Scientists Take Huge Step Toward Universal Flu Vaccine

A universal flu vaccine — one that provides immunity against every strain of the influenza virus for multiple years — is the holy grail of flu research. It would be a medical breakthrough on the order of penicillin, with the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. And scientists just got one crucial step closer to making it a reality.

Two separate groups of scientists published papers this week demonstrating that a new type of flu vaccine can provide protection against multiple strains of the disease, rather than just one. Though a truly universal flu vaccine that could be given to humans remains years away, infectious disease experts hailed the new findings as a major breakthrough.

“These are very good papers. There are no problems with them,” Dr. Peter Palese, a renowned flu expert at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told The Huffington Post. “What we need to do now is put [these vaccines] in humans and see if they work. That’s the only question at this point.”

One group of researchers, whose findings were published in the journal Nature Medicine, tested the new type of vaccine on mice and ferrets, while the other group, which published its paper in Science, tested it on monkeys. Both teams found that the vaccine increased the test subjects’ immunity against both the H1N1 flu type, often called “swine flu,” and the H5N1 type, or “bird flu.” Until now, all flu vaccines have only been able to protect against one specific strain of flu.

Even if it’s determined that the new vaccine type can work in humans, years of clinical trials will be needed before such vaccines could come to market. But if the research pans out, experts believe that within the decade, we could have a —> Read More

‘This Could Be The Rarest Animal In The World’

Truly a mystery of the deep, this living fossil hasn’t been seen by scientists in more than three decades. Until now.

Peter Ward, a biologist at the University of Washington, first spotted the Allonautilus scrobiculatus in 1984 alongside his colleague Bruce Saunders. The hairy animal looked fairly similar to the better known Nautilus pompilius, but proved to be an entirely new, and elusive, genus of nautilus. But the creature vanished, and Ward didn’t spot another for more than 30 years.

But earlier this month, Ward ventured to Papua New Guinea to hunt for the cephalopod again. Aside from the creature’s evasiveness, the scientist said, the schematics of the research were complicated: long days, the threat of malaria and temperatures “so hot it was almost impossible to think.”

Ward’s crew had to jump between several locations where locals were certain Allonautilus would be found, but his team kept turning up empty-handed. They’d set up a “bait on a stick” system every night, hoping to attract the nautiluses, which live some 500 to 1,300 feet below the surface.

Until finally, there it was, swimming alongside a cousin in all its slimy glory.

The find is a substantial addition in the field of biological diversity. Nautilus pompilius, the enigmatic red and white nautilus seen above, is one of the oldest species around, often classified as a “living fossil.” But its furry cousin has a substantially different anatomy, and Ward said the genus is probably a million years old or less.

“This is kind of like a holy grail, at least in what I do,” Ward told The Huffington Post. “It takes a lot of push to put anything in a wholly new and different genus … [and] this is one of the newest animals on the planet.”

Sadly, their elusiveness is tied to growing threats also linked to —> Read More

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