Why lychees were making children sick in India, progress on the Zika vaccine front, personalized tumor-homing cells. 

Don’t Eat the Fruit

(The New York Times, 1/31/17, Ellen Barry)

The medical journal Lancet Global Health lays out this week results of an epidemiologic investigation into why so many Indian children from the eastern city of Muzaffarpur were slipping into comas and dying during the month of May. The spring harvest of lychee fruit, when eaten on an empty stomach by malnourished children, was causing the yearly outbreak, a joint team from the US Centers for Disease Control and the India Epidemic Intelligence Service concluded. Parents are now being instructed to be sure to feed young children an evening meal and to limit their consumption of lychees. In two seasons, the number of reported cases per year has dropped to less than 50 form hundreds.

Shrinking Brain Tumors

(Science, 2/1/17, Emily Hiolski)

Scientists have created personalized tumor-homing cells from adult skin cells that can shrink brain tumors to 2% to 5% of their original size. Although the strategy has yet to be fully tested in people, the new method could one day give doctors a quick way to develop a custom treatment for aggressive cancers like glioblastoma, which kills most human patients in 12–15 months. It only took 4 days to create the tumor-homing cells for the mice. The findings are reported this week in Science Translational Medicine.

Zika Vaccine Research Progressing

(The Scientist, 2/2/17, Amanda Keener)

Ever since the mosquito-borne virus Zika became associated with alarming increases in the birth defect microcephaly two years ago, vaccinologists have been working hard on making a vaccine to prevent it. One promising DNA vaccine candidate entered human trials last year. This week another candidate—a vaccine that uses modified messenger RNA rather than DNA—also began Phase 1 safety tests. The RNA vaccine encodes two different Zika proteins to help induce an antiviral response following exposure.

—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery