Week in Review: August 17–21

Synthetic DNA–based MERS vax shows promise; fake peer review on scores of papers; gut microbes and an autoimmune eye disease; “Informed Consent” theater review

Aug 21, 2015
Tracy Vence

MERS vaccine shows promise

WIKIMEDIA, SCINCESIDEA synthetic DNA–based vaccine that targets the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) triggers protective immunity in both monkeys and camels, according to a study published this week (August 19) in Science Translational Medicine.

“This type of vaccine [could allow] for a potentially more broadly neutralizing antibody response, which may protect against multiple strains of MERS-CoV circulating in the environment,” said Matthew Frieman of the University of Maryland who was not involved in the study.

“There is a clear need for development of MERS-CoV vaccines,” he added. “If there is anything to learn from the ongoing Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, it is that proactive planning of vaccines and other therapeutics can save lives.”

Microbe-dependent, retina-specific T cells

NATIONAL EYE INSTITUTEGut microbes appear to trigger retina-specific T cells that can cause autoimmune uveitis in a mouse model, researchers from the US National Eye Institute (NEI) reported this week (August 18) in Immunity.

“It’s the first study to show the potential of the microbiome to induce an autoimmune disease specific to the eye,” Andrew Taylor of the Boston University School of Medicine who was not involved in the research told The Scientist.

“It’s been known for other autoimmune diseases that gut bacteria can provide a necessary component, but the mechanism wasn’t known,” said study coauthor Rachel Caspi of the NEI. “What appears to be happening is that they make some substance that, to the T cells, looks like a protein from the retina.”

The researchers have yet to identify the retinal protein.

Review: “Informed Consent”

WIKIMEDIA, GEORGE WHARTON JAMESCulture, history, genetic privacy: Deborah Zoe Laufer’s one-act play “Informed Consent” has it all. At the heart of the production is the idea that genomics can tell us a lot—including things we may not want to know.

“The notion that as there are all these sequencers sitting around idle, waiting to sequence the genome of every one of us—and the attendant questions of privacy, and what we do with information that we don’t want—is very likely to become real for the majority of us over the next decade or two,” said the University of Pennsylvania’s Ben Stanger, who Laufer consulted in writing the script. “So this isn’t a play that’s about an abstract future. This is a play about a real set of issues that there’s a good chance each one of us will have to confront at some point in our life.”  

Other news in life science:

Another Mass Retraction
Springer is pulling 64 papers from 10 of its journals because of “fabricated peer-review reports.”

Sage Pulls More Papers for Fake Peer Review
The publisher is retracting 17 articles because of tampering with the peer-review process.

Two Papers Pulled for Figure Fraud
A University of Florida investigation has found the lead author on both studies faked data on stress response in Caenorhabditis elegans.

Some Study Authors “Unfeasibly Prolific”
A literature scan finds a fraction of researchers who pump out dozens of publications each year.

Report: Impact of Biomedical Research Slipping
Despite dramatic increases in publications, the last 50 years have seen relatively little return on investment for US public health, a study suggests.