Brain Images Of Depressed Adults Reveal Too Many Network Connections Related To Rumination.

Previously depressed young adults have hyperconnected emotional and cognitive brain networks, especially in the regions related to rumination. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

While “the unexamined life is not worth living,” too much self-reflection may be a big-time negative, or so say psychologists who believe rumination — when you think about a problem over and over without coming to a solution — is a risk factor for depression and for reoccurrence of depression. Now, a new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago plainly reveals the startling effects of rumination on the brain. Brain scans of previously depressed young adults showed hyperconnected emotional and cognitive networks, especially in the regions related to rumination, the researchers found. “Rumination is not a very healthy way of processing emotion,” said Dr. Scott Langenecker, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at UIC.

Previous Studies of Depression

Two relatively recent studies of depression may provide insight to those who are frequently down in the dumps. A 2011 survey of more than 30,000 people found that, as expected, negative life events in childhood or early adulthood were the strongest factors when predicting whether or not you might be prone to depression and anxiety. But the study carried an important caveat; how much you ruminate and blame yourself for these past events determined, to a very large extent, how depressed or anxious you might become. In other words, you could possibly gain some control over depression by zealously regulating your thoughts.

A separate study published just last year found that depressed people have more abstract goals than their healthier counterparts, who tended to be more precise in their aims. While a depressed person, for instance, aims “to be happy,” a non-depressed person might aim to “add two more workouts to my schedule each week.” The researchers believe less specific goals are more ambiguous and harder to visualize, thus they may offer less motivation. In essence, the fuzzy goal may be harder to achieve and so contributes to depression.

For the current study, a team of UIC researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine network connections in the brains of young adults between the ages of 18 and 23 while they were in a resting state. Among the participants, 30 had previously experienced depression though they were currently unmedicated, while 23 were healthy controls who had never experienced depression. “We wanted to see if the individuals who have had depression during their adolescence were different from their healthy peers,” said Dr. Rachel Jacobs, research assistant professor in psychiatry and lead author of the study.

Upon examination, the team found many regions that are hyperconnected, “or talking to each other a little too much,” among the participants who had a history of depression, Jacobs explained, and these hyperconnected networks were related to rumination. The researchers also looked at cognitive control or the ability to engage and disengage in thought processes or behaviors; this is a predictor of response to treatment and also a forecaster of relapse. “As rumination goes up, cognitive control goes down,” Langenecker noted.

The researchers plan to follow these young adults to see whether or not hyperconnectivities predict who will or won’t have a recurrence of depression. “If we can help youth learn how to shift out of maladaptive strategies such as rumination, this may protect them from developing chronic depression and help them stay well as adults,” Jacobs said.

Study links polar vortex chills to melting sea ice

A new study says that as the world gets warmer, parts of North America, Europe and Asia could see more frequent and stronger visits of cold air as the world gets warmer.

Researchers say that’s because of shrinking ice in the seas off Russia. Less iced would let more energy go from the ocean into the air, and that would weaken the atmospheric forces that usually keep cold air trapped in the Arctic.

But at times it escapes and wanders south, bringing with it a bit of Arctic super chill.

That can happen for several reasons, and the new study suggests that one of them occurs when ice in northern seas shrinks, leaving more water uncovered.

Normally, sea ice keeps heat energy from escaping the ocean and entering the atmosphere. When there’s less ice, more energy gets into the atmosphere and weakens the jet stream, the high-altitude river of air that usually keeps Arctic air from wandering south, said study co-author Jin-Ho Yoon of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. So the escapes instead.

That happened relatively infrequently in the 1990s, but since 2000 it has happened nearly every year, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. A team of scientists from South Korea and United States found that many such cold outbreaks happened a few months after unusually low sea ice levels in the Barents and Kara seas, off Russia.

The study observed historical data and then conducted computer simulations. Both approaches showed the same strong link between shrinking sea ice and cold outbreaks, according to lead author Baek-Min Kim, a research scientist at the Korea Polar Research Institute. A large portion of sea ice melting is driven by man-made climate change from the burning of fossil fuels, Kim wrote in an email.

Sea ice in the Arctic usually hits its low mark in September and that’s the crucial time point in terms of this study, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. Levels reached a record low in 2012 and are slightly up this year, but only temporarily, with minimum ice extent still about 40 percent below 1970s levels, he said.

Yoon said that although his study focused on shrinking sea ice, something else was evidently responsible for last year’s chilly visit from the polar vortex.

In the past several years, many studies have looked at the accelerated warming in the Arctic and whether it is connected to extreme weather farther south, from heatwaves to Superstorm Sandy. This Arctic-extremes connection is “cutting edge” science that is hotly debated by mainstream climate scientists, Serreze said. Scientists are meeting this week in Seattle to look at the issue even more closely.

Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, is skeptical about such connections and said he doesn’t agree with Yoon’s study. His research points more to the Pacific than the Arctic for changes in the jet stream and behavior, and he said Yoon’s study puts too much stock in an unusual 2012.

But the study was praised by several other scientists who said it does more than show that melt affects worldwide weather, but demonstrates how it happens, with a specific mechanism.

Removing both breasts may not boost cancer survival .

Women diagnosed with cancer in one breast who choose to have both removed may have no better survival rates than women who opt for breast-conserving surgery and radiation. In a study of nearly 190,000 women, the 10-year mortality rate was 18.8 percent for women who had double mastectomies, 20.1 for those who had single mastectomies and 16.8 percent for women who had lumpectomies plus radiation, researchers report in the Sept. 3 JAMA. The slightly lower survival rate among women who had only one breast removed may be influenced by socioeconomic status and race and ethnicity, the researchers say.

Monkey leaders have different brains


Macaque monkeys live in groups which have firm social hierarchies

Monkeys at the top and bottom of the social pecking order have physically different brains, research has found.

A particular network of brain areas was bigger in dominant animals, while other regions were bigger in subordinates.

The study suggests that primate brains, including ours, can be specialised for life at either end of the hierarchy.

The differences might reflect inherited tendencies toward leading or following, or the brain adapting to an animal’s role in life – or a little of both.

Neuroscientists made the discovery, which appears in the journal Plos Biology, by comparing brain scans from 25 macaque monkeys that were already “on file” as part of ongoing research at the University of Oxford.

“Start Quote

Dominance might depend not only on aggression and physical strength, but also on forming bonds and making coalitions – and being quite smart about placing your loyalties”

Dr MaryAnn NoonanUniversity of Oxford

“We were also looking at learning and memory and decision-making, and the changes that are going on in your brain when you’re doing those things,” explained Dr MaryAnn Noonan, the study’s first author.

The decision to look at the animals’ social status produced an unexpectedly clear result, Dr Noonan said.

“It was surprising. All our monkeys were of different ages and different genders – but with fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) you can control for all of that. And we were consistently seeing these same networks coming out.”

The monkeys live in groups of up to five, so the team identified their social status by watching their behaviour, then compared it to different aspects of the brain data.

In monkeys at the top of their social group, three particular bits of the brain tended to be larger (specifically the amygdala, the hypothalamus and the raphe nucleus). In subordinate monkeys, the tendency was for a different cluster of regions to be bigger (all within the striatum).

Nature plus nurture

At either end of the social ladder, compared to monkeys in the middle, the activity in all these different brain regions was more synchronised. The researchers believe these areas together constitute brain circuits that are crucial for negotiating social situations – interpreting social and emotional cues, learning the value of certain actions, and so on.

Dr Noonan said it was particularly interesting to see different brain regions expanded at the top and the bottom of the social ladder, indicating that dominance isn’t simply about being physically stronger and having an altogether bigger brain.

Planet of the Apes
It is likely that apes, fictional and otherwise, would show similar correlations – and humans too

“It suggests that at either end [of the hierarchy], you really need a specific set of skills to be successful, and those skills are making higher neural demands on those areas of the brain,” she told the BBC.

“In the animal kingdom, you might think that being dominant is all about aggression – I’m the bigger monkey, bugger off the rest of you.

“But all of this put together means that dominance might actually depend not only on aggression and physical strength, but also on forming bonds and making coalitions – and being quite smart about placing your loyalties.”

The results cannot distinguish whether the differences in these monkeys’ brains were there from birth, predisposing them to a particular social lot in life, or whether they reflect ongoing changes in the brain’s organisation based on the demands of living with a particular status. Dr Noonan thinks that a combination of both these effects is the most likely explanation.

“It probably is both, because they’re both really important mechanisms to have on board. You can imagine if you’ve come from ‘good stock’ within the monkey world, and your dad was really strong and muscly, you’ll inherit those genes, and that might set your brain up in a certain way.

“But of course you’re going to have to be plastic, in order to succeed and survive. You’ll have to be adapting your behaviour and therefore your brain has got to adapt too.”

Differences between dominant and subordinate monkeys could be adaptive or inherited, or a mixture of both

There is no reason to suspect that the correlations identified in the study would not apply to other primates, like apes and humans.

“The regions that we’ve found are all there in humans and they all do similar things,” Dr Noonan said.

But in our society, social position can vary considerably in different situations – so it is might be difficult to define “dominance” for a human study.

“While we might be top-dog in one circle of friends, at work we might be more of a social climber. The fluidity of our social position and how our brains adapt our behaviour to succeed in each context is the next exciting direction for this area of research.”

World’s first cyborg wants to hack your body

Neil Harbisson is the world’s first legally recognized cyborg. He has an antenna implanted into his skull that gives him access to something he was born without: the ability to see color.

Watch this video

In a world where technology is overwhelming our mental focus and social lives, Harbisson, 32, has a closer relationship with technology than even the most avid smartphone user.

As a child growing up in a coastal town in Catalonia, Spain, Harbisson was diagnosed with achromatopsia, complete color-blindness. In 2004, he decided to find a way out of his black-and-white world, by developing a technology that would provide him with a sensory experience that no other human had ever experienced.

The idea came while studying experimental music composition at Dartington College of Arts in Devon, England. For his final project, Harbisson and the computer scientist Adam Montandon developed the first incarnation of what they called the “eyeborg.” The apparatus was an antenna attached to a five-kilogram computer and a pair of headphones. The webcam at the end of the antenna translated each color into 360 different sound waves that Harbisson could listen to through headphones.

Although it sounds like a form of induced synaesthesia, a neurological condition that makes people see or even taste colors, Harbisson’s new condition is different, and requires a completely new name: sonochromatopsia, an extra sense that connects colors with sound. Unlike synaestehsia, which can vary wildly from person to person, sonochromatopsia makes each color correspond to a specific sound.

It took about five weeks to get over the headaches from the sounds of each new color and about five months to be able to decipher each frequency as a particular color he could now hear as a sound.

In the years after he began wearing the eyeborg, Harbisson went from complete color-blindness to the ability to decipher colors like red, green and blue. He could even detect colors like infrared and ultraviolet, which are outside of the spectrum of human vision.

Going to a supermarket became like a visit to a nightclub. His daily choice of clothes began to reflect the scale of music tones that matched his emotional state, the way that some people match a top and pants. When he was in a good mood, Harbisson would dress in a chord like c-major, colors whose sound frequencies correspond to pink, yellow and blue; if he was in a sad mood, he would dress in turquoise, purple and orange, colors linked to b-minor. For him, the concept of race also changed: he soon discovered that skin color, for him, was not actually black-and-white:

“I thought black people were black, but they’re not. They’re very very dark orange and people who say they’re white are very very light orange,” Harbisson explains.

The next step was to find a way to make the antenna less bulky. He began by reducing the weight of the computer to one kilo and strapping it inside his clothes. Then the computer’s software was downsized into a chip installed under his skin. And this past December, Harbisson had the antenna installed directly into his skull.

It just feels like touching an extension of my body. It feels like a new body part, like a nose or a finger.
Neil Harbisson

Finding a doctor to do the operation was not easy. He presented his case to plastic surgeons, and then to over a dozen physicians. Each one turned him down. He finally found one who agreed to do it if his identity remained confidential. It took months for the bone and the antenna to fuse, but Harbisson says he achieved exactly what he wanted.

“I don’t feel any weight, I don’t feel any pressure,” he says, grasping the slender neck of the antenna. “It just feels like touching an extension of my body. It feels like a new body part like a nose or a finger.”

Cyborgism, of which Harbisson is one of the foremost pioneers, is a slowly growing trend. The development of Google Glass has brought more attention to the concept of wearing technology for extended periods of time. Magnetic implants that allow individuals to feel the attraction of magnetic fields, like microwaves or power cord transformers, have become a popular piece of equipment among self-described “bio-hackers.” And more recently, a Canadian filmmaker developed and implanted his own kind of eyeborg, a prosthetic eye embedded with a video camera.

But Harbisson says he holds the distinction of being the first cyborg to be legally recognized by a government: the photo on his UK passport shows him wearing his device, effectively sanctioning it as part of his face.

He thinks the movement needs more momentum: “I thought that after a few years this would be really mainstream, that many people would start extending their senses, but it’s still not the case.”

For that he blames societal pressure, pointing to an anti-cyborg organization called “Stop the Cyborgs” that specifically targets those who use wearable technology like Google Glass or the Narrative Clip, an automatic, wearable camera that captures your life.

“People are afraid of the unknown. They tend to exaggerate or be very negative about the possible consequences of what is new to them.”

For Harbisson, physically acclimating to the technology was the easy part. Acceptance from others has been the real challenge. He frequently compares the obstacles he faces on a daily basis to what transsexuals and transvestites experienced half a century ago.

In an effort to address some of these issues, Harbisson co-founded the Cyborg Foundation in 2010 with his childhood friend Moon Ribas. He asserts he’s not doing anything unnatural: “Hearing through bone conduction is something that dolphins do, an antenna is something that many insects have, and knowing where North is is something that sharks can also detect. These senses are very natural, they already exist but we can now apply them to humans.”

It will become normal to have tech inside our bodies or have it implanted. I think it just needs time.
Neil Harbisson

One way in which the foundation is trying to show people what it’s like to be a cyborg is through the Eyeborg appfor Android, which translates colors into the sound frequencies that Harbisson hears.

He sees the app as a first step toward introducing people to the cyborg experience: “We all have a mobile phone and we all use technology constantly, so this has become normal. It will also become normal to have tech inside our bodies or have it implanted. I think it just needs time.”

New synthesis method may shape future of nanostructures, clean energy

A team of University of Maryland physicists has published new nanoscience advances that they and other scientists say make possible new nanostructures and nanotechnologies with huge potential applications ranging from clean energy and quantum computing advances to new sensor development.

Published in the September 2, issue of Nature Communications the Maryland scientists’ primary discovery is a fundamentally new synthesis strategy for hybrid nanostructures that uses a connector, or “intermedium,” nanoparticle to join multiple different nanoparticles into nanostructures that would be very difficult or perhaps even impossible to make with existing methods. The resultant mix and match modular component approach avoids the limitations in material choice and nanostructure size, shape and symmetry that are inherent in the crystalline growth (epitaxial) synthesis approaches currently used to build nanostructures.

“Our approach makes it possible to design and build higher order [more complex and materially varied] nanostructures with a specifically designed symmetry or shape, akin to the body’s ability to make different protein oligomers each with a specific function determined by its specific composition and shape,” says team leader Min Ouyang, an associate professor in the department of physics and the Maryland NanoCenter.

“Such a synthesis method is the dream of many scientists in our field and we expect researchers now will use our approach to fabricate a full class of new nanoscale hybrid structures,” he says.

Among the scientists excited about this new method is the University of Delaware’s Matt Doty, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, physics, and electrical and computer engineering and associate director of the UD Nanofabrication Facility. “The work of Weng and coauthors provides a powerful new tool for the ‘quantum engineering’ of complex nanostructures designed to implement novel electronic and optoelectronic functions. [Their] new approach makes it feasible for researchers to realize much more sophisticated nanostructure designs than were previously possible.” he says.

Lighting a Way to Efficient Clean Power Generation

The team’s second discovery may allow full realization of a light-generated nanoparticle effect first used by ancient Romans to create glass that changes color based on light.. This effect, known as surface plasmon resonance, involves the generation of high energy electrons using light.

More accurately explains Ouyang, plasmon resonance is the generation of a collective oscillation of low energy electrons by light. And the light energy stored in such a “plasmonic oscillator” then can be converted to energetic carriers (i.e., “hot” electrons)” for use in various applications.

In recent years, many scientists have been trying to apply this effect to the creation of more efficient photocatalysts for use in the production of clean energy. Photocatalysts are substances that use light to boost chemical reactions. Chlorophyll is a natural photocatalyst used by plants.

“The ingenious nano-assemblies that Professor Ouyang and his collaborators have fabricated, which include the novel feature of a silver-gold particle that super-efficiently harvests light, bring us a giant step nearer the so-far elusive goal of artificial photosynthesis: using sunlight to transform water and carbon dioxide into fuels and valuable chemicals,” says Professor Martin Moskovits of the University of California at Santa Barbara, a widely recognized expert in this area of research and not affiliated with the paper.

Indeed, using sunlight to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen to produce hydrogen fuel has long been a “holy grail”. However, decades of research advances have not yielded photocatalytic methods with sufficient energy efficiency to be cost effective for use in large scale water splitting applications.

“Using our new modular synthesis strategy, our UMD team created an optimally designed, plasmon-mediated photocatalytic that is an almost 15 times more efficient than conventional photocatalysts,” says Ouyang.

In studying this new photocatalyst, the scientists identified a previously unknown “hot plasmon electron-driven photocatalysis mechanism with an identified electron transfer pathway.”

It is this new mechanism that makes possible the high efficiency of the UMD team’s new photocatalyst. And it is a finding made possible by the precise materials control allowed by the team’s new general synthesis method.

Their findings hold great promise for future advances that could make water splitting cost effective for large-scale use in creating hydrogen fuel. Such a system would allow light energy from large solar energy farms to be stored as chemical energy in the form of clean . And the UMD team’s newly-discovered mechanism for creating hot (high ) electrons should also be applicable to research involving other photo-excitation processes, according to Ouyang and his colleagues.

Japan is planning to build huge floating solar power plants

Japan has started construction of two floating solar power plants, which will become part of a huge, 60 megawatt floating renewable energy network.


One of Kyocera’s existing solar power plants, which has 70 MW of power capacity and sticks out into Kagoshima Bay in southern Japan.

Image: [name here]/Shutterstock

Japan may be short on free land space, but that’s not stopping them from investing in renewable energy. Solar panel company Kyocera Corp, Century Tokyo Leasing Corp and Ciel Terre have announced (release in Japanese) that they’re teaming up to create two huge floating solar power plants which will be up and running by April next year.

These are just the first two of a planned network of around 30 floating 2 megawatt (MW) power plants, capable of generating a combined 60 MW of power, a spokesperson from Kyocera toldChisaki Watanabe from Bloomberg.

The first of these floating solar farms to be build will have 1.7 MW of power capacity, making it the world’s largest floating solar power plant. Construction will start this month, according to the announcement, on the surface of Nishihira pond in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture, west of Osaka. The second will have a capacity of 1.2 MW and will be built on Dongping pond, Jason Hahn reports for Digital Trends, and the plants are aimed to be finished by April 2015.

According to Digital Trends, just these first two floating solar power plants would be enough to power anywhere between 483 and 967 American households.

The floating power plants aren’t just good for saving space – because the panels are over water they have a cooler temperature,which makes them more efficient. India has also recently invested in floating solar panels.

Kyocera and Century Tokyo partnered in August 2012 to develop around 93 MW of solar power plants, Bloomberg reports. So far, 22 MW of these projects have begun operating.

10-Month-Old Boy with Microcephaly and Episodic Cyanosis .

A 10-month-old boy with microcephaly and developmental delay was admitted to the hospital because of episodes of respiratory distress and cyanosis. Microcephaly was present at birth, and hypotonia was noted at 5 months. On admission, brain MRI revealed decreased myelination.

Microcephaly literally means “small head.” It is diagnosed when the head circumference is more than 2 SD below the mean for age and sex, although sometimes a stricter cutoff of 3 SD below the mean is used. The underlying causes of microcephaly can be divided into nongenetic and genetic causes.

Clinical Pearls

What are some examples of nongenetic and genetic causes of microcephaly?

Common nongenetic causes of microcephaly include intrauterine infections and in utero exposure to drugs, toxins, and ionizing radiation. Other nongenetic causes include disruptive brain injuries and systemic disorders. Genetic causes of microcephaly appear to be diverse; more than 200 genes are associated with microcephaly in the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man database. MRI of the head can be helpful in guiding genetic testing, because many genetic disorders that occur in patients with microcephaly are associated with characteristic structural abnormalities. Microcephaly is a feature of various syndromes, such as the Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome (which iS characterized by intellectual disability, postnatal growth retardation, broad thumbs and halluces, and dysmorphic facial features) and the Cornelia de Lange syndrome (which is characterized by unique facial features, prenatal and postnatal growth retardation, and intellectual disability and often by upper-limb anomalies).

What is MTHFR deficiency and how is it diagnosed?

MTHFR is an inborn error of metabolism, in which deficiency of functional methionine synthase traps folates in the 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) form, consequently causing a deficiency of other active forms of folate (including tetrahydrofolate [THF], 5,10-methenyl-THF, 5,10-methylene-THF, and 10-formyl-THF) and thereby resulting in megaloblastic anemia. In the severe form of MTHFR deficiency, the 5-MTHF level is reduced but anemia is not seen, because the 5,10-methylene-THF and other active forms of THF (including 10-formyl-THF) that are required for purine   and pyrimidine synthesis are not affected. The combination of homocysteinemia, low methionine levels, and absence of anemia indicated a diagnosis of severe MTHFR deficiency.

Morning Report Questions

Q: What are the manifestations of severe MTHFR deficiency?

A: Severe MTHFR deficiency is extremely rare but is the most common disorder of folate metabolism. Approximately 100 cases have been reported, and fewer than 15 have manifested before 6 weeks of age. The clinical presentation is nonspecific, with some age-related variations. In the newborn period and during early infancy, seizures and acute neurologic deterioration are the common initial manifestations, whereas in older infants and children, nonspecific psychomotor deterioration, acquired microcephaly, and abrupt deterioration (e.g., respiratory failure) can be seen. In older patients, isolated stroke, arterial or venous thromboembolic disease, and combined degeneration of the spinal cord have been reported as initial manifestations.

Q: How is MTHFR deficiency treated?

A: Treatment of the remethylation defects is directed toward reducing homocysteine levels (thereby lowering the risk of thromboembolism) and normalizing methionine levels (and normalizing the availabilitY of methionine in the central nervous system). These are achieved through betaine supplementation, which remethylates homocysteine to form methionine through an alternative pathway present in the liver and kidney. Additional treatment involves folate and cofactor supplementation for enzymes in the pathway; hydroxocobalamin (a cofactor for methionine synthase) and riboflavin (a cofactor for MTHFR) are administered to enhance residual activities and improve remethylation, and pyridoxine (a cofactor for cystathionine [beta]-synthase) is administered to enhance degradation of homocysteine through the degradation pathway.

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Human trial of experimental Ebola vaccine begins this week

A highly anticipated test of an experimental Ebola vaccine will begin this week at the National Institutes of Health, amid mounting anxiety about the spread of the deadly virus in West Africa.

After an expedited review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, researchers were given the green light to begin what’s called a human safety trial, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It will be the first test of this type of Ebola vaccine in humans.

The experimental vaccine, developed by the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and the NIAID, will first be given to three healthy human volunteers to see if they suffer any adverse effects. If deemed safe, it will then be given to another small group of volunteers, aged 18 to 50, to see if it produces a strong immune response to the virus. All will be monitored closely for side effects.

The vaccine will be administered to volunteers by an injection in the deltoid muscle of their arm, first in a lower dose, then later in a higher dose after the safety of the vaccine has been determined.

Some of the preclinical studies that are normally done on these types of vaccines were waived by the FDA during the expedited review, Fauci said, so “we want to take extra special care that we go slowly with the dosing.”

The vaccine did extremely well in earlier trials with chimpanzees, Fauci said. He noted that the method being used to prompt an immune response to Ebola cannot cause a healthy individual to become infected with the virus.

Still, he said, “I have been fooled enough in my many years of experience… you really can’t predict what you will see (in humans).”

According to the NIH, the vaccine will also be tested on healthy volunteers in the United Kingdom, Gambia and Mali, once details are finalized with health officials in those countries.

CDC director raises Ebola alarm

Trials cannot currently be done in the four countries affected by the recent outbreak — Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria — because the existing health care infrastructure wouldn’t support them, Fauci said. Gambia and Mali were selected because the NIH has “long-standing collaborative relationships” with researchers in those countries.

According to the NIH, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also in talks with health officials from Nigeria about conducting part of the safety trial there.

Funding from an international consortium formed to fight Ebola will enable GlaxoSmithKline to begin manufacturing up to 10,000 additional doses of the vaccine while clinical trials are ongoing, the pharmaceutical company said in a statement. These doses would be made available if the World Health Organization decides to allow emergency immunizations in high-risk communities.

The GSK/NIAID vaccine is one of two leading candidate vaccines. The other was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and licensed this month to NewLink Genetics, a company based in Iowa.

According to the NIH, safety trials of that vaccine will start this fall.

Earlier this month, the Canadian government shipped what it said was “800 to 1,000” doses of that vaccine to Liberia, at the government’s request. It’s not clear whether it has been given to health workers or anyone else there.

Worth noting: In 2009, an earlier version of the vaccine was given to a lab worker in Germany after he thought he had pricked himself with a needle tainted with Ebola. He did not develop the disease.

While there currently is no proven treatment for Ebola beyond supportive care, government agencies and small biotech firms have been scrambling to speed up development of several potential therapies and vaccines.

A third vaccine, also developed by the NIH, was recently tested in primates and found to protect them from infection; it was given in combination with Depovax, an adjuvant that has been used with other vaccines and cancer therapies to boost the body’s immune response.

While vaccines might be given to prevent infection among health workers or other people thought to be at high risk, development has also been speeded up on drugs that might potentially be given to patients who already have the disease.

The drug that’s received the most attention is ZMapp, which has been given to at least seven individuals in the current outbreak, including two American missionary medical workers, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly.

The drug has never been formally tested in humans, and while the results in human patients are encouraging — five of the seven known to have received it are still alive — experts say there is too little data to say whether it played a role in their recoveries.

Are myths making the Ebola outbreak worse?

Earlier versions of ZMapp, which received backing from the U.S. and Canadian governments as well as from biotech firms, have shown some ability to protect rhesus macaque monkeys more than two days after they were infected with the virus.

Another drug, TKM-Ebola, has been tested for safety in a small number of humans. That trial was put on hold in January, after one volunteer developed moderate gastrointestinal side effects after receiving a high dose of the medication.

Last month, the FDA modified the hold to a “partial clinical hold.” In effect, this means that Tekmira could potentially be allowed to give the drug to doctors or hospitals who request it, on an emergency basis. There’s no indication that the company has received any such requests.

The vaccine going into trials this week is based on an adenovirus — a type of cold virus — that’s found in chimpanzees. The virus delivers genetic material derived from two species of Ebola virus, including the Zaire strain that’s responsible for the current outbreak. Those genes are meant to trigger the development of antibodies in the person who receives the vaccine, antibodies that can specifically defend against Ebola.

Another trial, using a version of the GSK/NIAID vaccine that uses only the Zaire strain of Ebola, will be launched in October, according to the NIH.

All participants in the trial will be evaluated nine times over a 48-week period. NIH expects to reveal the results of the trial by the end of the year.

If it’s approved for widespread use, the first priority will be to give the vaccine to health care workers or lab workers who are fighting the spread of the virus, Fauci said. It will then be considered for people in the communities where outbreaks occur.

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