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Point-of-Care Diagnostics for HIV and Tuberculosis: Landscape, Pipeline, and Unmet Needs

Abstract: Early diagnosis and rapid initiation of treatment remains a key strategy to control both HIV and tuberculosis (TB). However, HIV and TB control programs have had completely contrasting successes, especially with the development and deployment of point-of-care (POC) diagnostics. Clinicians, researchers, and public health staff who work at the frontlines of HIV care and control have had access to an outstanding array of POC diagnostics at their disposal, including those used for screening, initial diagnosis, staging, treatment monitoring, and early infant diagnosis. The field has also advanced to consider over-the-counter, self-testing options for HIV and the use of multiplexed platforms that allow for simultaneous detection of infections associated with HIV. In sharp contrast to HIV, suboptimal and delayed diagnosis of TB has perpetuated the epidemic in many high-burden countries. Although the TB diagnostics pipeline is substantially better today than it was even five years ago, absence of a simple POC test continues to be a gaping hole in the pipeline. In this review, we compare the POC diagnostics landscape and pipelines for these two important infectious diseases, and highlight gaps and unmet needs. ... Read more

Circadian Clocks in Mammalian Reproductive Physiology: Effects of the "Other" Biological Clock on Fertility

Abstract: As a discipline, chronobiology has come of age in the last 25 years. There has been an exponential increase in our understanding of the molecular mechanism underlying circadian rhythms of gene expression, physiology, and behavior. While the mammalian clock mechanism has not yet been fully described, most of the primary gears have probably been identified; however, there remains a large submerged portion of this physiological iceberg. What is the extent of "clock-controlled gene" expression in the myriad cell types in mammals? What are the cell specific physiological processes that depend either directly or indirectly on the clock? These questions remain largely unanswered, but recent advances suggest a substantial link between basic clock function and physiology in several systems. In the reproductive system, there has been a recent surge in research on molecular clock function in neuroendocrine and endocrine tissues. This makes sense a priori, given the established link between the circadian clock, behavior (including reproductive behavior), and endocrine physiology. By understanding the role of the clock in basic mammalian reproductive physiology, we can begin to explore its role in the onset and progression of diseases that negatively affect fertility. Advances in this area will certainly yield novel insights into the etiology of these disorders and may provide new and exciting avenues for clinical research in reproduction and fertility. ... Read more

The Development of Anti-inflammatory Drugs for Infectious Diseases

Abstract: Traditionally, disease is thought to result from an insufficient response of the host to infection, leading to increased replication of microorganisms and consequently disease. However, infection may not necessarily lead to disease and disease is not only the result of uncontrolled replication of a microorganism. Indeed, the inflammatory response triggered by certain infections is frequently the cause of tissue damage and death. The present review argues that it is possible to separate mechanisms necessary for the host response to deal with infection from those which cause unwanted inflammation and drive disease. By understanding mechanisms which drive disease and where/how interaction leads to disease, we may be able to devise novel therapies to alleviate suffering of patients. Below, we will describe three situations -- influenza, dengue and sepsis -- in which unwanted (excessive, misplaced or altered) inflammation is responsible for disease induction. In these three situations, we will also describe some examples of molecules which have been found to drive disease but appear not to be essential for the ability of the host to control infection. ... Read more

All Eyes on the Next Generation of HIV Vaccines: Strategies for Inducing a Broadly Neutralizing Antibody Response

Abstract: HIV-1 broadly neutralizing antibodies (BNAbs) develop after several years of infection through a recursive process of memory B cell adaptation and maturation against co-evolving virus quasispecies. Advances in single-cell sorting and memory B cell antibody cloning methods have identified many new HIV BNAbs targeting conserved epitopes on the HIV envelope (env) protein. 3D crystal structures and biophysical analyses of BNAbs bound to invariant virus structures expressed on monomeric gp120, epitope scaffolds, core structures, and native trimers have helped us to visualize unique binding interactions and paratope orientations that have been instrumental in guiding vaccine design. A paradigm shift in the approach to structure-based design of HIV-1 envelope immunogens came recently after several laboratories discovered that native viral envelopes or "env-structures" reverse-engineered to bind with high affinity to a handful of broadly neutralizing antibodies did not in fact bind the predicted germline precursors of these broadly neutralizing antibodies. A major challenge for HIV-1 B cell vaccine development moving forward is the design of new envelope immunogens that can trigger the selection and expansion of germline precursor and intermediate memory B cells to recapitulate B cell ontogenies associated with the maturation of a broadly neutralizing antibody response. Equally important for vaccine development is the identification of delivery systems, prime-boost strategies, and synergistic adjuvant combinations that can induce the magnitude and quality of antigen-specific T follicular helper (TFH) cell responses needed to drive somatic hypermutation (SHM) and B cell maturation against heterologous primary virus envelopes. Finding the combination of multi-protein envelope immunogens and immunization strategies that can evolve a potent broadly neutralizing antibody response portends to require a complex vaccine regimen that might be difficult to implement on any scale. This perspective strives to integrate recent insights into mechanisms associated with the evolution of an HIV-1 broadly neutralizing antibody response with current immunogen design and proffers a novel immunization strategy for skewing TH17/TFH cell responses that can drive B cell adaptation and affinity maturation associated with a broadly neutralizing antibody response. ... Read more

Interferon-gamma and Systemic Autoimmunity

Abstract: The term interferon describes a family of proteins consisting of three major types (I, II, and III) which differ in their primary protein sequences, cognate receptors, genetic loci, and cell types responsible for their production. The interferons, including types I and II, overlap significantly in the genes they control resulting in a shared spectrum of diverse biological effects which includes regulation of both the innate and adaptive immune responses. As such, the interferons are major effectors in the pathogenesis of autoimmunity, especially systemic autoimmunity. The type I IFNs, because they are produced during the early stages of the innate immune response, are thought to play the foremost role in autoimmune responses. However, numerous studies have found that the single type II IFN, IFN-γ, plays an essential role in the development and severity of systemic autoimmunity, particularly systemic lupus erythematosus. This is supported by animal studies where IFN-γ is uniformly required in both spontaneous and induced models of lupus. Although expression of IFN-γ in cells of the innate immune system is almost immediate after activation, expression in adaptive immunity requires a complex orchestration of cellular interactions, signaling events, and epigenetic modifications. The multifaceted nature of IFN-γ in adaptive immunity identifies numerous possible therapeutic targets that, because of the essential contribution of IFN-γ to systemic autoimmunity, have the potential for producing benefits. ... Read more

Elusive Alzheimer's Disease: Can Immune Signatures Help Our Understanding of This Challenging Disease? Part 2: New Immune Paradigm

Abstract: Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia. Its most important pathological hallmarks are profound neuronal loss, presence of intracellular neurofibrillary tangles, and extracellular deposition of beta-amyloid protein (Aβ) as beta-amyloid plaques. One of the most important risk factors for AD is age and with the increase of life-expectancy AD has become the most common form of dementia. The current "Holy Grail" is to be able to diagnose variants of AD before they manifest clinically and before irreparable brain damage is done. To be able to do so, we need robust and reliable biomarkers which reflect the pathogenesis of AD. This is essential because such biomarkers might indicate pathways that could be targeted for interventions aiming at disease prevention or amelioration. Although much attention has been focused on Aβ in this respect, it may not be as attractive a target as thought if current doubts concerning its causative role are substantiated. This review will be in two parts, the first part dealt with the current clinical knowledge and the questions raised by the Aβ cascade hypothesis in the pathogenesis of AD and this second part aims to synthesize our current knowledge and new data suggesting how immunity may contribute to the development of AD and may itself be targeted in future treatments. ... Read more

Vitamin D in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Panacea or Placebo?

Abstract: Vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent in the general population including individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Autocrine regulation of vitamin D modulates important biologic processes including immune responses. Vitamin D deficiency has been implicated in the pathogenesis of several autoimmune diseases including RA. Vitamin D regulates both the innate and adaptive immune responses. Recent evidence indicates that vitamin D's effects on the innate immune system are predominantly through the toll-like receptors (TLR) and on the adaptive immune system through T cell differentiation, particularly the Th17 response. As Th17 cells are critical in the pathogenesis of RA, this has led to an interest in the effects of vitamin D deficiency in RA. Several studies have looked at the association of vitamin D deficiency with markers of disease activity in RA with somewhat mixed results. Based on these results, although the role of vitamin D in mediating various biological processes is well defined, this has not translated into meaningful clinical associations in RA. Herein, we review the immune-modulatory role of vitamin D and its effects on pathogenesis, disease activity, and cardiovascular risk in RA. ... Read more

Disorders of Sex Development: Clinically Relevant Genes Involved in Gonadal Differentiation

Abstract: After the characterization of the sex-determining region of Y (SRY) in 1990, there have been an increasing number of genes recognized to play a role in sex development. The most common disorders of sex development (DSD) result from disruption of androgen levels and activity that affect later embryonal development, such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia and androgen insensitivity syndrome. However, genetic diagnosis of mutations affecting early gonadal development is becoming increasingly accessible to clinicians. More powerful genetic techniques are allowing for interrogation of the entire genome for causative changes and it is important to be able to critically assess the flood of genetic data for meaningful information. Recent discoveries have clarified the role of a variety of transcription factors in DSD such as SOX9, SF1, and WT1. Additionally, disruptions of signaling molecules such as hedgehog, WNT, cyclin-dependent kinase, and Ras/MAP kinase are now known to cause DSD. The dosage-dependence of genes involved in gonadal development is a recurrent theme, and genetic changes in promoter and repressor regions are being revealed by chromosomal microarray analysis and other techniques. In some cases, there are multiple different phenotypes caused by deletion, duplication, homozygous, heterozygous, and regulatory-region changes in the same gene. We aim to provide a concise and clinically-applicable overview of recent developments in the understanding of DSD caused by genetic changes affecting gonadal development. ... Read more

Clostridium difficile: An Emerging Pathogen in Children

Abstract: Clostridium difficile is emerging as an important enteric pathogen in children. Historically considered as an asymptomatic colonizer of the gastrointestinal tract, C. difficile infection (CDI) has not been well-studied in pediatric populations. While asymptomatic carriage remains high among infants, recent epidemiological surveillance has demonstrated a rise in the prevalence of CDI in both healthcare and community settings, particularly in children 1-5 years of age. The pathogenesis of pediatric CDI, including the factors underlying the absence of toxin-mediated effects among colonized infants, remains ill-defined. Studies suggest that traditional adult CDI risk factors such as antibiotic and healthcare exposure may not be as important for children who acquire CDI in the community. As recognition of the significant impact of CDI in children increases, the pressing need for deepening our understanding of this disease and identifying optimal therapeutic and preventative strategies is becoming apparent. ... Read more

Advances in Therapeutic Vaccines for Pancreatic Cancer

Abstract: Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult-to-treat cancers. Despite surgical resection, radiation and/or chemotherapy, greater than 94% of people with pancreatic cancer do not survive beyond 5 years. In fact, median survival after diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer is 4.5 months. The majority of patients are diagnosed with nonresectable, metastatic disease, and chemotherapy only extends their median survival by less than 2 months with only 18% of those treated surviving beyond 1 year. Despite the severity of their disease, most patients exhibit tumor specific cellular immunity to their pancreatic cancer antigens. Obviously their immunity is ineffective in preventing tumor growth. Recent studies have demonstrated that the tumor microenvironment may hold the key to determining the nature of the tumors' ability to escape from immune attack. Preliminary clinical trials have suggested that blocking these escape mechanisms may result in survival benefit to the patients, and phase I and II clinical trials with tumor vaccines have led to some survival benefits. Perhaps combining therapies directed against immune escape mechanisms with tumor vaccines will result in even greater survival benefit for patients with pancreatic cancer. While therapeutic vaccines for pancreatic cancers have been reviewed previously (Plate, 2011), updates on recent preliminary reports of two clinical vaccine trials are worthy of our attention. ... Read more

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