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Bet you can’t guess my Halloween Costume

Well, I realized I was developing  quite a reputation for myself when a friend emailed me a couple of days ago.  Her email read something to this effect:

“Alyson, I have the perfect Halloween costume for you….You could be an Immuno-GOBLIN!”

Haha…yes I loooved this idea, Antibodies on a Monster!  So, I decided, yes, I do need a Science Halloween Costume this year.  I was a MAD SCIENTIST for Halloween when I was 11, and it’s time to bust out the Science for Halloween again.

So guess what I am…

If you said a CD4+ T cell you’d be wrong.

There are 4 more CDs on the back…I am a CD8+ T cell.

Anybody else got a good one for Halloween this year?


Filed under Science Thoughts, Uncategorized


Below is the Program for the Conference MUMMIES, BONES, and ANCIENT PATHOGENS to be held in Sardinia, Italy 7-8 September 2012.  You can find a PDF for download at the bottom.  I hope everyone has an incredible time!



7-8 September 2012

STINTINO Palazzo Comunale, Sala Consiliare – Stintino, Sardinia, Italy


9:45-10:15 Opening of the Meeting
Salvatore Rubino, Co-chair Organizing Committee
Antonio Diana, Mayor of Stintino
Francesco Tamponi, Responsabile Regionale per i beni culturali ecclesiastici

Daniela Rovina, Soprintendenza Archeologica per le Provincie di Sassari e Nuoro
Attilio Mastino, Rector, University of Sassari

10:15-12:00 Session I: Archaic and Modern Genomes

Piero Cappuccinelli (Session Chair) Introductory remarks

Susanna Sawyer
Department Evolutionary Genetics, Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
Archaic Genomes: A Story Written in Neanderthal and Denisova DNA

Carsten Pusch
Institute of Human Genetics, Division of Molecular Genetics, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
First Insights into the Metagenome of Ancient Egyptian Mummies Using Next Generation Sequencing

11:15-11:30 Coffee break

Paolo Francalacci
Dipartimento di Scienze della Natura e del Territorio, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
Placing the Sequence of “Ötzi the Iceman” in the High Resolution Y chromosome Phlylogeny by Whole Genome Sequencing

12:00-15:15 Session II: Evolutionary Medicine, Ancient Pathogens and Pathologies

David Kelvin (Session Chair) Introductory remarks

Bernardino Fantini
Institute for the History of Medicine and Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
The Convergence of Genomic Studies and Historical Analysis of Infectious Diseases: the Case of Black Death

Marco Milanese
Dipartimento di Storia, Scienze dell’Uomo e della Formazione, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
The Biological Archives of Alghero: Archaeological Questions and Expectations from Biohistory and Biotechnology Projects in the Study of Human Remains from Urban Populations during the Thirteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries

13:00-14:30 Lunch Break

14:30-16:00 Session II: Evolutionary Medicine, Ancient Pathogens and Pathologies (Continued)

Gino Fornaciari
Division of Paleopathology, History of Medicine and Bioethics, Department of Oncology, Transplants and Advanced Technologies in Medicine
Medical School University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy
Cancer and Infectious Diseases: the Challenge of Soft Tissue Paleopathology

Frank Rühli
Centre for Evolutionary Medicine, Institute of Anatomy, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Evolutionary Medicine: Ancient Mummies and More…

15:30-16:00 Coffee break

16:00-17:30 Session III: Ancient Pathogens

Giovani Fadda (Session Chair) Introductory remarks

Eugenia Tognotti
Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche, Università degli Studi di Sassari, Sassari, Italy
Epidemics and Plagues in Sardinia from the 15th to the 20th Century

Raffaella Bianucci
Department of Anatomy, Pharmacology and Legal Medicine, University of Turin, Turin, Italy
Vector-Borne Diseases in Ancient Human Remains

Helen Donoghue
Centre for Infectious Diseases and International Health, University College London, London, UK

Insights into Ancient Tuberculosis and Leprosy

17:30-18:00 Sparkling Wine Cocktail (Brut/Prosecco!)

End of the first day


9:30-12:15 Session IV: Bioarchaeology, Modeling, and Perspectives on Ancient Pathogens

Mohammed Al Ahdal and Marco Milanese (Session Chairs): Introductory remarks

Archaeology of Sant’Imbenia

Elisabetta Garau, Marco Rendeli
Dipartimento di Storia, Scienze dell’Uomo e della Formazione, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
Seeds for Thought: Overview of the Archaeology of Sant’Imbenia

Rossella Filigheddu
Dipartimento di Scienze della Natura e del Territorio, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
Phenotypic Analysis of Seeds from Sant’Imbenia

Alberto Leon
University Health Network, Toronto, Canada
Summary of Sequencing of Seeds from Sant’Imbenia

Analysis of a Crypt of Sant’Antonio Abate Cathedral, Castelsardo

Franco Campus
Dipartimento di Storia, Scienze dell’Uomo e della Formazione, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
Bioarcheaology of a Crypt of Sant’Antonio Abate Cathedral, Castelsardo

Andrea Montella, Vittorio Mazzarello
Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
Histological Analysis of Mummified Tissue from the Crypt of Sant’Antonio Abate Cathedral, Castelsardo

Luca Simbula, Gianni Meloni, Paolo Lampus
Dipartimento di Scienze Chirurgiche, Microchirurgiche e Mediche, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
X-Ray Examination of Mummies and Bones from a Crypt of Sant’Antonio Abate Cathedral, Castelsardo

Cristiano Farace, Roberto Madeddu
Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
A Possible Estimation of Historical Pollution Increases by Heavy Metals Analysis in Ancient Bones: Emerging Data from Castelsardo Mummies and Comparison with Mummies from Other Centuries

Manuela Murgia, Bianca Paglietti
Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
Identification of Sporigens in a Crypt of Sant’Antonio Abate Cathedral, Castelsardo

Claudia Viganò, Patrizia Marongiu
Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
Analysis of Pathogens Using PCR of Biomaterial from a Crypt of Sant’Antonio Abate Cathedral, Castelsardo

11:00-11:20 Coffee

Luca Ruiu, Ignazio Floris
Dipartimento di Agraria, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
First Report of Insects and Other Arthropods on the Mummies Found inside a Crypt of the Castelsardo Cathedral (Sardinia, Italy)

Nikki Kelvin
Dipartimento di Storia, Scienze dell’Uomo e della Formazione, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
Mother-and-Infant Deaths from a Crypt of Sant’Antonio Abate Cathedral, Castelsardo

Historical Modelling and Perspectives

Alessandro Ponzelleti
Art Historian, Sassari, Italy
Practices and Burial Crypts in Churches of Sardinia: Some Examples

Luca Sanna
Dipartimento di Storia, Scienze dell’Uomo e della Formazione, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
An Integrated Bioarchaeology Project in North-West Sardinia: the Contribution of Preventive Archeology

Dario Piombino-Mascali
EURAC, Bolzano, Italy
The Sicily Mummy Project

Giampaolo Piga, Assumpciò Malgosa, Antonio Brunetti, Simona Spada, Stefano Enzo.
Dipartimento di Chimica e Farmacia, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
Anthropological and Chemico-Physical Studies on the Mummies of Peter II of Aragon and Blanca d’Anjou

Pierre-Olivier Méthot
Institute for the History of Medicine and Health, Geneva University, Geneva, Switzerland
What is a Pathogen? Perspectives (and Problems) from Medical Bacteriology and Pathogenomics

12:30-12:50 Concluding Remarks

David Kelvin
A Cryptic Approach to Future Studies

Salvatore Rubino
Closing Remarks

End of the Meeting

Organizing Committee
Salvatore Rubino (Co-Chair), David Kelvin (Co-Chair)
Attilio Mastino, Marco Milanese, Bruno Masala, Nikki Kelvin, and Andrea Montella

University of Sassari
• “International PhD School in Biomolecular and Biotechnological Sciences”
• Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche
• Scuola di Dottorato, “Storia, Letterature e Cultura Mediterraneo”

International Sponsors
• University Health Network, Toronto, Canada
• IDR, Canada
• Shantou University Medical School, Shantou, China
• Journal of Infection in Developing Countries

This meeting is in celebration of the 450th anniversary of the founding of the University of Sassari.

Organizing Secretariat: Segreteria Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche, Viale San Pietro 43 B, 07100 Sassari

To register or receive more information or submit an abstract: rubino(at)uniss(dot)it or nkelvin(at)jidc(dot)org

Mummies, Bones, and Ancient Pathogens Conference Program

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Mummies, Bones and Ancient Pathogens — The Official Conference Poster

Below is the Official Poster for the Ancient Pathogens Conference in Sardinia, Italy.  More posts on the conference are to come including the full conference program.

And until then, here is a link to a past post on pathogens — My search for the Contagion Sign in Toronto.

PDF of the Poster for Download:  AncientPathogensConference_SardiniaItaly

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Filed under Conferences, Countries, Events, Infectious Disease, JIDC News, News, Tuberculosis, Uncategorized, Yersinia pestis

So much science and so little time! Suggestions from Salvatore Vol. I

So much science and so little time! Every month, JIDC Editor-in-Chief Salvatore Rubino sends me news events that interest him and that he thinks would make good blog content.   Unfortunately it’s impossible for me to write a column for each one.  So here we are with lots of interesting stuff that is not getting out.  This, I have decided, is not acceptable!

To remedy this, I am introducing a new section to the JIDC Blog call Suggestions from Salvatore.  Each month you can see all of Salvatore Rubino’s recommendations in one place.  Here are his recommendations for February 2012:

Bulletin of the World Health Organization — Volume 90, Number 3, March 2012, 157-244

The first recommendation from Salvatore in February is the paper “The global burden of cholera” from the March 2012 issue of the WHO Bulletin.  This paper was authored by Ali M and colleagues and describes the age-specific estimates of the cholera burden in endemic and non-endemic areas. From the authors’ calculations, approximately 1.4 billion people are at risk for cholera in endemic areas with ~91 000 cholera deaths each year with the majority of the infections being in children 4 years (as opposed to months or weeks?) and under. Furthermore an estimated 87 000 cholera cases and 2500 deaths are associated with cholera in non-endemic countries.  The authors conclude that these findings are important for the establishment of public health strategies.

London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases

Salvatore’s second suggestion was an article on the signing of the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases. Bill Gates and people from several large pharmaceutical companies and other global health agencies signed the declaration, which focuses on what can be done to eradicate NTDs. This story comes from Dr. Mark Booth’s article in the New Statesman, and it’s a great write-up of the current situation.

WHO-Global Foodborne Infections Network (GFN)

We next have the The WHO- Global Foodborne Infections Network (GFN).   This is a program established in 2001 that aims to combine laboratory based surveillance with the public human health, veterinary, and food-related outreaches. The Network’s five-year plan was discussed previously at a Strategic Planning Meeting in Lyngby, Denmark, in August 2010. You can read the published Strategic Plan 2011-2015 here

 New Grant Program for Global Immunization and Strategy from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Lastly we have a call for applications from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a grant on the development of an easy-to-use-tool for the assessment of the childhood immune system.  The application should outline the tool’s development and commercial plans.  All applicants are welcome.  The deadline for applications is 10 a.m., March 27, 2012.  You can read more about this opportunity and the challenges here:

 And a recommendation from me! Immune Response, Toll Like Receptors (TLR) Pathway – IMGENEX movie

I am going to sneak in a recommendation from me here.  I saw this video on the internet this week.  It is from IMGENEX was a fun take on the TLR pathway.  Enjoy!


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From Thailand! The transformation of a clinician into a researcher

This fabulous story comes from Dr. Myo Nyein Aung a clinical researcher who worked at the Bangkok School of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Thailand. Here Dr. Aung describes how he developed his research ideas and write-up as a manuscript Observation of genotype C infected chronic hepatitis B patients in clinical practice which is now published in the December 2011 Issue of JIDC.  

I love this story. It highlights the importance of scientific organization of research data as well as the value of presenting your work to your peers.  By formulating your own data for presentations it forces one to view their work from other perspectives, including as a reviewer. This view-point can lead to new developments in the thesis and paths to follow. 

Thank you so much Dr. Myo Aung for sharing your story.


The brief story of clinical research at Trop-Med, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand

Writing this paper for the JIDC reminded me of my times at the School of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Bangkok. This was the place and time where I was transformed into a clinical researcher.

Building a Story!

I still remember my advisor asking me to make PowerPoint presentations of the longitudinal data of all the cases I had worked on. To plot everything—viral load, ALT, AFP and genotype—in a single slide for all cases was not an easy job. It took me one week. Finally, after a Monday clinic, we met to view and discuss the slides together. During the discussion, many topics were covered. This was where I thought of the idea for my research article that is now published in JIDC.  It was during that discussion!

My adviser Associate Professor Dr. Wattana Leowattana while I am defending my thesis

What was my Research Question? – The Search

Every Monday I would go to the liver clinic at Hospital for Tropical Diseases, Bangkok. It was a very special clinic with many hepatitis B and C patients. Here I searched for my research question by reading many up-to-date articles and seeing patients every week. Many areas were interesting to explore in the clinical research of hepatitis B.  It took me almost one year to get the research question. 

Building the Story – I didn’t do it alone!

I did not collect the data in the patient’s record charts all myself. I had two research assistants who could speak English as well as I spoke Thai.  They were very helpful. With their assistance, we scanned hundreds of chronic hepatitis B medical charts to screen the eligibility criteria. We explored the old archived laboratory records to get the very first viral load of the patients. We faced many kinds of challenges to accomplish this research. Importantly, this work began my training for international collaborations and dealing with study site hospitals. Research in clinical practice taught me far more than that I learned in epidemiology and research methodology classes.

2008-2009 batch students of MSc and PhD tropical medicine international class , at the Wai Khru Day ceremony of Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Thailand

All the ideas were overwhelming at the time of writing the protocol and paper. The balance of ideas and feasibility would determine how quickly we could do research and how well it could be accomplished. My advisors and I were strict on eligibility criteria. The samples were difficult to collect. Time was limited. Funds were gone. I had to defend my thesis. I had to write my manuscript.

The Finished Manuscript

My paper describes  genotype C chronic hepatitis B as we see and treat the patients at the hepatitis clinic every follow-up. Moreover, I wanted to point out the carcinogenic potential of the most prevalent genotype in Thailand. We worked out many of the caveats including adjusting for sample size.  A scientifically sound hypothesis was generated. There were many cycles of rejections and resubmissions, reanalysis and amendment. Finally I could present my ideas and my work through the Journal of Infection in Developing Countries. Thank you, JIDC.

With my same batch and junior class mates at JITMM, Joint International Tropical Medicine Meeting, 2009: Molecular scientists (ladies) and clinical researchers ( gentle men)


Dr. Myo Nyein Aung

Dr. Myo Nyein Aung

My name is Dr. Myo Nyein Aung.
I am a Myanmar doctor. I was born in Magway, a central city in Myanmar.
I studied for my MD at Mandalay, second capital of Myanmar.
I was taught to be a clinical researcher at Bangkok School of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Thailand. This paper is the third paper I could publish within six months of my research-based Master. My JIDC blog post is about the idea generation and process of doing my research at School of Tropical Medicine. Currently, I am working as international collaborative researcher, author, reviewer and editorial in medical journals.

Happy New Year 2009 at Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Thailand


Filed under Countries, Hepatitis, Thailand, Uncategorized