other students, almost all of whom could benefit from real-world problem solving rather than traditional drills.

Only 11 percent of the jobs in the STEM fields require high-level math, according to Anthony Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. But the rest still require skills in critical thinking that most high school students aren’t getting in the long march to calculus.

Finding ways to make math and science exciting for students who are in the middle of the pack could have a profound effect on their futures, providing them with the skills that will help them get technical jobs in the fields of food science, computer networking or medicine. It would entice many students who are insecure in their own abilities into advanced careers. But it is going to require a fundamentally different approach to teaching these subjects from childhood through high school. Here are a few of the many possible ideas to begin that change.

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