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Vol. LXV, No. 22
October 25, 2013
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Digest

H7N9 Avian Flu Vaccine Candidate Begins Testing Nationwide

Researchers at nine sites nationwide have begun testing in humans an investigational H7N9 avian influenza vaccine.

Researchers at nine sites nationwide have begun testing in humans an investigational H7N9 avian influenza vaccine.

Researchers at nine sites nationwide have begun testing in humans an investigational H7N9 avian influenza vaccine. The two concurrent phase II clinical trials, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, are designed to gather critical information about the safety of the candidate vaccine and the immune system responses it induces when administered at different dosages and with or without adjuvants, substances designed to boost the body’s immune response to vaccination.

Human cases of H7N9 influenza first emerged in China in February 2013, with the majority of reported infections occurring in the spring. As of Aug. 12, 135 confirmed human cases, including 44 deaths, have been reported by the World Health Organization. Most of these cases involved people who came into contact with infected poultry. Although no H7N9 influenza cases have been reported outside of China and the virus has not demonstrated sustained person-to-person transmission, there is concern that it could mutate to pose a much greater public health threat.

“H7N9 avian influenza virus—like all novel influenza virus strains to which people have not been exposed—has the potential to cause widespread sickness and mortality,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. “We are now testing a vaccine candidate with and without adjuvant in an effort to prepare for and, hopefully, protect against this possibility.”

The two clinical trials, which will enroll healthy adults ages 19 to 64, will evaluate an investigational H7N9 vaccine developed by Sanofi Pasteur.

Versatile Proteins Could Be New Target for Alzheimer’s Drugs

A class of proteins that controls visual system development in the young brain also appears to affect vulnerability to Alzheimer’s disease in the aging brain. The proteins, which are found in humans and mice, join a limited roster of molecules that scientists are studying in hopes of finding an effective drug to slow the disease process.

“People are just beginning to look at what these proteins do in the brain,” said lead investigator Dr. Carla Shatz of Stanford University. “While more research is needed, these proteins may be a brand new target for Alzheimer’s drugs.”

She and her colleagues report that LilrB2 (pronounced “leer-bee-2”) in humans and PirB (“peer-bee”) in mice can physically partner with beta-amyloid, a protein fragment that accumulates in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease. This in turn triggers a harmful chain reaction in brain cells. In a mouse model of Alzheimer’s, depleting PirB in the brain prevented the chain reaction and reduced memory loss.

The research, funded in part by the National Eye Institute, the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, was reported in the Sept. 20 Science.

Brain May Be Hard-Wired for Chronic Pain

The structure of the brain may predict whether a person will suffer chronic low back pain, according to researchers who used brain scans. The results, published in the journal Pain, support the growing idea that the brain plays a critical role in chronic pain, a concept that may lead to changes in the way doctors treat patients. NINDS supported the research.

“We may have found an anatomical marker for chronic pain in the brain,” said a senior author of the study, Dr. Vania Apkarian of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Scientists have thought the cause of low back pain could be found at the site of injury. However, recent studies suggest that the brain may be more involved with chronic pain.

Apkarian and his colleagues scanned the brains of 46 people who had low back pain for about 3 months before coming to the hospital but who had not had any pain for at least a year before.

The researchers scanned the subjects’ brains and evaluated their pain with doctor’s examinations and questionnaires 4 times over a period of 1 year. About half of the subjects recovered at some time during the year; the other half had pain throughout, which the researchers categorized as persistent.

Previously, the Apkarian laboratory showed that the volume of grey matter in the brains of the same subjects who had persistent pain decreased over the same year. Grey matter describes the area of the brain where the central bodies and branched antennae, or dendrites, of nerve cells reside. They also showed that brain activity could be used to predict whether a subject recovered or experienced persistent pain.


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