Tag Archives: science news

Good News Monday: A Cancer Vaccine?

BERLIN (AP) — The scientist who won the race to deliver the first widely used coronavirus vaccine says people can rest assured the shots are safe, and the technology behind it will soon be used to fight another global scourge — cancer.

Ozlem Tureci, who co-founded the German company BioNTech with her husband, was working on a way to harness the body’s immune system to tackle tumors when they learned last year of an unknown virus infecting people in China.

Over breakfast, the couple decided to apply the technology they’d been researching for two decades to the new threat, dubbing the effort “Project Lightspeed.”

Within 11 months, Britain had authorized the use of the mRNA vaccine BioNTech developed with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, followed a week later by the United States. Tens of millions of people worldwide have received the shot since December.

“It pays off to make bold decisions and to trust that if you have an extraordinary team, you will be able to solve any problem and obstacle which comes your way in real time,” Tureci told The Associated Press in an interview.

Among the biggest challenges for the small, Mainz-based company that had yet to get a product to market was how to conduct large-scale clinical trials across different regions and how to scale up the manufacturing process to meet global demand.

Along with Pfizer, the company enlisted the help of Fosun Pharma in China “to get assets, capabilities and geographical footprint on board, which we did not have,” Tureci said.

Among the lessons she and her husband, BioNTech chief executive Ugur Sahin, learned along with their colleagues was “how important cooperation and collaboration is internationally.”

Tureci, who was born in Germany to Turkish immigrants, said the company, which has staff members from 60 countries, reached out to medical oversight bodies from the start, to ensure that the new type of vaccine would pass the rigorous scrutiny of regulators.

“The process of getting a medicine or a vaccine approved is one where many questions are asked, many experts are involved and there is external peer review of all the data and scientific discourse,” she said.

Amid a scare in Europe this week over the coronavirus shot made by British-Swedish rival AstraZeneca, Tureci dismissed the idea that any corners were cut by those racing to develop a vaccine.

“There is a very rigid process in place and the process does not stop after a vaccine has been approved,” she said. “It is, in fact, continuing now all around the world, where regulators have used reporting systems to screen and to assess any observations made with our or other vaccines.”

Tureci and her colleagues have all received the BioNTech vaccine themselves, she told the AP. “Yes, we have been vaccinated,” she said.

As BioNTech’s profile has grown during the pandemic, so has its value, providing funds the company can use to pursue its original goal of developing a new tool against cancer.

The vaccines made by BioNTech-Pfizer and U.S. rival Moderna uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, to carry instructions into the human body for making proteins that prime it to attack a specific virus. The same principle can be applied to get the immune system to take on tumors.

“We have several different cancer vaccines based on mRNA,” said Tureci, who is BioNTech’s chief medical officer.

Asked when such a therapy might be available, Tureci said “that’s very difficult to predict in innovative development. But we expect that within only a couple of years, we will also have our vaccines (against) cancer at a place where we can offer them to people.”

For now, Tureci and Sahin are trying to ensure the vaccines governments have ordered are delivered and that the shots respond effectively to any new mutation in the virus.

On Friday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier awarded the wife and husband one of the country’s highest decorations, the Order of Merit, during a ceremony attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel, a trained scientist herself.

“You began with a drug to treat cancer in a single individual,” Steinmeier told the couple. “And today we have a vaccine for all of humanity.”

Tureci said ahead of the ceremony that getting the award was “indeed an honor.”

But she insisted developing the vaccine was the work of many.

“It’s about the effort of many: our team at BioNTech, all the partners who were involved, also governments, regulatory authorities, which worked together with a sense of urgency,” Tureci said. “The way we see it, this is an acknowledgement of this effort and also a celebration of science.”

Good News Monday: Can Dogs Detect COVID-19?

Here’s a bow-WOW from the world of science: Dogs’ acute sense of smell may mean they can sniff out people carrying the virus — say, before they get on an airplane.

[from StudyFinds.org]

Dogs trained to detect people infected with COVID-19 – by sniffing their armpits

MAISONS-ALFORT, France — While a vaccine for the coronavirus will help stop the pandemic’s spread, finding everyone who may be carrying the virus is still an issue. Luckily, man’s best friend is now on the case. Researchers in France are helping to specially train dogs to detect people infected with COVID-19 — by sniffing their armpits.

A new study that has seen pilot programs spring up around the world has discovered that dogs can sniff out coronavirus in the sweat of humans. Thanks to their famously acute sense of smell, dogs have been rooting out drugs, explosives, and even successfully pick up diseases like cancer for years.

COVID-sniffing dog
A team of French scientists have now shown man’s best friend can also help save lives during the pandemic by spotting the virus. (Image credit: National Veterinary School of Alfort)

The French scientists are now showing how our furry friends can also help save lives during the pandemic by spotting virus clues. An early experiment suggested canines could be between 75 and 100 percent effective at detecting the disease with their noses.

Dogs paw-trolling airports for COVID?

The technique has already been piloted in several countries including the UEA, Lebanon, Finland, Australia, and elsewhere. Travelers may already have seen the specially trained dogs at some airports, but researchers are still trying to prove without a doubt that dogs can pick up the scent before the method is fully adopted.

The team behind the study hope their findings will mean dogs could help with COVID aid in parts of the world without the infrastructure for expensive mass testing programs. The loveable animals could be used anywhere however, with the hope that invasive nasal swabs could be replaced by a simple sweat sample taken from under the armpit for a dog to sniff.

Mass testing alternative?

Professor Dominique Grandjean, from the National Veterinary School of Alfort in France, says the dogs could check a large number of people in a short period of time.

“The results are good and I’m happy, really happy,” Grandjean says in a statement, per SWNS. “It is a success technically and scientifically and it’s surprising because we didn’t know what we were going to have as results.”

COVID-sniffing dogs
During the study, which started in March, the researchers recruited six dogs previously trained to sniff out bombs, colon cancer, or were used in search and rescue missions and re-trained to detect COVID-19. (Image credit: National Veterinary School of Alfort)

“We have been validated by the World Health Organization and they have given us a bit of money which is good. “Probably the country which is the most advanced now is the UAE, where they have dogs in three international airports. They are deploying some mobile units to go to the villages and to the people that might be more exposed to the virus,” the professor explains.

“For us here the idea was, of course, the airports but I can imagine a small city having a couple of dogs and just saying to the population ‘you can be tested whenever you want.’ You just come and put a swab under your armpit and give that to the dog and he will tell you yes or no. The dogs would be able to do that very quickly on a large number of people.”

Ending the pandemic one sniff at a time

Grandjean adds that dogs could also be used where people are reluctant to have uncomfortable nasal swab tests. During the study, which started in March, the researchers recruited six dogs previously trained to sniff out bombs, colon cancer, or used in search-and-rescue missions and re-trained to detect COVID-19.

They then collected sweat samples from 177 people (95 with COVID-19 and 82 without) and then placed the samples inside cones for the dogs to sniff. In trials, the dogs successfully picked out the infected sweat when examining a line-up of mock and negative samples.

Although the published study is just a “proof of concept” and cannot be taken as absolute proof, Prof. Grandjean and his team have now carried out further studies to validate their results and have more planned in 2021. They have also issued a “practical guide” to other academics to help others in their research and are building up a set of “international training standards” for dogs.

“We have been working with lots of countries. I think we have 20 countries working for us. It’s amazing, really amazing,” Prof. Grandjean concludes.

The study was published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

SWNS writer William Janes contributed to this report.