Thursday, February 02, 2006

SciTech Watch: Bird Flu - Encouraging News

I ran across a couple of bits of good news in the onslaught of bad news that typically surrounds the Bird Flu (H5N1) outbreaks that are occurring in Southeast Asia and some points east.

Modelling the Spread of a Pandemic

Reuters article on January 25th detailed how scientists have new information for modelling how infectious diseases spread. The work to develop such a model been ongoing, but this latest breakthrough entailed using the movement of currency through the United States as the basis for the spread of infectious disease model. The data on how currency moves in the US has been accumulating at a web site called Where’s George. This site asks people to mark One Dollar bills and to log any marked bills they find and where they found them. Where’s George has information on 50 million one dollar bills. Dr. Dirk Brockmann, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Gottingen, Germany analyzed the data accumulated by Where’s George and found that the data closely correlated with the traffic flow data from aviation networks. Since human movement is the chief means of spreading an infectious disease having a good mathematical model of people’s movements will allow scientists to model and predict the spread of an infectious disease in a pandemic.

Brockmann’s work has been published in an article in Nature as The scaling laws of human travel. Nature 2006: 439; 462-65. Further analysis of this work can be found here.

A Vaccine Against H5N1

An article published in the Feb 15 issue of the Journal of Virology and reported on by indicates that scientists at the University of Pittsburgh (UP) have produced a genetically-engineered avian flu vaccine. The vaccine has been tested in birds and in mice and has proved to be 100% effective. This new vaccine has several significant pluses to it: the method used to produce the vaccine lends itself to quicker scale-up of production, this vaccine appears to trigger a stronger immune response than previous vaccine candidates, and that one form of the vaccine stimulates several lines of immunity against H5N1. The lead author of this study was Dr. Andrea Gambotto, an assistant professor at UP.

I wanted to thank everyone for their feedback on my last column. I’ll publish another Space Resource column in the near future to include all the great suggestions I received.

If you have any ideas for future SciTech Watch columns feel free to leave them in the comments or email them to me.

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