I don't often get to report and write my own stories anymore. But I do deeply enjoy the privilege, as editor in chief, of seeing our crackerjack team of journalists and scientists identify large themes in the evolving flow of science as it is being applied to discovery and to solving society's pressing challenges; scientists, of course, serve both as protagonists in our feature articles and as authors.
In this issue, for instance, let us look together at our species' continuing efforts to manipulate our own body's inner mechanisms to treat diseases and generally improve public health. Take “Shock Medicine,” the cover article by brain surgeon and neuroscientist Kevin J. Tracey. He describes fascinating work in the field of bioelectronic medicine for harnessing the body's natural reflexes, rather than using drugs, to treat a variety of inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. “By precisely targeting the biological processes underlying disease, this nerve-stimulating technology should help avoid the troublesome side effects of many drugs,” Tracey writes. The diseases may include, among others, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and perhaps even cancer.
An inner (and outer) battle of another kind is involved in the fight against Ebola, which exploded onto global headlines last year, infecting 21,000 people and killing more than 8,500 by mid-January. Journalist Helen Branswell reveals the vicious and unusual one-two punch that the small group of Ebola virus species uses to blow past the immune system. Our counterattack, accelerated by the large number of patients as global attention and funding have focused on this lethal virus, involves efforts in public health as well as the rapid development of new vaccines.
Unseen invaders also play a far milder—indeed, a beneficial—role in our microbiome, the community of microorganisms inside each of us that exceeds the number our own body's cells by 10 times. “Innovations in the Microbiome,” a special report with our sister publication Nature, takes us on a tour of how these microbes aid digestion, train the immune system and produce anti-inflammatory compounds that help to keep pathogens away. Last, as always, I find myself looking forward to seeing what basic research will turn up next time.