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Top stories: antivax protests, the war on prediabetes, and a possible cure for lupus

Vaccine opponents attack U.S. science panel

The U.S. antivaccine movement has found a new front for its attacks on scientists and their work: gatherings of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which recommends which vaccines Americans should receive. Since last summer, increasing numbers of vaccine opponents have come to ACIP meetings, held three times a year at the campus of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, to vent their anger at the 15 experts on the panel during the public comments section—and to lambaste vaccination in general.

The war on ‘prediabetes’ could be a boon for pharma—but is it good medicine?

In 2004 and again in 2010, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) expanded the blood sugar range it considers a sign of prediabetes, creating tens of millions of potential patients in the United States overnight. Now, the pharmaceutical industry is developing at least 10 classes of drugs targeted at the disease. But prediabetes does little or no harm on its own, and fewer than 2% of prediabetics in the ADA range progress to diabetes each year. That—along with evidence of large payoffs to some doctors in the field—has some wondering whether the entire classification is a dubious diagnosis.

Genetically engineered immune cells wipe out lupus in mice

Lupus can be a stubborn disease to treat. Although many struck by the autoimmune condition live relatively normal lives, some suffer from kidney failure, blood clots, and other complications that can be deadly. Now, scientists have found that a novel treatment that wipes out the immune system’s B cells cures mice of the condition. Though the work is preliminary, it has excited researchers because it uses a therapy already approved for people with blood cancer.

Has a second person with HIV been cured?

Timothy Ray Brown, the only person to be cured of HIV, may finally have company. A decade after Brown became famous as the “Berlin patient,” thanks to a stem cell transplant that eliminated his HIV infection, a similar transplant from a donor who has HIV-resistant cells appears to have cured another man, dubbed the “London patient.”

The Black Death may have transformed medieval societies in sub-Saharan Africa

In the 14th century, the Black Death swept across Europe, Asia, and North Africa, killing up to 50% of the population in some cities. But archaeologists and historians have assumed that the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis, carried by fleas infesting rodents, didn’t make it across the Sahara Desert. Now, some researchers point to new evidence from archaeology, history, and genetics to argue that the Black Death likely did sow devastation in medieval sub-Saharan Africa.