Antibodies in Llama Blood Might Eliminate the Need for Yearly Flu Shots

iStock.com/AllenSphoto
iStock.com/AllenSphoto

Getting your yearly flu shot is an important way to protect yourself against the latest strains of the virus. But the annual practice can also be annoying, as evidenced by the more than half of all Americans who skip it. Now, BBC reports that scientists may have discovered the key to a perennial preventative flu treatment hiding in an unlikely source: llama blood.

According to a new paper published in the journal Science, the tiny antibodies produced by llamas are better equipped to fight the influenza virus than the larger ones found in humans. When the flu virus enters your body, specialized white blood cells called B lymphocytes make antibodies to attack it; they glob onto proteins on the outside of the virus, marking it so the immune system knows what to eradicate. But this only works if the shape of the antibody fits the proteins on the outside of the virus. If the exterior of the flu virus has mutated since your last flu shot, your body may not be able to recognize and stop it.

Llama antibodies work a bit differently. They're much smaller than humans', which means they can reach the core of an influenza virus—a.k.a. the part that looks the same from strain to strain. If scientists can make a human antibody that functions the same way, they will essentially develop a one-size-fits-all treatment that could continue to be effective as years progress.

For their study, researchers from the Scripps Institute in California made a synthetic antibody that borrowed elements from some of the strongest flu antibodies produced in llama blood. After wrapping the antibodies' genetic information in a harmless virus and infecting flu-sickened mice with it, the flu virus was stopped in almost every case. Only one of the 60 flu strains that were tested persisted, and it was one that doesn't infect humans.

This flu "vaccine" isn't really a vaccine at all—it's more like gene therapy. Unlike current flu shots, it doesn't have to train the body's immune system to be effective, which would make it an especially appealing option for people with weakened immune systems like elderly patients. But human trials still need to be completed before the promise of a stronger, longer-lasting flu treatment becomes a possibility.

[h/t BBC]

Pioneering Heart Surgeon René Favaloro Is Being Honored With a Google Doodle

Dr. René Favaloro (left) pictured with colleague Dr. Mason Sones.
Dr. René Favaloro (left) pictured with colleague Dr. Mason Sones.
The Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Argentinian heart surgeon René Favaloro is the subject of today’s Google Doodle, which features a sketched portrait of the doctor along with an anatomical heart and several medical tools, The Independent reports.

The renowned doctor was born on this day in 1923 in La Plata, the capital of Argentina’s Buenos Aires province, and pursued a degree in medicine at La Plata University. After 12 years as a doctor in La Pampa, where he established the area’s first mobile blood bank, trained nurses, and built his own operating room, Favaloro relocated to the U.S. to specialize in thoracic surgery at the Cleveland Clinic.

In 1967, Favaloro performed coronary bypass surgery on a 51-year-old woman whose right coronary artery was blocked, restricting blood flow to her heart. Coronary bypass surgery involves taking a healthy vein from elsewhere in the body (in this case, Favaloro borrowed from the patient’s leg, but you can also use a vein from the arm or chest), and using it to channel the blood from the artery to the heart, bypassing the blockage. According to the Mayo Clinic, it doesn’t cure whatever heart disease that caused the blocked artery, but it can relieve symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath, and it gives patients time to make other lifestyle changes to further manage their disease.

Favaloro wasn’t keen on being called the “father” of coronary bypass surgery, but his work brought the procedure to the forefront of the clinical field. He moved back to Argentina in 1971 and launched the Favaloro Foundation to train surgeons and treat a variety of patients from diverse economic backgrounds.

Favaloro died by suicide on July 29, 2000, at the age of 77, by a gunshot wound to the chest. His wife had died several years prior, and his foundation had fallen deeply into debt, which Argentinian hospitals and medical centers declined to help pay, The New York Times reported at the time.

“As a surgeon, Dr. Favaloro will be remembered for his ingenuity and imagination,” his colleague Dr. Denton A. Cooley wrote in a tribute shortly after Favaloro’s death. “But as a man ... he will be remembered for his compassion and selflessness.” Today would have been his 96th birthday.

[h/t The Independent]

The FDA Is Recalling Medtronic Insulin Pumps Over Hacking Concerns

Medtronic
Medtronic

People who manage their type 1 or type 2 diabetes with insulin pumps should take note of a recent Food and Drug Administration announcement. According to the FDA, certain models of the Medtronic MiniMed pumps that allow users to connect to the device wirelessly could be vulnerable to hackers.

In a release, the FDA said that cybersecurity breaches could leave the Medtronic MiniMed exposed to hacking. The unit has wireless capability to exchange information with blood glucose meters, glucose monitoring systems, and the remote controller and CareLink USB device that can be attached to a computer to control the MiniMed’s settings. Because of that connectivity, it’s possible for a hacker to gain access to the pump, increasing insulin delivery and prompting a hypoglycemic event. The hacker could also halt insulin delivery, leading to high blood sugar and diabetic ketoacidosis (a buildup of acids called ketones in the blood). If left untreated, these conditions can lead to serious health issues and can even be fatal.

Insulin pumps control blood glucose levels by delivering insulin to a patient via a catheter placed under the skin. Their use avoids the need for insulin injections and can be indicated in patients who need more tailored monitoring.

There have been no reports of any adverse events as a result of this vulnerability, but the FDA is still recommending patients replace certain Medtronic MiniMed models, including the MiniMed 508 and the MiniMed Paradigm series. A full list of affected models can be found here. (The Medtronic MiniMed 530G, shown above, is not part of the recall.) Medtronic believes the recall applies to about 4000 patients using the devices. The company is recommending that those affected by the flaw speak with their health care provider about getting a replacement with increased cybersecurity protection.

[h/t Fast Company]

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