There are 12 new articles in PLoS ONE today. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. Here are my own picks for the week – you go and look for your own favourites:
Obesity as a Perceived Social Signal:
Fat accumulation has been classically considered as a means of energy storage. Obese people are theorized as metabolically ‘thrifty’, saving energy during times of food abundance. However, recent research has highlighted many neuro-behavioral and social aspects of obesity, with a suggestion that obesity, abdominal obesity in particular, may have evolved as a social signal. We tested here whether body proportions, and abdominal obesity in particular, are perceived as signals revealing personality traits. Faceless drawings of three male body forms namely lean, muscular and feminine, each with and without abdominal obesity were shown in a randomized order to a group of 222 respondents. A list of 30 different adjectives or short descriptions of personality traits was given to each respondent and they were asked to allocate the most appropriate figure to each of them independently. The traits included those directly related to physique, those related to nature, attitude and moral character and also those related to social status. For 29 out of the 30 adjectives people consistently attributed specific body forms. Based on common choices, the 30 traits could be clustered into distinct ‘personalities’ which were strongly associated with particular body forms. A centrally obese figure was perceived as “lethargic, greedy, political, money-minded, selfish and rich”. The results show that body proportions are perceived to reflect personality traits and this raises the possibility that in addition to energy storage, social selection may have played some role in shaping the biology of obesity.
A number of different malaria vaccine candidates are currently in pre-clinical or clinical development. Even though they vary greatly in their characteristics, it is unlikely that any of them will provide long-lasting sterilizing immunity against the malaria parasite. There is great uncertainty about what the minimal vaccine profile should be before registration is worthwhile; how to allocate resources between different candidates with different profiles; which candidates to consider combining; and what deployment strategies to consider. We use previously published stochastic simulation models, calibrated against extensive epidemiological data, to make quantitative predictions of the population effects of malaria vaccines on malaria transmission, morbidity and mortality. The models are fitted and simulations obtained via volunteer computing. We consider a range of endemic malaria settings with deployment of vaccines via the Expanded program on immunization (EPI), with and without additional booster doses, and also via 5-yearly mass campaigns for a range of coverages. The simulation scenarios account for the dynamic effects of natural and vaccine induced immunity, for treatment of clinical episodes, and for births, ageing and deaths in the cohort. Simulated pre-erythrocytic vaccines have greatest benefits in low endemic settings (EIR of 84) PEV may lead to increased incidence of severe disease in the long term, if efficacy is moderate to low (20%) malaria vaccines (either PEV or BSV) when deployed through mass campaigns targeting all age-groups as well as EPI, and especially if combined with highly efficacious transmission-blocking components. We present for the first time a stochastic simulation approach to compare likely effects on morbidity, mortality and transmission of a range of malaria vaccines and vaccine combinations in realistic epidemiological and health systems settings. The results raise several issues for vaccine clinical development, in particular appropriateness of vaccine types for different transmission settings; the need to assess transmission to the vector and duration of protection; and the importance of deployment additional to the EPI, which again may make the issue of number of doses required more critical. To test the validity and robustness of our conclusions there is a need for further modeling (and, of course, field research) using alternative formulations for both natural and vaccine induced immunity. Evaluation of alternative deployment strategies outside EPI needs to consider the operational implications of different approaches to mass vaccination.