Skip to content

Paradoxic pandemic: The inexorable spread of hand, foot and mouth disease

A transitional piece for me, I think, between the kind of corporate writing I’ve done to now, and the more creative ‘longform’ articles we’ll be doing in the future. Not entirely successful, but getting lots of hits because of the paucity of information about HFMD elsewhere…

Wellcome Trust Blog


As researchers describe a new way to make vaccines to fight diseases like foot and mouth disease in animals and polio in humans, we look at a related human viral infection called hand, foot and mouth disease. Recent outbreaks in Cambodia and Vietnam raise the prospect of what is often considered to be an innocuous childhood infection spreading further, causing increasingly severe illness, even deaths, and straining health systems around the world.

Much concern is rightly focused on influenza and the risk of pandemics, but there are other emerging and re-emerging infections that demand our attention. In this post, I look at hand, foot and mouth disease from various perspectives, taking in epidemiology, clinical medicine, structural biology, virology and public health, to try and understand what threat it presents, what we are doing to counter it, and what difference an effective vaccine would make.

It starts with a high temperature, though…

View original post 3,385 more words


Some thoughts on the fly features from my personal blog.

A Certain Confusion

I published two features – well, one pair of linked features – about fruit flies this week. The pieces were in many ways an experiment, and in other ways an indulgence.

The experiment first: we are moving towards more longform feature writing at work and it is probably important that we play with what that might mean in order to learn what we want it to mean or what we are capable of meaning it to mean. The buzzword is ‘explanatory’ writing, but not in the textbook vein: rather, focused on narrative and letting the ‘science’ come through more ‘palatable’ stories of people and their lives. The length is necessary to go into any level of detail; the form is what carries the reader through the detail – and the length.

My features this week did not really tell stories. I mean, the first one related the history of fruit…

View original post 1,349 more words

Part 2 of my fly feature pair…

Wellcome Trust Blog

Drosophila: the model model organism; the humble fruit fly with a noble (not to mention Nobel) place in the history of science. Having learned about its importance in genetics and developmental biology, I wanted to see Drosophila in action.

At a lab in Manchester, I did just that and discovered that the relevance of such research to human health can be unexpectedly direct.

“What do you want to see?”

No idea. “What do you have?”

“I could show you first instar dissection, third instar dissection, electric shock….”

Dr Richard Marley is a research technician in the Baines lab at the University of Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences. In the face of my obvious ignorance, he takes a Drosophila larva (a pale, segmented, maggoty creature about one millimetre long), jiggles it in mounting fluid to wash off the leftovers from its feed – “They’re fantastic eating machines,” he says…

View original post 2,941 more words

A mammoth feature about fruit flies (1/2)

Wellcome Trust Blog

For more than a hundred years, scientists have used the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) to study the fundamentals of developmental biology and genetics.

But as biological understanding and techniques have improved, we are now able to do sophisticated genetic experiments in animals further along the evolutionary scale, such as mice.

What role, then, for the fly today?

At the entrance to the Fly Facility at the University of Manchester, there is a poster on the wall. It proudly proclaims that Drosophila (a genus of fruit flies) has won six Nobel Prizes. All were won in conjunction with human collaborators, of course, who took the glory (not to mention the cash).

The Fly Facility, which is funded by the university and the Wellcome Trust, brings together the university’s collective expertise in fly husbandry and research techniques. It supports a community of 13 research groups who consider the potential…

View original post 2,969 more words

More history – this time, drawing parallels between the emergence of food allergies as a serious medical issue and hyperactivity as a diagnosis.

Wellcome Trust Blog

Dr Matthew Smith, Wellcome Trust Research FellowThe journey of a new medical concept from radical theory to mainstream medicine is often dogged by controversy. Dr Matthew Smith (left) argues that such controversies are fuelled by simplistic, inflexible thinking on all sides of the debate.

He believes understanding the detailed history of previous medical controversies, notably food allergies and hyperactivity, could help us respond more constructively and resolve similar emerging issues more effectively in the future.

The Eskimos will welcome Lions, Roughriders, Tiger-cats and even Argonauts this season, but not peanuts. At Commonwealth Stadium, where the Edmonton Eskimos play their home games in the Canadian Football League, peanuts are the only snack that fans are specifically barred from bringing in with them. “We are allergy aware,” it says on the Eskimos’ website. “Please help us all be allergy aware.”

Edmonton native and medical historian Dr Matthew Smith uses the ban in his hometown stadium to illustrate how food allergies…

View original post 2,382 more words

A long-form feature about pianos and their (non)-effects on health…

Wellcome Trust Blog

Child playing the pianoWhy would 19th-century doctors want to ban piano lessons for girls? Did they truly believe that learning to play music could cause sexual and neurotic disorders? Or were there sociological reasons for picking on the piano as a potential danger?

Michael Regnier conducts a noteworthy investigation into the relationship between music, medicine and society.


For as long as there has been music, people have tried to control it. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates deemed the traditional lyre acceptable, but the new-fangled psalteries and harps were purged from the city for having too wide a range of “notes and modes”. By the 19th century, science and medicine had been co-opted into arguments that certain forms of music were unsuitable for certain people. Today, new music can still spark concerns – sometimes hyped to hysterical proportions – that are couched in medical terms, even in the absence of any scientific evidence…

View original post 3,624 more words

A good old-fashioned scientific conference in the guise of an anniversary party. Includes audacious audio!

Wellcome Trust Blog

Wellcome Trust / Cancer Research UK Gurdon InstituteLast week, I gatecrashed a party at the Wellcome Trust / Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute in Cambridge. To celebrate the institute’s 21st anniversary, many of its current and former staff had gathered to hear a programme of scientific talks and to catch up with old friends and colleagues.

As an outsider, I was deeply impressed by the spirit of the Gurdon’s scientists, and by an appeal to cut through some of the complexity of modern biology.

Professor Sir John Gurdon sounds rather embarrassed as he explains how he came to have an institute named after him while still very much alive. Sir John was the oldest of the six scientists who co-founded the institute in 1991, so when the time came to give it a more personal name than the ‘Wellcome Trust / Cancer Research Campaign Institute’ (as it was originally), his name was adopted. He says there was…

View original post 968 more words