Rochester Science

Need cash? Sneeze on a boffin. It pays!

It’s that time of year again: the season in which the University of Rochester exchanges quick cash (for you and your whole family!) in exchange for research into why you feel so shitty. It’s a sweet deal, if you can stand going to a hospital four times in the next month.

The U of R has released a presser announcing that anyone who comes down with a flu virus who qualifies can get $25 cash money for showing up to the hospital to let a boffin poke them. If anyone else in your household is also sick, they want them too! Same deal, $25 per visit.

The research is part of a collaborative effort from the awesomely-named New York Influenze Center of Excellence, made up of researchers from the U of R, Cornell and quite inexplicably, the University of Tennessee.


the research is part of the NYICE’s broader mandate to analyze the pathogenesis of flu viruses. This means the route by which infection happens and the life-cycle of the flu while it is in an infected host.

Bonus Excellence:  The NYICE website also links to an article interviewing a “metaphysical healer” named Louise L. Hay who suggests that, if you’d like to avoid sneezing on boffins, your best defense is a positive attitude. I have no idea how this gets linked to from that website. But there you have it.

Rochester Science

Have U of R researchers discovered the kill switch for the flu?

“Make it stop. Please, please make it stop.”

That was my impression of myself during every flu I’ve ever had, ever. I hate the damned flu, hate being sick. And the idea that a flu might kill us all is actually the furthest thing from my mind when I’m suffering from one. Hell, I’d like a little company, myself.

So I’m not generally one to push the HOLY SHIT THERE’S A FLU GOING AROUND button. The difference between a “super flu” and just another shitty season of flus is really a numbers game, though mainstream media outlets like to push that button hard and often. They do so knowing that the fear of illness – hypochondriasis to its friends – is a remarkably effective marketing tool. It sells, in other words.

Still, the flu sucks. And yes, it kills. And good news! Folks at the U of R may have just found the kill switch that can turn that mountain back into a molehill:

The scientists singled out a messenger RNA (mRNA) in their research because it allows the production of two proteins needed for viral propagation. Production of the second protein requires the mRNA to undergo the process of splicing, in which two remote sites of the long molecule join together, while the intervening segment is discarded.

In other words, the messenger chemical that allows the influenza virus to reproduce itself relies on this splicing process and the U of R researchers have isolated the locations where the splicing takes place.

Short-circuit that splicing process and you stop propagation. Do that with enough of the virus in your system, and the virus just dies out like 8-track hipsters. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Options for how they prevent the splicing process include hiding one of the splicing segments or chemically shielding the site from its splicing partner. This research only involved finding the splicing sites, further research would be needed to find the proper process of halting the splice.

The funny thing is: it seems that this was not an intentional discovery, at least not originally. The researchers were looking into an entirely different facet of influenza – how it packages itself – to discover a means of preventing it. But when that research proved to be too complex, they switched to this second line of attack.

For the sake of all mankind myself, I certainly hope this is the key to ridding ourselves of the nastiest strains of the flu. Because again: it sucks.


Swine Flu: Any Chance There’s Good News?

Remember after 9-11? Re3member all those good things we said we were going to do in the world? You know, all that stuff we didn’t do? Well, the swine flu problem we’re facing right now is nowhere near that level of concern just yet – so far, the only people who need to be iced down in this country appear to be our media – but perhaps we can use this moment to do things our last great moment of trial failed to muster from our elected leaders.

We know, for example, that the members of our community affected most gravely will be our children and elderly. If nothing else, perhaps this is a wake up call to get children’s health and senior health initiatives off the ground in this country. Maybe this is the wake up we need to pass comprehensive health care reforms, to make sure that hospitals are prepared and that vital vaccines are always in supply.

Meanwhile, much of the world’s squalor is either created by or antagonized by U.S. corporate interests. Such squalor presents as much of a national security threat as any terrorist cell, when you look at where this flu and others like it are originating from. Clearly, not every fetid sewer is our fault. But just because we don’t deserve the blame for everything does not mean that we can’t get some credit for healing some of the environmental problems that exist around our nation’s foreign operations.

And if you ask a doctor what might help ease the suffering and lessen the potential of flu attacks in poorer parts of the world, they would tell you that fresh drinking water is the key. Just look at the situation in the Mexican village where the first reported case of swine flu hit: they’ve been complaining for months about pig farm waste leeching into their water supplies. If the United States pledged to build a UN coalition to provide clean drinking water to the world, the world would be a remarkably healthier place.

I’m sure there’s more to be done. Right?