Why We Need to Celebrate the Smallpox Vaccine

In light of brilliant breakthroughs like gene alteration for genetic disorders, nanomachines to cure cancer cells, minimally invasive treatment procedures for epilepsy — no, the smallpox vaccine doesn’t seem like a big deal. It obviously isn’t a new medical discovery. In fact, last May 8 commemorates the fact that the world has been free of the illness for 38 years. But the reason we need to celebrate it is precisely because of the many successes that followed the 1980s smallpox eradication. And the need to counter the threats to these successes.

William Foege, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has written a book in 2011 called House on Fire where he explains just how he made it possible. He and other health workers wiped out smallpox — “by dreaming, being savvy in politics and unafraid to break the rules, and devising the brilliant ring vaccination strategy.”

Foege and his colleagues found that instead of using the vaccine on entire populations, it was more effective to distribute it among the demographic most at risk, which were the contacts of the infected. After being proven true in the smallpox case, this strategy on immunization was replicated on the prevention of other diseases or viruses such as measles, polio, malaria, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and others. Some have been nearly wiped out as well, while the incidence rates of some have significantly dropped.

However, a few decades later, people now face a dilemma. What about the now-debunked finding that vaccine causes autism? The anti-vaccine movement discredits the milestones of smallpox eradication and immunization. Does the use of vaccine actually pose more risk than benefit to humans? Well, it might be time to look back at history for answers regarding the progress of human health. William Foege, the man who developed the global strategy for vaccination, is still fighting for truth.

“I think vaccines are really the foundation of public health . . . By the early 1980s, [many of] our vaccine diseases had gone down to close to zero . . . So things were going quite well until Andrew Wakefield did his Lancet article [suggesting there’s a link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism] . . . He specifically said the MMR vaccine was the problem. He was disbarred in England because of the falsifications of his [data].”

Turns out, the research linking vaccines to autism is completely bogus that Wakefield even lost his medical license. But that hasn’t stopped parents all over the world from being paranoid. Foege understands that parents are only “trying to do the right thing,” but in doing so, they forget the risk of disease and focus on a completely false risk of the vaccine. This seems to make the anti-vaccine movement more of a health education issue, as people are just clearly misinformed.

38 years after smallpox eradication and other successes, vaccination has become a social problem more than a scientific one. In some countries, the public health debate even results in violence. But globally, more often than not, it results in the slower prevention and elimination of certain diseases. But Foege is still hopeful.

“I think we’re at the beginning of an eradication era — because of vaccines — and as we learn more and more about logistics, cold chains, how to develop vaccines that don’t require refrigeration, don’t require using needles and syringes, I think the future is very bright for disease eradication . . . You have to believe a disease can be eradicated . . . you have to put up with all the frustrations . . . you stick with your vision of what the last mile is.”

True enough, a disease can be eradicated. Smallpox is a testament to that. So celebrate the fact that you were born after it’s gone. Celebrate the fact that it led to much slimmer chances of measles in your lifetime. Now more than ever, we need to celebrate this feat, so that decades of medical history — thus, strong leads to medical progress — will not go down the laboratory drain.

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Kidney Donees Bond Over Same-Donor Transplants

Just last month, twin sisters Marian and Mary Jane Fields took their sisterhood to the next level after undergoing a skin transplant. Now, kidney donees Annie MacDonald and Kim Moncion are bonding over their same-donor transplants. While their medical conditions were hard to deal with, their experience has brought them closer than ever.

“I looked into it and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, she’s literally down the road,'” MacDonald said.

“We’ve got a connection now… We’re kidney twins.”

Doctors broke the good news to MacDonald after five years on dialysis, while Moncion was luckier, waiting in the wings only a few months. MacDonald is hoping to reach out to the donor’s family in order to thank them for saving her life.

“Hopefully in a year I can send a letter to the family to let them know how grateful I am,” she said.

“They’re my hero. It’s amazing what gift they’ve given us. Even if I don’t hear back, at least I can reach out and tell them how happy I am and what they’ve given me.”

Dr. Derek Chaudhary, who tended to both women, is hosting a kidney walk to honor not only MacDonald and Moncion, but all patients in need of transplants. The fresh donees are proof that good can come of the darkest of moments.

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Queensland ENTs Bring Dying Woman To Beach

On occasion, people suffering from crippling medical conditions experience unexpected miracles. Surgeons in Rochester saved both teacher Dan Fabbio and his music function from a high-risk tumor. Gene therapy is finally giving butterfly children a chance to recover. However, things don’t always turn out as planned. Queensland paramedics did everything they could for palliative patient Graeme Cooper, but to no avail. They chose to fulfill her dying wish, and took her to the beach one last time.

“Above and beyond, the crew took a small diversion to the awesome beach at Hervey Bay to give the patient this opportunity – tears were shed and the patient felt very happy.” [said officer-in-charge Helen Donaldson.]

Shared on social media, the photo immediately went viral, shared more than 10,000 times. The paramedics team had taken Cooper to see the ocean two weeks prior, when she was en route home to be with her husband. Tragically, her last visit to the bay was a pit stop back to the hospital. Still, she was optimistic.

“I said to the patient: ‘What are you thinking?’” [paramedic Danielle Kellan] recalled. “And she said: ‘I’m at peace, everything is right’.”

I always commend paramedics for their skill — but this was all simply compassion.

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Bill Gates Pledges $100 Million To Alzheimer’s Research

If anyone can advance universal healthcare by means of a check, it’s Bill Gates. Following up a $4.6 billion donation to undisclosed charities, the Microsoft CEO pledged $100 million to the fight against Alzheimer’s.

“I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it,” [Gates] wrote. “It feels a lot like you’re experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew.”

Gates’ contribution will support both mainstream and experimental research. With roughly 5 million Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. alone, the donation can at least stunt the growing number.

“This is a frontier where we can dramatically improve human life,” Mr. Gates wrote. “It’s a miracle that people are living so much longer, but longer life expectancies alone are not enough. People should be able to enjoy their later years — and we need a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s to fulfill that.”

While $100 million may be a drop in the ocean of the Alzheimer’s Association’s $259 billion annual spend, Gates has proven to us time and again that every effort counts.

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Australia To Soon Eliminate Cervical Cancer Disease

After decades of rigorous clinical trials, it seems cancer may be seeing a slow and steady downfall. With the help of nanomachines and Hollywood stars, the planet’s top killer may finally be hitting the breaks. In Australia, anyway. With infection rates of cervical cancer having plummeted to 1%, the land down under may welcome the end of the epidemic in just 40 years.

“That’s contingent on a high coverage of vaccine. Australia is really in the lead here, [there’s been] really good coverage through the school-based free vaccine program.

“For example, the genital warts the vaccine protects against, already we’ve seen a reduction of over 90 per cent — that’s huge.”

Owing to new DNA screening tests and the national immunization program, cases will likely drop annually by the thousands. Improved Gardasil vaccines will roll out later in the year, to counter a 930-woman 2018 statistic.

“In the Pacific-Oceania and Asian region we have about half of the cases of cervical cancer in the world. We have a big job to do, but we have the tools to beat it,” [professor Suzanne Garland] said.

Considering a one-in-every-two-minute death globally, Australia is definitely onto something groundbreaking.

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Breast Cancer Patient Weds A Day Before Passing

It’s startups like ChemoCars that ease everyday difficulties for struggling cancer patients. Though burdens have mitigated over the years, for some, there isn’t much of a light at the end of the tunnel. Still, women like Heather Mosher can make the best of a bleak situation. The 31-year-old married beau David Mosher only 18 hours before her passing.

“I saw her sick,” [said] Mosher… “I saw her in a lot of pain and she didn’t give up until she married me. It is so humbling that someone could love me like that.”

Mosher proposed to his wife over the holidays of 2016. Five days later, she was diagnosed with a quick-spreading cancer, which caused her health to deteriorate. Despite the verdicts, friends and family promised Heather joyous festivities.

“I was with her every single day at the hospital that week, and I wasn’t in the mood to celebrate,” [friend Christina] Karas said. “… I just had to get into wedding mode because my heart was in ‘losing my best friend’ mode. I just thought, ‘For Heather, I’m going to do this.”’

Despite a bittersweet end, Heather is proof that good things can come of the most tragic of circumstances.

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CRISPR Increases HIV Resistance In Animals

Thanks to gene editing, we’ve seen much progress in hard-to-treat conditions. Sufferers of both muscular dystrophy and leukemia are experiencing a new variety of treatment options. Now, thanks to CRISPR, a renowned gene editing tool, researchers have increased HIV resistance in animals.

minor proportion of people harbor a homozygous mutation in CCR5—a gene that encodes a receptor found on immune cells—that thwarts HIV’s attempts to get inside the cells. In an attempt to mimic this natural resistance, researchers mutated CCR5 in human fetal liver hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSPCs) and showed that the cells could block HIV infection after transplantation into mice.

Don’t let the medical jargon fool you — while the procedure may be complicated, the concept itself is a lot simpler. By replicating a naturally occurring genetic mutation, T-cells become more resistant to viruses. But results were slow, and researchers were patient, to say the least.

“The long-term reconstitution and secondary transplantation were time-consuming. It took us more than one-year monitoring of the mice to confirm the gene editing is robust in long-term HSCs,”

The study may not have been the first to incorporate gene editing, but it is the first to use CRISPR. We may not have engineered a complete cure (after all, we’ve only targeted mice), but finding one wouldn’t seem too improbable.

Moral of the story? Take risks. Sponsor a child genius. Our future depends on them.

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Skin Transplant Between Twins Is A Major Success

Since the discovery of gene-altering cells, it seems cancer treatments are seeing a whole new level of success. For Marian Fields, who suffered from a rare skin cancer with limited treatment options, getting better didn’t seem possible. That is, until she and her twin sister Mary Jane underwent a successful skin transplant.

Dr Jesse Selber, a plastic surgeon from the MD Anderson Cancer Centre at the University of Texas…  said the surgery was “incredibly challenging and complex”.

His team of five plastic surgeons removed skin, tissue and blood vessels from Mary Jane’s abdomen and transplanted it to Marian’s back, connecting eight different arteries and veins under a microscope during surgery.

The hole in Marian’s back was 21.5in by 8.5in, making it one of the largest tissue transplantations on record.

Surgeons were concerned that the skin would be rejected and that the cancer would recur. However, because it was not the type to spread to other parts of the body, the Fields sisters remained positive.

“There was never a moment of hesitation when the option to donate skin and tissue was a possibility,” Mary Jane said.

“I had what she needed. We are two bodies with one soul. She is my other self.”

The surgery, which took 14 hours, was ultimately a success. It even provided Mary Jane with a free tummy tuck. That’s what I call selfless, sisterly love.

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