Professors Getting Vaccinated

A short clip on the decision-making process that goes into getting a flu shot. Produced by my Science Communication Through Social Media professor, Dr. Andrew Maynard, and edited by yours truly.

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Public Health Emergency: Influenza 2013

Members of the U.S. Army receiving the flu vaccine. Source: Flickr Creative Commons, (C) U.S. Army

Members of the U.S. Army receiving the flu vaccine. Source: Flickr Creative Commons, (C) U.S. Army

Recently the State of New York and the City of Boston have both declared public health emergencies. A Pennsylvania hospital (Lehigh Valley) has set up surge tents outside the emergency rooms to handle any patients with a fever. While last year’s flu season was incredibly mild, this year has been very different. The flu is becoming much more widespread much earlier in the season, and the strain in question is causing severe illness. for example, in Boston 25% of reported cases (a case is reported any time someone tests positive, so any time you go to a doctor and get swabbed you are being tested, and those data are being reported) are requiring hospitalization.

What is a Public Health Emergency?

Essentially, a Public Health Emergency is declared when a state or city (or the entire country) needs to release resources (monetary resources, vaccine stockpiles, healthcare providers, ect.) to handle a threat. These are bad situations (or imminent threats) requiring lots of people, supplies, and funds to deal with. For example, part of the emergency declaration in NYC allows pharmacists to give vaccines to children between the ages of 6 months and 18 years. Ordinarily  pharmacists can only administer vaccines to adults, but since children are considered an at-risk group for severe influenza the emergency declaration waived that regulation. Continue reading

Of Mice and Cancer: How a relative of smallpox might help cure breast cancer

Vaccinia Virus, Source: Wikimedia Commons

Vaccinia Virus, Source: Wikimedia Commons

This post was originally published at Mind the Science Gap on Oct. 18, 2012.

Just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the American College of Surgeons issued a press release with a potentially  life-saving finding. Detailed in the press release are the results of a study recently conducted at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) where scientists recently conducted a study in mice and found that a new vaccinia virus (named GLV-1h164) can kill Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) cells.

Vaccinia is a poxvirus, and it is in the same family as smallpox and monkeypox. In fact, vaccinia is the virus used in the smallpox vaccine. The virus in this study works by preventing the tumor from recruiting blood vessels (angiogenesis), a crucial step in cancer spreading. If a tumor can’t recruit blood vessels, then it can’t receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood. This virus effectively starves the tumor.

The Triple Negative of TNBC refers to breast cancers that do not express genes (a process where information from genes is turned into an actual product like a protein) for:

  1. Estrogen receptors – The status of these receptors determines a tumor’s susceptibility to hormonal chemotherapy drugs like tamoxifen. If receptors are present, hormonal treatments can be used in treatment.
  2. Progesterone Receptors – Like estrogen receptors, presence of these receptors indicates a tumor’s susceptibility to hormonal treatments
  3. Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2 or HER2 – A common target for cancer treatments, since HER2 overexpression leads to aggressive cancers Continue reading