Monthly Archives: March 2009

Dickey-Wicker Possible Sticky Wicket

At last, a breath of fresh air for biomedical science, the removal of Bush administration federal financing restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. 

obama-signs-stem-cell-bill2

With a flourish and a strong speech, President Obama opened the door to allow researchers using federal support to study more than the twenty-two ESC lines that had been created before August 9, 2001. 

Since that date, dozens of  new lines have been established through private funds, and these include cell lines more easily maintained, easier to access and perhaps with greater potential for exploring clinical applications.

Thus, after eight long, long years, the gangly, unwanted child  is allowed out of the attic to sit in the sunlit parlor again. Now it’s up to Congress to allow the wunderkind to stretch her legs fully.  

But crowding the parlor is a not so small elephant known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.  Named for its authors, Rep. Jay Dickey, Republican of Arkansas, and Rep.  Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, the amendment bans use of  federal funds for any experiment in which an embryo is either created or destroyed, the latter happening when stem cells are extracted.

Each year since 1996, Congress has voted to attach this rider to the Department of Health and Human Services appropriations bill.  And it still bans  federal funding for some important ESC work, including studies aimed at enhancing  knowledge of pathogenesis.

Does our new president expect Congress to alter the amendment? Is there enough unflappable support to do so? In the new law he signed a few days ago, one might find a hint: 

“Sec. 2.  Research.  The Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary), through the Director of NIH, may support and conduct responsible, scientifically worthy human stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell research, to the extent permitted by law. ” (Italics mine.)

Hmmm.  Could be a nice way of asking Congress to change the darn thing, for good.  The child would certainly breathe easier and thrive.

Les Lang

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HAART: The best we can do against HIV?

Turn to the Review section of this week’s Science and you’ll find a challenge to researchers in the field of HIV/AIDS:  Find a way to effectively purge latent HIV infection and eliminate the need for chronic, suppresive therapy to control the disease. 

The new paper, “The Challenge of a Cure for HIV Infection,” notes that chronic, highly active antiretroviral combination therapy, or HAART,  has proven succesful in containing persistent HIV infection in latently infected white blood cells and scavenger cells of the immune system and in other, as yet unrecognized, “reservoirs” as well.

More than 4 million people around the globe take HAART to keep the virus in check, and according to the new paper, many are now in their second decade of treatment with levels of plasma HIV RNA below the limits of detection of clinical assays.  Many enjoy a lifestyle “little encumbered by symptoms of the side effects of medications….”

But the therapy has its limits: cost, requirment of lifelong adherence, and the unknown effects of long-term treatment.

Among the Science paper’s co-authors , led by Dr. Douglas Richman, professor of pathology and medicine at the University of California, San Diego, is  Dr. David Margolis, professor of medicine, microbiology and immmunology at UNC School of Medicine and professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

In the following video, Margolis puts the team’s challenge in perspective.

Les Lang

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