CLOSE
Original image
Dr. Lance Liotta Laboratory via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A New Vaccine for Chlamydia Is in the Works

Original image
Dr. Lance Liotta Laboratory via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Creating a successful vaccine is exceedingly difficult, which makes it all the more remarkable that we have managed to develop so many of them, saving millions of lives. But one widespread disease has long eluded scientists' best efforts to stop it: chlamydia.  

Despite years of development, no vaccine successfully prevents Chlamydia trachomatis, the bacteria that is the leading cause of sexually transmitted infections around the globe. Worldwide, there are an estimated 106 million cases of the disease every yearLeft untreated, it can cause infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pelvic pain, infant pneumonia, and more. C. trachomatis is also one of the leading causes of preventable blindness, and can be spread during childbirth and through sharing washcloths.

The infection can be cured fairly easily with antibiotics, but not everyone who has it presents symptoms, and once you’re treated, you can be re-infected. A vaccine could stop chlamydia—including related strains that infect animals—from ever spreading in the first place.

Now, scientists from Harvard University think they’ve figured out why chlamydia has been so hard to develop a vaccine for. As they report in the journal Science, immune response cells known as T cells are to blame. As a result of this insight, they're working on a new vaccine.

Dead chlamydia cells were used in the first efforts to develop a vaccine in the 1960s. What scientists didn't know then is that the white blood cells known as T cells were preventing the immune system from activating to fight the infection. So instead of protecting the body, the T cells became an anti-inflammatory agent that instead protected the infecting bacteria. Not only did these early vaccines not prevent chlamydia infections, they actually made subsequent chlamydia infections worse.

The testing of these vaccines in the 1960s on children in India, Saudi Arabia, and Ethiopia was largely a bust. Sometimes they worked, but were only effective for a single year. There was some evidence that a vaccine reduced eye scarring on kids with chlamydia eye infections. But scientists couldn't figure out why the vaccines exacerbated symptoms in some cases [PDF], and eventually the research petered out.

Now the Harvard team is developing a new vaccine that takes into account the T cells' behavior. This new vaccine utilizes an nanoparticle adjuvant—which is designed to increase the immune response in a patient—to help the body’s T cells recognize that chlamydia bacteria need to be fought off, not protected.

It’s also designed to be applied to the nasal cavity, because they found that the vaccine is better transmitted through mucus membranes—which are also most likely to be affected by chlamydia—than through the skin. So you may spray a chlamydia vaccine up your nose one day. 

The vaccine won’t be available for human testing for a few years, but trials in mice showed that a nasal spray elicited an immune response against chlamydia for up to six months. After the HPV vaccine (which has recently been tied to fewer precancerous cervical lesions) and vaccines for hepatitis A and B, a chlamydia vaccine would only be one of only a few inoculations available for sexually transmitted infections. Scientists are also working on a vaccine against HIV. Say it with me: shots, shots, shots, shots, shots! (Everybody should get them.)

[h/t: The Verge]

Original image
iStock
arrow
Medicine
Why Haven't We Cured Cancer Yet?
Original image
iStock

Walkathons, fundraisers, and ribbon-shaped bumper stickers raise research dollars and boost spirits, but cancer—the dreaded disease that affects more than 14 million people and their families at any given time—still remains bereft of a cure.

Why? For starters, cancer isn't just one disease—it's more than 100 of them, with different causes. This makes it impossible to treat each one using a one-size-fits-all method. Secondly, scientists use lab-grown cell lines cultivated from human tumors to develop cancer therapies. Living masses are far more complex, so potential treatments that show promise in lab experiments often don't work on cancer patients. As for the tumors themselves, they're prone to tiny genetic mutations, so just one growth might contain multiple types of cancer cells, and even unique sub-clones of tumors. These distinct entities might not respond the same way, or at all, to the same drug.

These are just a few of the challenges that cancer researchers face—but the good news is that they're working to beat all of them, as this TED-Ed video explains below.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Health
Skipping Breakfast Could Be Bad for Your Heart
Original image
iStock

There are mountains of evidence supporting the claim that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Getting something in your stomach in the first hours of the morning can regulate your glucose levels, improve your cognition, and keep your hunger in check. Now new research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology points to another reason not to wait until lunchtime to break last night’s fast. As TIME reports, people who skip breakfast are at an increased risk for atherosclerosis, a disease caused by plaque buildup in the arteries.

Researchers surveyed over 4000 men and women between the ages of 40 and 54 living in Spain. After looking at the dietary habits of each participant, they broke them into three groups: people who consumed more than 20 percent of their daily calories in the morning; those who got 5 to 20 percent; and those who ate less than 5 percent.

The subjects who ate very little in the a.m. hours or skipped breakfast all together were 2.5 more likely to have generalized atherosclerosis. This meant that plaque was starting to collect on the walls of their arteries, hardening and narrowing them and increasing the risk for heart attack or stroke. People who fell into the 5 to 20 percent calorie category were also more likely to show early signs of the disease, while those who ate the most calories in the morning were the healthiest.

These results aren’t entirely surprising. Previous studies have shown a connection between skipping breakfast and health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and unwanted weight gain. A possible explanation for this trend could be that waiting several hours after waking up to eat your first meal of the day could trigger hormonal imbalances. The time between getting into and out of bed is the longest most of us go without eating, and our bodies expect us to consume some calories to help kickstart our energy for the day (drinking straight coffee doesn’t cut it). Another theory is that people who don’t eat in the morning are so hungry by the time lunch rolls around that they overcompensate for those missing calories, which is why skipping breakfast doesn’t make sense as a diet strategy.

But of course there are many breakfast skippers who aren’t motivated by health reasons either way: They just don’t think they have the time or energy to feed themselves in the morning before walking out the door. If this describes you, here are some simple, protein-packed meals you can prepare the night before.

[h/t TIME]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios