Thomas R. O'Donnell

Researchers accuse Iowa company of delaying Ebola vaccine safety trial

In Industry Research on October 27, 2014 at 2:34 pm
Liberian sign promoting hand-washing as a means to avoid spreading the Ebola virus. It also lists symptoms and precautions.

Advice to avoid Ebola; also good advice for avoiding flu, food poisoning, etc. Credit: CDC Global Health via photopin cc

Ebola is making millions of Americans sick.

No, they’re not contracting the virus, which has killed thousands of Africans in the worst outbreak in history.

I’m saying people are sick of the breathless reports and fear-mongering pronouncements from politicians, cable news outlets and talk radio hosts.

The fact is that in a country of 300 million people, only two have actually become infected here in the United States (due to poor protocols at a Dallas hospital). Two others (one of whom died) developed symptoms here after visits to West Africa.

A few other patients were brought here for treatment after developing symptoms overseas. At the Omaha, Atlanta and Maryland hospitals where those patients were treated (and where the two Dallas healthcare workers have been hospitalized), no healthcare workers have contracted Ebola. The government built special units at these hospitals to handle contagious patients in a post-9/11 effort to prepare for possible biological attacks.

Also: No one the Dallas patient was with before he was hospitalized has become ill. That says something about how hard it is to spread this virus – unlike, say, influenza.

Meanwhile (here comes the Iowa angle), an Ames company has been in the headlines for its work on an Ebola vaccine. Iowa press coverage of NewLink Genetics has largely tracked the company’s plans to get the vaccine into human trials. It’s rarely gone beyond a single source: NewLink.

Reports outside the state, however, have been more critical. NewLink denies it, but some say the company has purposely delayed the trials while Ebola spreads in Africa and people die.

Rats on the brain: U of I researchers chase a stress-memory connection

In University research on July 2, 2014 at 6:30 am
A brain diagram from the Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary, published in Russia,1890-1907.

A brain diagram from the Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary, published in Russia, 1890-1907. Credit: Double–M via photopin cc

When I talked with Jason Radley, he was nearly back home in Iowa City after a weekend trip to Minnesota with his wife and two children, ages seven and 10.

Fortunately, the kids were riding in another car with grandma and grandpa, so Radley was feeling pretty good. The grandparents are “probably the ones who are stressed,” he said.

Given their ages, “we probably put them in undue risk, if you extrapolate my work” to humans, joked Radley, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Iowa.

That work, done in rats, suggests stress may cut into cognitive ability – specifically memory – as people age.

The research, published last month in The Journal of Neuroscience, found that older rats showing signs of stress – that is, elevated levels of a stress-related hormone – not only performed more poorly on memory tests; they also had structural changes in a key brain region responsible for short-term memory.

The report follows other research with similar conclusions, making chronic stress a likely addition to the cast of health villains that contribute to declining brain function late in life.

But don’t tell your significant other you’re spending your days playing video games and drinking beer, all in the name of reducing your stress to preserve your memory. There are caveats to the study, which included a fascinating experiment involving a T-shaped maze.

Talkin’ science talks and Cyclone Survivor

In STEM on June 12, 2014 at 8:11 am
Gray wolves looking cute.

Canis lupus: the gray wolf, once roamed Iowa. Credit: Steve Jurvetson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters via Compfight cc

A quick post to spread the word about two lecture series now in progress for folks living in Central Iowa. If you have a Friday night or Saturday afternoon free, they’re great destinations for engaging talks on wildlife, astronomy, biology and more. They’re at no charge and in beautiful settings.

I’ll also note the accomplishments of a Williamsburg FIRST LEGO League team in this year’s Global Innovation Award competition.

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The Buttry Diary

Steve Buttry, Lamar Family Visiting Scholar, LSU's Manship School of Mass Communication

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