IDRI - Infectious Disease Research Institute

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…)

Remembering the Connection between Conflict & Disease

While visiting Civil War cemeteries in the U.S., one often has the opportunity to review records that reflect the cause of death of the soldiers buried there. While visions of death on a bloody battlefield spring to mind, the reality of the records is very different. Line after line shows disease as the cause of death: consumption (the polite term of the day for tuberculosis), malaria and typhoid fever, among many others.

In fact, about two-thirds of the estimated 625,000 soldiers who died during the Civil War were killed by disease, which were deadlier than the battles. Diarrhea, typhoid fever, lung inflammation, dysentery and childhood diseases like chicken pox were the cause of 67 percent of the deaths. And, new estimates suggest that the death toll of the Civil War is actually much higher.

Throughout the ages, conflict and disease have gone hand-in-hand. Modern times are no different. U.S. troops and peacekeepers around the world suffer from a variety of diseases endemic in areas of the world where they are stationed. In 2002, 38 Army Rangers contracted malaria while serving in eastern Afghanistan, while 79 U.S. troops contacted malaria during a peacekeeping mission in Liberia in 2003. In 2004, about 500 soldiers who served in Iraq were diagnosed with leishmaniasis.

As we commemorate Memorial Day (which originated as a way to remember Civil War soldiers and evolved into the modern-day remembrance of all U.S. Armed Forces members who have died during service), we should also remember the great struggle to win the battle over devastating infectious disease, which affects millions around the world every day. At IDRI, we’re proud to be leaders in this fight, and hope you’ll join us.


Good Health Starts at Home: Bike to Work!

While IDRI’s focus is on improving the health of the world, we like to start right here at home by promoting a healthy atmosphere within our organization. We have Fitbit challenge groups and a Wednesday morning yoga class but, now that May is here, biking is at the top of the list. We are once again taking part in Seattle’s Bike to Work Month challenge.

This time last year, we’d just moved into our new space at 1616 Eastlake, and we were figuring out the biking routes. Now, we’re ready to go and happy to take part in our second Bike to Work Month here on Eastlake. We encourage our employees to replace some or all of their commutes with biking and to find a bike buddy, while offering advice on the safest/easiest routes. We have 14 riders on 3 teams this year. And, we’re making it a friendly competition between our teams and some prizes for those who challenge themselves and ride every day.

During May 2013, we did a really great job of riding with 3,545.93 total miles and 269.5 trips. There were five people who rode every single day, all from 20 participating riders. We are small, but mighty: IDRI typically places in the top 50-100 companies in all of Seattle. One year we were even ranked in the Top 25.

This is quite a feat because the top companies are ranked by the total number of miles ridden by the employees, which means IDRI’s typical group of 20 or so riders is competing against the hundreds of riders employed at Microsoft, Boeing, REI and the likes. Our top riders at IDRI have even ranked in the top 200 of all riders in Seattle.

On Bike to Work Day, Friday, May 16, IDRI is pleased to host a stop from 6-9 a.m. on the sidewalk in front of 1616 Eastlake Ave. E. with our neighbors, Grand Central Bakery (which will be giving out free baguettes) and Atossa (offering healthy snacks). Stop by, take a quick break, pick up an IDRI wristband and say hello!

Posted by John Laurence, Research Assistant
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