A centenary of Robert T. Leiper’s lasting legacy on schistosomiasis and a COUNTDOWN on control of neglected tropical diseases

The latest Parasitology Paper of the Month is “A centenary of Robert T. Leiper’s lasting legacy on schistosomiasis and a COUNTDOWN on control of neglected tropical diseases” by J. Russell Stothard, Narcis B. Kabatereine, John Archer, Hajri Al-Shehri, Louis Albert Tchuem-Tchuenté, Margaret Gyapong and Amaya L. Bustinduy. This blog post was written for us by Professor Stothard.

Typically, biomedical research and disease control in general is forward looking in focus. This is often typified in the aspirational goals and targets set by international health agencies, as bundled within progress-specific indicators. In 2012, for example, the WHO formulated the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) Roadmap which helped to set out future progress to sustain the drive to overcome the global impact of NTDs by 2020. With later formulation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), this NTD agenda has been expanded but now framed in a 2030 perspective.

While looking to the future, we should not forget to occasionally glance back at the past; for it is here where we review and contextualise previous successes and failures. Indeed, progress is rarely smooth and is often a stuttered march through time. Just over a hundred years ago, the then state-of-the-art biomedical research culminated in clarification of the lifecycle of the African schistosome. With it, precious knowledge was brought forth to the world, opening up a new vista on schistosomiasis, a terrifying waterborne illness, and signposting a cardinal era in future disease control. In some small celebration of this achievement, I thought it time to reflect upon this, placing its significance in today’s world.

I previously had some understanding of the stature that Robert T. Leiper had in parasitology when I was based at the Natural History Museum (NHM) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Although Leiper died the year before I was born, many times did I look at his portrait in oils hanging in the LSHTM’s main stairwell. His face often brought to life by an anecdote retold to me, often either tart or sweet in equal measure, when visiting a senior colleague on the 4th floor who had had first-hand dealings with him.

Upon more detailed investigations into his life, while searching the LSHTM and NHM archives, I was privileged to read his meticulous hand written notes. Moreover, viewing his black and white photographs transported me to China and Egypt of old and delving deeper, I became beset within the melancholies of Antarctic exploration and First World War tragedy. Without doubt, I strongly sensed Leiper’s fiery energy and dogged determination which enabled him to go the extra mile where others would not, and help him solidify the importance of fundamental parasitological research within tropical medicine.

During this exercise, I remembered that control of schistosomiasis in theory is relatively easy; it can be curtailed by very simple water hygiene measures that Leiper himself pioneered. Sadly, putting this into practice is still out of reach for millions in sub-Saharan Africa and in Uganda intestinal schistosomiasis is still rife within lakeshore communities where Leiper once worked. As Director of COUNTDOWN, an implementation research consortium funded by DFID, UK, I hope this article reminds us that ‘old’ advice still needs appropriate tailoring within the control practices of today, and to embellish the aspiration that everyone, child or adult, has the daily right to safe water.

Read the review paper “A centenary of Robert T. Leiper’s lasting legacy on schistosomiasis and a COUNTDOWN on control of neglected tropical diseases” which has been published Open Access here.

The power of two: epigenetics and twins

THG epigenetics blog post

This blog post was written by Jeff Craig

Special Epigenetics issue of Twin Research and Human Genetics

Twins are at the forefront of research into human health and disease. Twin Research and Human Genetics has published a Special Section highlighting how researchers have learned how epigenetics, the molecules that play the symphony of life on our genes, can influence our future health. Never before have such a group of papers been brought together in a single issue.

Papers highlight the power of sampling the same twins over time as their health changes and others detail the ways in which researchers scour the human genome for evidence of epigenetic associations with disease.

Four of the papers focus on the discordant identical twins in which only one twin has an illness. Topics span a wide age range of subjects, from birth weight to hormone replacement therapy (HRT). One even focuses on whether twins are “morning” or “evening” people.

Three papers from the Netherlands Twin Registry highlight the power of collecting biological samples from many hundreds, even thousands, of twin pairs. These are studies of aggressive behaviour, tic disorders and wellbeing and pinpoint specific epigenetic differences linked with each.

The final paper looks at the influences, both genetic and environmental, on how we age epigenetically.

In summary this special section is a clear snapshot of cutting edge twin research that is relevant for our hunt for the genes that influence all of our health.

You can read the articles included in this Special Section free of charge for a limited time here, or using the individual articles linked below.

See below for more details about the papers included in this special issue:

Read the full editorial from Jeff Craig and Richard Saffery, The Power of Two: Epigenetics and Twins

Chiarella et al: “This paper reviews the literature showing how monozygotic twin designs can be used to study epigenetic mechanisms that may explain the impact of early in utero and postnatal environmental factors on the development of psychopathology. “

Tsai et al: “this study of adult identical twins born with different weights found a biological legacy in a gene involved in fetal growth. This suggests that the environment we encounter in the womb can influence us for many year after.”

Bahl et al: “using twins discordant for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) the authors showed that HRT can change the activity of genes in the blood and that many of these genes were associated with sense of smell. This makes sense as HRT is known to improve a woman’s sense of smell.”

Wong et al: “believe it or not, some identical twins are more “day people” while their twin brither or sister are “night people. This study showed that our preference for day or night could be programmed in ‘epigenetic’ factors that stick to our genes and change their activity”

Du et al found an ingenious way to tell which of a pair of identical twins a sample found at a crime scene came from. Identical Twins cannot be distinguished because of their identical DNA but these researchers used “epigenetics”, factors that sit on top of the DNA”.

Bui et al: “identical teenage twins that had separate placentas in the womb may have a greater difference in the activity of their genes than those who shared a placenta. This shows that the environment we encounter in the womb can have long lasting effects”

Zilhao et al and van Dongen et al: “These twin studies of both tic disorders and aggressive behaviour identified changes to gene activity in the blood in genes related to brain function, suggesting that looking at the blood may reveal information about how such disorders are caused.”

Baselmans et al: “study showed that wellbeing in twins is associated with factors that control gene activity.“

Li et al: “study suggests that the variation in methylation acceleration due to unmeasured genetic factors is likely to be even lower that the 40% estimated in previous studies”

Only One Flu Shot? Maybe!

Can you imagine not having to get a flu shot every season? Apparently two independent teams of doctors have been imagining the same thing.

The two independent research groups have released findings that this could be a reality someday.

It has been notoriously difficult to formulate a vaccine against all forms of influenza for a number of reasons. One thing that makes the virus so difficult is that influenza is a shape shifter that can, and does, mutate and change quickly and repeatedly. This means that even if a person develops immunity through an earlier year’s flu shot, he might not be immune to the latest strain of the virus.

A large portion of the human immune response to the flu is directed against a portion of the protein hemagglutinin called the hemagglutinin head. In the last twenty years scientists discovered that some people were able to fight a large swath of flus because their immune systems could develop antibodies that targeted the hemagglutinin stem. Even so though, the human immune system still often cannot keep up with the rapidly mutating stem. This could be partially due to the fact that the stem is hidden while the head is exposed.

Knowing this, the two independent research teams took two different approaches to almost identical notions. With idea to help the body create more stem-specific antibodies in order to help battle more types of influenza, each team decided to focus exclusively on the hemagglutinin stem. Their idea was to create stem-only antigens to incorporate into vaccines, effectively ignoring the hemagglutinin head.

This proved a very difficult task, “Flu is a very large virus with lots of parts. It’s very hard to build a small piece without screwing things up,”  Andrew Ward told the Los Angeles Times a structural biologist at Scripps Research Institute. In order to create a stable molecule and not disrupt the response they wished-for for the antibodies, they could not have a single atom out of place.

Incredibly, the two teams were able to create stable molecules and were able to use them to create vaccines which they tested on mice and monkeys and mice and ferrets respectively. They were both able to elicit certain protection in varying degrees.

This, by no means, means that a universal flu vaccine will be available in the short term. However, it paves the way for a type of booster shot that could be available at some point in the future and more protection against the flu than current shots, which only can protect against 3 or 4 strains, says Ward.

Cambridge launch new open access journal – Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics

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Cambridge unveils new Open Access journal – Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics (GHEG)

Cambridge University Press is delighted to announce a major new open access journal, Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics (GHEG), dedicated to publishing and disseminating research that addresses and increases understanding of global and population health issues through the application of population science, genomics and applied technologies.

Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics is the Press’s second Open Access journal in the field of global health, joining Global Mental Health which launched in 2014. Spanning both non-communicable and communicable diseases, GHEG will specifically integrate epidemiology, genomics and related technological advances in the global health context. Topics relevant to GHEG will include studies, methods and resources relating to global population health, disease aetiology, variation in disease susceptibility, drug resistance and surveillance, health care and health care systems, pharmacogenomics and stratified medicine, as well as the challenges of implementing new developments into clinical practice and the community, globally. In addition to more traditional Original Research and Review Articles, GHEG will support submission of Resources and Analyses that provide a framework for integrating and facilitating genomics and global health studies.

The Editor-in-Chief of GHEG is Dr Manjinder Sandhu, head of the Global Health Group based at the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. The international Editorial team includes recognised leaders in global health, epidemiology and genomics from around the world who have taken a lead in shifting attention and action to global health and populations, as well as a wider Editorial Board that will reflect and emphasize the broad scope of the field.

Dr Sandhu said, “I am committed to making GHEG an innovative, engaging and practical resource for the global health research community through which we can publish new scientific research, exchange ideas within and across our related disciplines and share resources to facilitate efforts to increase our understanding of human health and shape effective disease management worldwide.”

Professor Alex Brown, Deputy Director of the South Australia Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and one of the journal’s Associate Editors commented, “I am delighted to be involved with GHEG, an exciting venture which recognises the relevance and importance of the work being undertaken in the field of global health, epidemiology and genomics and the widespread benefits to be gained by applying technological advances and innovations to research into population health including within disadvantaged population groups. By facilitating discussion and encouraging the sharing of resources GHEG looks to actively support contributions in these areas.”

Katy Christomanou, Publishing Director for STM Journals at Cambridge University Press, added, “This launch affirms our long-term commitment in the global health field and reflects our strong investment in maintaining and extending our successful presence in this area. We are highly enthusiastic at the prospect of working alongside such an outstanding editorial team.”

Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics will be hosted on Cambridge’s industry-leading platform, Cambridge Journals Online (CJO). The Journal will benefit from a range of the latest author services including article level usage metrics and Altmetric data. In addition, for articles submitted during 2015 and 2016, Cambridge University Press will waive all article processing charges.

For more information please visit the journal website: journals.cambridge.org/gheg

 

Cambridge launch new open access journal – Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics

GHEG cover_final2

Cambridge unveils new Open Access journal – Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics (GHEG)

Cambridge University Press is delighted to announce a major new open access journal, Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics (GHEG), dedicated to publishing and disseminating research that addresses and increases understanding of global and population health issues through the application of population science, genomics and applied technologies.

Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics is the Press’s second Open Access journal in the field of global health, joining Global Mental Health which launched in 2014. Spanning both non-communicable and communicable diseases, GHEG will specifically integrate epidemiology, genomics and related technological advances in the global health context. Topics relevant to GHEG will include studies, methods and resources relating to global population health, disease aetiology, variation in disease susceptibility, drug resistance and surveillance, health care and health care systems, pharmacogenomics and stratified medicine, as well as the challenges of implementing new developments into clinical practice and the community, globally. In addition to more traditional Original Research and Review Articles, GHEG will support submission of Resources and Analyses that provide a framework for integrating and facilitating genomics and global health studies.

The Editor-in-Chief of GHEG is Dr Manjinder Sandhu, head of the Global Health Group based at the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. The international Editorial team includes recognised leaders in global health, epidemiology and genomics from around the world who have taken a lead in shifting attention and action to global health and populations, as well as a wider Editorial Board that will reflect and emphasize the broad scope of the field.

Dr Sandhu said, “I am committed to making GHEG an innovative, engaging and practical resource for the global health research community through which we can publish new scientific research, exchange ideas within and across our related disciplines and share resources to facilitate efforts to increase our understanding of human health and shape effective disease management worldwide.”

Professor Alex Brown, Deputy Director of the South Australia Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and one of the journal’s Associate Editors commented, “I am delighted to be involved with GHEG, an exciting venture which recognises the relevance and importance of the work being undertaken in the field of global health, epidemiology and genomics and the widespread benefits to be gained by applying technological advances and innovations to research into population health including within disadvantaged population groups. By facilitating discussion and encouraging the sharing of resources GHEG looks to actively support contributions in these areas.”

Katy Christomanou, Publishing Director for STM Journals at Cambridge University Press, added, “This launch affirms our long-term commitment in the global health field and reflects our strong investment in maintaining and extending our successful presence in this area. We are highly enthusiastic at the prospect of working alongside such an outstanding editorial team.”

Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics will be hosted on Cambridge’s industry-leading platform, Cambridge Journals Online (CJO). The Journal will benefit from a range of the latest author services including article level usage metrics and Altmetric data. In addition, for articles submitted during 2015 and 2016, Cambridge University Press will waive all article processing charges.

For more information please visit the journal website: journals.cambridge.org/gheg

Male sexual orientation influenced by genes

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Results of a five-year study of 409 independent pairs of homosexual brothers in 384 families find that genetics play a key role in male sexual orientation. Alan Sanders, M.D., a psychiatrist who studies behavioral genetics at NorthShore University HealthSystem Research Institute, was the principal investigator of the molecular genetics study that scanned the entire human genome to search for evidence of genetic links to variation in sexual orientation in men.

“We found two strong links in chromosome 8 and chromosome Xq28, which supports that this is not a one-gene, one-trait scenario,” said Dr. Sanders. “These genetic variations contribute to the development of the important psychological trait of male sexual orientation.

The new evidence “is not proof but it’s a pretty good indication” that genes on the two chromosomes have some influence over sexual orientation.”

Participants in the study were gay men with at least one living gay brother (full brothers, half brothers or fraternal twins). They were asked to provide DNA samples through blood or saliva and to complete a questionnaire about their sexual and personal history and that of immediate family members. The study was funded by the US National Institutes of Health from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development.

“Understanding the origins of sexual orientation enables us to learn a great deal about sexual motivation, sexual identity, gender identity and sex differences,” Dr. Sanders added.

The full paper, “Genome-wide scan demonstrates significant linkage for male sexual orientation”, which is published in Psychological Medicine can be read free of charge for a limited time here.

Explore the online archive of AGMG

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Cambridge University Press and Twin Research and Human Genetics (TRHG) are proud to announce the release of the online archive of AGMG, the predecessor journal to TRHG. AGMG was the official journal of the International Society for Twin Studies (ISTS) from 1952-1998 when TRHG took over this role. However, both journals have always had a wider interest in the field of human genetics.

Twins can provide unique and powerful opportunities to study genetic and environmental factors that make people differ in how they look, behave and how healthy they are. Monozygotic [identical] twins share all their genetic variation and dizygotic [non-identical] twin pairs, on average, share about 50% of their genetic variation. Both types of twin pairs often but not always share similar pre- and post-natal environments as well. Having twins participate in these studies helps to continue important research for common human conditions such as diseases, health, and behaviors, leading to advances in science, medicine and future potential therapies.

Much effort has gone into creating this digitised archive and making it available online to the research community because we believe that many of the classic papers published in AGMG reveal the academic foundations of the subject and still have relevance today. Below is a link to the 20 most cited papers from the AGMG archive to demonstrate the wide scope of interest. We encourage you to explore and enjoy this fascinating resource.

View the 20 most-cited papers from the AGMG archive here .

The papers cover a wide spectrum of topics and include the following articles:

  • Population-Based Twin Registries: Illustrative Applications in Genetic Epidemiology and Behavioral Genetics from the Finnish Twin Cohort Study (1990)
  • Resting Metabolic Rate in Monozygotic and Dizygotic Twins (1985)
  • Causes of Variation in Drinking Habits in a Large Twin Sample (1984)
  • The Vanishing Twin (1982)

 

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