Entries by Thai Nguyen


Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine

A new vaccine for Covid-19 that is entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic. The vaccine, called NDV-HXP-S, is the first in clinical trials to use a new molecular design that is widely expected to create more potent antibodies than the current generation of vaccines. And the new vaccine could be far easier to make. Existing vaccines from companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson must be produced in specialized factories using hard-to-acquire ingredients. In contrast, the new vaccine can be mass-produced in chicken eggs — the same eggs that produce billions of influenza vaccines every year in factories around the world. If NDV-HXP-S proves safe and effective, flu vaccine manufacturers could potentially produce […]


Covid-19 vaccines have alerted the world to the power of RNA therapies

Molecular biology is not a popularity contest. But if it were, it would be a partisan one. The evolutionary biologists would pledge their allegiance en masse to dna. The sequences contained in its regular coils knit together the stories of almost all life on the planet. Pharmacologists, being of a more practical bent, would instead vote for proteins. Proteins are not about sequence, but about shape; their complex, irregular outlines, and the ways that they can change, allow them to do almost all of the biological work that gets done in cells. And it is thanks to the way that particular drug molecules fit into those shapes that almost all drugs have their effects.Listen to this story Enjoy more audio and podcasts […]


Testing and tracing could have worked better against covid-19

The first outbreak of a novel disease is the opening scene of a whodunnit. In 1976, when more than two dozen members of the American Legion died after a convention in Philadelphia, public-health officials spent months scouring the hotel they had met in before finally tracking down the culprit in the water tank on the roof: a new bacterium which, having caused the first known cases of Legionnaires’ disease, was named Legionella. In the 1980s it took years of hard work and acrimonious argument among epidemiologists and virologists to blame the terrible and varied symptoms of aids on hiv, a virus of a type never previously seen in humans.Listen to this story For covid-19, the mystery was solved almost as soon as it had begun. […]


The US Has a Covid ‘Scariants’ Problem. Here’s How to Fix It

LATE LAST YEAR, while the US was plunged into its worst days of the pandemic, new, more insidious versions of SARS-CoV-2—first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa—silently arrived on its shores. For months now, Americans have been anxiously watching them spread. But recently, the specter of homegrown horrors have begun to steal the show. Last week, The New York Times reported on two not-yet-peer-reviewed studies detailing a new variant that had been identified in Manhattan and was gaining ground in the city. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday about the variant, Dave Chokshi, New York City’s health commissioner, struck an ominous chord: “With the number of New Yorkers being vaccinated increasing every day, there is real reason for hope for better months ahead. But on the periphery […]

We Still Don’t Know How Well Covid Vaccines Stop Transmission

THIS WEEK, THE US passed a grim milestone in the ongoing coronavirus crisis: 500,000 deaths, more than the number of Americans killed in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined. And yet there is a growing sense of hope that the worst might now be behind us. With new cases declining and immunizations accelerating—45.2 million people have so far received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including 20.6 million who have been fully vaccinated—many Americans are beginning to allow themselves to imagine what post-pandemic life might be like. Achieving that is likely to take a few more months—provided vaccine makers don’t hit any production snags and worrisome variants don’t derail current progress. In the interim, an increasing number […]

Scientists Are Trying to Spot New Viruses Before They Cause Pandemics

Back in the summer, Dr. Michael Mina made a deal with a cold storage company. With many of its restaurant clients closed down, the firm had freezers to spare. And Dr. Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, had a half-million vials of plasma from human blood coming to his lab from across the country, samples dating back to the carefree days of January 2020. The vials, now in three hulking freezers outside Dr. Mina’s lab, are at the center of a pilot project for what he and his collaborators call the Global Immunological Observatory. They envision an immense surveillance system that can check blood from all over the world for the presence of antibodies […]

Tiny Blobs of Brain Cells Could Reveal How Your Mind Differs from a Neanderthal’s

In recent years, scientists have figured out how to grow blobs of hundreds of thousands of live human neurons that look — and act — something like a brain. These so-called brain organoids have been used to study how brains develop into layers, how they begin to spontaneously make electrical waves and even how that development might change in zero gravity. Now researchers are using these pea-size clusters to explore our evolutionary past. In a study published on Thursday, a team of scientists describe how a gene likely carried by Neanderthals and our other ancient cousins triggered striking changes in the anatomy and function of brain organoids. As dramatic as the changes are, the scientists say it’s too soon to know what these […]


Drugmakers Look for New Ways to Test Covid-19 Vaccines

As more Covid-19 vaccines become available in the U.S., it is getting tougher to run large clinical trials to test a new vaccine’s ability to prevent disease because people are less willing to take a placebo—forcing drugmakers and researchers to look for workarounds as they vet the next generation of shots and test new uses for authorized ones. One potential workaround would be to determine what level of immune response a vaccine has to trigger to protect people from the coronavirus, as measured in blood samples, and to use that information to create smaller, faster and less-expensive clinical trials. Instead of requiring tens of thousands of volunteers and costing several hundred-million dollars, such trials could involve only hundreds of people […]

The fast-spreading coronavirus variant is turning up in US sewers

A hyper-transmissible form of the coronavirus that causes covid-19 has been found in US sewer systems in California and Florida, confirming its widening presence in the US. Buckets of dirty water drawn from sewer pipes near Los Angeles and outside Orlando starting in late January are among those in which genetic mutations shared by a so-called UK variant have been detected. The UK strain B.1.1.7, a mutated form of the coronavirus  first discovered in southeast England in December, doesn’t seem to resist vaccines, but it does appear to spread more easily and has already taken over in countries including Israel, where it’s now responsible for 80% of cases. Some researchers have warned that if the variant takes hold in the US, it could […]

How vaccines are made, and why it is hard

Nine vaccines against covid-19 have already been approved in one jurisdiction or another, with many more in various stages of preparation. That this has happened within a year of the illness coming to the world’s attention is remarkable. But it is one thing to design and test vaccines. It is another to make them at sufficient scale to generate the billions of doses needed to vaccinate the world’s population, and to do so at such speed that the rate of inoculation can outpace the spread and possible mutation of the virus.Listen to this story Broadly, there are two ways of making antiviral vaccines. One, tried and trusted, involves growing, in tanks called bioreactors, cell cultures that act as hosts for viruses […]