Part of the concern in health circles regarding global warming comes from the growing reach of what were historically considered tropical diseases. Understanding disease, and our immune systems response to it in general, has never been more important. With that in mind, I stopped by the American Association of Immunologists Immunology 2019 conference to see what the current state of our knowledge in this arena might be.
After listening to presentations, and looking over the huge collection of poster presentations being given, what quickly became evident was that it is definitely an internationally based quest; with players located around the globe participating in various research projects to better help explain how the whole thing “AKA us” works.
New technological, molecular, and various other discoveries are being made. In the end this should be good news for the health of us all.
Some examples of such research were the various studies being carried out among Polynesian societies in an attempt to better understand the growing cancer epidemic they’re experiencing. Countries like New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, as well as a myriad of other island nations in the region are all experiencing high cancer rates among their Native populations. While there are various reasons (biology, economy, etc.) why they are so high, one constant stood out as to why dealing with it is proving to be so difficult. Many studies cited the income of the ill as a major hurdle to survival.
As such, many solutions are being tested, and are showing promise. In addition to more public awareness, and getting med students involved in public outreach; several studies also proposed initial blood testing checks for the presence of cancer. In trials, these pre-screenings have proven to be more successful in establishing an early start to the patients fight again their disease.
Multiple studies on Zika were also being reported on at the conference. With the spread of this once geographically limited tropical disease, and the subsequent consequence of multiple babies being born with microcephaly, the world was once again made aware of the danger of such range expansions. Although this research seems to still be a work in progress, the good news is that there are advances being made into just how Zika enacts the damage it finally does. With these details in hand, the hope is that it will eventually be possible to interrupt the process, if now entirely prevent it.
Similar work is also being done by teams on the east coast, at institutions such as Duke and other universities, on how to increase the effectiveness of the Measles vaccine. It seems that the immunity earned after contracting the disease is more effective, and longer lasting than that afforded by the current vaccine in use. More work will need to be done, but such work will eventually lead to a future with better protections in place for future generations.
With multiple teams, working in labs all around the world, on improving these techniques, technologies and public awareness programs there is hope that our collective better understanding of the immune system will continue to lead us down the path to eventual successes.
Good luck to all of those who still carry on the fight of this most worthy cause. We may not always voice it opening, but we all truly do appreciate your efforts.