Trending March 2024 # Breakthrough For One Of The World’s Biggest Killers— As New Vaccine Shows Early Promise # Suggested April 2024 # Top 10 Popular

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Researchers on Monday announced promising results for a tuberculosis vaccine that can be freeze-dried and safely stored at higher temperatures for months, hailing a major breakthrough in the fight against one of humanity’s biggest killers and a major step towards overcoming one of the big barriers to vaccine distribution in poorer parts of the world.

Scientists announced promising early results for a tuberculosis vaccine. Image: Getty

Key Facts

The temperature-stable vaccine was tested in 45 healthy adults, half of whom were given a different vaccine formula that isn’t stable at higher temperatures and developed by scientists at the Access to Advanced Health Institute (AAHI) in Seattle (formerly the Infectious Disease Research Institute).

The freeze-dried formula, which was stable at temperatures of almost 100F (37C) for three months, was mixed with water just before injection. Volunteers were monitored for six months after receiving two shots given 56 days apart.

The new shot was safe, well-tolerated and successfully elicited measurable cellular and antibody responses, according to trial results published in Nature Communications.

The temperature-stable vaccine also generated higher antibody levels in the blood—a sign, but not proof, of protection—compared to the non-stable shot, the researchers found, noting that the finding is not enough to determine which provides the most protection against TB.

Though further research is needed to test the vaccine, the researchers said the findings are “proof-of-concept” that a vaccine can be freeze-dried and made temperature-stable without dampening safety or its ability to provoke an immune response.

The shot could one day provide an alternative to BCG, the only vaccine licensed against tuberculosis, which is freeze-dried, temperature sensitive, “readily destroyed by sunlight.” It must be reconstituted with a specific liquid that cannot be frozen, conditions that prove challenging to maintain in many, often poorer, parts of the world.

Big Number

1.6 million people. That’s how many died from TB in 2023, according to the World Health Organization. TB has been the leading infectious killer for years after HIV/AIDS, though Covid-19 has overtaken it in recent years. The disease sickened an estimated 10.6 million people in 2023.

Key Background

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that often attacks the lungs. It is spread from person to person through the air, such as when someone with TB coughs or sneezes. It has been documented in humans for thousands of years—albeit under different names, including consumption, phthisis and the White Plague—and is one of humanity’s leading killers. It is curable and preventable, though emerging antibiotic resistance could jeopardise this. Vaccination and public health efforts in wealthy countries mean the disease now overwhelmingly affects poorer nations. Health organisations like the WHO and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have made tackling TB a key priority. Only one vaccine is used to protect against TB—the Bacille Calmette-Guérin, or BCG, vaccine—and it has been in use for more than 100 years.

AAHI chief executive Corey Casper said challenges in keeping shots cold worldwide have stymied efforts to distribute vaccines equally. The development is “a major achievement towards our mission of bringing vaccines to people who most need them, regardless of geography,” Casper added.

What We Don’t Know

The study, supported by the National Institutes of Health, came from a Phase 1 clinical trial. Phase 1 trials are among the most preliminary clinical trials used to evaluate new vaccines and medicines, they typically involve only a small number of people and only test for safety, not efficacy. More comprehensive trials will follow to test how effective the shot is in practice and see whether any other concerns emerge in practice among a larger group of people. Such trials can take years and the majority of drugs tested do not make it to market.

What To Watch For

Further studies are going to be needed to make sure the temperature-stable shot can be effectively and affordably scaled up to make it a viable competitor to other shots on the market, the researchers said. The temperature-stable vaccine will cost approximately $0.15 more per dose than its unstable equivalent, the researchers estimate. However, the higher cost could be overcome by savings and reduced wastage from its less-stringent storage requirements, and they added the technique underpinning its production is already used for many other vaccines already on the market.

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Join The World’s Biggest High

Hundreds of amateur balloonists will send their creations into near space in April. You can join, too. To take part in the world’s largest space-balloon event, called the Global Space Balloon Challenge, sign up at chúng tôi then tie a payload to a high-altitude balloon and launch it between April 10 and 27. Sixty teams from six continents flew balloons during last year’s event, according to organizers. This year, more than 100 teams have already signed up.

High-altitude balloons are big, unmanned balloons like the ones meteorologists use to gather data from the stratosphere for weather predictions. They’re about five feet in diameter, when inflated. They can reach heights of more than 100,000 feet—higher than a passenger plane—yet cost less than $1,000 to make. They can also carry science experiments—the Global Space Balloon Challenge includes a prize for best experiment. They take awesome pictures. You can see some of our favorites from last year’s challenge in the gallery below.

Last year’s participants included ballooners of varying levels of ability. There were parent-kid teams, experienced adult balloon enthusiasts, and undergraduate and graduate engineering students. For those who have never flown a high-altitude balloon, the Global Space Balloon Challenge site has starter tutorials and forums for teams to ask questions. The project also has a couple of programs for beginners, including a mentoring program and a program where a beginner team can design an experiment to fly on an experienced team’s balloon.

P.S. While researching amateur ballooning, I learned a little news you can use. The U.S. National Weather Service sends hundreds of high-altitude balloons carrying measuring equipment into near space every day. Eventually those balloons fall back down to Earth. Their equipment is labeled “Harmless Weather Instrument” in case citizens find them. Before learning this, I would have been pretty weirded out to find a giant, deflated balloon labeled “Harmless Weather Instrument,” but now I know it’s not just aliens trying to trick me. If you want to be nice, you can mail the instrument back to the Weather Service inside its own postage-paid mailbag.

Check out photos below from the 2014 Global Space Balloon Challenge

Eye on Earth

No need to go up in a spaceship. This gorgeous photo was taken from a balloon, launched from the Scottish highlands by a pair of adult brothers.

Pop!

Twins

A team of engineering students from the University of Michigan launched two balloons at once to get this photo, taken over central Michigan.

Peep-O-Nauts

These Peeps got a ride to near space thanks to high school students in Bishop, California. The marshmallow chicks are guarding a Petri dish of extremophiles, whose reaction to space the students wanted to test. In the background is another balloon the Bishop students launched, carrying a radiation sensor.

Hold Tight

Team Alturi prepares its balloon for launch from an airfield in Illinois. When Popular Science noted some team members are a bit smaller than average, Global Space Balloon Challenge organizer Duncan Miller said, “The wind that day almost pulled them off their feet!”

Space Race

For maximum eyeballs, team RandomRace timed its launch with a bicycling event in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Doing The Math Behind The World’s Biggest War On Aids

Doing the Math Behind the World’s Biggest War on AIDS BU researchers help shape South Africa’s response to HIV

It was the third blow that spun Busisiwe Sithole’s aching grief into dread. First, her six-month-old son died while Sithole was carrying him on her back. Then doctors told her that her infant had been infected with HIV. Then Sithole learned of her own test results.

“When I found out I was positive,” she says, “it was not an easy thing. I was scared. When I would go to sleep at night, I would see myself dead in my coffin. I would see my older child crying. I was preparing my obituary. Then I talked to a counselor about treatment, and she said, ‘You are not going to die.’”

Seven years later, a healthy-looking Sithole works as a data clerk in Johannesburg’s Helen Joseph Hospital, collecting information for the Health Economics and Epidemiology Research Office (HE2RO), a collaboration of Boston University public health experts and researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand. Just downstairs from her office is the Themba Lethu Clinic, where people come for testing, care, and treatment for HIV and the diseases that go with it. There is, it seems, no end to the patients. In South Africa, one in 10 people is infected with HIV, and HIV/AIDS plays a role in 31 percent of deaths. HIV is the country’s most pressing health problem, and Themba Lethu is its largest HIV/AIDS clinic. With as many as 20,000 patients expected to pass through the doors in 2012, it may be the biggest clinic of its kind in the world.

Sithole says many people she talks to are surprised to learn that she has been HIV-positive for so long, yet shows no signs of ill health. “Just last week a colleague came to me, because she had a family member who didn’t want to take the antiretrovirals because there are stories about them. I told them it’s better to get tested. It’s better to know. Because you can live with it. You can control it. Because I know, I also know that AIDS will not kill me. I know that I am going to see my grandchildren.”

Ian Sanne, a South African infectious disease specialist and a codirector of HE2RO, witnesses the life-restoring powers of antiretrovirals every day. “It’s like a miracle,” he says. “It’s really remarkable what can be done with the drugs.”

It’s also remarkable, Sanne knows, what can be accomplished with data. For the past eight years, he and his colleagues at HE2RO, including Sydney Rosen, a School of Public Health research associate professor of international health, and Matthew Fox (SPH’02,’07), an SPH assistant professor of epidemiology, both at BU’s Center for Global Health & Development (CGHD) and HE2RO codirectors, have been collecting data, running it through algorithms that produce more data, then delivering it to the National Department of Health. HE2RO’s information, empirical evidence of the effectiveness and cost of new and better ways to combat HIV/AIDS, is in some ways as instrumental among South African health policy makers as the new pharmaceuticals are for AIDS patients like Sithole. Decision makers in both the National Department of Health and the Department of Treasury have used the data to frame an HIV program that treats almost two million people.

“There was a significant debate between the Treasury and the Department of Health about how much money should be made available,” says Sanne. “HE2RO, using real data, was able to solve the debate and create a budget with significantly escalating funding over the next five to six years. We managed to persuade the politicians to increase the amount of funding over time to cover three and a half million people.”

Working in a warren of offices in Helen Joseph Hospital, HE2RO’s researchers have embarked on more than 20 studies, most of which focus on better treatment of HIV and tuberculosis. The group’s work, which has mainly been funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has been influential, not only on the design of national health care policy, but also on the international funders of AIDS treatment programs.

“Health economics really drives everything we do, from health effectiveness to costing studies to the new national health policy that the South African government is rolling out,” says John Kuehnle, a health officer at USAID South Africa and contract manager for HE2RO. “BU and HE2RO have been at the front of this movement to use health economics to drive policy. It’s something that USAID and PEPFAR are very thankful for.” PEPFAR (U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief ) is a government initiative to help save the lives of those with HIV/AIDS worldwide.

“There are a lot of groups that work on research on the HIV epidemic, and typically they approach the problem from the perspective of epidemiology,” says Fox. “Some come from the perspective of economics, or from social science. We combine all of those. By bringing all of that together, we can look at not just what is the best approach for a patient or for a clinic, but we can model the implications for the country. We can find the best strategies and approaches to use on a national scale.”

Despite the vastness of HIV infection in South Africa, the country’s first meaningful treatment programs got off to a painfully late start. Thabo Mbeki, president from 1999 to 2008, publicly questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, and his denial of medical realities delayed the introduction of antiretroviral drugs. Harvard researchers have blamed Mbeki’s failure to act for the deaths of 35,000 babies, as well as for shortening the lives of 330,000 people.

The years of denial were years of frustration for HIV researchers, including Rosen, who began traveling to South Africa in 1999 to examine the implications of HIV/AIDS among workers in the private sector and who lived in Johannesburg from 2003 to 2007. That project introduced her to Sanne, who in 2001 founded a not-for-profit called Right to Care. Since 2004, Right to Care has been funded primarily by PEPFAR, which has spent more than $3.2 billion on programs to prevent and treat AIDS and tuberculosis in South Africa. Right to Care, which has long worked closely with HE2RO, currently provides technical support to 170 treatment sites in five of the nine South African provinces and cofunds treatment for HIV, TB, and cervical cancer for about 150,000 people.

As a base for their joint research on the economics and epidemiology of HIV treatment, Rosen and Sanne founded HE2RO at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2004.

Coming out of HIV denialism

Change in South Africa’s approach to HIV came under Mbeki’s successor, Jacob Zuma, when the National Department of Health considered, in late 2009, adopting treatment guidelines then newly recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Those included the sweeping measure of treating HIV-positive people when their CD4 count—a measure of the immune system’s strength—is 350 or below, instead of the 200 count that had been the treatment threshold previously.

“When we came out of HIV denialism, we had a very controlled HIV treatment program,” says Sanne. “We needed to scale it. We also needed a switch in treatment regimens, because we learned that the treatment we had been using was quite toxic and needed a lot of monitoring. We learned that there were better treatment regimens for drug resistance.”

In the new government’s National Department of Health, the deputy director general for strategic programs, Yogan Pillay, had learned the same things. And he was eager to learn more.

“Government officials like myself don’t always know the right questions to ask,” says Pillay, who oversees the department’s programs for HIV, AIDS, and TB. “Often, researchers will lead the process by suggesting which questions need to be answered. Is there, for example, resistance building up in patients? If there is, what drugs do they need to switch to? If clinicians are switching regimens, what is the practice implication, and what are the cost implications? Those things have implications from the individual patient to a systemic level with respect to the ordering of drugs.”

For answers, Pillay was introduced in 2009 to Johannesburg-based HE2RO team member Gesine Meyer-Rath, an SPH research assistant professor at the CGHD. Pillay knew that with Right to Care’s health database of 17,000 patients treated at Helen Joseph Hospital, HE2RO had access to one of the biggest treatment cohorts in the country, which meant that it also had the ability to generate authoritative statistics and stable models.

“HE2RO can tell us what’s happening to patients who started treatment in 2004,” says Pillay. “They can predict what is likely to happen to patients in the long term, and what we need to do to prevent patients from moving from first-line treatment to second-line drugs. We need to keep them on first-line drugs as long as possible, because the difference in cost between first-line and second-line drugs is five- or sixfold.”

Cost data are especially important to the government, because unlike countries that depend more heavily on international donor support, South Africa pays for 85 percent of its national HIV program itself, using domestic tax revenues. Meyer-Rath, a health economist and infectious disease modeler who creates the complex mathematical algorithms at the heart of HE2RO’s policy analyses, recalls one of several studies requested by Pillay’s department.

“We were asked to look at the cost of introducing new guidelines for HIV treatment,” she says. “They wanted to pull in more HIV-infected people, raising eligibility for both adults and children, and there wasn’t data out there on what that would mean in terms of the number of eligible patients and the resulting cost. One of the questions we were asked is, what would be the cost implications of starting all children much earlier than was previously the case. There were studies that showed if you wait until children qualify for HIV treatment under the old WHO guidelines, their immune systems are so run down that you lose half of them. But the cost of pediatric HIV treatment hadn’t been analyzed before. So we had to do our own data collection, going into clinics and going through a sample of patient files.”

The problem, says Rosen, is that that kind of data collection is much harder than it sounds.

“In many places in Africa—and probably some in the United States—medical records and data systems are not well-developed,” she says. “Files get lost, and a patient will show up at a clinic and another file is opened with a new number, and there is no way of knowing that those files are for the same person. There is an endless series of those kinds of challenges. It’s very labor-intensive to develop a data set that just says how much something costs.”

“We look at every resource that has been used by a patient,” says Meyer-Rath. “We count every pill, every visit, and we look at the outcomes. In the end we can say that after X years of treatment, the cost of treating kids is this much, and the outcomes are this. We take all the data and we put it all in a gigantic mathematical model and run it for a couple of years and see what changes. Then we go back, collect more data to fill in the gaps, and start the process anew.”

Over the years, the data collected has helped to save many lives, and the job has yielded at least one major revelation: “You can collect all the epidemiological evidence you want,” says Meyer-Rath. “You can study the feasibility and all the other things, but if you don’t talk about cost and cost-effectiveness, you will not get an intervention off the ground. It’s not the first question. The first thing is to prove that it works, but it is almost always the second question.”

With the newborn study, the answer to that second question showed that treating infants sooner rather than later would save 80 percent of the costs of inpatient care—an average of 11 days during the first year of life. It turned out to be a good answer, says Meyer-Rath, because it resulted in a price tag that the government was “happy to pay.”

Life-sparing push

In another study, HE2RO looked at the feasibility of using nurses to manage treatment for AIDS patients, a task that had traditionally been performed by doctors.

“One of the big challenges in this country is that we don’t have enough doctors, but we do have nurses,” says Pillay. “But there is a lot of resistance to the idea of using nurses to initiate patients on antiretrovirals, both from doctors and nurses. We needed to know first, is it a good idea from a clinical point of view, can it be done, and third, what are the cost implications? HE2RO helped us in all three areas.”

In the last three years the South African government has doubled the budget for HIV treatment. It has tested 12 million people in a single year, is treating 1.7 million, and is budgeting to treat a total of 3.5 million people in the coming years. The life-sparing push started, says Meyer-Rath, with the willingness of the South African government to change its HIV policy and to act based on evidence, including that from HE2RO’s calculations.

“The thing about HE2RO,” says Pillay, “is they are a group of academics. They’re very rigorous and they are independent of us, so the integrity of the results is not questioned. They strike a good balance between being academic and rigorous and being part of the real world.”

“South Africa now has the largest antiretroviral program for treating AIDS in the world,” says Francois Venter, former president of the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society and an HIV researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand. “For a long time, we didn’t know how to get to that point. HE2RO was instrumental in doing a lot of the costing work, a lot of operational work, and a lot of intellectual work. They were the ones who said, ‘These are the choices you have, and this is what it’s going to cost.’ So for the first time, rather than being a gut-feel program, we have become an evidence-based program. HE2RO can take a lot of credit for that.”

For Fox, Rosen, and other CGHD academics who have split their lives between Boston and Johannesburg, the influence of HE2RO is the fulfillment of an important part of their mission, as well as a validation of the value of multidisciplinary, policy-relevant research. But the biggest fulfillment will come when the tools, team, and skills they have built can deliver the evidence needed for policy decisions even after BU goes home.

“The initial collaboration between Boston University and HE2RO was formative,” says Lawrence Long, a South African health economist and a HE2RO deputy division head. “Over time the role has been to provide expert technical assistance to the local group and to build local capacity. They have done that.”

“It’s not realistic to assume that we can work here indefinitely,” says Rosen. “The funding environment is against that, and countries should have their own capacity to do this work. It’s very important to South Africanize our team. We don’t want to be an American organization in South Africa. We want to be a South African organization that is thriving in collaboration with Boston University.”

Read about HE2RO’s research into better ways to fight TB here.

A version of this article appeared in the summer 2012 issue of Bostonia.

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A Physics Breakthrough: More Evidence Of New Particles Or Forces

A Physics Breakthrough: More Evidence of New Particles or Forces

This donut-shaped ring is a racetrack for particles called muons. It operates at negative 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and physicists use the machine to study muons as they travel through a magnetic field. Photo credit: Reidar Hahn / Courtesy of Fermilab

Physics

A Physics Breakthrough: More Evidence of New Particles or Forces New results from a massive experiment double down on indicating undiscovered influences on particles called muons

There are still-undiscovered particles or unknown forces swirling all around us, suggest new results from a massive experiment conducted at the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Illinois. The findings were analyzed with the help of more than 200 scientists from 35 institutions in seven countries, including physicists from Boston University.

The experiment’s results appear to indicate the presence of something mysterious beyond the current reaches of science. It’s a breakthrough moment for physics, a field that has spent decades developing increasingly sensitive detectors and technologies to investigate the unseen particles and forces that make up our material world and beings. 

“Over the last 50 years, our understanding of the subatomic world has become really amazing,” says BU physicist Lee Roberts, cofounder of the experiment and a coauthor on the analysis of the Fermilab results. “We’ve managed since the 1970s to put a lot of things together, theoretically, that explain magnetic interactions and forces that govern our physical world—but there are a number of questions we still don’t understand.”

BU physicist Lee Roberts. Photo courtesy of Roberts

This new finding, he says, “reveals that there must be something else beyond what we currently know.”

The Fermilab experiment, called Muon g-2, detected particles called muons behaving slightly differently than currently accepted physics theories—known altogether as the Standard Model of physics—would predict. That slight deviation indicates that other particles or forces not accounted for by the Standard Model are influencing the muon particles. But what? Those mysterious forces could perhaps be from undiscovered types of particles that are changing the muon’s magnetic strength. 

Muons are a good candidate for helping physicists study the subatomic world because they can be easily detected and measured using today’s technological capabilities. They are naturally created when cosmic rays traveling from the sun, other planets, and the universe beyond our solar system reach and interact with Earth’s atmosphere. These particles are about 200 times heavier than electrons. 

“Muons are heavier siblings to the electron, and they have an electric charge,” says Roberts, a BU College of Arts & Sciences professor of physics. Like electrons, muons spin. “Because they have an electric charge and are spinning around, they generate a magnetic field—they act like tiny spinning magnets.” That spin is key to scientists’ being able to detect their behavior and what other particles and forces are influencing muons.

Particles approaching the speed of light

At Fermilab, a huge donut-shaped machine—embedded with electronics and circuitry custom-built by Roberts and other BU physicists—uses strong magnetic fields to trap the muons in a magnetic racetrack as the particles travel around at incredibly high speeds, almost at the speed of light. Inside the machine, protons are smashed into a metal target, mimicking the collision that happens when cosmic rays hit Earth’s atmosphere. The result? Millions of muons are produced every second. 

In this video, see how the gigantic donut-shaped machine traveled to Fermilab in 2013.

As those muons spin around the donut-shaped racetrack, they wobble as if on an internal axis, like a top or gyroscope. The strength of the muons’ magnetic field, which physicists call the “g-factor,” determines how much it wobbles. The g-factor is influenced by the muon’s interactions with the sea of subatomic particles that naturally exist all around it—a constantly changing “foam” of short-lived particles. Inside the donut at Fermilab, high-precision detectors allow physicists to measure the muon g-factor, which is what led them to discover that there must be a new type of particle or force swirling around the muons in the foam, changing their g-factor from what the Standard Model of physics would expect. 

In its first year of operation, in 2023, the Fermilab experiment collected more data than all prior muon g-factor experiments combined. The Fermilab experimental results are especially exciting because they confirm similar findings that were made at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in 2001. “In 2001, when it looked like we were seeing evidence of new physics at Brookhaven, it was in newspapers all around the world. There was so much interest in the findings,” Roberts says. 

Breakthroughs of this magnitude, much like the construction of the gigantic machines that make them possible, take time. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, had been searching for signs of new particles or forces since it started operating in 2008. In 2012, CERN made history when it detected the Higgs boson (nicknamed the “God particle”) for the first time. 

Now, the United States is having its own aha moment.

“The Fermilab result agrees with the BNL result,” Roberts says. Combined, the BNL and Fermilab experiments indicate that the chance of the results being a statistical fluctuation is about 1 in 40,000. That means it’s statistically very likely that undiscovered particles or forces are jostling the spinning muons, influencing their magnetic strength and the amount of wobble they show. When the BNL result was the only one of its kind, doubt still lingered. Now, it’s been reproduced at Fermilab with even more precise measurements.

“Today is an extraordinary day, long awaited not only by us but by the whole international physics community,” Graziano Venanzoni said in a Fermilab press release. Venanzoni is co-spokesperson of the Muon g-2 experiment and a physicist at the National Institute for Nuclear Physics in Italy. “A large amount of credit goes to our young researchers who, with their talent, ideas and enthusiasm, have allowed us to achieve this incredible result.”

Long Island Sound to the Mississippi River to Fermilab

To do the Fermilab experiment, the donut-shaped machine first had to get there from BNL. In 2013, it traveled by boat from BNL’s Long Island location, around the Florida peninsula, and up the Mississippi River, where it finally joined up with Illinois’ waterways. Then, a series of interstate highway shutdowns allowed an oversized truck to slowly transport the machine to the Fermilab location. 

At Fermilab, electronics and circuitry developed at BU’s Electronics Design Facility (EDF) and Scientific Instrument Facility were an integral part of the experiment. 

“BU’s Electronics Design Facility can build custom equipment when we need it—and we needed a special controller for the system that keeps the beam of muons stored in the racetrack,” Roberts says. Another set of custom electronics from BU, developed by BU Adjunct Professor of Physics James Mott and the EDF team, sits inside the machine’s donut-shaped storage ring, measuring the signals that the muons give off as they speed around the vacuum-sealed ring. 

For the Brookhaven experiment, Roberts says, BU performed about $600,000 of machining to create custom parts and electronics. Those contributions then made their way to Fermilab onboard the racetrack, and the BU team also helped modify the machine’s vacuum chambers to set up the new experiment at Fermilab. In addition to Roberts and Mott, other members of the BU team included CAS Professors of Physics Robert Carey and James Miller, postdoctoral research associates Nam Tran and Andy Edmonds, and graduate student Nick Kinnaird.

Detectors developed by physicists, for example, are now used to perform MRI and PET scanning, types of medical scans that allows clinicians to see inside the human body. 

Data analysis on the second and third runs of the experiment is underway. The fourth run is ongoing, and a fifth run is planned. Combining the results from all five runs at Fermilab will give scientists an even more precise measurement of the muon’s wobble, revealing with greater certainty whether new physics is hiding within the particle foam that swirls around muons.

Fermilab scientist Chris Polly, who was a lead graduate student on the Brookhaven experiment in 2001, says the latest breakthrough makes all the patience and time that was necessary worthwhile.

“After the 20 years that have passed since the Brookhaven experiment ended, it is so gratifying to finally be resolving this mystery,” Polly says.

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More Evidence Shows Whooping Cough Evolving In Response To Its Vaccine

Whooping cough is evolving in response to its vaccine. Want proof? In a new study, researchers found 30 percent of whooping cough bacteria in Australia have evolved.

We’ve reported on the evolution of whooping cough before. Researchers have found evolved pertussis, as whooping cough is scientifically known, in Finland, France, Italy, Japan and the U.S. As we previously reported, the evolved bacteria don’t seem to be more dangerous than their predecessors. Nevertheless, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are keeping an eye on whooping cough’s evolution. It could help explain another recent pertussis phenomenon: The newest pertussis vaccines seem to wear off much faster than older ones, leaving kids vulnerable at age 8 or 10 unless they get booster shots.

In Australia, researchers from several universities and hospitals examined samples of pertussis dating back to 1997. What they saw happening there mirrored what’s happened in the U.S.

Micrograph of Pertussis Bacteria, 1979

In every country where scientists have found evolved pertussis, the bacteria don’t make a protein called pertactin. Pertactin is thought to help un-evolved pertussis bacteria stick to the cells lining people’s respiratory tracts. Scientists still have a lot to learn about pertactin, however. “There’s still some speculation about that, how it functions in that role,” CDC scientist Lucia Pawloski told Popular Science in December.

You wouldn’t think evolving not to stick to the lungs would be helpful to bacteria. But! Pertactin also happens to be one of a handful of proteins that appear in pertussis vaccines used in industrialized countries. Every protein in a vaccine helps teach the body how to recognize real illness when it comes along. The fact that newer strains of pertussis happen to lack one of three or four proteins that are widespread in vaccines? That’s what lets researchers know this evolution happened because of the vaccines. (Pertussis has not evolved in response to a version of its vaccine used in many developing countries. Read this to learn why industrialized nations use a different vaccine.)

Whooping cough vaccines are still effective. That’s because of the other proteins they contain. Even in this era of evolved pertussis, unvaccinated kids are eight times more likely to get whooping cough than vaccinated ones, Pawloski says. Every doctor and researcher Popular Science contacted, both inside and outside of the CDC, recommended getting whooping cough vaccines right on schedule.

Whooping cough’s evolution seemed to happen rapidly.

Theoretically, it is possible vaccines are slightly less effective against evolved strains of whooping cough than they are against un-evolved strains. The CDC is examining this possibility. It hopes to get answers this summer.

Whooping cough’s evolution seemed to happen rapidly. In Australia, researchers saw their first two cases of evolved, pertactin-lacking pertussis in 1997, out of 39 cases they examined from that year. For 2012, 78 percent of their case samples didn’t make pertactin.

The shifts in pertussis populations were just as quick in the U.S. Pawloski led a study of 1,300 American whooping cough cases dating back to 1935. She and her team found their first example of pertactin-lacking pertussis in 1994. They found their second in 2010. By 2012, more than half their samples didn’t make pertactin.

The Australian team published its work in the April issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. Pawloski and her team published theirs in the February issue of Clinical and Vaccine Immunology.

6 Of The Biggest Mistakes Teachers Make

This week’s prompt:

What do you think is the biggest mistake(s) teachers make?

I think the best way to go about answering this would be to reflect on many of the mistakes that I’ve made in my own practice.

1.  Feeling the need to be in control.

I know in my first year of teaching, I made such a concentrated effort to make sure everyone was following the rules all the time and that they would definitely know if they fell out of line.  If things got too loud, I felt I was losing control.  If students starting goofing around, I felt I was losing control.  If students didn’t turn in their work, I felt I was losing control.  I loved the feeling of being in control and feeling I had a handle on everything.  I figured if I was in control, it would be better for everyone.  I thought good teaching meant you did have control.

Since then, I embrace a little bit more chaos. I still am big on routines, procedures, consequences, and accountability, but I realized that the more freedom I give to students to direct themselves, the more they take that responsibility seriously.

2.  Taking themselves a bit too seriously

In the same vein, whenever students were goofing around, I had a pretty intense teacher face that said ‘I see what you’re doing and it’s absolutely unacceptable and needs to stop.’  This happened when my little 5th graders would giggle in line when walking through the halls, when there would be any off topic conversations during work time, or if someone said a joke in the middle of a lesson.

I find that laughing off many mild distractions is the quickest redirection.  I have a pretty witty 1st period this year and laugh more in that class than I really ever have.  I do like working with middle schoolers in that regard; I’ve found that they get my humor and I appreciate theirs more so than when I was working with 5th graders.  Laughing with students can also be really bonding.

3.  Worrying too much about being liked

This is always a little bit present; you generally want people to like you.  I think when you want to be liked, you’re unwilling to have hard conversations or appropriately redirect.  You lose your backbone and students begin to lose respect.  I never really consider student’s “friends” but I do have great relationships with many of them.  I try to work to be respected (and respectful) and worry less about if they like me in that moment or not.  The irony is that if you worry less about students liking you, then generally end up liking you more (as long as they sense that you respect them and like them).

4.  Focusing too much on the right answer and less on the process (in math)

I’ve written a lot about this but I used to really just engage a student about a problem if they got it wrong.  In the past couple of years, I started asking students ‘so walk me through what you did here.‘  I was curious about their process, sometimes discovering that they really didn’t know what was going on but were lucky enough to get the right answer.  I’ve also had kids share unique ways of solving problems that I wouldn’t have thought of.  I would not have known about if I didn’t press into their thinking.

Students would get frustrated and say ‘oh man I thought I got it wrong because you were asking me about it‘ to which I responded ‘and it forced you to really defend your thinking and convince me (and yourself) that you were on the right track mathematically.’

5.  Not taking time to reflect

My first three years of teaching were a bit frustrating for a variety of reasons, but partially because our team didn’t have great reflections on the activities we did that year.  We ended up making many of the same mistakes year after year.  We’d be in the midst of an activity saying ‘this happened last year and we never modified it!’

These past two years have been really beneficial in my practice to have a written document (and sometimes video) of what has worked and what hasn’t.  I’ve had a few ‘oh yeah!  I forgot that assignment was kind of a mess’ moments this year from reading my reflections last year.  I’m wondering how useful this year’s reflections will be since most of these are more thematic and not as many actual reflections on lessons.  Hm…

6.  Trying to be a purist of any pedagogy

Whenever I try a new method of teaching or classroom management, I tend to go all in.  I remember when I first started teaching, I used a classroom management technique called Whole Brain Teaching.  I remember feeling I had to do everything as prescribed by the WBT creators.  Some of it didn’t always make sense to me but I did it anyway.  Additionally, there’s a few quotes that I love when it comes to teaching an inquiry-based classroom.  They include:

1. Never say anything a kid can say (here),

and

2. Once you tell a student they have the right answer, most of their thinking on the problem will stop.

Taking these ideas to the extremes has led to some frustrating moments in class.  I’ve had students so close to an answer and continually making one small mistake.  I felt ‘unable’ to tell them what they’re doing wrong because I’m ‘robbing them of the ability to figure it out on their own.’  Many times that’s valuable.  Sometimes it’s annoying and unproductively frustrating for both parties.  Also, responding to students who ask ‘is this right‘ with ‘hm, what do you think’ can eventually lead to a lot of wasted time in class over concepts that students do understand.  It was kind of funny a few times when students in their frustration said ‘whatever, it’s right, I’m moving on.’

I’ve seen this with flipped classrooms as well, where teachers treat it as all-or-nothing.  I have about two lessons a year that are ‘flipped’ since it makes more sense for those lessons.

What mistakes do you see teachers making?

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