IDRI - Infectious Disease Research Institute

Can Bees Help Detect Tuberculosis?

The comedian Eddie Izzard once suggested that wasps might be more popular with the general public if they did something useful. Bees are generally liked since they pollinate flowers and make honey, but wasps do nothing but sting people. Perhaps if wasps made jam (known as jelly in the U.S.), they might be more universally liked. Having bad memories of wasps from my childhood, I empathize with the idea.

It turns out bees could be even more useful to us. A surprising area in which bees are being considered is in the diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB). When people get TB, the bacteria multiply in the lung, and produce a number of volatile molecules that can be found in the exhaled breath – and it so happens that these can be detected, even at low concentrations, by bees. Researchers trained bees to recognize one of these molecules and to respond by sticking out their tongues (honestly!). This simple trick could be developed into a rapid and less invasive diagnostic than blood samples or sputum. (more…)

Summer Internship Helps Guide Future

IDRI intern Allison Good with her mentor Sandra Sivananthan.

NOTE: Each summer, IDRI welcomes a number of college interns as part of our commitment to train scientists of the future. This year, Allison Good, a student at Whitman College, is spending her summer at IDRI.

My summer internship at IDRI has been incredibly rewarding. I have greatly enjoyed learning more about the process of vaccine development and being part of the amazing team that makes up this nonprofit organization focused on infectious diseases. I also found it very rewarding to know that the research I am conducting is aimed at addressing health issues of global importance.

While at IDRI, I worked in the Formulations Department under the supervision of Sandra Sivananthan, a Process Development Associate. Prior to coming to IDRI, I knew very little about formulations, but now understand just how critical a role formulations play in the drug development process. During my internship, I primarily worked on two different projects. My first project involved the development and optimization of liposomes. I also worked on modifying a lipid extraction method to prepare samples for quantification. Through these projects, I was able to both reinforce concepts I had previously learned in my academic science classes and learn variety of new concepts and techniques, ranging from formulation development to analytical chemistry. (more…)

What the World Cup and TB Have in Common

The 2014 FIFA World Cup reaches its zenith this weekend with the final rapidly approaching. I just returned from a wonderful time in Brazil myself (more about that later). Sadly, the host team didn’t make it to the final, and, out of respect to my Brazilian colleagues, I won’t mention the score.

Brazilian defender Thiago Silva was notably missing from his country’s last game (as a result of suspension), but he is no stranger to being on the sidelines. Silva has had an oustanding international career, starting in his native Brazil, but moving to FC Porto in Portugal for a spell in a big money transfer. During this time, it appears he developed tuberculosis, which wasn’t diagnosed by the doctors in Portugal. In fact, it was only when he went to Dynamo Moscow that the disease was diagnosed, and he received treatment.

As with many TB patients, Silva’s treatment was lengthy. Because of the severity of his disease, he spent six months in hospital, which lead him to consider retiring from football. Fortunately he did make a full recovery and is back playing the “beautiful game” at the highest level once more. As the man said himself: “I’ve overcome tuberculosis, I can overcome criticism.”

We know that TB can affect anybody, including world-class athletes like Silva, and one of the problems can be that it remains undiagnosed as happened to Silva. The symptoms of TB are often missed in countries where the disease is not common or mistaken for other diseases.

We hope that one day improved diagnostics can prevent others having stories like Silva’s and ensure TB patients get the treatment they need rapidly.

Posted by Tanya Parish, Ph.D., Vice President, Drug Discovery

Beware Infectious Diseases During Summer Travel

The 4th of July holiday is just days away, often signaling the start of the official summer travel season.

As you travel, make sure you don’t bring home an unwanted visitor: an infectious disease. In today’s world, travel is easy and quick, offering the ability to fly around the world in only a day or two. Last year, nearly 29 million Americans – including almost 3 million children – traveled to overseas destinations.

Along the route, travelers can encounter any number of diseases, from those that are relatively harmless to those that threaten lives.

One of those disease vectors is the mighty mosquito, considered by many – including Bill Gates – to be the deadliest creature on earth. While mosquitos often bring to mind malaria, a disease that has felled millions over the course of several centuries, the small insects are also responsible for dengue fever and West Nile virus. Both these diseases are gaining ground, according to recent reports.

You’ve heard the old saying: “It’s not the destination, but the journey.” Sometimes the journey is where you encounter disease. (more…)

Here’s a Hint: It’s Green, Glows and Indispensable!

Julian Voss-Andreae’s GFP-based sculpture Steel Jellyfish (2006). The image shows the stainless-steel sculpture at Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island (Wash., USA), the place of GFP’s discovery.

What is green, glows and has become an indispensable tool in cell biology? And, it was discovered right here in the Pacific Northwest!

The Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) was initially isolated in 1962 from the pacific jellyfish Aequorea victoriaby Dr. Osamu Shimomura at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories. By harvesting and dissecting out the bioluminescent rim of thousands of jellyfish and purifying a “squeezate” extract of the material, enough GFP could be isolated to study the protein in greater detail.

After characterizing its green fluorescent properties when exposed to UV light, Shimomura went on to investigate the chemistry of the GFP chromophore and, in 1979, determined that the highly fluorescent structure is constructed from amino-acids that are part of the protein structure itself.The breakthrough in developing GFP as a molecular tool came when Martin Chalfie, in collaboration with Douglas Prasher, isolated the gene for GFP from the jellyfish genome, determined its sequence, and inserted it into E. coli and the nematode worm C. elegan. These experiments proved that GFP produces the chromophore independent of the jellyfish, is non-toxic, and can be used to monitor cellular events in live animals.

GFP has gained a wide variety of uses in various biology fields and has been modified to act as a sub-cellular sensor in many ways (pH, temperature, calcium, protein-protein interaction). Combined with fluorescent proteins from other aquatic species (such as the red fluorescent protein dsRed from the sea coral Discosoma striata), the color spectrum of fluorescent proteins has been expanded to cover almost the entire visible spectrum. As red and far-red colored variants of fluorescent proteins can be illuminated within tissues non-invasively, these fluorescent proteins have been inserted into cancer cells, used as markers to track tumor growth & malignancy, and visualize tumor shrinkage in response to chemotherapy. (more…)

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