Ignore Anti-Vaccine Hysteria, Mr. Trump

The environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a vaccine skeptic, told reporters Tuesday in the lobby of Trump Tower that the president-elect has asked him to lead a commission “to make sure we have scientific integrity in the vaccine process for efficacy and safety effects.” Mr. Kennedy also suggested that Donald Trump “has some doubts about the current vaccine policies” and that “we ought to be debating the science.” This is insane. Read the rest at The Wall Street Journal.

Macaque Experiment Shows Vaccine Schedule Not Linked to Autism

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

During the most recent Republican presidential debate, frontrunner Donald Trump once again dragged out the still widespread myth that vaccines cause autism. This dangerous fiction was debunked as early as 2002 by the New England Journal of Medicine and has been consistently contradicted by research ever since. As a result, anti-vaxxers changed strategy: Instead of blaming thimerosal for causing autism, they now focus on the vaccine schedule itself, essentially claiming that too many shots in too short of a timespan overwhelms a child’s immune system. Continue reading

Scratched Moles Could Lead to Cancer

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

“Keep an eye on that mole,” doctors are fond of reminding us. Any changes in size, shape, or color might indicate that skin cancer, specifically a melanoma, is forming. Now, a new review article in Trends in Immunology suggests that doctors may also want to tell us, “Don’t scratch that mole, either.” Continue reading

Natural Killer Cells: ‘Secret Police’ of the Immune System

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Immunologists are fond of making analogies with law enforcement to explain how the immune system works. Macrophages, cells which gobble up invading microbes, are often compared to beat cops, patrolling the neighborhood for any signs of trouble. Neutrophils, which my former graduate school advisor likens to “little hand grenades,” are like miniature SWAT teams, rushing in with guns blazing, shooting first and asking questions later. T-cells, which coordinate the immune response, are akin to intelligence officers, while the antibody-producing B-cells, which target highly-wanted suspect pathogens, are similar to the FBI. Continue reading

Could Antibodies Treat Migraines?

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Migraines are just awful. It is very difficult to express in words to non-sufferers what a migraine is like. However, if you could imagine a vice rhythmically squeezing your brain every second for several hours (or days), that is roughly what a migraine feels like. For some migraine sufferers, such as your humble correspondent, it is even possible to feel your heartbeat in your brain, with each pulse bringing a throbbing pain. Continue reading

Your Viral History in a Drop of Blood

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Viruses are pernicious beasts. Some of them can sneakily hide inside the body, long after the initial infection has been cleared. For instance, varicella zoster virus (VZV), a type of herpesvirus that causes chickenpox, survives in an inactive state inside nerve cells for the remainder of a person’s life. Then, for unknown reasons, it can reactivate, causing shingles in old people or even healthy 30-year-olds. Other viruses may play a role in chronic conditions such as asthma or inflammatory bowel disease. Continue reading

Mom Was Right: Catching Cold in the Cold

This article was originally published on RealClearScience.

If your parents or grandparents were like mine, you probably heard this as a child heading out to play in the snow: “Put your hat and scarf on. If you don’t, you’ll catch a cold.” Years later, all grown up with a microbiology doctorate hanging on my wall, I know that viruses cause colds, not chilly weather. Their admonitions, while well-intentioned, were based on nothing but folklore and superstition. Right? Continue reading

Peanut Allergy: Browned Off

BROADLY speaking, East Asians and Westerners suffer the same types of food allergies in about the same proportions. But there is an exception. Westerners are roughly twice as likely as East Asians to be allergic to peanuts. This is a puzzle—as is the question of why anyone is allergic to peanuts in the first place. Read the rest at The Economist.

One Thing Short and Tall Men Have in Common

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

There aren’t very many things that short and tall men have in common. Tall men make more money, have a greater choice in women, and are likelier to be elected president than their vertically challenged brethren. For all the talk of “white privilege,” maybe it is time for our culture to ponder the implications of “tall privilege.” That’s because, as a general rule, short guys have received the short end of the societal stick. (No pun intended.)

But, in at least one biological aspect, short and tall men share something in common: A less than ideal immune response. Continue reading