Weighing in on Gain-of-Function Research

By Sharon Washio

Viruses are the ultimate parasites—they use the host’s cell processes to carry out their infectious cycles, from replication to dissemination. As barriers between species are crossed and favorable mutations are aptly selected, viruses evolve to propagate among the population, at times, leading to epidemics or pandemics like the Ebola epidemic or the 1918 Spanish Flu. When a virus adversely affects society, one of the main questions researchers try to answer is what makes the virus so potent. This is usually done by comparing mutant versions of the virus with reduced virulence, or potency, to the original, then assessing for the specific mutations that hinders the virus life cycle.

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Review: Effects of Climate Change on Infectious Diseases

By Andrew Wu

Climate change has many implications for public health, particularly on the transmission of infectious diseases. Changes in humidity can lead to an increased risk of illnesses that spread through bodily fluids. Vectors such as mosquitoes can become more abundant and affect larger regions. Natural disasters can destroy healthcare infrastructure, alter the immunity of a population, and increase exposure to water-borne diseases. Although there are many factors that modulate infectious disease dynamics, it is crucial that researchers pinpoint associations between the spread of maladies and environmental changes, as they become more drastic and prominent in our lifetimes. A better understanding can lead to more precise models, which can enhance the accuracy of predictions and lead to more effective healthcare. Recently, Professor Metcalf of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Affairs departments published a review paper that thoroughly analyzes techniques that investigate the links between climate change and infectious diseases.

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UV Light: A New Tool for Disease Prevention

By Devorah Saffern

Ultraviolet (UV) light kills cells by causing thymine bases in the cell’s DNA to interact and form dimers, which are then removed by the DNA’s own correction mechanisms. Increased exposure to UV light increases the chances of these mechanisms incorrectly replacing the dimer or not replacing it at all, which changes the way the entire DNA sequence is read by its polymerase. This impairs the DNA and therefore the cellular functions, which can result in cell death or cause the cell to become carcinogenic (develop into a cancerous cell). Increased exposure to UV light, therefore, can cause cancer, most commonly skin cancers due to direct exposure from UV rays in the sun.

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Activation of the Hedgehog protein pathway: A potential solution to obesity?

By Nicholas Persaud

The United States has faced many epidemics in which diseases and illnesses have had adverse effects on the health and wellbeing of Americans. When we think of epidemics we typically think of Ebola, malaria, the flu, or anything that is infectious. However, the United States has been facing a different kind of epidemic for some time now, one that’s not caused by a virus or bacterium. This epidemic is obesity. Obesity affects children and adults alike, with 78 million adults and 13 million children in the US reported to be obese. The major issue with obesity is not the state of being overweight in and of itself but the many serious health complications that accompany it, which include diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more. As a result, there has been a great government effort to reduce obesity in children and adults by attempting to change people’s eating and exercise habits. However, this is not the most effective solution since it’s very difficult for people to change their lifestyles. Fortunately, recent research shows that there might be a more effective solution to the obesity epidemic.

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Health Care Reform: Learning From Other Major Health Care Systems

By Mimi Chung

With the United States Senate recently dismissing modified plans for health care in the US, different health care systems in other countries have gained considerable public interest. Health care in the United States can vary dramatically depending on an individual’s personal circumstances. Factors like employment, military service, and age can change what kind of insurance – if any – someone is able to obtain. Exploring the strengths and weakness of each may illuminate different options for modifying US healthcare policy.

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Migraines: What, Why, and How to Fix Them

By Sharon Washio

Migraines are most commonly defined by their excruciating, pulsating pain. It is a prevalent disorder, with over 38 million Americans affected, of which approximately 28 million are women. It isn’t just your ordinary headache—some say that it feels like the side of their head is desperately trying to tear itself apart, inside out.

Take this quote from Anna Maria, featured on the Migraine Stories section of the Migraine Research Foundation site, for perspective. “As a child, I used to imagine putting an electric drill to my temple to open a hole that would release the pressure.” Migraines should always be treated tenderly without the stigma and judgement that sometimes unwelcomingly tags along perception of mental illnesses.

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