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The MERS death rate in Saudi Arabia is double that in South Korea. Why?

map South Korea Saudi Arabia MERS
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus outbreak in South Korea is essentially over. (Not so in Saudi Arabia, where the virus first emerged, though—authorities there have reported a major uptick in new MERS cases in recent days.) And while the country gets back on its feet, some interesting data are starting to come out, especially about the outbreak’s case fatality rate (CFR; the percent of patients infected with the virus who died from it).

John Brownstein, PhD, and Maimuna Majumder, MPH, from Boston Children’s HealthMap team just reported in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases that MERS’ CFR in South Korea (22 percent) is fully half that seen in Saudi Arabia (44 percent).

This infographic about Brownstein and Majumder’s MERS paper gives a snapshot of the data the analyzed, and what they think those data mean:

MERS virus South Korea Saudi Arabia infographic

Read Brownstein and Majumder’s analysis and check out Boston Children’s Hospital’s news release about the MERS paper.

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What we’ve been reading: Week of May 25, 2015


The White House draws the line against CRISPR/Cas9-designed embryos (FierceBiotechResearch)

Responding to Chinese scientists’ attempt to use CRISPR gene editing technology to edit human embryos, the White House spoke up, saying, “altering the human germline for clinical purposes is a line that should not be crossed at this time.”

Smartphones put medical diagnostics in your hands (Chemical & Engineering News)

Could smartphones help monitor disease outbreaks? Screen patients for cancer? Diagnose HIV? With the right attachments and data, the answer could one day be yes.

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What we’ve been reading: Week of May 11, 2015

child reading
Cystic Fibrosis Drug Wins Approval of F.D.A. Advisory Panel (New York Times)
A federal advisory committee on Tuesday recommended approval of Orkambi, a drug from Vertex Pharmaceuticals that might eventually help nearly half of patients with cystic fibrosis.

Seasonal Genes (The Scientist)
Our immune systems vary with the seasons, according to a study that could help explain why certain conditions such as heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis are aggravated in winter while people tend to be healthier in the summer.

Common vitamin reduces recurrence of some skin cancers (The Washington Post)
Nicotinamide, a cheap over-the-counter vitamin, appears to reduce recurrence of some common skin cancers associated with sun exposure for people who have had them before, researchers at the University of Sydney report.

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What we’ve been reading: Week of May 4, 2015

Boy reading in grass

Apple Has Plans for Your DNA (MIT Technology Review)
Apple is collaborating with U.S. researchers to help launch apps that would offer iPhone owners the chance to get their DNA tested.

Why Your Future Vaccination Might Not Be A Shot (NPR)
Mark Prausnitz – a professor at Georgia Teach – is collaborating with the CDC and a group at Emory University to create an “ouchless” bandage-like vaccine.

Splice of life (Nature)
In light of the recent news that Chinese scientists genetically modified human embryos, the author calls for transparent discussions on the risks and ethics of editing human embryos.

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What we’ve been reading: Week of April 27, 2015


Crowdfunded science is here. But is it legit science? (Wired)
More and more scientists are turning to crowdfunding to pay for research. Is it the end of science as we know it or a meaningful and realistic evolution?

The world’s top 10 most innovative companies of 2015 in robotics (Fast Company)
Medical applications are well-represented in this compendium of companies working on the world of tomorrow today.

What Uber drivers can teach health care (
Doctors can learn from enterprising and fiercely independent Uber drivers.

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What we’ve been reading: Week of April 20, 2015

(Stougard/Wikimedia Commons)
(Stougard/Wikimedia Commons)

Chinese team reports gene-editing human embryos (MIT Technology Review)
Using the CRISPR technique, the researchers attempted to correct the gene for thalassemia in fertilized eggs. The experiment showed that the technique is far from ready from clinical use, and added new fuel to the already-fiery debate over editing genes in human embryos.

How Apple is building an ecosystem for your body (Fast Company)
The company’s HealthKit and ResearchKit together may form the core of a new “digital ecosystem” for health data and digital medicine, just as iTunes did for music and movies. But a lot of unanswered questions remain that could affect Apple’s chances for success in the health arena.

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What we’ve been reading: Week of April 13, 2015

reading april 2

Can a smart vest help people who are deaf “hear” speech? (The Atlantic)
Inventor and neuroscientist David Eagleman has created a vest that transmits spoken words into vibrations in a vest that can be felt and translated- or effectively “heard”- by the wearer.

Electrified: Adventures in transcranial direct current stimulation (The New Yorker)
Neuroscientists at the University of New Mexico have developed a brain stimulation therapy they believe may have a whole host of benefits, from chronic pain relief to improved memory function. Our own Alexander Rotenberg, MD, PhD, weighed in on this technique’s potential applications in pediatrics in a Vector post last summer.

The problem with satisfied patients (The Atlantic)
When patient satisfaction surveys are directly tied to federal funding, hospital administrators put extra effort into making patients happy. But does happier always mean healthier?

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What we’ve been reading: Week of February 16, 2015

Vector’s picks of recent pediatric healthcare, science and innovation news.

Hand of a Superhero: 3-D Printing Prosthetic Hands That Are Anything but Ordinary (The New York Times)
3D printers, it turns out, are an ideal solution for children who are missing fingers or hands. Prosthetics are rarely made for children; they tend to be too expensive, and children outgrow them far too quickly. Enter the 3D printer, which can create a D.I.Y. hand for as little as $20 to $50.

A Pancreas in a Capsule (MIT Technology Review)
Can stem cells solve the Type 1 diabetes puzzle? A handful of United States patients have had lab-grown pancreas cells, derived from human embryonic stem cells, transplanted in a human safety trial. Tech Review documents the challenges, and potential, of turning stem cells into real, functioning pancreas cells.

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What we’ve been reading: Week of January 26, 2015

What we are reading 4Vector’s picks of recent pediatric healthcare, science and innovation news.

U.S. proposes effort to analyze DNA from 1 million people (Reuters)
President Obama provided more detail last week on his Precision Medicine Initiative, which would allocate $215 million toward developing treatments tailored to patients’ genetic makeup, including $70 million for cancer research. The initiative is being hailed as a shot in the arm for research and innovation (this cancer example is but one of many), but skeptics question whether precision medicine will live up to its touted potential, citing the shortcomings of genomics in determining disease risk or in reversing diseases, even when genetic variants have been well studied.

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What we’ve been reading

What we are reading 4Vector’s picks of recent pediatric healthcare, science and innovation news.

Trial of 2 Ebola Vaccines’ Effectiveness Is Announced (New York Times)
The first clinical trial of an Ebola vaccine is scheduled to begin in Liberia early February, testing candidate vaccines from Merck and Glaxo Smith Kline.

Guinea’s Health Minister Says Ebola Situation ‘Improving’ (
“We saw people shaking hands,” reports correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, speaking from Guinea’s capital. But is it a real turn-around?

Smart jewelry that camouflages tech reflects consumer wellness trend (MedCity News)
Fitness or fashion? New smart jewelry makes wearables more attractive for women.

Scientists Work to Contain Modified Organisms to Labs (New York Times)
George Church is at it again. Reporting in Nature, his team has developed a complex safety technique to contain genetically modified bacteria, engineering them to require an amino acid that can only be supplied artificially.

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