Medical Research News

– Protein wards off organ rejection in monkeys

     In research published in Nature
Medicine, scientists at the Naval Medical Research Center reported monkeys
given injections of a protein after receiving kidney transplants effectively
avoided any organ rejection for the first year of the ongoing study.

    Of nine monkeys in the experiment,
eight are alive and well with no sign of organ rejection after one year.
The ninth monkey died of unrelated causes. The protein, called hu5C8,
differs from standard treatments to prevent organ rejection in that it
does not suppress the immune system, which has the unfortunate side effect
of leaving patients vulnerable to infections. Rather, the protein works
by inhibiting blood cells from alerting the immune system about the transplanted
tissue.

-Suppressing protein found to prevent diabetes in mice

    Researchers reported in Science
a few weeks ago that blocking a single protein in mice effectively prevented
the onset of type I diabetes. The mice were specifically bred to have
diabetes, but suppressing a protein called glutamic acid decarboxylase
(GAD) prevented almost all of the mice from developing the disease.

    Type-I diabetes afflicts about
14 million people worldwide and occurs when the immune system mistakenly
attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. People with Type-I
diabetes required daily insulin injections to survive. Blocking the GAD
protein in mice stopped them from producing the T-cells that normally
attack the insulin-producing cells.

    Although it’s a huge step from
mice specifically bred to develop diabetes to stopping the disease in
human beings, the research does provide important clues to developing
future treatments for Type-I diabetes in human beings.

Sources:

Organ rejection shows promise in monkey studies. Malcolm Ritter, Associated Press, May 31, 1999.

Diabetes Mystery Solved? Reuters, May 14, 1999.

The Makah Get Their Whale, Endure Invective from Activists

The long-running controversy
over the Makah‘s efforts to restore tribal traditions by Hunting a whale
ended recently when the tribe finally managed to get its whale. The Makah
had voluntarily abandoned whale hunting earlier this century, but reserved
the right to resume the practice under provisions of a treaty with the
United States.

The fascinating thing about
the controversy was how quickly environmentalist and animal rights activists
devolved to threats and racist slurs against the Makah. Usually environmentalists
extol the virtues of indigenous cultures, contrasting them with the evil
patterns of consumption and exploitation supposedly unique to Western
culture. But once the Makah deviated from this New Age fantasy, they were
shown little mercy from activists.

There were the death threats
against individuals as well as bomb threats called in to the Makah reservation
school. T-shirts were sold with the slogan “Save a whale, kill a Makah.”
At protests against the hunt, activists were heard calling the Makah “savages.”

The Seattle Times published
a lengthy story printing about a dozen of the more-racist anti-hunting
letters it received. One letter concluded, “these people want to rekindle
their traditional way of life by killing an animals that has probably
twice the mental capacity they have.” Another suggested that, “we should
also be able to take their land if they can take our whales.” Or consider
this gem of a letter that complained, “Natives were often referred to as
‘savages,’ and it seems little has changed.”

As Alexandra Harmon, an assistant
professor at the University of Washington American Indian Studies Center
put it, “Again and again in American history, non-Indian Americans have
demanded that Indians act or live in some way other than Indians have
chosen. The current Makah story is a lesson about how had it is to recognize
and resist that same ethnocentric impulse today.”

Source:

E-mails, phone messages full of threats, invective. Alex Tizon, Seattle Times, May 23, 1999.

Animal Rights Awareness Week and Attitudes Toward Animal Experiments

In Defense of Animals has declared
June 21-26 Animal Rights Awareness Week, urging activists to “educat[e]
… the public about the way in which businesses that sell animals, particularly
‘pet stores,’ perpetuate a vicious cycle of cruelty, suffering and death.”

An Animal Rights Awareness Week
is a great idea — the more accurate information people have about the
animal rights movement and about the use of animals, the better. This
point was highlighted in a recent survey commissioned by the New Scientist
to gauge people’s attitudes toward animal experimentation.

The poll of British citizens
found 64 percent of respondents disagreed with the view that scientists
should be allowed to conduct any experiment on animals, while only 24 percent
agreed. When told that such experiments might lead to the development
of important medical treatments, however, 45 percent of respondents agreed
that scientists could perform any experiment in animals, while only 41
percent were opposed.

The most amazing result of the
study, however, was the widespread ignorance of the role of animal testing
in drug development. Of those people who themselves had taken or had a
close family member who had taken a prescription drug for a serious illness
in the previous two years, only 1 in 6 realized such drugs had been tested
on animals.

Although surveys of Americans
generally find a lot more support for animal research than in Great Britain
(where animal rights activists have much more support), I wouldn’t be
surprised if the general level of ignorance about animal testing wasn’t
similar in the United States.

The clear message of the survey
is that government, industry and others need to do more to educate the
public about the continuing need for animal experimentation to further
development of important medical technologies. Animal rights activists
have become rather adept at exploiting people’s general ignorance of science
and their specific ignorance of the role animals play in medical research.
Educating the public and correcting the myths and lies spread by animal
rights activists should be a top priority.

Sources:

Explanations shift attitudes to animal experiments. Richard Woodman, British Medical Journal 1999;381:1438 (29 May).

Animal Rights Awareness Week June 21-26, 1999. In Defense of Animals press release, May 19, 1999.

Juvenile Justice Bill Targets Animal Rights Violence

An amendment to the Juvenile
Justice Act, approved by the U.S. Senate a couple weeks ago, would strengthen
the criminal penalties of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act as well as make it
a federal felony to distribute bomb making information over the Internet.

The language to strengthen the
AEA penalties was introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) as part of an
amendment co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and approved
by an 85 to 13 margin. The amendment would increase the penalty for raids
against animal enterprises to up to 5 years in prison and fines up to
double the actual damages done. In addition, the FBI would maintain a
database of information about attacks on animal enterprises, greatly increasing
the coordination of investigations of such crimes at the local, state
and federal level.

In a press release Jacquie Calnan,
president of Americans for Medical Progress, said, “We are grateful to
Senator Hatch for taking a leadership role in protecting biomedical research.
When research laboratories are attacked, the ones who lose most are those
of us who are living with a disease or who are watching a loved one cope
with a devastating illness.”

In a related development, a
bill passed the Minnesota legislature which allows victims of animal rights
activists to recover damages up to triple the actual damages done.

Both bills represent an opportunity
that opponents of animal rights need to seize. Although the increase in
prison terms and fines included in the Hatch/Feinstein amendment would
certainly be welcome, it appears unlikely the Juvenile Justice bill will
survive in a form that President Bill Clinton will sign. In the House
of Representatives, a similar bill is being bogged down with dozens of
proposed amendments as well as a storm of controversy over proposed gun
control measures. It is still possible the amendment might become law,
but it is a long shot.

On the other hand, the 85 to
13 vote demonstrates the support is there in Congress for taking more
serious action against the growing incidence of animal rights violence.
Opponents of animal rights should use the visibility created by the recent
attack at the University of Minnesota to push Congress to pass Hatch’s
amendment in its own right or attached to some other less controversial
piece of legislation.

Preferably such legislation
would not be burdened with Feinstein’s ban on distribution of bomb making
material over the Internet, which is clearly unconstitutional. Some of
the animal rights bomb making material found on places such as the Animal Liberation Front Information Site may itself be actionable in a civil
lawsuit, but Feinstein’s blanket ban is just the latest manifestation
of her anti-Internet hysteria and would never pass muster with the Supreme
Court.

Sources:

US Senate Acts on Animal Rights Terrorism” Americans for Medical Progress press release, May 18, 1999.

Defend Frontline, the ALF and Free Speech! Frontline Information Service press release, May 20, 1999.

Juvenile Justice Bill Used to Target Activists. No Compromise, press release, May 25, 1999.

Anti-ALF Bill Passes Minnesota Legislature. Frontline Information Service press release, May 21, 1999.

Senate blasts bomb-making info on Net. Courtney Macavinta, News.Com, May 19, 1999.

Want Some Cream and Sugar with that Coffee? Pay through the nose, thanks to the government

Legislators are currently trying
to overhaul two of the most bizarre and costly regulatory regimes in the
United States — the price support systems for milk and sugar. Unfortunately
a true free market in milk and sugar is unlikely anytime soon.

Milk prices are set by a complex
set of regional bureaucracies that regulate the price suppliers can pay
to farmers and that suppliers can charge the public. Since Wisconsin was
the center of the dairy industry when the current regulatory regimen was
enacted, the system is designed so the price of milk increases the further
away dairy producers are from Eau Claire, Wisconsin (imagine a regulatory
scheme for computers that cost PC prices to increase the further away
one went from Silicone Valley!)

Even with this system, however,
milk prices have been falling dramatically over the past few years, so
some politicians are finally talking about overhauling the system, albeit
at an extremely slow pace. Agricultural Secretary Dan Glickman earned
the wrath of Midwestern politicians when he suggested slightly lowering
the disparity of milk prices between the Midwest and the rest of the country.

Similarly, states outside
the Midwest are encountering opposition in their attempts to expand the
compact system which, convoluted as it is, would allow states outside
the Midwest to lower milk prices significantly.

What is not likely to go away
is the government price support programs that purchase excess milk and
dairy products from farmers. Although the program expires on December
31 it will almost certainly be reauthorized and perhaps find its funding
increased to compensate for the recent decline in milk prices.

Breaking the power of the
sugar lobby is even less likely but Rep. Dan Miller (R-Florida) and Sen.
Charles Schumer (D-New York) introduced bill in the House and Senate respectively
to phase out the federal price support program for sugar.

While sugar sells for about
5 cents a pound on the world market, in the United States sugar costs
22 cents a pound thanks to the government-imposed price floor. The total
cost to American consumers from the higher sugar prices is about $1.2
billion each year according to Tom Schatz of the Council for Citizens
Against Government Waste.

Jack Ramey of the American
Sugar Alliance had a different take on the proposed phase out, arguing
that “what they’re doing is kicking American farmers when they’re down”
— as opposed to the sugar industry which kicks the American consumer
in both good times and bad.

The sugar price support system
should be phased out and the sooner the better.

Attack of the NBC Luddites

Future histories
of the 20th century will have to devote significant space to
explaining one overwhelming influence of the last 100 years — the use
of technology to increasingly raise the living standards of human beings.
The application of reason and science to human problems produced marvels
undreamed of in prior centuries. Thanks to advances in medicine, the annual
death rate declined enormously, leading to a population explosion unprecedented
in human history. Improvements in transportation, communication and other
technologies increased wealth and income to incredible levels and gave
people in many parts of the world more options than kings and queens of
prior eras enjoyed.

And what happened
in the 20th century is just the tip of the iceberg compared
to what’s likely to happen in the 21st century. A study by
the McKinsey Global Institute recently estimated that coming improvements
in information technology could increase productivity a whopping 27 percent.
After stagnating in the 1970s, the rate of productivity has been accelerating
from an average gain of 1 percent a year in the 1980s to 2 percent a year
in the 1990s.

Already technologies
that were once science fiction such as genetically engineering animals
to produce drugs and even replacement organs and tissues are now a reality
and will likely be common place by the middle of the next century. We
are riding the crest of one of the most amazing revolutions in human history.

Not everyone
shares this enthusiasm, however, and NBC talking head Tom Brokaw recently
joined that group of semi-intellectuals who regularly blame technology
for robbing people of their souls as well as causing practically every
bad thing that happened over the last 100 years. Speaking at the commencent
proceedings at the College of Santa Fe, Brokaw told the assembled students
that technology left an “ugly scar on the face of history.” Brokaw went
on to explain that “an ideology designed to empower the masses became
one of the most ruthless instruments of oppression. It is not enough to
wire the world if you short-circuit the soul. Technology without heart
is not enough.”

Is this in fact
true? Was technology really the primary tool of oppression in the 20th
century? On the one hand, of course, this is trivially true since everything
from knives to guns to books are all technologies that were utilized in
various means by oppressive governments. But Brokaw seems to be arguing
that 20th century technological improvements have been at the
root of oppression and this is a patently absurd idea. In fact one of
the many things that stands out about the various repressive regimes around
the world, whether they be Nazi Germany or Communist Cuba, is the extent
to which such governments did all they could to keep technological innovations
out of the hands of their citizens. North Korea, China, Vietnam
and other oppressive countries understand what Brokaw and others choose
to ignore — the main affect of technology in the 20th century
has been to liberate the masses and expand freedom.

Consider communication
technologies such as radio and television, which Western intellectuals
tend to deride and dismiss. Oppressive regimes of both the Left and the
Right have routinely nationalized radio and television stations and heavily
censored the information transmitted by such technologies. When they have
loosened those controls, such regimes often feel their full potential.
As Scott Shane notes in Dismantling Utopia: How Information Ended the
Soviet Union
, when Mikhail Gorbachev loosened controls on Soviet television
the result was an upsurge of thinly veiled anti-Soviet programs that eventually
led the Communists to attempt to reimpose censorship. But it was too late
— technology had already worked its subversive magic.

In fact the Soviet
Union is a paradigm of the liberating value of technology. As Shane points
out, the USSR actually required photocopiers and paper to be registered
with the state in an attempt to prevent the illicit copying of books banned
by the Soviet state. Nonetheless a thriving black-market in photocopied
manuscripts survived and numerous dissident commentaries were reproduced
and covertly distributed thanks to a technology most of us in the United
States take for granted.

That is
the real story — it is not the embracing of technology in the 20th
century but authoritarian governments often successful attempts keeping
technology out of the hands of their citizens that has been partially
responsible for the great tragedies of the 20th century. If
the technology available in the West had been in the hands of those living
under dictatorial regimes, the history of the 20th century
would have been vastly different.

More disturbing
than Brokaw’s misrepresentation of the role of technology is the vision
that Brokaw would like the United States (and presumably the world) to
emulate — the era of the Great Depression and World War II.

       Now the people
who fought and defeated the Fascists during World War II certainly deserve
the respect and gratitude of people around the globe, but Brokaw’s vision
is more than just an acknowledgement of the debt we owe that generation.
Rather, it is part of an ongoing glamorization and glorification of the
hard, often desperate times that war and economic crises bring contrasted
with the supposed laziness and lack of unity that emerge during times
of peace and prosperity.

In Brokaw’s version
of history, the generation that came of age in the 1930s and the 1940s
was the greatest generation because America was united to fight the Great
Depression and World War II. Brokaw contrasts this with today’s social
climate in which “we have political leaders to eager to divide [people]
for their selfish ?? rather than unify [people]. We have a mass media
much too inclined to exploit these interests.”

In this very
New Age interpretation of the era, Americans came together as part of
some grand collective experience, thinking and acting as One rather than
as selfish private individuals. To Brokaw and others this was the height
of human history that was unfairly destroyed with the end of the war and
the post-war return to private (and hence) selfish concerns. Other intellectuals
have made similar arguments for the 1960s, missing the collective experience
they felt opposing the Vietnam War and fighting for civil rights. The
mass media, in Brokaw’s world, was largely responsible for this by appealing
to our crass interest to improve our own lives and the lives of our immediate
families and circle of friends rather than continuing with the ethic of
constantly sacrificing ourselves and engaging in personal denial to serve
some greater cause.

For Brokaw and
others the privation felt during World War II such as rationing of food
or energy was not a temporary hardship to be endured while facing a global
crisis but a mystical experience that united a nation.