NIH cuts coronavirus funding budget


The Great Ignoranus could make anyone’s head hurt

Researchers expressed alarm this week after the National Institutes of Health abruptly cancelled funding for a long-standing research project by US and Chinese scientists to examine how coronaviruses leap from bats to humans, potentially causing devastating pandemics—such as the one we are currently experiencing by a coronavirus genetically linked to those found in bats.

The funding cut could set back critical research into preventing such disease spread, scientists say. They also expressed dismay that the decision was prompted by unfounded conspiracy theories and what some see as a wider attempt by the Trump administration to deflect criticism of its handling of the pandemic by blaming China for unleashing the disease.

The NIH has not provided a clear explanation for its move to cancel the funds…

but, if you think it has nothing at all to do with chickenshit bureaucrats running and hiding from conspiracy theories floated by the Fake President…I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you real cheap. A deal.

Trump’s flunkies are purging Chinese-Americans from cancer fresearch


Xifeng Wu, MD, PhD, Epidemiologist

The NIH and the FBI are targeting ethnic Chinese scientists, including U.S. citizens, searching for a cancer cure. Here’s the first account of what happened to Xifeng Wu.

❝ In recent decades, cancer research has become increasingly globalized, with scientists around the world pooling data and ideas to jointly study a disease that kills almost 10 million people a year. International collaborations are an intrinsic part of the U.S. National Cancer Institute’s Moonshot program, the government’s $1 billion blitz to double the pace of treatment discoveries by 2022. One of the program’s tag lines: “Cancer knows no borders.”

❝ Except, it turns out, the borders around China. In January, Wu, an award-winning epidemiologist and naturalized American citizen, quietly stepped down as director of the Center for Public Health and Translational Genomics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center after a three-month investigation into her professional ties in China. Her resignation, and the departures in recent months of three other top Chinese American scientists from Houston-based MD Anderson, stem from a Trump administration drive to counter Chinese influence at U.S. research institutions. The aim is to stanch China’s well-documented and costly theft of U.S. innovation and know-how. The collateral effect, however, is to stymie basic science, the foundational research that underlies new medical treatments. Everything is commodified in the economic cold war with China, including the struggle to find a cure for cancer.

I confronted this crap for over twenty-five years. Nothing as sensational as cancer research; but, still, working for American firms that relied on Asian design improvements and production smarts you get the party line on intellectual “theft” forever. It ain’t theft if you’re willing to sign a contract handing over whatever technology concerned because you’re out to make a buck like every one of your competitors. No one twists your arm or holds your children hostage to sign a contract. “Here’s the terms! Want to do business or not?”

There’s always a quid pro quo in so-called “intellectual property theft” and it always comes down to the almighty dollar.

What we’re witnessing now is the inevitable resurgence of McCarthyism in all its racist stink. It’s always been part of populism American-style.

Funding ban on human-animal hybrids ended

pigotaur
Pigotaur

Should the U.S. government use tax dollars to fund scientists fusing human stem cells into early animal embryos in order to create “chimeras” that are part human and part pig? Or part mouse?

The U.S. National Institutes of Health says the answer is yes. The agency announced Thursday that it plans to lift a moratorium that since last year has blocked taxpayers’ money from flowing to this type of hot-button research.

Carrie Wolinetz, the NIH’s associate director for policy, said experiments to inject human stem cells into early-stage animal embryos “are really important and exciting to understand how disease works” and to explore new medical treatments.

At the same time, the agency is proposing stricter controls on certain experiments most likely to lead to monkey-men or other bad science fiction…

And bad science fiction it would be. Unless requisite technology becomes as cheap as, say, drones from a big-box electronics chain, no for-real scientist is going to waste a chunk of their budget on “thrilling” experiments capable of attracting Sharknado movie producers or the religion police.

Human-animal mixtures aren’t new. Wolinetz noted in a statement that biomedical researchers “have created and used animal models containing human cells for decades” to gain insights into biology and disease. Scientists often grow human tumors inside of mice, for example.

But the new research is different, because potent human stem cells are being injected directly into a very early-stage animal embryo, consisting of just a couple of dozen cells. Theoretically, the human cells could then end up contributing to any part of the animal, and in any amount…

What’s the point of such experiments? One is that it might be possible to create an otherwise normal pig whose entire heart—or whole liver—is made from human cells. That would create a new way to farm human organs for transplant.

The issue was clearly a delicate one for the NIH, which was caught between advancing science and a possible political bombshell that could lead to public backlash. The agency said it would form a special committee to oversee funding of these human-animal mixtures—a move that could raise questions over political interference in science.

Pretty much every other nation capable of such research has already marched forward past the artificial political boundaries constructed by religion in the United States. Even if we avoid the short-term political limits appropriate to clown show politicians like George W or Donald Trump, our world-class scientific institutions and universities have to confront both federal and state limits put in place by legislators in mortal fear of know-nothing voters. Every day, every month, every year.

Sugary drinks tied to cancer risk

A new study has found that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with an increased risk for endometrial cancer in postmenopausal women.

Previous research has found an association between sugary drinks and Type 2 diabetes, but this is the first to find the same association with a specific type of endometrial cancer…

The study, published online in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, found that all sugars increased the risk for Type 1 endometrial cancer, but sugar-sweetened drinks had the greatest effect. After controlling for other factors, those in the highest one-fifth for sweet drink consumption had a 74 percent higher risk than those in the lowest one-fifth.

“I don’t want anyone to change their behavior based on these findings,” said the lead author, Maki Inoue-Choi, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health. “We need to do more study to confirm this association. But I would advise people to follow dietary guidelines and avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.”

The researchers go on to speculate about the mechanism which may be causing the relationship with cancer. The predictable scientist’s conservative voice offers the opinion that they aren’t certain enough about cause-and-effect relationships to aggressively suggest you knock off the sugary drinks.

I ain’t that conservative. Do it.

The worst that can happen is that ongoing studies don’t confirm a link and, in fact, researchers may then reverse their findings. In the meantime, you lost a couple pounds and reduced all the other negatives that can result from excess consumption of sugar.

“We need sleep. It cleans up the brain”

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A good night’s rest may literally clear the mind. Using mice, researchers showed for the first time that the space between brain cells may increase during sleep, allowing the brain to flush out toxins that build up during waking hours. These results suggest a new role for sleep in health and disease…

“Sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain. It appears to be a completely different state,” said Maiken Nedergaard…a leader of the study.

For centuries, scientists and philosophers have wondered why people sleep and how it affects the brain. Only recently have scientists shown that sleep is important for storing memories. In this study, Dr. Nedergaard and her colleagues unexpectedly found that sleep may be also be the period when the brain cleanses itself of toxic molecules.

Their results, published in Science, show that during sleep a “plumbing” system, called the glymphatic system, may open, letting fluid flow rapidly through brain. Dr. Nedergaard’s lab recently discovered the glymphatic system helps control whether cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, flows through the brain.

“It’s as if Dr. Nedergaard and her colleagues have uncovered a network of hidden caves and these exciting results highlight the potential importance of the network in normal brain function,” said Roderick Corriveau, Ph.D….

The results may also highlight the importance of sleep…“We need sleep. It cleans up the brain,” said Dr. Nedergaard.

RTFA for details of testing and discovery. Sleep studies, the rate of expansion of specialized testing and treatment of ailments like sleep apnea surprise and please me. When I did the testing – nine years ago – that resulted in my CPAP sleeping gear I had to drive fifty miles for the overnight hookup. Now, I can send folks who ask me about treatment to a few local choices.

As treatment and experience accumulate a body of data, more and better treatment continues to develop. Science and healthcare have another avenue opened to improve life.

Stem cell research threatened by Republican opportunists


Is this a Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann voter?

Nearly all of the Republican presidential candidates would put the brakes on President Obama’s efforts to broaden federal spending on embryonic stem cell research, a move many scientists feel would jeopardize the future of a promising but controversial field that has been whipsawed by political shifts over the past decade.

The prospect of an about-face in White House policy alarms researchers, who in 2009 hailed Obama’s executive order to lift Bush-era restrictions on taxpayer support for this type of work as the end of the scientific Dark Ages. Last month, a federal judge dismissed a legal challenge to government funding for the experimentation.

Human embryonic stem cells have the ability to become any tissue in the body and might eventually lead to treatments for intractable diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.

But antiabortion GOP candidates equate the emerging science with abortion because human embryos must be destroyed to extract the stem cells. And like President George W. Bush, who in 2001 barred the National Institutes of Health from supporting most embryonic stem cell research, they vow to restrict future funding for it…

Bush’s compromise drew sharp criticism from some conservatives, who chastised him for allowing any federal support of the research. Now most of the Republican candidates have refused to be pinned down as to just how far they will go in their opposition.

Wary of alienating social conservatives who have become increasingly important to winning in 2012, their campaigns responded to a Globe survey of their positions with vague statements and dodged questions about whether they would endorse Bush’s position of allowing funding for research on a limited number of existing stem cell lines to continue.

Fact is, the Republican Party and their Kool Aid Party brownshirts aren’t even up to the 19th Century Age of Reason when it comes to understanding modern science, the benefits of science. The lives of ordinary human beings, the economic life of businesses grounded in advancing technology, medicine, healthcare, and knowledge in general – grow and thrive in a world where every scientific step forward has both a social and an economic component.

Nothing counts more to the ideologues of the Right than getting elected or reelected and if that means promising to end studies in evolution, geography, astrophysics, genetics and biology – so be it! If the destruction of government requires the end of science as we know it, they have no problem with that!

Court ruling allows stem cell research to continue during appeal

An appeals court has permanently lifted an injunction imposed by a federal judge, thereby allowing federally funded embryonic stem-cell research to continue while the Obama administration appeals the judge’s original ruling against use of public funds in such research.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has agreed to permanently lift the injunction and allow the National Institutes of Health to continue research. The court had temporarily lifted that injunction September 9 pending further consideration.

“President Obama made expansion of stem cell research and the pursuit of groundbreaking treatments and cures a top priority when he took office,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement. “We’re heartened that the court will allow NIH and their grantees to continue moving forward while the appeal is resolved…”

The litigation resulted from a lawsuit against the National Health Institute filed by researchers opposed to use of embryonic stem cells, a group that seeks adoptive parents for human embryos created through in vitro fertilization, the nonprofit Christian Medical Association and others.

If you have been following the so-called controversy, you’re already aware that this comes down, once again, to those who feel their religious conviction should take precedence over any science or research – whether it is supported by the government or not. That they have chosen – in this instance – to attempt to halt government support for stem cell research as just one of their political tactics.

The article lists some of their sophistry offered as rationales. I see no need to quote that crap.

Antibodies found that prevent HIV infection – and maybe more

Scientists have discovered two potent human antibodies that can stop more than 90 percent of known global HIV strains from infecting human cells in the laboratory, and have demonstrated how one of these disease-fighting proteins accomplishes this feat.

According to the scientists, these antibodies could be used to design improved HIV vaccines, or could be further developed to prevent or treat HIV infection. Moreover, the method used to find these antibodies could be applied to isolate therapeutic antibodies for other infectious diseases as well…

Led by a team from the NIAID Vaccine Research Center (VRC), the scientists found two naturally occurring, powerful antibodies called VRC01 and VRC02 in an HIV infected individual’s blood using a novel molecular device they developed that homes in on the specific cells that make antibodies against HIV. The device is an HIV protein that the scientists modified so it would react only with antibodies specific to the site where the virus binds to cells it infects.

The scientists found that VRC01 and VRC02 neutralize more HIV strains with greater overall strength than previously known antibodies to the virus.

The researchers also determined the atomic-level structure of VRC01 when it is attaching to HIV. This has enabled the team to define how the antibody works and to precisely locate where it attaches to the virus. With this knowledge, they have begun to design components of a candidate vaccine that could teach the human immune system to make antibodies similar to VRC01 that might prevent infection by the vast majority of HIV strains worldwide…

Kudos to the researchers who led this work. It’s now published for peer review here and here.

Yes, I will send off a note to my Congress-critters to remind them to continue funding for work like this at the NIH and our universities.

Fortunately, at least one of those representing me in Congress is bright enough to know that “protein” describes something more than BBQ. He can explain it to the rest.

Genomic revolution only just starting

The 10-year-old Human Genome Project has only just begun to bring to fruition its promise to transform medicine…

Francis Collins, who led the U.S. component of the project and is now director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said that although it may seem that the revolution promised with the publication of the first draft in 2000 is slow in coming, many early predictions had been prematurely hyped.

Isn’t that a pundit-based specialty?

Scientists have barely scratched below the surface of the possibilities opened up by having access to the whole human gene map, he said, and when they do, their results will determine the way all people are diagnosed and treated for diseases.

“It’s fair to say that most people have not yet had the experience of having their personal medical care directly affected by the sequencing of the human genome,” Francis told a briefing in London marking the project’s 10-year anniversary.

“So while one might argue that the consequences have not come across in the first 10 years in the most dramatic form that some predictors put forward in the year 2000, I think the predictions … were probably a bit overblown.”

Mike Stratton, another of the project’s founders and now director of Britain’s influential Sanger Institute, pointed to several areas of disease where big medical advances had already come about thanks to the ability to read the map of human life.

Cancer drugs, like so-called BRAF inhibitors for malignant melanoma skin cancers — versions of which are being developed by drugmakers including Switzerland’s Roche and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline — were examples how quickly gene sequencing had given birth to targeted treatments, he said…

The genome founders also noted that scientists had already found more than 800 genetic variants that play a role in risks of common illnesses like heart disease, cancers and diabetes…

“When a truly transformative advance occurs in science, inevitably there will be in the short term an overly optimistic set of predictions,” he said. “But in the long term…the consequences will turn out to have been underestimated. I think that will…be true of the Human Genome Project.

Couldn’t agree more. We always hope for more than just plain good news. In part, let’s face it, because of our mortality.

But, real science requires proofs and testing, peer review and more testing. There is no easy way around sound methods. And, of course, if results aren’t forthcoming quickly enough to satisfy Reality TV and beancounters – whining is the result.

Stem cell lines approved that satisfy Congress’ ethics – WTF?


President Obama presenting National Medal of Science to Dr. Collins
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

The U.S. government approved the first 13 batches of human embryonic stem cells – opening their use for federally funded research under reduced restrictions announced by President Barack Obama in March.

The batches, known as lines, were made by two researchers at Harvard University and Rockefeller University using private funds, said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the national Institutes of Health.

The decision frees them and many other researchers to use federal money to work with them…

In March, Obama lifted restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research that had been imposed by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

He could not lift a restriction set by Congress, called the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which forbids the use of federal money to make the stem cells, which require destruction of a human embryo, but freed up the possibility for researchers to use federal funds to work with cells that others have made.

More bullshit regulations established by one of the most corrupt bodies in American politics. These creeps kneel before puppet-masters of superstition to gain votes for their sleazy careers – and they legislate scientific ethics?

Science had nothing to do with the legislation. There was no concern for health or humanity – only votes provided by religious hucksters and their obedient followers.

Even though Obama was free to remove executive orders leftover from his punk predecessor, less time was wasted – in this case – by working around opportunist Congressional roadblocks.