FAQ: How Does New Trump Fetal Tissue Policy Impact Medical Research?

The announcement this week that the federal government is changing its policy on the use of human fetal tissue in medical research is designed to please anti-abortion groups that have strongly supported President Donald Trump.

But it could jeopardize promising medical research and set back attempts to make inroads in devastating diseases such as HIV, Parkinson’s and diabetes, U.S. scientists said.

Under the new policy, employees at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will no longer conduct research with human fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions, after using up any material they have on hand. Officials also immediately stopped funding a multiyear contract at the University of California-San Francisco using human fetal tissue in mice to research HIV therapies.

Federally funded projects at other research institutions using fetal tissue can continue until their grants expire. But renewal for these projects and future proposals will have to go through a newly established ethics review process to receive funding. It’s not clear yet what standards that process will entail or whether such experiments will be able to proceed under government sponsorship.

The change was enthusiastically welcomed by abortion opponents, who have long had fetal tissue research in their sights. Many scientists had a very different view.

Here are a few answers to questions about the issue.

Q: What exactly does fetal tissue research refer to?

Fetal tissue is any tissue or organ obtained from a fetus that was fertilized at least eight weeks earlier. (Anything younger than that is called an embryo.)

The statement from the Department of Health and Human Services referred repeatedly to “human fetal tissue from elective abortions.”

Researchers generally use fetal tissue from elective abortions rather than miscarriages because miscarriages often result from chromosomal or other developmental abnormalities that could make the tissue unsuitable for research.

Q: What is fetal tissue research used for?

These cells are less specialized than adult tissue cells and can be grown readily, making them valuable in research. Fetal tissue has been used in many types of medical research, including the development of vaccines for polio, measles and other diseases, and therapies to treat Parkinson’s, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and to prevent the transmission of HIV.

Some researchers graft fetal tissue onto mice, creating “humanized mice” with human blood-forming and immune systems.

Fetal tissue helps researchers learn about birth defects and human tissue development. In recent years, it has been instrumental in understanding how the Zika virus crosses the placenta and affects the development of the human brain, according to a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar signed by 70 organizations in December in support of continued fetal tissue research.

Q: Are there rules about using fetal tissue? 

Strict federal rules govern the collection and use of human fetal tissue. It’s against the law for anyone to accept payment for human fetal tissue, except for reasonable amounts associated with acquisition, storage or other costs. There are also provisions that require women who are donating fetal tissue for research to provide informed consent and prohibit physicians from altering the timing or method of an abortion in order to obtain fetal tissue.

Q: Has it always been as controversial as it is today?

Not really. The level of controversy around fetal tissue research waxes and wanes. Human fetal tissue research has been done in the United States since the 1930s, and NIH has been funding this type of research since the 1950s. There was a ban on such funding, however, during part of the terms of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Federal money was restored with bipartisan support in a 1993 bill for the NIH. Among the backers of that effort were some strong abortion opponents, such as Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who argued that the research could help people — like his daughter — with diabetes.

NIH spent $ 115 million on human fetal tissue research in 2018, a tiny fraction of the nearly $ 14 billion it spent on clinical research overall. NIH currently funds roughly 200 projects that use fetal tissue, according to HHS.

Fetal tissue once again became a hot-button issue in 2015 with the release of doctored videos, later discredited, purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing tissue donation policies and reimbursement. Last fall, the Trump administration announced it was conducting a review of all research involving fetal tissue to ensure it was consistent with statutes and regulations governing it.

Q: Aren’t there effective alternatives?

It depends on whom you ask. Opponents of fetal tissue research point to a number of other possible options, including monkey or hamster cells for vaccines as well as blood collected after birth from umbilical cords that are rich in blood-forming stem cells. They also suggest the use of adult stem cells and “organoids” — artificially grown cells that somewhat mimic organs.

“Why do we keep focusing on these archaic models when newer, better alternatives are out there?” asked Tara Sander Lee, a senior fellow and director of life sciences at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, which opposes research using fetal tissue from elective abortion.

She suggested that using tissue from a miscarriage could be an acceptable alternative to using tissue from an aborted fetus because it’s from “a natural death, not an intentional killing of the child.”

The letter from researchers to Azar in December called the idea that other cells could replace fetal tissue “patently incorrect.”

“The study of human fetal tissue provides researchers with incomparable insights into how birth defects arise and how they can be prevented as well as an unparalleled window into the complexity of human tissue development,” the letter said.

Sally Temple, scientific director of the Neural Stem Cell Institute who is a past president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, said that while these other types of cells hold promise, they aren’t ready for prime time.

“There’s a lot of excitement about using stem cells and talk about how we can use three-dimensional organoids,” said Temple. But organoids don’t have the same cellular arrangement or blood vessel network. “Organoids can’t mimic real tissue,” she said.

“If we’re going to understand how tissues are made in humans, you really have to have access to human tissue,” she added. “It makes you so nervous that scientists aren’t being heard.”

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He’s hard at work on his fifth volume on LBJ, and about to publish a memoir on writing, titled, appropriately, Working. The only thing Caro knows more about than Robert Moses or LBJ is how to get the work done. And to do it, you have to be constantly working.

What do you ask the man who set out to write a biography of Robert Moses, perhaps the single-most-intimidating person in New York at the height of his powers, a biography that, despite all deadlines and lack of funding seemed to grow in magnitude like something out of a H.P. Lovecraft story? As his first book?!

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The Best day to book a flight according to research

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It was once thought that Tuesday was the best day to book a flight. However, it looks as though times are changing, and there could soon be a new day of the week that sees many of us heading off on vacation. So, which is the best day to book a flight? This is what the research says.

Breaking tradition

Tuesdays were once the global day that all plane tickets seemed to be cheaper, so what happened? Simply put: computers. No longer was it up to a manager typing in the prices on a computer. Now, it’s all down to algorithms and equations to help the airlines get as much money as possible. These computers will help to keep a watch over the market and automatically adjust the prices of the flights as they need to. In fact, some of the lowest fare charges can change over 70 times before the plane leaves the runway.

The best day

So if Tuesdays are out of the question, then which day is best for booking a flight? It seems as though we might have written the day off too soon. Hopper believes that midnight on a Tuesday is the cheapest time to book any domestic flight, while Thursdays offer up the best deals on international trips. However, Airlines Reporting Agency and Expedia agree that most flight tickets are at their lowest on a Sunday. While some have found certain days to be more worthwhile than others, CheapAir.com’s research showed that all days of the week usually offer up similar prices.

Timing is key

While the day might not be as important as it once was, it seems as though it’s all about timing when it comes to booking the cheapest flights possible. The best time? It’s thought to be around three and a half months before you want to jet off abroad. This is supposed to be when airline prices are at their lowest as they try and draw everyone in for an upcoming trip. However, research often shows that we might need to allow a little more time when planning a trip in the spring or summer as the prices of flights can often increase with the demand.

Plan ahead

The best piece of advice from many companies is to book your plane tickets as far in advance as possible. This is supposed to be a sure-fire way to get the best deals on your seats as the prices will usually start to increase in the final 30 days before the trip. After all, the airlines want to ensure they are getting every penny they can from the less organized or more sporadic traveler. If you wish to save even more money, then booking a flight that departs on a Tuesday or Wednesday is the final way to hold onto any extra pennies.

Heading on vacation can be an exciting time for many of us, but that doesn’t mean it has to cost a bomb, does it? Thankfully not. In fact, by planning when to book and the days to fly, we could soon see ourselves saving a ton of money. Sounds pretty perfect to us!

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Nearly 5.7 million people live with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. The disease, however, seemingly presents more problematic for African Americans. Studies show African Americans are twice as likely of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to whites. And while health, lifestyle, and socioeconomic factors contribute to our susceptibility for this disease (as well as others), more and more research is suggesting genetic differences could explain some of the disparity between African Americans and whites.

Research from the Department of Neurology, Washington University School of Medicine suggests Alzheimer’s disease may develop differently in blacks. That could possibly mean the way we diagnose and treat African Americans for Alzheimer’s may need to change as well and become race specific.

Much of what we know about Alzheimer’s disease is from research based on white people. Yet numerous studies have shown racial differences exist in African American genetics which influence how we respond to different diagnostic tests, medications, and treatments. And this isn’t new information. Differences in cardiovascular treatment and diabetes diagnosis for African Americans are well documented.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder that causes brain cells to degenerate and die. It’s the most common cause of dementia, causing changes in memory, speech, judgment, personality, and overall cognitive functioning. This steady decline in thinking, behaviorally and socially, disrupt a person’s ability to function independently.

While there is no definitive diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s, some of the biological hallmarks of the disease are abnormal amounts of protein plaques – amyloid Aβ42 and protein tau tangles that present throughout the brain. Its been thought that the higher your levels are, the higher risk you were for the disease. And because we know that to be true, companies have spent millions of dollars creating anti-tau medications and therapy to counter the disease.

In people with Alzheimer’s disease, tau proteins for unknown reasons collapse into twisted strands called tangles. These twisted strands keep the brain cells from getting nutrients and other essential supplies, and the cells eventually die.

 What Does This Mean for You?

In a research plot twist, researchers at Washington School of Medicine discovered that when they scanned the brains of participants for plaques – there wasn’t any significant differences between whites and blacks. However, when they performed lumbar punctures testing cerebral spinal fluid levels of tau proteins, the levels were much lower in African Americans. This debunks the theory that lower levels of tau proteins mean lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease. African Americans having lower levels of tau protein did not seem to have the same decreased risk as it did in their white counterparts. What this means is there is the potential for African Americans to still have the disease, but present with lower levels of tau proteins which may lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment for Alzheimer’s.

What’s Next?

So how do we properly and efficiently identify and treat Alzheimer’s disease in African Americans? Do we start with race specific thresholds for tau protein levels?…. maybe we need to.

While this question remains unanswered, it needs to be addressed sooner than later. But the only way to garner enough scientific information to do so is to gather more evidence. So while these findings are from a relatively small sample size (173 black participants) it is still worthy of a serious look because it comes from research done with African Americans. And last I checked – I was African American. So while some medical research can be generalized to different groups– it’s still not a one size fits all. If we have reason to believe race plays a role in how someone is diagnosed, and what medications and treatments work best for them – then we need to apply that information. This is one step closer to the goal of precision medicine, an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person. Ask your provider today whether they practice precision medicine. If not, you may want to consider changing to one that does.

 

 

 

 

The post Nurse Alice: New Research Suggests Alzheimer’s Presents Differently in African Americans appeared first on Black Enterprise.

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