Vaccine for heart disease? It’s a possibility

Most people probably know that heart disease remains the nation’s No. 1 killer. But what many may be surprised to learn is that cholesterol has a major accomplice in causing dangerous arterial plaque buildup that can trigger a heart attack. The culprit? Inflammatory cells produced by the immune system…

Researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology have identified the specific type of immune cells (CD4 T cells) that orchestrate the inflammatory attack on the artery wall. Further, the researchers discovered that these immune cells behave as if they have previously seen the antigen that causes them to launch the attack. “The thing that excites me most about this finding is that these immune cells appear to have ‘memory’ of the molecule brought forth by the antigen-presenting cells,” said Klaus Ley, M.D., a renowned expert in vascular immunology, who led the study in mouse models. “Immune memory is the underlying basis of successful vaccines. This means that conceptually it becomes possible to consider the development of a vaccine for heart disease…”

Dr. Ley said he believes the antigen involved is actually a normal protein that the body mistakes as being foreign and therefore launches an immune attack resulting in inflammation in the arteries. “Essentially, we’re saying that there appears to be a strong autoimmune component in heart disease,” he said, explaining that autoimmune diseases result from the body’s mistaken attack on normal cells. “Consequently, we could explore creating a “tolerogenic” vaccine, such as those now being explored in diabetes, which could induce tolerance by the body of this self-protein to stop the inflammatory attack…”

Dr. Ley cautions that creating a vaccine is a complex process that could take years to develop. However it offers exciting potential. “If successful, a tolerogenic vaccine could stop the inflammation component of heart disease,” he said. “This could probably be used in conjunction with the statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) that have already taken a significant chunk out of the numbers of people with heart disease. Together, they could deliver a nice one-two punch that could be important in further reducing heart disease.”

No – this does not mean you should return to eating lousy fast food or give up on exercise and a generally healthy lifestyle.

I offer this post as a ray of hope for the future, an addition to the science that can extend our lifespan, give us all more time to spend on this planet enjoying life and learning. OK?

Voter impersonation? So rare it barely exists!

The specter of widespread election fraud has been the professed reason that 37 state legislatures have passed or considered voter identification laws since 2010. Those claiming that illegal votes threaten free and fair elections generally have cited only anecdotes and individual reports of alleged voter fraud.

As part of the News21 national investigation into voting rights in America, a team of reporters took on the unprecedented task of gathering, organizing and analyzing all reported cases of election fraud in the United States since 2000…

How many cases were found?…Two thousand cases of election fraud that could have been prevented by voter ID laws?

Actually, no. The cases reported to News21 from all the public-records requests cover a dozen different kinds of election illegalities and irregularities. Only one of those categories — impersonation of another voter at a voting place — involves the kind of fraud that Election Day voter ID laws could prevent.

And only 10 such cases over more than a decade were reported to News21 by election officials and prosecutors across the country. During that time, 146 million Americans were registered to vote.

What about the highly publicized list of voter fraud cases gathered by the Republican National Lawyers Association?

News21 began its data-gathering effort in January 2012 by reviewing the more than 300 cases of alleged voter fraud collected by the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA). For years, the RNLA has been urging strict voter-identification laws on the grounds of massive amounts of voter fraud, and in 2011 the organization released a survey of voter fraud cases in America. However, the News21 analysis showed that the RNLA cases, now totaling about 375 cases, consisted mainly of newspaper articles about a range of election issues, with little supporting evidence of actual in-person voter fraud.

RTFA for details of the Herculean task of organizing this study. While grounded in my favorite topic of computational analysis, the tales of local and state bureaucrats deliberately trying everything possible to stop any query for evidence of actual voter fraud would be hilarious – if it wasn’t so widespread.

Bad enough the RNLA and the leadership of the Republican Party has obviously been trying to turn urban myth into political fabric – that’s called lying among folks who ain’t polite to political hacks – but state officials of every flavor are scared witless over journalists contacting them about the tales they released to the local press to convince voters they’re actually doing their job.

The students of the News21 Project deserve all the credit in the world for exposing another political lie.

A wedding with two beautiful Buddhist brides


A lovely wedding – truly a family affair

Two women in veils and voluminous white gowns kneel in front of a statue of the Buddha, exchanging vows and prayer beads to the languorous intonations of Buddhist chants.

This unconventional ceremony on Saturday was the first same-sex Buddhist wedding held in Taiwan, where a landmark bill to legalize same-sex marriage has been pending since 2003…

Huang Mei-yu said she and her partner of seven years, Yu Ya-ting, decided to hold a Buddhist wedding to acknowledge their own faith, as well the predominant religion of the nation, according to the Taipei Times newspaper. They hoped the ceremony, which was performed by a renowned Buddhist master, would encourage Taiwanese society to accept same-sex marriage.

“Of course it helps (promote same-sex marriage), said Wu Hsiao-wen, Secretary of the Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy, saying that the ceremony set a strong example for the Buddhist community. She added that its legitimacy was bolstered in the public’s eyes by its blessing from Shih Chao-hwei, a highly-respected Buddhist social activist, who presided over the ceremony. Shih founded the Hong-Shih Buddhist College and the Research Centre for Applied Ethics at Hsuan Chuang University…

Taiwan was the first nation in Asia to introduce a bill to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. Drafted in 2003 under former president Chen Shui-bian, it has made little headway in Taiwan’s legislature, however.

“I remember when I told my parents that we would get married, their first question was, ‘Is this legal?'” Huang told reporters at her wedding. “I could only say to them that it would (become legal) soon, but I didn’t know when would be considered soon. So we hope it will become legal. For us and for our families, it is very important.”

Someday, somewhere on this silly little planet, there will be a schoolchild asking, “Why must we study this ancient history of societies where civil rights didn’t exist for every citizen?”

Not in my lifetime. But, it will come to be. We may be a species that is surprisingly slow to learn and change; but, we have that capacity and it is irrevocable.

Paul Ryan Is the new Dick Cheney

Paul Ryan is not the progeny of Ronald Reagan, as starry-eyed Republicans would have it. Yes, he has a winning smile and twinkling eyes. But he hasn’t run anything bigger than an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

The closer parallel for Ryan is Dick Cheney, another Man With a Plan. George W. Bush needed a running mate who was older and wiser to fill in the blanks in his thinking. So he balanced his own vague compassionate conservatism with Cheney’s bloodless neoconservative certainty.

On Sept. 11, 2001, as hand-wringers in the West Wing were wondering what to do, Cheney pulled his plan right off the shelf. It wasn’t the right plan, but having something always feels so much better than having nothing. “Go to Baghdad, young man,” Cheney told the president, and that’s what Bush did. He deposed Saddam Hussein, occupied a country, turned a surplus into a deficit and left office with approval ratings in the 20s and 30s.

Now we have Ryan, the Wisconsin representative who is Mitt Romney’s running mate. He is another Man with a Plan. Like Cheney’s foreign-policy wish list, Ryan’s amalgam of neocon dreams doesn’t have all that much to do with the immediate economic crisis that Romney says his campaign is all about. His plan is about the federal budget, debt and deficit. It’s not about creating jobs…

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Nutball Catholics in Poland say Demon energy drink glorifies Satan

Furious with the drink’s arrival on the Polish market one website, entitled Satanism Shall Not Pass, said that its advertising campaign will lead to “billboards dripping with Satanism”, and has added its voice to calls for a boycott of all products made by Agros-Nova, the drink’s producer.

Demon…was “promoting evil, atrocities and the destruction of human souls.” Franciszek Kucharczak, editor of the Gosc Niedzielny, a respected religious magazine warned: “We have to fight against evil. We cannot keep quiet and let young people be absorbed into destructive ideals.”

Opponents of Demon have taken particular umbrage at the choice of Adam Darski, former lead singer of the Polish death-metal group Behemoth, to front the campaign. Mr Darski, who goes by the stage name Nergal, has long been the target of conservative, religious vitriol since he was accused in 2007 of insulting religious sentiment by tearing up a Bible on stage…

…Mr Darski, who survived cancer, said he would donate some of his fee for campaign to a leukaemia charity.

“I’ve never been much of a fan of such drinks but I love the idea behind it: the whole campaign has strong links to the cancer charity that found a bone marrow donor for myself,” said the singer on his website.

I love busting the chops of sectarian bigots who think the whole of society should obey the laws of their religion. I’m not a fan of energy drinks, either – other than my morning coffee – but, I have no problem supporting their entry into the marketplace. Especially if they poke fun at 14th Century ideology.