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Latest News
Influenza in Africa Should Not Be Ignored, Researchers Urge

Influenza is circulating in Africa, but virtually no information or attention is evident, says a new essay in PLoS Medicine. Maria Yazdanbakhsh and Peter Kremsner argue that the lack of adequate surveillance means that the burden of influenza in Africa is incorrectly believed to be negligible. But sporadic reports from various regions in Africa indicate that influenza is circulating and may be regularly causing epidemics Whereas in temperate areas influenza activity displays a seasonal pattern with marked peaks in the winter, influenza is present all year round throughout the tropics. The authors say that the well-established surveillance network WHO Flu Net in place in Europe and North America, provides continuous data on influenza burden and the spread of viral types and subtypes. Recent threats of pandemic influenza have prompted similar active monitoring in parts of Southeast Asia and Latin America. But the prevalence and incidence of influenza in most tropical countries especially in Africa are largely unknown, say the authors, and improved surveillance is needed. For example, the authors state, the WHO H1N1 swine flu update of May 2009 contained reports of infected patients in many countries, but none in Africa, whereas two reports in October 2009 confirmed swine flu cases from South Africa and Kenya. This indicates that "that the virus was circulating in Africa, but because of the lack of a rigorous surveillance system, it was not reported as readily."

'Land Grabs' For Rice Production Due To Supply Threats

Recent interest in “land grabs” or the international acquisition of land to produce rice is sparked by a looming threat of inadequate rice supplies. To put it simply, there is not enough rice to feed the world,” says Dr. Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). “To meet the need and keep rice prices around US$300 a ton – which allows poor rice farmers to make some profit yet keeps rice affordable for poor rice consumers – we need to produce an additional 8–10 million tons of rice more than in the previous year for the next twenty years.” Many countries do not have the capacity to grow enough rice on their own land to meet existing or anticipated demand. To meet their needs governments or the private sector import rice and some are exploring ways to invest in rice production or rice-growing land in other countries. IRRI is not involved in any projects on land acquisition for rice production, nor does it provide advice on land acquisition, but it does find ways to help increase the overall rice supply – with a mandate to help poor rice farmers and consumers and improve environmental health.

Genetic Link to Heart Failure

A team of researchers, at Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, has identified a group of 12 genetic variants in the HSPB7 gene that is associated with heart failure in humans. The research is reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The team, led by Gerald Dorn, used an approach they have recently developed that allows ultra-high-throughput targeted DNA sequencing to identify genetic variation in four genes with biological relevance to heart failure. They identified in a large group of Caucasian individuals with heart failure, 129 separate genetic variants in the four genes, including 23 that seemed to be novel. Further analysis of 1117 Caucasian individuals with heart failure and 625 nonaffected Caucasians indicated that a block of 12 genetic variants in the HSPB7 gene was associated with heart failure. Confirmation of this association was provided by analysis of an independent group of individuals. The authors hope to use the same approach to identify further genetic variants associated with heart failure, a disease that is influenced by multiple genetic factors.

Biofilms: Researchers Discover New Ways to Treat Chronic Infections

Researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York, have identified three key regulators required for the formation and development of biofilms. The discovery could lead to new ways of treating chronic infections. Biofilms -- communities of bacteria in self-produced slime -- may be found almost anywhere that solids and liquids meet, whether in nature, in hospitals or in industrial settings. Biofilms are implicated in more than 80 percent of chronic inflammatory and infectious diseases caused by bacteria, including ear infections, gastrointestinal ulcers, urinary tract infections and pulmonary infections in cystic fibrosis patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Biofilms are difficult to eradicate with conventional antimicrobial treatments since they can be nearly 1,500-fold more resistant to antibiotics than planktonic, free-floating cells. Biofilms also pose a persistent problem in many industrial processes, including drinking water distribution networks and manufacturing.

Keeping Hepatitis C Virus at Bay After a Liver Transplant

One of the most common reasons for needing a liver transplant is liver failure or liver cancer caused by liver cell infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV). However, in nearly all patients the new liver becomes infected with HCV almost immediately. But now, Hideki Ohdan, Kazuaki Chayama, and colleagues, at Hiroshima University, Japan, have developed an approach that transiently keeps HCV levels down in most treated HCV-infected patients receiving a new liver. The researchers report their findings in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. Specifically, the team took immune cells known as lymphocytes from the donor livers before they were transplanted into the HCV-infected patients, activated them in vitro, and then injected them into the patients three days after they had received their liver transplants. Importantly, these infused cells were able to keep the HCV at bay even though the patients were taking immunosuppressive drugs to prevent their immune systems from rejecting the new livers. Despite showing clear clinical effects, the authors are planning further studies in which they will modify the protocol in an attempt to find a way to keep HCV levels down for longer and in all patients.

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