Joe Palca

Joe Palca is a science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, "Joe's Big Idea." Stories in the series explore the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors. Palca is also the founder of NPR Scicommers – A science communication collective.

Palca began his journalism career in television in 1982, working as a health producer for the CBS affiliate in Washington, DC. In 1986, he left television for a seven-year stint as a print journalist, first as the Washington news editor for Nature, and then as a senior correspondent for Science Magazine.

In October 2009, Palca took a six-month leave from NPR to become science writer in residence at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Palca has won numerous awards, including the National Academies Communications Award, the Science-in-Society Award of the National Association of Science Writers, the American Chemical Society's James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Prize, and the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Writing. In 2019, Palca was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for outstanding achievement in journalism.

With Flora Lichtman, Palca is the co-author of Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us (Wiley, 2011).

He comes to journalism from a science background, having received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he worked on human sleep physiology.

There are many approaches to making a vaccine against COVID-19. Some use genetic material from the coronavirus, some use synthetic proteins that mimic viral proteins and some use disabled versions of the virus itself.

But before any of these approaches can generate the antibodies to the coronavirus that scientists say are essential to protecting people from getting sick, the immune system has to be primed to make those antibodies.

That's the job of something called an adjuvant.

Nobody is eager to be stuck by a needle twice, so naturally many would view a COVID-19 vaccine that provides disease protection after a single injection as a good thing.

Two new studies released Thursday suggest that might be possible.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The COVID-19 vaccine candidate made by the U.S. biotech company Moderna and developed in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health starts its final phase of testing Monday.

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If you're planning a trip to Mars, now is the time to go.

For a month or so, Earth and Mars line up in a way that makes it possible to go from one to the other. Miss that window, and you have to wait two years for the next opportunity. The United Arab Emirates, China and the United States all have missions scheduled for launch in July.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Dr. Elias Zerhouni knows the dangers of infectious disease outbreaks. He was director of the National Institutes of Health in 2005 when bird flu appeared poised to become more infectious to humans. Fortunately, that pandemic never materialized, but he says it served as a warning of what was to come.

Zerhouni has been a member of the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and head of global research and development for the pharmaceutical company Sanofi.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Approximately 200 COVID-19 vaccines are being actively developed. All vaccines have one main goal: to prepare a person's immune system to fight off an invading organism should the body encounter it.

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It turns out, cows may play an important role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SAB Biotherapeutics is in the business of making what are known as polyclonal antibodies. These are a collection of different antibodies that a body makes to ward off a specific invading organism.

The company has made polyclonal antibodies to treat influenza and MERS. Now it's making them with the aim of treating or even preventing COVID-19. To make them, SAB uses cows.

A low-cost anti-inflammatory drug appears to reduce the risk of death in patients with COVID-19.

The drug is called dexamethasone. It's been used for decades to treat conditions such as arthritis and asthma. Because patients with advanced COVID-19 disease can have severe lung inflammation, scientists wanted to see if dexamethasone could treat that condition.

It was one of the drugs studied in a large clinical trial in the United Kingdom known as RECOVERY, or Randomized Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Turns out that cows may be helpful to us in the pandemic. There's a biotech company in South Dakota using cows to make antibodies for treating human disease. And lately, they've been making antibodies for COVID-19. Here's NPR's Joe Palca.

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