Reeta Asmai/UC Davis,

It’s tough to study rare diseases. Because they affect only a small percentage of the population, it can be hard for researchers to find funding. It’s also challenging to do clinical trials, since there are a small number of people who can take part. 

But rare disease research can yield discoveries that impact all of us.

Ticks could spread weaponized bacteria – but  <em>B. burgdorferi</em> that causes Lyme isn’t one of them.
Kelvin Ma/Tufts University /

Sam Telford, Tufts University

Could Lyme disease in the U.S. be the result of an accidental release from a secret bioweapons experiment? Could the military have specifically engineered the Lyme disease bacterium to be more insidious and destructive – and then let it somehow escape the lab and spread in nature?

Billionaire Sean Parker is pouring money into science and treating scientists like celebrities.

You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that a California billionaire had thrown an extravagant party for friends that included a custom ice sculpture that funneled high end whiskey into guest's glasses.

But what about if those guests were scientists and the party was to celebrate a Nobel Prize?

A health worker vaccinates a man who has been in contact with an Ebola affected person in the Democratic Republic of Congo in January, 2019.
World Bank / Vincent Tremeau / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0,

The World Health Organization has declared the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a global health emergency. Over the past year, more than 2,500 people have been infected and close to 1,700 have died. It is the second deadliest Ebola outbreak ever.

Vanderbilt University researcher Shane King tries out the treadmill he helped design. It trips people for science.
Courtesy Vanderbilt University

Imagine being tripped over and over again, knowing that it would keep happening, but never knowing when. Nightmarish, right?

That’s exactly what some people volunteered to do in order to help make prosthetic legs better.  

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli, grown in culture and adhered to a cover slip.
NAIAD/Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The FDA has halted trials of fecal transplants after one recipient has died and another is ill. Both were being treated for an intestinal infection called C. difficile and received transplants from an ostensibly healthy donor who turned out to be carrying an antibiotic resistant strain of E. coli. The incident highlights the risks inherent in a procedure that has rapidly gained favor for treating a host of health problems.

Jean Beaufort /

By Becca Cox

Summer vacation. Those two words conjure up images of long sunny days at the beach or by the pool, and that means sunscreen. But which sunscreen to choose? There are a lot of options and a lot of conflicting information about which ones are best for both you and the environment.

        A 6-month-old who is infected with measles in Madagascar, March 2019.
Laetitia Bezain / AP Photo

Matthew Ferrari, Pennsylvania State University and Amy Winter, Johns Hopkins University

The United States has seen more measles cases so far in 2019 than in any year since elimination was declared in 2000 – meaning the disease is no longer endemic in the country, spreading constantly throughout the year. This year’s American outbreak is dwarfed by those in Ukraine, Philippines, Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo , and Venezuela and Brazil, which have recorded tens of thousands of cases each.

Pen Waggener / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

If you've ever had a urinary tract infection, somebody has probably told you to drink cranberry juice. The idea that cranberries have infection-fighting powers has been around a long time. Now, there's research to support it.

Scientists at McGill University have found that cranberry extracts make E. coli and bacteria responsible for urinary tract infections and pneumonia more susceptible to antibiotics.

Daniel Cojanu

Imagine losing an arm or leg and thinking “No problem! It will grow back.” Now, imagine finding a bump on your big toe one day, only to have it grow into a complete clone of you that buds off and walks away. Laughable, right?

But that’s exactly what earthworms and their aquatic cousins can do. Duygu Özpolat, a fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory, wants to know how, and why not all animals can do the same.

 Özpolat hasn’t always worked with worms. She started with chicken embryos.

Americans Sitting More Than Ever

Apr 28, 2019
The amount of time we spend sitting increased by an hour from 2007 to 2016.
Gabriele Diwald

We spend a lot of our time on our rear ends. The average adult in the U.S. sits for more than six hours each day, while most teenagers are seated for over eight hours of the day. That’s according to new research in the Journal of the American Medical Association published last week.

Walter Reed Hospital flu ward during the great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 - 1919, also known as the "Spanish Flu".
Photo by Harris & Ewing via Library of Congress website

The Spanish flu infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide, and killed tens of millions. A century later, we have vaccines, antibiotics, advanced life support, and high-tech monitoring networks. And, yet, disease outbreaks - from Ebola, to Zika, to measles - continue to surprise even experts.

Medical historian Mark Honigsbaum has chronicled the outbreaks and epidemics of the twentieth century in his new book, The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris.

CBD, a component of marijuana and hemp, is being marketed for anxiety and a host of other health problems. There is currently little or no science behind the claims.
Jeoy Pena /

Jenny WilkersonUniversity of Florida and Lance McMahonUniversity of Florida  

Cannabidiol, or CBD, has become a household name. On many social media sites, people suggest “but have you tried CBD oil?” on posts pertaining to any health-related issue.

Image by cytis /

"There's plenty of sciencethat supports that CBD might have therapeutic indications. Obviously, for intractable pediatric epilepsy, CBD does have clinical validity. However, for all the other claims regarding CBD, we just don't quite know scientifically whether or not it's really going to hold water."  - Jenny Wilkerson

This week on Living Lab Radio:

Miguel Oros / unsplash

Life expectancies have increased around the globe in recent decades. That is, in large part, due to the decline in infectious diseases. But, for some of the world's poorest countries, that progress has come with a price - widespread unemployment and skyrocketing chronic health problems.