Inside a greenhouse perched atop a University of Ottawa building, there are hundreds of plants that are part of a vaccine revolution offering hope for an end to the pandemic.
How plants can play a role in the future of fighting COVID, RSV and even the common cold
The Nicotiana benthamiana plants growing in the university greenhouse — weeds in their native Australia — work as a vaccine bio-factory to produce viral proteins that act as antigens to create an immune response against COVID-19.
The nasal vaccine would act as a booster for those who have already received an mRNA COVID vaccine or have been infected, said Langlois, a professor in the faculty of medicine at the university and executive director of the Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network.
Eventually, studies in humans are needed to further develop a potential plant-based mucosal vaccine, which would require additional funding, said Langlois.
Scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton are further along in developing a mucosal vaccine for COVID-19.
The McMaster mucosal vaccine has demonstrated broad, long-lasting protection against the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 as well as variants of concern. It is currently being tested in healthy adults who already received two doses of a COVID mRNA vaccine.
Mucosal vaccines — which work by blocking infection where the virus enters the body in areas such as the mouth and nose — have the potential to prevent infections and transmission of COVID-19. That is something existing intramuscular vaccines, which produce neutralizing antibodies that circulate throughout the body, cannot do very well. Mucosal vaccines are typically sprayed in the nostrils or the mouth while traditional vaccines are injected.
Current COVID-19 vaccines administered via needles, produced within months of pandemic declarations, were approved for emergency use based on proof that they could prevent severe disease and deaths, which they did. They did not entirely stop infection or transmission.
With COVID-19 transmission continuing at high levels, Deonandan said the possibilities of mucosal vaccines are exciting.
In the best-case scenario, they could end the pandemic, he said. “I think in the end it depends on what they end up looking like. But that is the hope.”
Deonandan sees them as the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines, but notes there has been a lack of enthusiasm by governments and drug companies about underwriting the financial risk, as they did with the first-generation of vaccines.
“There are still very large gaps in knowledge in what makes a good antigen for a mucosal vaccines,” said Langlois. “We are decades behind the standard intramuscular vaccines in terms of our understanding of what makes a good mucosal vaccine.
Mucosal vaccines in general are relatively new and research to make effective vaccines is ongoing, said Langlois. It is important work toward making Canada more self-sufficient when it comes to vaccine development and production, he said.
The goal of Canada becoming less reliant on foreign industry was delivered a blow last month when Medicago, a plant-based COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer, shut down its operations in Quebec after its sole shareholder decided to no longer invest in the company. Medicago’s COVID-19 vaccines had been approved by Health Canada but the World Health Organization initially rejected the vaccine because of its ties to tobacco company Phillip Morris.
MacLean, an assistant professor in the department of biology at the university and the biologist collaborating with Langlois, called it a big loss for Canada in the burgeoning field of biopharming — the use of plants to produce pharmaceuticals.
“Not only are we trying to develop a mucosal vaccine, we are trying to do it in plants,” said MacLean.
There is still work to be done to get plants to produce similar amounts of viral proteins as eggs or animal cells, which are used more commonly in vaccine production, MacLean said. But the advantages of using plants are numerous. Among them, plant-based vaccines are inexpensive and quick to produce and contamination is less likely than with vaccines produced in eggs and animal cells.
“Plants are dead cheap to work with; you need soil, you need a bit of fertilizer, you need sun and water, and that’s it,” said MacLean.
'Worrisome' deadly fungus spreading through US at alarming rate – Sky News
A drug-resistant and potentially deadly fungus is spreading rapidly through US health facilities, according to a government study.
Researchers from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the fungus, a type of yeast called Candida auris or C. auris, can cause severe illness in people with weakened immune systems.
The number of people diagnosed, as well as the number who were found through screening to be carrying C. auris, has been rising at an alarming rate since the fungus was first reported in the US in 2016.
The fungus was identified in 2009 in Asia, but scientists have said C. auris first appeared around the world about a decade earlier.
Dr Meghan Lyman, chief medical officer of the CDC’s mycotic diseases branch, said the increases, “especially in the most recent years, are really concerning to us”.
“We’ve seen increases not just in areas of ongoing transmission, but also in new areas,” she said.
Dr Lyman also said she was concerned about the increasing number of fungus samples resistant to the common treatments for it.
Dr Waleed Javaid, an epidemiologist and director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown in New York, said the fungus was “worrisome”.
“But we don’t want people who watched ‘The Last Of Us’ to think we’re all going to die,” Dr Javaid said.
“This is an infection that occurs in extremely ill individuals who are usually sick with a lot of other issues.”
Is The Last Of Us’ real ‘zombie’ fungus an actual threat?
The fungus, which can be found on the skin and throughout the body, is not a threat to healthy people.
But about one-third of people who become sick with C. auris die.
The fungus has been detected in more than half of all US states. The number of infections in the US increased by 95% between 2020 and 2021.
Species of fungus discovered in Scotland
Fungal infections ‘increased significantly’ during COVID pandemic
The new research comes as Mississippi is facing a growing outbreak of the fungus.
Since November, 12 people in the state have been infected with four “potentially associated deaths”, according to the state’s health department.
More dead birds found in Caledon could be linked to bird flu
Possible cases of bird flu have been found in Caledon as potential outbreaks of the virus are popping up in Brampton and across southern Ontario.
The City of Brampton issued a warning about two possible avian flu incidents on Friday after dead birds were found in the area of Professor’s Lake and Duncan Foster Valley South.
Now the Town of Caledon says a number of dead birds have also been found in a pond near Coleraine Dr. and Harvest Moon Dr. and that the deaths may be related to bird flu.
The Town has closed a trail in the area out of precaution and says testing is being conducted by the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative to determine the birds’ cause of death.
Peel Public Health says that while avian influenza is a threat to birds, the risk to humans is very low.
“Most cases of human avian flu have been traced to handling infected poultry or their droppings,” said Dr. Nicholas Brandon, acting Medical Officer of Health for PPH. “Residents are asked to follow the recommended guidance to limit the spread of avian flu and protect the health and safety of residents and pets.”
Peel Public Health is recommending residents and pet owners are asked to take the following precautions:
- Keep animals away from any waterfowl or fecal matter
- Do not feed or otherwise interact with the waterfowl
- Keep cats indoors
- Keep dogs on a leash (as required under the municipal by-law)
- Do not feed pets (e.g., dogs or cats) any raw meat from game birds or poultry
- Pet birds, if not normally kept indoors, should be restricted to the indoors
- Bird feeders should be removed or washed with soap and water frequently to reduce the chance of bacterial or viral contamination
The cause of the birds’ death in all three of the cases in Peel has not been confirmed but Brampton Animal Services is actively monitoring the areas.
If the birds test negative for Avian Influenza a full necropsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death, the City of Brampton said on Friday.
Last week the Toronto Zoo shut down some of its bird enclosures after an avian flu case was detected at a southern Ontario poultry farm.
A highly pathogenic type of H5N1 avian flu has been tearing through Canadian flocks since early 2022, killing millions of birds and infecting a record number of avian species.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency detected a case at a commercial poultry operation southeast of Hamilton on Tuesday, the second reported Ontario site in a week after a lull in detected cases going back to the end of December.
With files from The Canadian Press
Developing postoperative delirium associated with a faster rate of cognitive decline, says study
Research published today (March 20) in the JAMA Internal Medicine finds that developing postoperative delirium is associated with a 40% faster rate of cognitive decline over those who do not develop delirium.
“Delirium is associated with faster cognitive decline,” said Zachary J. Kunicki, Ph.D., MS, MPH Assistant Professor located at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, the first author. “Whether delirium causes this faster rate of decline, or is simply a marker of those who are at risk of experiencing faster rates of decline, is still to be determined.”
“This study has the longest follow-up period of any study examining persons with delirium following surgery,” said Sharon K. Inouye, MD, MPH Director, Aging Brain Center, Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, the senior author and principal investigator on the work. “While future studies are needed, this study raises the possibility that delirium may predispose to permanent cognitive decline and potentially dementia. This highlights the importance of delirium prevention to preserve brain health in older adults who undergo surgery,” she said.
Delirium is the most common post-operative complication in older adults and is associated with poor outcomes, including long-term cognitive decline and incident dementia.
Richard N. Jones, ScD, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University is co-senior author of the article, “Six-year cognitive trajectory in older adults following major surgery and delirium.”
“The SAGES cohort has followed 560 older adults (age 70 and older), measuring their cognition every six months for 36 months, then annually afterwards for up to six years. Using a detailed cognitive testing battery, comprised of 11 different tests, we found that cognitive changes after surgery are complex and that delirium influences every timepoint. The average cognitive changes seen after surgery include an abrupt drop at one month after surgery, an increase at two months after surgery, a stable period from 6–30 months after surgery, and then steady decline from 3–6 years after surgery.
“Delirium is associated with a sharper drop at one month, greater recovery at two months, and faster decline in all time periods from six months to six years, respectively. The results suggest that either delirium itself may contribute to cognitive decline after surgery, or that delirium may serve to identify those at risk for future more rapid cognitive decline. Future research will be needed to examine whether either or both of these hypotheses best explain the relationship between delirium and cognitive decline,” say the authors.
Six-Year Cognitive Trajectory in Older Adults Following Major Surgery and Delirium, JAMA Internal Medicine (2023). DOI: 10.1001/jamainternalmed.2023.0144
Hebrew SeniorLife Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research
Developing postoperative delirium associated with a faster rate of cognitive decline, says study (2023, March 20)
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