As sequestration threatens to obstruct progress in biomedical and health research, members of the research community are continuing to speak out against these across-the-board spending cuts. Research!America Board member Larry Shapiro, MD, dean of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis’, shared his concerns in an article from the Associated Press.
At Washington University in St. Louis and other research institutions across the country, “automatic cuts are causing anxiety among young researchers who are wondering what career options they’ll have if the current economic climate becomes ‘the new normal,’” according to the article.
”This is all that’s being discussed in the hallways and over coffee,” Shapiro told the AP. He added that two genetics researchers recently decided to leave St. Louis and relocate their labs to the United Kingdom in this environment of diminished funding.
“Scientists are passionate about their work, and they’ll go where they have the best opportunity to accomplish it,” Shapiro said in the story.
With reduced funding for young scientists and innovative projects, senior researchers warn that the U.S. will experience a “brain drain,” with promising young scientists heading overseas where funding for research is becoming more abundant. Shapiro isn’t the only academic leader worried about federal funding cuts; read the comments of others in academia in the article.
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