British scientists say clinical trials for ‘variant-proof’ vaccines could start very soon
Scientists are developing a range of second-generation COVID vaccines aimed at expanding protection against the disease.
Candidates include one version that could provide immune defense against many different virus variants, while other researchers are investigating vaccines that would generate responses aimed specifically at blocking transmission of the disease, the Observer reported.
Other projects include research into the creation of multiple vaccines that could each tackle different virus strains but would be administered as a single jab in a manner similar to annual flu jabs, which currently combine four vaccines against different strains of the influenza virus.
At present, COVID vaccines are designed to stop infected people becoming seriously ill, to prevent hospitalizations and deaths. It is not known yet how effective they are at blocking viruses passing from person to another.
“There is no indication that any of the new virus variants that have appeared recently are causing more severe disease than the original virus,” said Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at Nottingham University. “However, there is evidence that some of these new variants may be better at infecting and therefore spreading in populations that have existing partial immunity following natural infection or vaccination.”
One possible solution is a vaccine – now under development by a team of scientists including Ball – that targets not just the spike protein on the surface of the COVID virus but also another part of the virus, called the N protein.
“Hopefully this should result in much wider response from immune systems and so provide a much broader immunity to the virus,” Ball told the Observer. “And given what we know now about the emergence of COVID virus variants, that could help us strengthen protection against the disease,” he added.
The project, which also involves the immunology company Scancell and researchers at Nottingham Trent University, has reached a stage where manufacture of the new vaccine has begun.
Ball said it was hoped clinical trials of the vaccine could be launched very soon.
“The plasmid that forms the basis of the vaccine has already been used in other medical treatments and is tolerated well in patients,” he added. “So we are hopeful that we can press ahead with clinical trials relatively soon.”
A different approach is being taken by scientists at Bristol University who have started developing a vaccine that could induce antibodies in the nose and throat.
“That is the route by which the virus infects a person, so if you could aim specifically to generate antibodies in the mucosal linings of the upper airways you could help block the virus from infecting someone or from being passed on,” said Adam Finn, professor of pediatrics at the Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol.
“In effect, you would be creating the anti-viral equivalent of those United Nations blue helmet soldiers who control war zones and prevent invasions.”
To try to achieve this, Finn and his colleagues are measuring antibody levels in the mucosal secretions of people who have been given different vaccines against the disease.
“By comparing the strength of these immune responses, we may then be able to predict how good they are at preventing transmission,” he added. “And from there, we could identify vaccines that are best able to stop the virus spreading from one person to another – in contrast to current vaccines that are primarily evaluated on how well they prevent COVID symptoms developing.”
This point was backed by Deborah Dunn-Walters, professor of immunology at the University of Surrey, “The vaccines that we have developed over the past year are undoubtedly incredible achievements, but they are not the end of the story.
“We have started with vaccines that maybe give us around two-thirds protection against getting serious disease and maybe 50 percent protection against passing on the virus. The thing we have to do is to improve on this. There is still a lot of work to be done if we are to beat COVID.”
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Acid reflux disease may increase risk of cancers of larynx, esophagus
Results from a large prospective study indicate that gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which also causes heartburn symptoms, is linked with higher risks of various cancers of the larynx (or voice box) and esophagus. The study is published online in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.
GERD, a gastrointestinal disorder that affects approximately 20 percent of US adults, occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, where it can cause tissue damage. Research indicates that this damage may put patients at risk of developing a type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma, medicalxpress.com reported.
To provide additional insights concerning this link and potential links to other types of cancer, a team led by Christian C. Abnet, Ph.D., of the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US, examined information on 490,605 adults enrolled in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, a prospective study that mailed questionnaires in 1995-1996 to 3.5 million AARP members, aged between 50 and 71 years who were living in California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, or Pennsylvania, or in the metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Georgia, and Detroit, Michigan.
Using Medicare claims data, the investigators estimated that 24 percent of participants had a history of GERD. Over the following 16 years after participants joined the study, 931 patients developed esophageal adenocarcinoma, 876 developed laryngeal squamous cell carcinoma, and 301 developed esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. People with GERD had about a two-times higher risk of developing each of these types of cancer, and the elevated risk was similar across groups categorized by sex, smoking status, and alcohol consumption. The investigators were able to replicate the results when they restricted analyses to the Medicare data subset of 107,258 adults.
The team estimated that approximately 17 percent of these cancers in the larynx and esophagus are associated with GERD.
“This study alone is not sufficient to result in specific actions by the public. Additional research is needed to replicate these findings and establish GERD as a risk factor for cancer and other diseases,” said Dr. Abnet.
“Future studies are needed to evaluate whether treatments aimed at GERD symptoms will alter the apparent risks.”
People with extremist views less able to do complex mental tasks: Research
Our brains hold clues for the ideologies we choose to live by, according to research, which has suggested that people who espouse extremist attitudes tend to perform poorly on complex mental tasks.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge sought to evaluate whether cognitive disposition – differences in how information is perceived and processed – sculpt ideological world-views such as political, nationalistic and dogmatic beliefs, beyond the impact of traditional demographic factors like age, race and gender, the Guardian reported.
The study, built on previous research, included more than 330 US-based participants aged 22 to 63 who were exposed to a battery of tests – 37 neuropsychological tasks and 22 personality surveys – over the course of two weeks.
The tasks were engineered to be neutral, not emotional or political – they involved, for instance, memorizing visual shapes. The researchers then used computational modelling to extract information from that data about the participant’s perception and learning, and their ability to engage in complex and strategic mental processing.
Overall, the researchers found that ideological attitudes mirrored cognitive decision-making, according to the study published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
A key finding was that people with extremist attitudes tended to think about the world in black and white terms, and struggled with complex tasks that required intricate mental steps, said lead author Dr. Leor Zmigrod at Cambridge’s department of psychology.
“Individuals or brains that struggle to process and plan complex action sequences may be more drawn to extreme ideologies, or authoritarian ideologies that simplify the world,” she said.
She said another feature of people with tendencies toward extremism appeared to be that they were not good at regulating their emotions, meaning they were impulsive and tended to seek out emotionally evocative experiences. “And so that kind of helps us understand what kind of individual might be willing to go in and commit violence against innocent others.”
Participants who are prone to dogmatism – stuck in their ways and relatively resistant to credible evidence – actually have a problem with processing evidence even at a perceptual level, the authors found.
“For example, when they’re asked to determine whether dots [as part of a neuropsychological task] are moving to the left or to the right, they just took longer to process that information and come to a decision,” Zmigrod said.
In some cognitive tasks, participants were asked to respond as quickly and as accurately as possible. People who leant toward the politically conservative tended to go for the slow and steady strategy, while political liberals took a slightly more fast and furious, less precise approach.
“It’s fascinating, because conservatism is almost a synonym for caution,” she said. “We’re seeing that – at the very basic neuropsychological level – individuals who are politically conservative … simply treat every stimuli that they encounter with caution.”
The “psychological signature” for extremism across the board was a blend of conservative and dogmatic psychologies, the researchers said.
The study, which looked at 16 different ideological orientations, could have profound implications for identifying and supporting people most vulnerable to radicalization across the political and religious spectrum.
“What we found is that demographics don’t explain a whole lot; they only explain roughly 8% of the variance,” said Zmigrod.
“Whereas, actually, when we incorporate these cognitive and personality assessments as well, suddenly, our capacity to explain the variance of these ideological world-views jumps to 30 percent or 40 percent.”
Low-quality maternal diet during pregnancy may be associated with late-childhood obesity
Eating a low quality diet, high in foods and food components associated with chronic inflammation, during pregnancy may be associated with an increased risk of obesity and excess body fat in children, especially during late-childhood.
The findings are published the open access journal BMC Medicine, eurekalert.org reported.
Researchers from University College Dublin, Ireland found that children of mothers who ate a higher quality diet, low in inflammation-associated foods, during pregnancy had a lower risk of obesity and lower body fat levels in late-childhood than children whose mothers ate a lower quality diet, high in inflammation-associated foods, while pregnant. This association was not observed in early or mid-childhood.
Ling-Wei Chen, the corresponding author said, “Obesity in childhood often carries on into adulthood and is associated with a higher risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. Mounting evidence suggests that maternal diet influences pregnancy and birth outcomes and points to the first one thousand days of a child’s life, from conception to two years old, as a critical period for preventing childhood obesity. Our research indicates that children born to mothers who eat a low-quality diet, high in inflammation-associated foods, during pregnancy may be more likely to have obesity or excess body fat in late childhood than those born to mothers who eat a high-quality diet low in inflammation-associated foods.”
To examine the effects of maternal diet on the likelihood of childhood obesity and excess body fat, the authors analyzed data collected from 16,295 mother-child pairs in seven European birth cohort studies, from Ireland, France, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Poland, which are involved in the ALPHABET consortium. On average, mothers were 30 years old and had a healthy body mass index (BMI). Mothers reported the food they ate before and during pregnancy. The researchers assessed dietary quality and whether diets were high in foods and food components associated with chronic inflammation, such as saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and red and processed meat. Children’s BMI was calculated in early, mid and late childhood. Additional data on children’s body composition during mid or late childhood was collected in five of the cohorts included in the study.
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Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland, the US, found that that molecular components of cone snail venom have the ability to treat severe cases of malaria.