Now available online, Research!America’s Annual Report, “Reasons for Research,” recounts the progress made in research advocacy by Research!America and its members representing academia, industry, scientific societies, patient groups and foundations. In addition to highlighting the 2012 Advocacy Awardees and Garfield Economic Impact Awardees, the report details Research!America initiatives such as the ongoing Save Research campaign and the Your Candidates–Your Health national voter education initiative. The annual report also includes polling data, statements from speakers at the National Health Research Forum — including the heads of the federal health agencies — and other Research!America activities in collaboration with members and partners.
The theme for this year’s report, Reasons for Research, is reflected in a new webpage on Research!America’s website. Here you can read testimonials of patients and young scientists highlighting their reasons for research. Without continued advocacy and support for biomedical and health research, these young scientists may not be able to pursue their passion: investigating cures and treatments for patients like those featured on this webpage.
New research from Research!America member Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis shows that a component of bee venom can be safely used to target and kill HIV virus particles while leaving human cells intact. The compound, called melittin, punches holes in the outer protective coat, or “envelope,” of viruses, including HIV. Researchers modified the nanoparticle to protect human cells from the toxin by adding “bumpers” to prevent the toxin-laden particles from fusing with cells, yet the smaller virus particles are able to fit between these bumpers and interact with melittin.
The lead author on the study, Joshua L. Hood, MD, PhD, says that application of this new compound should be highly effective in preventing new infections and controlling existing infections, particularly in HIV strains that are resistant to current therapies.
“We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV,” Hood said in an article from the WUSTL Newsroom. “The virus has to have a protective coat,” making it theoretically impossible for the virus to adapt to the toxin and become resistant to a therapy based on melittin. Researchers say that this nanoparticle can be administered through a vaginal gel to prevent new infections or intravenously to control existing infections.
This new research, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gives new life to the nanoparticle that was originally developed as an artificial blood product. Though the particle “didn’t work very well for delivering oxygen … it circulates safely in the body” and can be adapted to fight many kinds of infections or disease processes, according to Hood’s interview with WUSTL. These early findings are based on work done in a cell-based research system but show great promise for clinical trials. Hood and his colleagues are confident that these nanoparticles could be easily manufactured in large quantities to make clinical trials possible. Read more about this study in the Huffington Post or see the original scientific article, published in Antiviral Therapy.
Advances in biomedical research like this study are at risk of losing funding under sequestration, which took effect March 1. And with these across-the-board cuts to federal research agencies, clinical trials with this nanoparticle antiviral compound or other promising drugs may not happen. Without basic science research into novel therapeutic strategies or mechanisms of disease, potential cures for deadly disease will remain elusive.
-by Megan Kane, Communications Intern
On October 31st, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported new cases of fungal meningitis in Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Virginia, bringing the total to 368 cases in the recent outbreak. This form of meningitis, which has been linked to contaminated steroid injections, is a serious disease that infects the brain and spinal cord. In the face of this tragedy, public health agencies and professionals have coordinated an excellent emergency response to the outbreak.
The CDC responded quickly, identifying possible sources of contamination, tracking cases and communicating updates to the nation. CDC experts and local public health workers have been working day and night to alert clinics and patients that may have received the contaminated medication. Through this diligence, over 97% of patients have already been contacted and experts are now working to identify individuals at greatest risk for infection. Because meningitis can be fatal, local public health workers are saving lives through early recognition of symptoms and appropriate treatment.
Despite the critical role played by CDC and the increasing demands it faces due to congressional mandates, funding for this agency has declined in recent years. And unless policymakers change course, CDC will be swept up in dramatic, across the board budget cuts known as “sequestration.” If these cuts go into effect, they will severely compromise CDC’s capacity to protect the public health. As it stands, limited funds make it far more difficult to respond to public health emergencies like the meningitis outbreak and mean that a majority of the work falls to smaller and smaller groups of dedicated individuals. These public health heroes must be recognized for their unflagging commitment to protecting the health of Americans. The Monday of Thanksgiving, Public Health Thank You Day, is the perfect opportunity to give thanks to these individuals and others around the nation. To learn more about PHTD, please visit http://www.researchamerica.org/ph_thank_you or like our PHTD Facebook page. And to join other advocates fighting against sequestration, visit http://www.saveresearch.org.