A new blindness gene uncovered in a canine study

A new blindness gene uncovered in a canine study

Inherited retinal dystrophy is a common cause of blindness, with as many as two million people suffering from the disorder globally. No effective treatment is available for retinal dystrophies. Gene therapy is expected to offer a solution, but developing such therapies is possible only when the genetic cause of the disease is known. Related mutations have been identified in more than 70 genes so far, but the genetic background of the disease remains unknown in as many as half of the patients.

“Retinal dystrophy has been described in over 100 dog breeds, with related investigations helping to identify new genes associated and pathogenic mechanisms with blindness across different breeds. IFT122 is a good example, offering a potential explanation for unsolved human cases as well,” Professor Hannes Lohi states.

Data encompassing more than a thousand Lapponian Herders and Finnish Lapphunds from a canine DNA bank were utilized in the study. Previously, several retinal dystrophy genes have been described in both breeds.

“Among other finds, two eye disease genes have previously been identified in Lapponian Herders, but they have not accounted for all cases. In some dogs, the disease is caused by the IFT122 gene. The finding is significant since gene tests can now distinguish between retinal dystrophies associated with different genes in breeds, which makes a difference in monitoring disease progression, making prognoses, and developing novel treatments. Diagnostics are getting better and making the job of veterinarians easier,” explains Maria Kaukonen, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

The gene discovery also facilitates the understanding of retinal biology. IFT122 is part of a protein complex linked with ciliary function in the retina.

“The age of onset varies, and the disease progresses slowly in some dogs. IFT122 is known to contribute to the transport of opsin in photoreceptor cells. The gene variant disturbs this transport and results in progressive blinding. Since IFT122 is associated with cilia’s function, which is important to the body, we studied some of the dogs even more closely with regard to other issues potentially linked with cilia-related disturbances, such as renal abnormalities or serious developmental disorders of the internal organs. We found that the damage seems to be limited to the retina alone. This information helps us understand the gene’s mechanisms of action,” Kaukonen adds.

The findings are also significant for further plans to remove the disease from different breeds. In the Lapponian Herders and Finnish Lapphunds, the share of individuals carrying the gene variant was 28% and 12%, respectively.

“This is a recessively inherited disease, which means that a dog that will become blind inherits the variant from both parents, who are both carriers of the variant. Gene testing can help avoid carrier-carrier combinations, easily preventing the birth of sick dogs. A new concrete tool has been developed based on the study for the benefit of breeders,” says Lohi.

The new study is part of a broader research project on the genetic background of inherited diseases by Professor Lohi’s research group. Kaukonen recently transferred to a research group active at the University of Oxford, focusing on developing gene therapies for retinal dystrophy. At the same time, Kaukonen and Lohi are continuing close collaboration to survey a range of eye diseases together with the Helsinki University Hospital and other operators.

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Cancer: A new killer lymphocyte enters the ring

Cancer: a new killer lymphocyte enters the ring

Treatments for beating tumors are mainly based on CD8 T lymphocytes, which specialize in detecting and eliminating intracellular infections and in killing cancer cells. A large proportion of patients, however, do not respond to these treatments. This prompted a research team from the Swiss Cancer Centre Léman (SCCL, Switzerland) to bring together the universities of Geneva (UNIGE) and Lausanne (UNIL), the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR), EPFL and CHUV to investigate CD4 T lymphocytes. While these play a supporting role with CD8 T cells, their ability to eliminate tumor cells directly has been a matter of controversy. Using innovative nanoimaging technologies designed at the EPFL laboratory, the scientists found that when the CD4 T lymphocytes were put in close contact to the cancer cells, up to a third of them could kill them. This discovery, the subject of an article in Science Advances, is significant and broadens the therapeutic perspectives based on administering CD4 T lymphocytes to patients who are resistant to conventional therapies.

When cancer cells proliferate, the immune system kicks in. The first line of fighters capable of destroying tumor cells are CD8 T lymphocytes known as cytotoxic T cells, backed up by CD4 T lymphocytes. The latter secrete factors that help the former in many ways. Camilla Jandus, last author of the study and a professor in the Department of Pathology and Immunology in UNIGE’s Faculty of Medicine and adjunct scientist at LICR, says, “That’s why lots of cancer treatments are based on CD8 T lymphocytes. Unfortunately, some patients don’t respond to these treatments, and so we have to find new ones.”

The SCCL team turned their focus to CD4 T lymphocytes, which offer invaluable support to the immune system, as Pedro Romero, a professor in the Department of Fundamental Oncology in UNIL’s Faculty of Medicine and Biology, explains: “These have a much wider spectrum of functional specializations than CD8 T lymphocytes, and for a long time, we didn’t know for sure whether they had the capacity to differentiate into killer lymphocytes.”

20,000 individual “boxing rings”

To address this question, the scientists examined CD4 T lymphocytes from around 20 patients with melanoma who were being treated at CHUV. “Although melanoma isn’t the most common skin cancer, it is the deadliest, and it’s particularly sensitive to immunotherapies,” says Professor Jandus. The researchers isolated the CD4 T lymphocytes from both the blood and fragments of the tumors with the idea of comparing them directly. Dissociated tumor cells and CD4 T cells were co-incubated to observe their behavior individually. Observation tools were then required to provide high resolution down to the single-cell level.

“We created chips of over 20,000 mini-wells of 65 picolitres (1 picolitre = 10-12 liters) that can accommodate a CD4 T cell and a tumor cell in each of them, and function like boxing rings,” says Hatice Altug, a professor in EPFL’s Bionanophotonic Systems Laboratory. The researchers then photographed all these thousands of wells simultaneously every five minutes for 24 hours in order to observe the interactions occurring between the two cells from a large set of pairs. “We know that it takes about two and a half hours for a CD8 to kill a tumor cell, and we decided to observe these boxing rings for 24 hours without knowing how, or if, the CD4s would react,” says Professor Altug.

A third of the CD4s emerged victorious

The high-throughput integration of dynamic imaging data showed that up to one-third of the CD4 T lymphocytes succeeded in killing the tumor cells to which they were closely linked within five hours. Professor Romero says, “These direct observations at the level of individual lymphocytes, which were revealed for the first time at such a level of sensitivity, definitively confirm the existence of CD4 T lymphocytes capable of killing tumor cells. And this happens while the tumor cells sometimes manage to divert them from their function of providing protective support to make allies of them.”

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Critical step forward for radiotherapy with a new method to treat cancer

Critical step forward for radiotherapy with a new method to treat cancer

A new research development from The University of Manchester and the Christie NHS Foundation Trust has shown progress for developing a potential new cancer treatment using high energy electron beams.

The collaborative research team have published their findings in Nature’s journal, Scientific Reports, and demonstrated that Very High Energy Electron (VHEE) beams can have a positive effect for treatment with damage to DNA at similar levels to those conventional X-Rays and proton therapy, whilst harnessing the unique technological qualities of electron beams.

Human cells are composed of DNA and this new result is a fundamental step forward for VHEE radiation as a treatment for a number of cancers. This new treatment has the potential to extend conventional treatment with electron beams used in hospital which only penetrate a few centimeters into the body and struggle to reliably reach deep seated tumors.

This new technology has the potential to extend the toolbox of radiotherapy techniques that can be used in hospitals to treat cancer, in particular an ability to treat deep seated tumors with electrons in a robust manner.

Earlier work from The University of Manchester group indicated this radiation is insensitive to intervening media—meaning if the dimension of the lung changes for example (the patient’s breathing) then the radiation will remain targeted to the tumor, limiting the damage to healthy tissue. The results in this new paper are a first to quantify damage to Double Strands of DNA with high energy electrons.

Following experiments carried out by The University of Manchester, at CERN’s CLEAR 250 MeV facility and at Daresbury Laboratory, the findings show Very High Energy Electron (VHEE) beams are effective at causing DNA damage, important for killing cancer cells, for radiation given over the course of several minutes and for the rapidly evolving field of sub-second FLASH radiation.

In the newly published paper the research group focussed on experimentally determining the DNA Double-Strand Break yield and this was used to evaluate the Relative Biological Effectiveness (RBE)—a key value to evaluate the effectiveness of this type of radiation compared to existing radiation treatments. These results, a first in the field, were found to be consistent with established radiotherapy modalities.

Kristina Small, a Ph.D. student, carried out the experiments, Kristina said: “Electron beam treatment has been identified as a candidate for treatment of lung cancer, a cancer which sadly still has a low survival rate. We have shown, through experiments at CERN and Daresbury Laboratory that VHEEs cause a similar level of damage to DNA compared to protons and X-rays.”

Similarities in physical damage between VHEE and conventional modalities gives confidence that biological effects of VHEE will also be similar—key for clinical implementation. The researchers also made detailed Monte-Carlo (statistically based) simulations—and these complicated simulations were consistent with previous experiments.

Professor Roger Jones from The University of Manchester and Cockcroft Institute said: “This paper represents a significant step in verifying the potential of Very High Energy Electron beams to treat cancer. It relies on a seamless collaboration of The University of Manchester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, The Division of Cancer Sciences, Daresbury Laboratory and CERN, and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust.

“It is the first to quantify both single strand breaks (SSB) and double strand breakage (DSB) in DNA using VHEE beams. To do this we used plasmids which effectively freeze the damage (as plasmids are not equipped with repair mechanisms that living cells possess) and hence enabled us to process the results obtained at CERN back at the Manchester Cancer Research Centre. These results compare well with detailed Monte Carlo simulations. It also explores the exciting regime of FLASH Radiotherapy—which entails delivering a high dose over a sub-second timescale and where early experiments worldwide show potential to spare healthy cells during treatment. This work points the way for a potential new paradigm in radiotherapy.

“Advantages of this technique over existing methods include—potentially more precise and rapid delivery to tumors with reduced fractionation (number of times the patient has to have a follow up radiation treatment) which result in fewer patient visits needed with a more conformal high dose delivered. Recent results in the area of ultra-high dose rate radiotherapy indicate considerable sparing of healthy tissue.”

The next step is to further demonstrate these exciting results in future experiments. In the long term, researchers hope that VHEE therapy will make a valuable addition to the radiotherapy toolkit in order to improve future cancer treatment.

Dr. Michael Merchant (Division of Cancer Sciences, The University of Manchester) said: “This is an exciting first measurement of DNA damage for very high energy electrons. These measurements will help to build understanding of how to harness the medical applications of very high energy electrons.”

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New vaccine needed for serious childhood pneumonia

New vaccine needed for serious childhood pneumonia

A UNSW Sydney-led medical research team has called for a new vaccine, improved strategies and enhanced monitoring to combat serious complications from childhood pneumonia.

The researchers examined the impact of the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (13vPCV) on childhood pneumonia and empyema—complicated pneumonia—after its introduction to the Australian National Immunisation Program about a decade ago.

The new study, published in Thorax recently, found that while 13vPCV resulted in a 21% decrease in childhood pneumonia hospitalisations, there was a contemporaneous 25% increase in admissions for empyema.

This incidence data for childhood empyema hospitalisations is similar to that reported in other countries.

Approximately 7,000 Australians under the age of 18 are hospitalized with pneumonia each year.

Senior author Professor Adam Jaffe, Head of the School of Women’s and Children’s Health at UNSW Medicine & Health, said the researchers’ findings suggested an emergence of non-vaccine serotypes—those which 13vPCV does not cover.

13vPCV was introduced to cover the 13 most common serotypes responsible for invasive pneumococcal infection, extending coverage to six additional serotypes including 1 and 3.

The previous vaccine (7vPCV) covered seven serotypes. A serotype is a distinct variation within a bacteria species.

Prof. Jaffe said: “Although we found a substantial reduction in serotype 1, serotype 3 is now the predominant organism which causes childhood empyema—in 76% of cases—so, efforts must be made to create a vaccine which is more effective against serotype 3.

“In fact, Australia recently changed the vaccination dosage schedule to try and improve the effectiveness of 13vPCV against serotype 3, but we need to continue monitoring patients using molecular techniques to see if this change has had an impact.

“Childhood bacterial pneumonia and empyema are potentially preventable diseases through vaccination. So, if Australia can develop an effective vaccine, we could prevent children from being hospitalized with pneumonia and empyema.”

Empyema is infected fluid around the lungs and about 1% of children hospitalized with pneumonia develop it.

Although children are highly unlikely to die from empyema, they can expect a long stay in hospital for treatment with antibiotics and surgery, or the insertion of a drain. If adults develop empyema, about a third are likely to die.

Continuing enhanced surveillance needed

The researchers conducted a similar study during the period of the superseded 7vPCV. Their new study—which took four years to complete—is part of a broader research project on 13vPCV.

“Our new study had two parts,” Prof. Jaffe said. “We analyzed national hospitalisations for childhood empyema and childhood pneumonia, then we conducted an enhanced surveillance study on children with empyema.”

The first part of the research used publicly available hospitalisations data—about 36,000 admissions—to assess whether the introduction of 13vPCV changed how many children were admitted to hospital with pneumonia and empyema.

The enhanced surveillance study involved the collection of blood and lung fluid samples from 401 children with empyema from February 2015 to September 2018.

The children were receiving treatment in 11 major children’s hospitals across Australia.

Most children were boys (208 or 52%) and the median age was four years old.

The researchers then conducted molecular testing on these samples and compared the results to their previous study undertaken during the period of 7vPCV.

The multidisciplinary team included Dr. Nusrat Homaira, of the Discipline of Paediatrics at UNSW Medicine & Health, and pediatric research nurse Roxanne Strachan of Sydney Children’s Hospital.

Prof. Jaffe said: “Our new research is the first of its kind in Australia—so, we now have the best data available for complicated childhood pneumonia to help guide future vaccination introductions and improve vaccine strategies.

“We are currently working on our larger study, of which this was a subset, to examine the effectiveness of 13vPCV on children with bacterial pneumonia. We will need to repeat the study in a few years’ time to help with monitoring.

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Approved U.S. COVID vaccines are safe, new review confirms

Approved U.S. COVID vaccines are safe, new review confirms

Only a tiny fraction of the nearly 14 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the first month of vaccinations produced any sort of adverse event, U.S. health officials report.

There were 6,994 reports of adverse events following a shot of the COVID vaccine between Dec. 14, 2020 and Jan. 13, 2021, amounting to about half a percent of the 13.8 million doses doled out during that period, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found.

“The CDC safety data on the first 13 million-plus vaccinations substantiates the fact that the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines are very safe and have a risk-benefit ratio that unequivocally favors their use,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

Symptoms most frequently reported were headache (22%), fatigue (16.5%) and dizziness (16.5%), according to the study published Feb. 19 in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

There were 640 serious adverse events reported (9% of all adverse events), including 113 deaths.

Available records suggest that the COVID-19 vaccine played no part in these deaths, which mainly occurred among people in long-term care facilities, said the researchers, who were led by Julianne Gee, from the CDC’s COVID Response Team.

Cases of anaphylaxis were rare, amounting to 4.5 for every 1 million doses administered, the CDC found. By comparison, the flu vaccine causes 1.4 cases of anaphylaxis per million, the pneumonia vaccine 2.5 per million, and the shingles vaccine 9.6 per million.

There were a total of 62 reports of anaphylaxis: 46 from the Pfizer vaccine and 16 after the Moderna vaccine.

The data came from the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, as well as from an active surveillance system called V-safe, the researchers said.

To allay concerns about the rapid development and testing of the COVID-19 vaccines, the U.S. federal government “has implemented the most comprehensive vaccine safety monitoring program in its history,” the report added.

No unexpected patterns of reactions or other safety concerns have been identified during this early monitoring, the authors said.

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In High-End Real Estate, Are Doctors the New Doormen?

Gyms with Peloton bikes and lap pools are nice, but how about a doctor on call? Some new luxury developments now come with just that, offering residents memberships to medical centers staffed with on-call physicians and nurses. Others are partnering with hospitals and clinics to give homeowners easy access to care, even in remote locations. And a handful have amped up the health and wellness factor, bringing in Eastern medicine gurus and running general health assessments as part of their fitness and spa programs.

At Madison House, a new condo tower under construction in Manhattan’s Nomad neighborhood, buyers get a free one-year membership to Sollis Health, a private medical concierge company that handles everything from emergency calls to routine annual check ups. At Legacy Hotel and Residences, in downtown Miami, there’s a $60 million medical and wellness center on site staffed with doctors, nurses, and nutritionists on site. And at NEMA Chicago, a 76-story luxury rental building downtown, there’s an elaborate fitness center that comes with a complimentary full-body fitness assessment, including blood pressure analysis and body scans.

The Ritz-Carlton Residences in Miami Beach has 111 condominiums, 15 standalone homes, and prices starting at $2 million. Included with every condo purchase is a one-year membership to the Agatston Center for Preventative Medicine, a private medical center founded by Arthur Agatston, the celebrity doctor best known for creating the South Beach Diet. Developer Ophir Sternberg says he’s a member himself and thought buyers might like it as much as he does. “Most are very pleasantly surprised when we do the final walk through and give them their keys and a special medical concierge card,” he says, noting the value of the annual service is about $12,000. “At other developments, it’s just a bottle of champagne.”

For developers, offering medical care can telegraph a sense of luxury that’s broadly appealing and in keeping with the times. “This is not like gold-plated doors or a certain type of stone,” says Evan Stein, the developer of Manhattan’s Madison House. “We think this connotes luxury and what the [building’s] service level is.” Renderings of Madison House’s striking floor-to-ceiling glass windows and sculptural 75-foot-long Olympic pool plays most prominently in marketing materials, but the membership to Sollis has also raised plenty of eyebrows. “Nobody actually wants to sit there and think about their doctors, but they go, ‘wow, ok.’”

In more remote locations, knowing that good care is available can be a big selling point—especially in the midst of a pandemic. At Costa Palmas, a more than 1,000-acre private resort community in Los Cabos, Mexico, there are residences, a Four Seasons resort, and an Aman resort. A partnership with Patronus Medical gives residents and guests 24-hour telemedicine access. Though the partnership was in the works pre-Covid, Michael Radovan, Managing Director of Sales at Costa Palmas, said they’ve recently developed thorough pandemic protocols for screening both employees and guests as well.

In downtown Miami, Legacy Hotel & Residences are attached to a 100,000-square-foot medical center—ideal for out-of-town buyers who want to get treatment locally for chronic illnesses or indulge in anti-aging or cosmetic procedures. Buyers of the 274 residents also get access to a wellness center with a nutritionist, cryotherapy, and professional athletic coaching.

“At other developments, it’s just a bottle of champagne.”

Alternative medicine is also coming home. At 30 Park Place in New York come with services by the Four Seasons and several resident “healers.” According to the developer, they work with residents on sound therapy, crystal healing and acupuncture. “They pick up on things that modern medicine could never guide you on,” says Thomas Carreras, the general manager at the property. “We felt there was a demand for being treated beyond a nice massage that just makes you feel good.”

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New research identifies biological causes of muscle weakness in later life


A new largescale genetic analysis has found biological mechanisms that contribute to making people more susceptible to muscle weakness in later life, finding that diseases such as osteoarthritis and diabetes may play a large role in susceptibility.

As we get older we lose muscle strength, and in some people this severe weakness impacts their ability to live everyday lives, a condition called sarcopenia. Around 10 per cent of people over 50 experience sarcopenia. Many causes thought to impact likelihood of developing this weakness, which is linked to higher death rates.

In a genetic analysis of over 250,000 people aged over 60 from UK Biobank and 21 other cohorts, an international team led by researchers at the University of Exeter looked at handgrip strength, using thresholds of loss of muscle function derived from international definitions of sarcopenia.

The team, including collaborators from the USA and the Netherlands, then conducted a genetic analysis, and found specific biological mechanisms push some people towards sarcopenia, whilst protecting others. The study, published in Nature Communications identified 15 areas of the genome, or loci, associated with muscle weakness, including 12 loci not implicated in previous analyses of continuous measures of grip strength.

Biomarkers in the blood including red blood cells and inflammation may also share causal pathways with sarcopenia. Together, these results highlight specific areas for intervention or for identifying those at most risk.

Lead author Garan Jones said: “The strongest associations we found were close to regions of the genome regulating the immune system, and growth and development of the musclo-skeletal system. However we also discovered associations with regions not previously known to be linked to musclo-skeletal traits.

“We found that our analysis of muscle weakness in older people shared common genetic pathways with metabolic diseases such as type-2 diabetes, and auto-immune conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In subgroups of people with increased risk of these conditions, sarcopenia may be a key outcome to look out for and prevent.

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Winner-takes-all synthetic gene circuit process opens new pathways to disease treatment

Winner-takes-all synthetic gene circuit process opens new pathways to disease treatment

A new process for inserting synthetic gene circuits into host cells, developed by a team of bioengineers at Arizona State University, has broad implications for improving the effectiveness of a range of disease therapies.

Synthetic biology is an interdisciplinary research field that uses engineering principles to create biological components that don’t exist in the natural world. These synthetic components mimic naturally evolved organisms, but are customized to fight disease, including cancer.

A paper recently published in Nature Communications, “Winner-Takes-All Resource Competition Redirects Cascading Cell Fate Transitions,” outlines how gene circuits can be reconfigured so that they do not overwhelm the host cells.

“We connect circuits together like a Lego chain and insert them into a host cell,” explained lead author Xiaojun Tian, an assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering at ASU. “The circuits in the chain are designed to perform different functions, but they must compete with each other for the cell’s limited resources.”

Competition for resources has been a challenge in the synthetic biology field since its inception 20 years ago. “We would find circumstances where one gene circuit in a chain would consume 90 percent of a host cell’s available resources, leaving only 10 percent for the remaining circuit.”

Tian’s team devised a way to insert individual gene circuits into multiple host cells that work collectively. Each cell performs a specific function, eliminating the undesired competition for resources of any host cell. “Instead of dividing resources, each cell can perform 100 percent of its assigned workload,” said Tian. “The host cells perform as a connected unit without depleting any one cell’s resources—and each gene circuit becomes a winner.”

The technology has broad implications for cancer treatment, with future applications for other diseases on the horizon. Ninety percent of cancer deaths are due to metastasis—the spread of cancer cells to other sites in the body. However, treatment resistance is still a major problem in cancer therapeutics.

“There are many different kinds of cells in a cancer mass,” said Tian. “Some cells are responsive to chemotherapy and others are not, causing treatment resistance.

New multitasking synthetic gene circuitry configuration can be constructed to prevent the cells from metastasizing in the first place, while simultaneously making them more receptive to treatment.”

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New AI tool can thwart coronavirus mutations

coronavirus , COVID-19

USC researchers have developed a new method to counter emergent mutations of the coronavirus and hasten vaccine development to stop the pathogen responsible for killing thousands of people and ruining the economy.

Using artificial intelligence (AI), the research team at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering developed a method to speed the analysis of vaccines and zero in on the best potential preventive medical therapy.

The method is easily adaptable to analyze potential mutations of the virus, ensuring the best possible vaccines are quickly identified—solutions that give humans a big advantage over the evolving contagion. Their machine-learning model can accomplish vaccine design cycles that once took months or years in a matter of seconds and minutes, the study says.

“This AI framework, applied to the specifics of this virus, can provide vaccine candidates within seconds and move them to clinical trials quickly to achieve preventive medical therapies without compromising safety,” said Paul Bogdan, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at USC Viterbi and corresponding author of the study. “Moreover, this can be adapted to help us stay ahead of the coronavirus as it mutates around the world.”

The findings appear today in Nature Research’s Scientific Reports

When applied to SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—the computer model quickly eliminated 95% of the compounds that could’ve possibly treated the pathogen and pinpointed the best options, the study says.

The AI-assisted method predicted 26 potential vaccines that would work against the coronavirus. From those, the scientists identified the best 11 from which to construct a multi-epitope vaccine, which can attack the spike proteins that the coronavirus uses to bind and penetrate a host cell. Vaccines target the region—or epitope—of the contagion to disrupt the spike protein, neutralizing the ability of the virus to replicate.

Moreover, the engineers can construct a new multi-epitope vaccine for a new virus in less than a minute and validate its quality within an hour. By contrast, current processes to control the virus require growing the pathogen in the lab, deactivating it and injecting the virus that caused a disease. The process is time-consuming and takes more than one year; meanwhile, the disease spreads.

USC method could help counter COVID-19 mutations

The method is especially useful during this stage of the pandemic as the coronavirus begins to mutate in populations around the world. Some scientists are concerned that the mutations may minimize the effectiveness of vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna, which are now being distributed. Recent variants of the virus that have emerged in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil seem to spread more easily, which scientists say will rapidly lead to many more cases, deaths and hospitalizations.

But Bogdan said that if SARS-CoV-2 becomes uncontrollable by current vaccines, or if new vaccines are needed to deal with other emerging viruses, then USC’s AI-assisted method can be used to design other preventive mechanisms quickly.

For example, the study explains that the USC scientists used only one B-cell epitope and one T-cell epitope, whereas applying a bigger dataset and more possible combinations can develop a more comprehensive and quicker vaccine design tool. The study estimates the method can perform accurate predictions with over 700,000 different proteins in the dataset.

“The proposed vaccine design framework can tackle the three most frequently observed mutations and be extended to deal with other potentially unknown mutations,” Bogdan said.

The raw data for the research comes from a giant bioinformatics database called the Immune Epitope Database (IEDB) in which scientists around the world have been compiling data about the coronavirus, among other diseases. IEDB contains over 600,000 known epitopes from some 3,600 different species, along with the Virus Pathogen Resource, a complementary repository of information about pathogenic viruses. The genome and spike protein sequence of SARS-CoV-2 comes from the National Center for Biotechnical Information.

COVID-19 has led to 87 million cases and more than 1.88 million deaths worldwide, including more than 400,000 fatalities in the United States. It has devastated the social, financial and political fabric of many countries.

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New York sisters hope to help more than 200 seniors sign up for COVID-19 vaccines

New York sisters help seniors get vaccinated

Ava and Lily Weinstein tell ‘Fox and Friends Weekend’ they created a service to help seniors sign up for COVID-19 vaccine after assisting their own grandparents.

Two sisters from New York have teamed up to help senior citizens in their community get vaccinated.

Ava and Lily Weinstein started a service to help seniors register online and make appointments to get the coronavirus vaccine.

The two teenagers were inspired to launch their business after their own grandparents had trouble navigating the system to register for the vaccines.

“We were helping out our grandparents and it was very hard and difficult for them…many people don’t have kids or grandchildren to help them…We want to get out of this pandemic as soon as we can…we wondered how other people are supposed to do this,” Ava Weinstein told “Fox and Friends Weekend” on Saturday.

Lily Weinstein said she and her sister started to reach out to people in the community by creating and handing out fliers in front of their grandparents’ apartment building.

“It’s the best feeling in the world. They are so nice and they just love that we are so ready to help them,” Lily Weinstein said.

Ava and Lily Weinstein said their grandparents happily received their first coronavirus vaccine and have been doing well. They are expected to receive their second shot by the end of February.

“Anybody can call us at 65 or older and eligible for the vaccine… in New York, we’re just primarily doing right now… we’ll put them on our list and help them,” Ava Weinstein said.

The Weinstein sisters now have more than 200 seniors on a waitlist that they are ready to help once more vaccine appointments are available.


For more information, visit the sisters’ website at Covid19vaccineappointments.com.

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