Three key research developments you might have missed from the ASTMH Annual Meeting
In this guest post, Jaclyn Schiff—American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) Director of Communications—highlights news in global health research presented during the recent ASTMH Annual Meeting.
Just two week ago, more than 3,700 attendees gathered in Washington, DC, to announce, share, and discuss the latest research findings on a broad range of global health issues, including neglected tropical diseases, surgery in the developing world, and malaria.
- Just two week ago, more than 3,700 attendees gathered in Washington, DC, to announce, share, and discuss the latest research findings on a broad range of global health issues at the ASTMH Annual Meeting. Credit: ASTMH.
Though the meeting attracted one of the largest crowds ever, the absence—due to federal travel budget cuts—of key researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, the Army, and Navy was noticeable. This also significantly affected the Annual Meeting last year, and the cuts persist with no sign of letting up. One unfortunate consequence is that scientific collaboration suffers at the Annual Meeting and at countless other research-focused gatherings. When science is stifled, we all lose out.
But our colleagues who were able to make it, got on with it, and the media reported extensively on their findings. News coming out of the Annual Meeting covered a lot of ground—from gender bias in global health science to plague surveillance involving traditional healers in Uganda. So just in case you weren’t able to take it all in, here are three critical pieces of research from this year’s meeting:
- Potential danger from the Plasmodium vivax parasite: The malaria vector may be rapidly evolving to overcome the natural resistance conferred by a blood type found in millions of Africans. Science Now reported on the findings:
To enter human blood cells, the parasite usually uses the so-called Duffy blood group protein, a protein on the surface of red blood cells. But because up to 95 percent of the population across sub-Saharan Africa lacks the protein—a genetic trait called “Duffy negative”—they have long been thought to be protected from infection. Yet reports have emerged in recent years of Duffy-negative people who are nevertheless infected with vivax malaria.
“If vivax can establish itself in Africa, it can really undo a lot of the malaria progress we’ve made,” study co-author Peter Zimmerman, PhD, of Case Western Reserve University told the New York Times .
- Moving towards improved hookworm treatments: Researchers presented findings showing that they had completely cured lab animals of parasitic hookworm. To achieve the results, scientists used a modified version of a common human dietary supplement. The findings represent an “important development in our effort to find a safe, affordable and effective way to confront a major global health problem,” the study’s lead researcher said. In its report on the research, Xinhua noted that “the only drugs available to treat hookworms in humans were originally developed to combat parasites that infect farm animals.” The study researchers say that current treatments are not effective enough and that drug- resistance is rising.
- Strange dengue patterns in the United States: As dengue fever continues to spread from Key West north into the Florida mainland, it remains a mystery as to why this dangerous mosquito-borne illness is not yet common around Tucson, Arizona—even though outbreaks routinely occur in nearby Mexico and mosquitoes that can carry dengue are now common in the state. As The Verge reports, researchers think human or biological factors somehow explain why dengue hasn’t spread in Tucson. "It may be that the temperatures in Tucson are so hot," Mary Hayden, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told the BBC . She added “the relative humidity is so low that the mosquitoes may not be able to survive in that climate long enough for the virus to cycle within them.”
Additional highlights, original news stories, and interviews are available on the #TropMed2013 Tumblr.