Top News

Fetal tissue is uniquely valuable to medical researchers - useful for developing treatments and better understanding diseases like HIV, Parkinson's, and COVID-19. But many anti-abortion rights groups oppose it on moral or religious grounds. Now, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra says he's reversing several restrictions on fetal tissue research put in place during the Trump administration. Enlarge this image Human fetal tissue (stock photo) Ed Reschke/Getty Images Ed Reschke/Getty Images Here's what you need to know: What is fetal tissue research - and why do many scientists say it's necessary? Fetal tissue is uniquely adaptable and useful for many types of scientific inquiry. Lawrence Goldstein, a Distinguished Professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, said because these cells are not fully developed they can be useful for many things - like trying to develop replacement organs. "So for example if you're trying to make a kidney from stem cells you'd like to know that as the cells begin going down the kidney development path that they're doing it normally," Goldstein said. "And so comparison to early fetal kidney cells that are doing it normally tells you that you're on the right track or not." There are ethical requirements for tissue obtained from elective abortions: patients have to understand what they're doing and consent to it. Doctors involved have to attest that they received consent to collect the tissue after a patient had already decided to have an abortion. But people opposed to abortion rights often oppose this kind of research, and social conservatives held significant influence in the Trump administration.What was the Trump administration policy on fetal tissue research - and what's changing now?The Trump administration took a couple of actions in 2019. The first was a ban on NIH funding for what's known as intramural research (essentially programs within the agency) involving newly obtained fetal tissue from abortions. Second, a requirement that external applicants for NIH funds who wanted to use fetal tissue had to go through an Ethics Advisory Board review process. The board was convened by the Trump administration, and, as critics noted, most board members were publicly opposed to abortion rights. Lawrence Goldstein, at UCSD School of Medicine, was on that board - although he was in the minority because of his support for fetal tissue research. "It was an incredibly unpleasant experience because highly meritorious research projects that had already been through multiple layers of review, both scientifically and ethically, went to this board to be killed," he said.What does this mean for the larger battle over reproductive rights? In a statement, Marjorie Dannenfelser of the anti-abortion rights group the Susan B. Anthony List said this decision will "force Americans to be complicit in barbaric experiments." She also said this is another step toward reversing "pro-life progress" under Trump and Pence. This action is part of something larger - the anti-abortion rights movement is finding itself on the losing side of a lot of policy battles at the federal level. Just this week, the Biden administration announced steps to reverse changes to the Title X family planning program that had effectively cut significant funding to groups like Planned Parenthood. That news came after the FDA announced it will temporarily loosen restrictions on abortion pills, during the pandemic. So, expect many more political fights over issues related to abortion rights in the years to come; at the same time that Biden is taking these actions at the federal level, conservatives still hold a lot of power - in state legislatures and the U.S. Supreme Court. Let's block ads! (Why?) [...]
Fri, Apr 16, 2021
Source: Headlines -NPR Category: TOP NEWS
Enlarge this image Michael Carvajal, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images All federal prison inmates will have the opportunity to receive a vaccine by mid-May, according to the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Michael Carvajal. Vaccines have already been made available to all federal prison staff, he said, speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing Thursday. More than 40,000 people incarcerated in federal prisons have received both doses of the vaccine, the bureau says, which is about a third of the people in BOP custody. Nearly 18,000 federal prison staff have been fully vaccinated. About 66% of federal inmates have accepted invitations to receive the vaccine, Carvajal said. That number is slightly higher than the 61% of Americans who say they have already gotten a vaccine or are eager to get one, according to the latest poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Amid concerns about vaccine hesitancy among correctional officers, Carvajal said that just over half of BOP staff have accepted vaccine invitations. He added that figure does not account for staff who have sought vaccines elsewhere. "We encourage the staff to take it, but also because it's not mandatory, we respect their right to make a choice," he said. There are roughly 126,000 people currently incarcerated in BOP-run facilities, the lowest number in 20 years. The population was already shrinking prior to 2020, a trend hastened by the pandemic, when pressure mounted to release certain inmates to home confinement to decrease their risk of contracting COVID-19. For incarcerated people, the pandemic has been a nightmare. Since March of last year, people in prisons and jails around the country have reported conditions that were terrifyingly conducive to the spread of the virus: large numbers of people in communal, indoor spaces; lack of basic PPE including masks and soap; symptomatic people left unisolated and without medical care. Even as prisons and jails introduced basic safety measures like masks and testing, rates of infection and death among incarcerated people have persistently remained higher than that of the general population. According to The Marshall Project, nearly 400,000 incarcerated people have been infected with Covid-19, a rate of about 1 in 5. More than 2500 have died. The BOP has faced criticism — and lawsuits — in the last year over its handling of the pandemic at federal facilities. In the hearing Thursday, Carvajal defended the Bureau's work. "We have a history of dealing with pandemics very well in the Bureau of Prisons, O.K.? COVID was different. It's extremely contagious. It happened very quickly," he said. Those held in federal prisons are only about 10% of the people incarcerated in America. The large majority of inmates are held in state prisons and local jails. For people in those facilities, vaccine access is much more varied. Though the CDC has recommended incarcerated people should be prioritized for the vaccine along with some other vulnerable groups, states are free to make their own priorities, and not all have chosen to prioritize inmates. Massachusetts included incarcerated people in its first vaccine distribution phase and began vaccinating inmates and staff together in January. The Oregon Department of Corrections reported it had offered vaccines to all of the 13,200 people in its custody by March 10. In Florida, by contrast, inmates in prisons just started to receive vaccines in early April. As of this week, about half of Florida counties surveyed still had not begun to vaccinate people held in county-run jails, according to an investigation by WFTS in Tampa. Let's block ads! (Why?) [...]
Fri, Apr 16, 2021
Source: Headlines -NPR Category: TOP NEWS
Enlarge this image Lab Assistant Tammy Brown dons PPE in a lab where she works on preparing positive COVID tests for sequencing to discern variants that are rapidly spreading throughout the U.S. at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Im Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Im The Biden administration will send $1.7 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local and state governments and other research efforts early next month to find and track coronavirus variants lurking in the U.S. Already, the more contagious UK variant B.1.1.7 is now the dominant strain in this country, fueling surges in Michigan and the Northeast. "Our goal is to get that money out as fast as possible to help states in all the many ways that they need to be able to expand their own sequencing capacity," said Carole Johnson, the White House COVID-19 testing coordinator, in an interview with NPR. The U.S. has been flying blind in the race between vaccination efforts and the spread of new coronavirus variants that could potentially spark another deadly nationwide surge and reduce effectiveness of the vaccines. U.S. public health officials have been operating with incomplete information because of an inadequate viral genomics surveillance system. Friday's announcement details how the funds — which were part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill passed last month — will be distributed. The largest share of funds — $1 billion — will go to the CDC, states and cities to bolster their existing surveillance efforts. The rest will go to longer-term initiatives, including $400 million to create "Innovative Centers of Excellence in Genomic Epidemiology" which will be research partnerships between state health departments and academic institutions. An additional $300 million will go to build a "national bioinformatics infrastructure" to handle the flood of data. Before the coronavirus, genomic sequencing of viruses in the U.S. was aimed largely at tracking food-borne illnesses. The value of genomic sequencing was a "lesson learned" from COVID-19, said Johnson. The pandemic has forced that U.S. system to adapt and the funding approved by Congress should build up the scientific infrastructure to deal with whatever comes next, she added. "This is both about today and about building for the long term," said Johnson. "Today's investment ... is about helping us fight COVID but is also about helping us continue to transform how public health works to combat outbreaks of all kinds going forward." When the U.K. variant first emerged, the viral surveillance system in the U.S. was woefully under-resourced, especially compared to other countries. In early February, U.S. laboratories were only sequencing perhaps 5,000 to 8,000 coronavirus samples per week. The CDC says the agency has now boosted that to close to 15,000 per week. But many experts estimate the country should be sequencing at least 25,000 per week. Public health experts welcomed Friday's announcement. "The Biden plan makes sense and is practical," Scott Becker, executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, wrote in an email to NPR. Not only does it boost surveillance capacity, he says, but it also "looks towards building partnerships across sectors to foster innovations so that we can keep pace with science and technology. " Others agree. "What I was most worried about in the beginning of this process was that some new entity was going to be created that would analyze genomic information but would be not directly connected to CDC," says Gigi Gronvall, a senior school at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. "That entity would probably fail but take a while and a lot of money with it in the process. This is the time to modernize and strengthen public health, and that begins with strengthening CDC." But some say even this boost in funding is not coming fast enough, especially with cases surging in many places and variants spreading quickly. "With the money going out in May, I'd like to see a timeline of expectations for how quickly sequencing is going up," says Heather Pierce, senior director for science policy at the Association of American Medical Colleges. "There is an urgent need to increase the sequencing by several fold in places where cases are high and rising (like Michigan), and a month or two ramp up period will [...]
Fri, Apr 16, 2021
Source: Headlines -NPR Category: TOP NEWS