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How plants can play a role in the future of fighting COVID, RSV and even the common cold



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.

A team of scientists at uOttawa, led by virologist Marc-André Langlois in collaboration with biologist Allyson MacLean, is aiming to create something new — a plant-based mucosal vaccine that people could spray into their nostrils to boost their protection against COVID-19.Langlois pictures people picking up the nasal vaccine from a drug store and taking it home to top-up their COVID-19 defences to prevent infection.

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.

“We are aiming to capitalize on the fact that most people will have received prior vaccines or had an infection and acquired immunity.”Work on the prototype nasal spray vaccine is still in the early stages, but preliminary results have successfully boosted antibody protection in mice previously given mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. The next step is to challenge mice with the virus to see if the vaccine confers protection.

Eventually, studies in humans are needed to further develop a potential plant-based mucosal vaccine, which would require additional funding, said Langlois.

Marc-André Langlois and Allyson MacLean, uOttawa researchers, are working on a nasal COVID booster vaccine that is plant based.
Marc-André Langlois and Allyson MacLean, uOttawa researchers, are working on a nasal COVID booster vaccine that is plant based. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

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.

Why, at this point in the pandemic, with highly successful mRNA and other vaccines widely available, are Canadian researchers working to develop new mucosal vaccines against COVID-19? And why should people care?Because mucosal vaccines hold the hope of ending the pandemic, according to uOttawa epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan.

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.

“We don’t want to be mildly sick. We don’t want to be sick at all,” says Langlois.“These (mucosal) vaccines are focused on completely blocking infection.” That goes for COVID-19 as well as all respiratory virus infections, including RSV and the common cold, he said.

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.

Dr. Raywat Deonandan is an epidemiologist, author, journalist and global health specialist.
Dr. Raywat Deonandan is an epidemiologist, author, journalist and global health specialist. Photo by ERROL MCGIHON /Postmedia

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.”

Not only do they have the potential to stop transmission, preventing further infections and mutations, but they are also potentially longer lasting than current intramuscular vaccines, whose immunity can wane within months.Because mucosal vaccines can be delivered through the mouth and nose, they can be self-administered, making delivery significantly easier and cheaper, something that is crucial in parts of the world with fewer resources. They also do away with the need for injections.

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.

Other countries, including India, are using mucosal COVID-19 vaccines. But none have been approved in Canada.The mucosal vaccine research at uOttawa is to develop a prototype, Langlois said. Where it goes from there depends on funding. “Right now it is limited, until we make a strong case that it is effective and then we can increase our team size to move things along faster.

“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.

“Canada needs much higher sovereignty over vaccine production and bio-manufacturing of drugs. We are highly reliant on foreign industry. That has been a lesson of the pandemic.”
OTTAWA – March 02, 2023 – Marc-André Langlois and Allyson MacLean, uOttawa researchers, are working on a nasal covid booster vaccine that is plant based. Assignment 138797 Photo by Jean Levac/Ottawa Citizen
OTTAWA – March 02, 2023 – Marc-André Langlois and Allyson MacLean, uOttawa researchers, are working on a nasal covid booster vaccine that is plant based. Assignment 138797 Photo by Jean Levac/Ottawa Citizen Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

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.

It is more reason for Canada to continue investing in research, she said.The work at uOttawa is pushing the boundaries of vaccine research.

“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.

Marc-André Langlois and Allyson MacLean.
Marc-André Langlois and Allyson MacLean. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

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'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.

A strain of Candida auris cultured in a petri dish at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2019

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.

More on United States

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.”

Read more:
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.

Read more:
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.

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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


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Developing postoperative delirium associated with a faster rate of cognitive decline, says study



Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

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 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 ,” 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 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 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 ,” say the authors.

More information:
Six-Year Cognitive Trajectory in Older Adults Following Major Surgery and Delirium, JAMA Internal Medicine (2023). DOI: 10.1001/jamainternalmed.2023.0144

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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)
retrieved 20 March 2023

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