April 15, 2018

Research Roundup: Polio surveillance gaps and new breakthroughs in Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever and preventing HIV transmission

Program Assistant
PATH/Gabe Bienczycki

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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

While wild poliovirus cases have dropped significantly over the years—with only 22 total reported cases in 2017—surveillance gaps still linger, making future progress in wild polio eradication more fragile. Three countries have yet to be declared free of wild polio transmission: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. Researchers found that health-facility surveillance was limited in these countries due to conflict situations. While community-based surveillance was effective in identifying cases, experts noted that more case searchers are needed in displaced persons camps and more community participation required to reach inaccessible areas. Researchers stressed that strong polio surveillance will still be needed long after eradication and after the oral poliovirus vaccine is discontinued.

Researchers have created a new animal model to more effectively study Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, according to new research published in Nature Microbiology. Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, a viral disease spread by ticks, is fatal in nearly one of three cases, and there are no specific treatments or vaccines for the disease. To advance this research, scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases conducted a pilot study infecting African green monkeys, rhesus macaques, and cynomolgus macaques with the virus. While the first two monkey species showed no signs of disease, two of the three cynomolgus macaques developed the virus. In a larger study with the cynomolgus macaques, all of the animals developed the virus. Because this species developed the virus in the same way humans do, researchers believe this animal model will be useful in studying how infection interacts with the immune system and ultimately help scientists develop treatments and vaccines.

Scientists at the University of Waterloo have developed a new tool to prevent HIV transmission in women. The tool, a vaginal implant that looks similar to an intrauterine device, decreases the number of cells that HIV can target within a woman’s genital tract. HIV infects the body by taking over T cells that the immune system mobilizes in response to the virus; however, if these cells remain in a resting state and do not attempt to respond to the virus, they are not infected. Scientists believe this tool, which releases a medicine to induce T cells into a resting state, could be a more reliable way to encourage the cells not to respond to infection, lowering the rates of HIV transmission. While more research is needed into the reliability and validity of the tool, scientists are optimistic that this may be a useful tool to protect women at high risk for developing HIV.

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