“Today, we pause to remember the nearly 3,000 men and women who lost their lives in the horrific attacks of 9/11 and to honor the heroes of that terrible day.  The people we lost came from all walks of life, all parts of the country, and all corners of the world.  What they had in common was their innocence and that they were loved by those they left behind.

“Although it has been eight years since that day, we cannot let the passage of time dull our memories or diminish our resolve.  We still face grave threats from extremists, and we are deeply grateful to all those who serve our country to keep us safe.  I’m especially proud of the men and women at the Department of Energy who work hard every day to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.

“So as we honor those we’ve lost, let us also recommit ourselves to protecting and serving the country we love.  After all, our future will be determined not by what terrorists tore down but by what we together build up.

“The families of the victims are in all of our thoughts and prayers today.”

Research from The University of Manchester using cutting edge supercomputer analysis reveals that despite mutating, Ebola hasn’t evolved to become deadlier since the first outbreak 40 years ago.

The surprising results demonstrate that whilst a high number of genetic changes have been recorded in the virus, it hasn’t changed at a functional level to become more or less virulent.

The findings, published in the journal Virology, demonstrate that the much higher death toll during the current outbreak, with the figure at nearly 10,500, isn’t due to mutations/evolution making the virus more deadly or more virulent.

Professor Simon Lovell from the Faculty of Life Sciences explains: “Using data from every outbreak since 1976 we were able to highlight what changes there had been in the RNA of the virus and then using specially developed tools predict the consequences of those changes. What we found was that whilst Ebola is mutating, it isn’t evolving to the point of adapting to become more or less virulent. The function of the virus has remained the same over the past four decades which really surprised us. Unfortunately this does mean the Ebola virus that has now emerged on several occasions since the 1970s will very probably do so again.”

Professor David Robertson says the findings can be seen as good news: “The fact that Ebola isn’t changing in a way that effects the virulence of the disease means that vaccines and treatments developed during this current outbreak have a very high chance of being effective against future outbreaks. It also means that methods to successfully tackle the virus should work again, so hopefully in the future an outbreak can be stopped from spreading at a much earlier stage.”

The team used a computational approach that PhD student, Abayomi Olabode, developed for analysing changes in HIV-1. This had highlighted adaptions within the virus in the context of protein structure. When they used it to study Ebola they expected to see similar things but didn’t. 

Professor Robertson points out the advantages of the computer-based approach: “We were able to do this research quickly and whilst the Ebola outbreak was still ongoing. The data generated by Gire et al. in 2014 was all freely available and our analysis technique is a safe way to study the virus without unnecessary exposure. This type of study could be used on future outbreaks to analyse what is happening in real time within the virus. This level of surveillance will only become more essential in the fight against contagious illness as we live in an increasingly globally connected society.”

The team also stress that, counter-intuitively, analysis is needed to identify when a virus becomes less potent. This is because infected individuals could potentially infect more people if they did not progress to severe illness. The deadly nature of Ebola means the symptoms can be identified at a relatively early stage and those who had been in contact with the patient during the infectious stage readily identified by contact tracing. If it becomes less deadly then it may take longer to spot those symptoms, if they can be spotted at all, or for the person to become ill increasing the chance of spreading the virus. An attenuated virus, although less deadly on an individual basis, could spread widely and thus ultimately cause many more deaths.

Professor Tony Redmond from the University’s Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute helped to coordinate the NHS response to Ebola in West Africa: “Like any medical response, the response to ebola must be supported by science. These are very important findings and emphasise that the spread of the virus in this outbreak owed as much to factors within the human community than within the virus itself.”

Professor Lovell concludes: “Our study demonstrates the vital role computational analysis can play during a virus outbreak. As scientists our role is to worry about the potential changes our research tool allows us to map what is happening within a virus and the consequences of any changes. Ebola will occur again, and it’s only through such close monitoring that we will contain it and ultimately eradicate it.”

Modeled distribution areas of the Asian rock pool mosquito in Germany. Warm colors (on a scale from blue to red) indicate a higher likelihood of settlement. © Senckenberg

Scientists at the Senckenberg Research Center for Biodiversity and Climate and at the Goethe University, in conjunction with other German colleagues, have developed distribution models for the invasive Asian rock pool mosquito. This mosquito species is a potential carrier of vectors for infectious diseases, such as dengue fever or West Nile virus. In a recent study, published in the scientific journal “Parasitology Research,” the scientists identified new risk hotspots in Southern Hesse, the Saarland and northern North Rhine-Westphalia, and they recommend a careful monitoring of this invasive insect.

Chinese mitten crabs, ring-necked parakeets, rheas and Egyptian geese: exotic species have long since become part of German ecosystems and now live right in our midst. In Germany alone, more than one thousand non-native animal species are registered – but most of the introduced species do not survive the winter in our latitudes. “However, the Asian rock pool mosquito is a different case,” says Professor Dr. Sven Klimpel, a parasitologist at the Senckenberg Research Center for Biodiversity and Climate and the Goethe University in Frankfurt, and he adds, “These mosquitoes have spread extensively across Germany and Europe in recent years.” For the first time, the dipterans were reported in 2008 from southern Baden-Wuerttemberg; since then, populations have also become established in Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia. Contrary to the Asian tiger mosquito, the Asian rock pool mosquito is adapted to cooler temperatures and is perfectly able to cope with the climatic conditions in Central Europe.

While other invasive species do not constitute a threat and may even enrich the species diversity, the Asian rock pool mosquito is a potential carrier of dangerous infectious diseases or their vectors, such as dengue fever, the Japanese encephalitis or the West Nile virus. “To date, the transmission potential has only been confirmed in the laboratory and not in the outdoors. However, the West Nile virus could already be isolated from wild-caught mosquitoes in the USA,” explains Klimpel.

In their study, the parasitologists and infection biologists have modeled potential distribution areas for this mosquito. To this end, they combined various factors, such as the monthly average temperature or the months with the lowest precipitation with mathematical variables and the actual discovery data. “This methodology enables us to predict the distribution of a species on the basis of incomplete observations and samples,” explains Klimpel, and he adds, “This is necessary, since there is no systematically designed sampling procedure for the mapping of the exact distribution area to date – not least for cost reasons. "In order to better be able to coordinate future monitoring and prevention programs, it is essential to know and localize potentially favorable regions for this mosquito species.

“Our modeling clearly shows that besides the already known areas in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony, Southern Hesse, the Saarland and the northern parts of North Rhine-Westphalia also constitute climatically favorable areas for the Asian rock pool mosquito,” according to Klimpel’s summary of the scientific study. On the basis of these results, the monitoring of the Asian rock pool mosquito can be done in a more focused and systematic fashion, and sampling may be conducted efficiently, fast and cost-effectively.

CAPTION Links among infectious networks are shown. CREDIT Filipe Monteiro/Brown University

When a whole country's public health is at stake, making the wrong policy choices can cost lives and money. That's why researchers have worked to develop supercomputer simulations of epidemics that can model individual behaviors and interactions to predict the spread of disease and the efficacy of interventions.

The results of a new study suggest that Cabo Verde could all but stamp out HIV if it can accelerate four efforts already underway across the tiny African archipelago. Moreover, the model predicts that annual new cases could fall below the key threshold of 10 per 10,000 residents even if the country just focuses the additional efforts on female sex workers and drug users, two groups with unusually high prevalence of infection.

"You don't have to scale up everything," said Filipe Monteiro, lead author of the study in the International Journal of Public Health and a postdoctoral scholar at Brown University. "You can just prioritize the specific groups."

The modeled interventions were extending and optimizing early HIV treatment, expanding HIV testing, increasing condom distribution, and providing more substance abuse treatment. Monteiro, a native of the country, wanted to see whether significant expansions of those programs over the decade between 2011 and 2021 could bring new cases below the 10 per 10,000 threshold that some global health experts call the "HIV elimination phase."

To make those predictions he employed the computer model co-developed by his advisor, Brandon Marshall, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health. Their team's implementation included 305,000 individually behaving "agents," enough to represent every Cabo Verdean adult.

"Here we were able to simulate the whole country," Monteiro said.

In the model, "agents" (representing real people) do what's relevant to the epidemic such as have sex with varying numbers of partners (sometimes protected and sometimes not), use drugs, start and stop medicine, get tested, transmit the virus, and sometimes die. All the parameters, such as drug use, frequency of sex, response to HIV medications and so on, are based in real data. For example, the percentage of people engaged in drug use and women engaged in prostitution are based on Cabo Verde's real rates, as are the prevalence HIV infection in those populations and among adults nationwide. The one major missing cohort, men who have sex with men, had to be left out of the model because there is not yet reliable HIV and population data for them.

To determine the efficacy of the interventions, Monteiro ran the model 100 times each for each of the following scenarios, both for the whole population and just among drug users and female sex workers: continuing the status quo of current interventions, doubling HIV testing, increasing condom distribution by 33 percent, doubling substance abuse treatment, doubling antiretroviral treatment, and doing all these interventions at the same time.

The combination approach lowered new cases the most compared to the status quo, both when the interventions were applied population wide and when they were applied just to the at-risk groups. In the whole population scenarios, for example, the combination of all four interventions reduced new cases in 2021 from 23.8 per 10,000 under the status quo to 6.7 per 10,000 among female sex workers who use drugs, and from 5.1 per 10,000 among general residents (non-drug using, non-prostitutes) to 1.4 new cases per 10,000. 

Meanwhile, focusing the combination approach only on at-risk groups reduced new cases among drug-using sex workers to 7.3 per 10,000 and among general population members to 3.4 per 10,000.

The research also highlighted what would likely be the weakest approach: either solely scaling up HIV testing, or only expanding substance abuse treatment. For example, the effect of solely increasing HIV testing, was weaker, reducing new cases among drug using sex workers to 17.6 per 10,000, and cases among general population members to 4.5 per 10,000.

Monteiro said he is optimistic that Cabo Verde can move forward with these interventions in real life, rather than in a laptop. Although key data, such as for men who have sex with men, are still needed, he and his co-authors, including Maria de Lourdes Monteiro of the Cabo Verde Ministry of Health, wrote that their findings provide a clear policy prescription.

"We recommend a combination prevention strategy, particularly for populations most at-risk, to decrease and eventually eliminate HIV transmission in Cabo Verde and other settings characterized by concentrated, overlapping HIV epidemics in key affected groups," they wrote.

SuperComputer model developed to predict how 'T09' causes the liver to store fat could be used to predict liver fat storage for other drugs and conditions

As part of an effort to understand how an experimental drug for atherosclerosis causes the build-up of fat in the liver, scientists have developed a supercomputer model that can predict how the rate at which liver stores fat in response to various situations. Being able to model liver fat storage gives researchers a way to predict the side effects of drugs and environmental factors at much earlier stages in the research and drug development process, possibly reducing the number of experiments involving animal models. Additionally, this supercomputer simulation helps describe all of the possible ways in which the liver stores fat, including how the liver takes up or creates fats and how it disposes of fat. This knowledge could lay the foundation for future research regarding the liver and its functions. This was published in the April 2015 issue ofThe FASEB Journal.

"Because our [super]computer model can predict how the body responds to a drug over time, it will help to understand and treat diseases in humans and how to develop new drugs with less side effects," said Maaike Oosterveer, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Pediatrics and Laboratory Medicine at the University Medical Center Groningen in Groningen, Netherlands.

To develop their computer model, Oosterveer and colleagues studied four groups of mice. One group received no treatment at all, while the other three groups were treated with the experimental drug called "T09" for either 1, 7 or 14 days. In each of the four groups, researchers measured several ways in which the liver becomes fatty. These measurements led to the development of the supercomputer model. They then used the model to predict how the ways of fat storage that were not measured in the mice contributed to a fatty liver in the animals receiving the drug, and it provided clues about the how the drug leads to fat storage over time. It predicted that after just one day of drug treatment, more fat is flowing from the bloodstream into the liver. Performing a new experiment in mice confirmed this prediction.

"It's only a matter of time before computers are able to model every system, every disease and every cell in our body," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "This [super]computer model is an important early step toward a future where computers make disease research and drug development much more efficient than it is today."

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