Tag Archives: hepatitis

Fetal tissue is critical for medical researchers

For decades, U.S. scientists have been using cells from aborted fetuses in medical research to develop vaccines and seek treatments for a host of ailments, from vision loss and neurological disorders to cancer and AIDS.

But anti-abortion activists set off an uproar over the practice by releasing undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing how researchers obtain fetal tissue donated by women who’ve had abortions. The videos raised questions of whether the organization was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood has denied making any profit and said it charges fees solely to cover its costs.

University laboratories that buy such cells strongly defend their research, saying tissue that would otherwise be thrown out has played a vital role in lifesaving medical advances and holds great potential for further breakthroughs.

Fetal cells are considered ideal because they divide rapidly, adapt to new environments easily and are less susceptible to rejection than adult cells when transplanted.

“If researchers are unable to work with fetal tissue, there is a huge list of diseases for which researchers would move much more slowly, rather than quickly, to find their cause and how they can be cured,” Stanford University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin told the Associated Press in an email.

From 2011 through 2014 alone, 97 research institutions — mostly universities and hospitals — received a total of $280 million in federal grants for fetal tissue research from the National Institutes of Health. A few institutions have consistently gotten large shares of that money, including Yale, the University of California and Massachusetts General Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard.

The U.S. government prohibits the sale of fetal tissue for profit and requires separation between researchers and the women who donate fetuses. Some schools go further, requiring written consent from donors.

Many major universities declined to make scientists available for interviews about their fetal tissue work, saying they fear for the researchers’ safety because the issue is so highly charged. The Planned Parenthood uproar led to a failed attempt by Republicans to strip the organization of federal funding.

Researchers use fetal tissue to understand cell biology and human development. Others use it to look for treatments for AIDS. Research on spinal cord injuries and eyesight-robbing macular degeneration involves transplanting fetal cells into patients. European researchers recently began putting fetal tissue into patients’ brains to try to treat Parkinson’s, a strategy that previously had mixed results.

Some scientists are looking for alternatives to fetal tissue, such as using adult cells that have been “reprogrammed” to their earlier forms. But those techniques are still being refined, and some fields are likely to remain reliant on fetal tissue, such as the study of fetal development.

Vaccines have been one of the chief public benefits of fetal tissue research. Vaccines for hepatitis A, German measles, chickenpox and rabies, for example, were developed using cell lines grown from tissue from two elective abortions, one in England and one in Sweden, that were performed in the 1960s.

German measles, also known as rubella, “caused 5,000 spontaneous abortions a year prior to the vaccine,” said Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious-disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We wouldn’t have saved all those lives had it not been for those cells.”

Fetal tissue was “absolutely critical” to the development of a potential Ebola vaccine that has shown promise, said Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, an associate director at NIH, which last year handed out $76 million for work involving fetal tissue, or 0.2 percent of the agency’s research budget.

Scientists are also using fetal tissue to try to identify substances in adults that could be early warning signs of cancer, said Dr. Akhilesh Pandey, a molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins University.

Experts at MIT and other research centers use fetal tissue to implant the human immune system into mice, as a way to study diseases without employing people as test subjects. They add tumors to study the immune system’s response, then test cancer treatments out on the mice.

“This eventually will provide a benefit to society,” said Jianzhu Chen, an immunology professor and researcher at MIT.

At Stanford, fetal tissue has been used to study Huntington’s disease, “bubble boy disease” and juvenile diabetes. Fetal brain calls are now being used there in research on autism and schizophrenia.

After the release of the undercover videos, Colorado State University conducted an ethics review and suspended its dealings with one vendor. But it is pressing ahead with its HIV research with fetal tissue.

“Our position is this research has such tremendous value in driving discoveries that could be done no other way,” said Alan Rudolph, university vice president of research.

$1.2 M federal grant to fight substance abuse and HIV among African-American women in Milwaukee

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded a three-year, $1.2 million grant to the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin and Community Advocates to expand alcohol and substance abuse services, along with HIV and Hepatitis C prevention efforts, targeting African-American women in Milwaukee.

Although African Americans represent 27 percent of Milwaukee County’s population, they accounted for half of the county’s new HIV infections reported last year. Their risk for contracting the virus is 25 times greater than that of white women.  

According to studies, substance abuse plays a major role in fueling new HIV infections, and African-American women are at increased risk for substance abuse. In Milwaukee County, more than 7,500 African American women need substance abuse treatment, according to a press statement issued by ARCW.

The three-year, federally funded collaboration between ARCW and Community Advocates is projected to reach 9,900 women and to conduct 600 HIV and 800 HCV tests while providing alcohol/substance abuse treatment and counseling for 492 women. Services offered under the grant award will begin during spring 2014. 

“Through this strategic partnership with Community Advocates, we will be able to help African-American women in Milwaukee access the medical and mental health services they need to overcome addiction and stay safe from HIV,” said ARCW president and CEO Mike Gifford.

“We know behind the data and statistics are real women and families impacted by this issue, said Joe Volk, CEO of Community Advocates. “The need for this type of collaboration is apparent in the community, and we are committed and glad to be working with partners like ARCW who are equally committed to addressing this issue.”

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Milwaukee ranks seventh in the nation for urban areas in past-month binge drinking and first in the percentage of people with past-year alcohol abuse or dependence. Alcohol abuse by women of childbearing ages is 68 percent in Milwaukee compared with 50 percent nationally.

Health care costs for drug-related hospitalizations in Wisconsin totaled $287 million in 2010, an increase of 126 percent from the $127 million in 2002. 

HIV/AIDS groups warn of $659 million in cuts without new deficit agreement

Several HIV/AIDS groups are warning that sequestration would result in automatic spending cuts of $659 million for HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis programs.

The cuts would occur on Jan. 2, 2013, unless Congress and the president reach some agreement on a different way to reduce the federal deficit.

“These cuts will have a devastating impact and will be yet another blow for low-income individuals and people of color living with HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis at a time when we can least afford it,” said Kali Lindsey of the National Minority AIDS Council. “Investing in our health care infrastructure will reduce long-term health care costs for chronic conditions like HIV and viral hepatitis, is the right thing to do, and is critical if we are to end these twin epidemics.”

Chris Collins, of amFAR/The Foundation for AIDS Research, said, “Sequestration will undermine everything we’ve done to accomplish the National HIV/AIDS Strategy goals of reducing HIV incidence and death. Budget cuts through sequestration would bring crucial life-saving research at the National Institutes of Health to a halt, squandering enormous scientific opportunities including AIDS vaccine and cure research.”

Added Terrance Moore of the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors, “Now more than ever, we need our nation to commit to providing state health departments with the resources necessary to end the HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis epidemics once and for all.”

The three groups estimated that with sequestration:

• 15,708 people will lose access to crucial life-saving drugs.

• 5,000 households will lose housing support.

• 460 AIDS research grants will be eliminated.

412 people living with HIV will not be diagnosed.

• $65.2 million in HIV prevention services will be cut.

• $1.6 million in viral hepatitis prevention services will be cut.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 50,000 new HIV infections each year, that about 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS and about 5.3 million people are living with viral hepatitis in the United States.