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NIH launches $100 million effort to cure HIV, sickle cell

Advances in gene editing tech provide hope for ‘single injection’ cure

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cure HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, told the Blade a new initiative is aimed at taking gene research to a new level. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The National Institutes of Health announced on Oct. 23 it is launching a $100 million initiative over the next four years to fund research to develop gene-based cures for HIV and sickle cell disease.

The NIH announcement says the initiative will work in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which will also invest $100 million toward gene research for an HIV and sickle cell disease cure.

“Dramatic advances in genetics over the last decade have made effective gene-based treatments a reality, including new treatments for blindness and certain types of leukemia,” an NIH statement says.

“The collaboration between the NIH and the Gates Foundation sets out a bold goal of advancing safe, effective and durable gene-based cures to clinical trials in the United States and relevant countries in sub-Saharan Africa within the next seven to ten years,” the statement says.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, which is an arm of NIH, told the Blade the new initiative is aimed at taking gene research to a new level that has yet to be developed. According to Fauci, the goal is to develop a means of genetically altering disease fighting cells in the body to enable them to protect against HIV through a single injection.

He noted that the current line of research, which is nearing the stage of clinical trials on humans, involves withdrawing blood from the body, extracting disease fighting T-cells from the blood in a laboratory, genetically changing the cells to enable them to successfully kill HIV and prevent someone from being infected, and then to “reinfuse” the altered cells back into the person’s body.

This is a highly expensive process that requires hospitalization, Fauci said, making it difficult to put in place for the large number of people who need it, especially populations in developing countries in Africa.

“We’re talking about something that is highly aspirational with an extremely high reward,” he said. “That is to develop a delivery system that you can essentially with one injection give it to a person and have that delivery system bring the appropriate gene editing tools to whatever cells you want to bring them to,” he said.

Fauci said this system, if it can be technologically achieved, would provide a genetic cure for HIV that could become available on a massive scale in the U.S. and developing countries throughout the world.

“Whether or not we’re going to succeed, we don’t know,” he said. “But we’re going to try.”

He said the combined $200 million from NIH and the Gates Foundation would be made available to qualified independent researchers or researchers affiliated with universities or with private companies working on gene editing technology.

One such company, American Gene Technologies of Rockville, Md., has developed a gene editing process for a possible HIV cure that it believes is ready for human testing. In an announcement last month, the company said it has submitted an Investigational New Drug document, or IND, to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to obtain final approval for clinical trials on humans.

The company’s gene editing process involves extracting cells from the body, genetically editing the cells in a laboratory, and reinfusing them into the person’s body. Although this requires a hospital or clinic visit and isn’t the more advanced process that Fauci says NIH is now working toward, if successful, it would be the first-ever full cure for HIV through gene therapy.

“We are pleased to see the scientific community backing a strategy American Gene Technologies has been pursuing for many years,” said AGT spokesperson Norman Rogers. “Like the NIH, we believe a cure deliverable to developing nations is a critical goal, especially in the landscape of gene and cell therapy where the efficiencies are more than doubling every year as the costs halve,” he said. “In that environment, anything is possible.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lawsuits against Ohio State over sexual predator sports doctor tossed

“The judge just threw 300 survivors in a trash can,” Steve Snyder-Hill said then adding, “a trash can with an OSU logo on it”

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Screenshot via WBNS-TV, CBS News 10, Columbus, Ohio

COLUMBUS, Oh. – A Federal judge Wednesday dismissed hundreds of pending lawsuits against Ohio State University, (OSU) in cases related to a former OSU sports team doctor Richard Strauss, who had sexually molested young male athletes and other students for twenty years.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson of the Southern District of Ohio wrote;

It is beyond dispute that Plaintiffs, as well as hundreds of other former students, suffered unspeakable sexual abuse by Strauss. It is also true that many Plaintiffs and other students complained of Strauss’s abuse over the years and yet medical doctors, athletic directors, head and assistant coaches, athletic trainers, and program directors failed to protect these victims from Strauss’s predation.”

According to Judge Watson he dismissed the cases because the statute of limitations for criminal rape cases in Ohio is 20 years to report for criminal prosecution or otherwise have legal proceedings initiated.

“If there is a viable path forward for Plaintiffs on their claim against Ohio State, it starts with the legislature rather than the judiciary,” Watson wrote.

Taking aim at Ohio lawmakers Watson noted; ““At all times since the filing of these cases, the Ohio legislature, has the power, but not the will, to change the statute of limitations.” The legislature can provide a “path forward for Plaintiffs on their claim against Ohio State.”

Strauss preyed on hundreds of young men from the time of his employment at OSU in 1978 until he retired in 1998, and allegations about his misconduct didn’t become public until an ex-wrestler named Mike DiSabato spoke out in 2018, years after Strauss’ death by suicide in 2005.

The former athletes were represented by several legal teams including Washington D.C./Oakland, California-based legal advocacy group Public Justice.

Today’s ruling is not only deeply disappointing,” the legal team said in reaction to the ruling today, “but also sends a disturbing message that the very real challenges sexual abuse survivors often face in understanding what has happened to them – and who enabled the abuse they experienced – is irrelevant when they ultimately ask for the court’s help in holding abusive people and institutions accountable.

OSU spent decades denying, hiding, and evading the truth about its role in concealing the abuse that happened on its watch. Today’s ruling punishes survivors already traumatized by the university’s callous campaign of deception. The court’s decision cannot, and must not, be the final word in the survivors’ journey towards justice.”

The case against OSU brought widespread attention as one of the cases involved Strauss victim Steve Snyder-Hill, a a prominent LGBTQ activist and a U.S. Army veteran. Upon hearing of Watson’s ruling, a palpably angered Snyder-Hill told several media outlets; “The judge just threw 300 survivors in a trash can,” he said adding, “a trash can with an OSU logo on it.”

Steve Snyder-Hill (Screen shot via WCMH-TV, NBC 4 Columbus, Ohio)

NBC News had reported on the case and profiled Snyder-Hill in 2019:

[…] In the years following the alleged assault, Snyder-Hill would go on to serve in the Iraq War, publicly fight against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and become an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage. He and his husband, Josh, married in 2011 in Washington, D.C., in front of the tombstone of Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam War veteran who had been discharged by the Air Force for being gay. The couple were involved in a lawsuit filed by Service Members Legal Defense Network that challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevented the military from giving benefits to legally married same-sex couples, and successfully fought in court to have their surnames combined in Ohio.

Snyder-Hill was unexpectedly thrust into the media spotlight in 2011 after submitting a question during the Republican presidential debate about whether the candidates would reverse the 2011 repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Some members of the audience booed Snyder-Hill, who submitted his question by video from his military base in Iraq. That an active-duty soldier in uniform would be booed during a presidential debate shocked and angered many Americans during a time when acceptance for same-sex marriage was mounting. […]

The publicity over the OSU cases also ensnared conservative right-wing Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), renewing questions over his failure to stop Strauss from molesting former wrestlers Jordan had coached more than two decades ago at OSU. Jordan was accused of that neglect in 2018 by those former wrestlers.

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National

2.3 million Latinx LGBTQ adults live in the US

More than one-third are living in low-income households

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Graphic via Fenway Health LATINX Center, Boston, Massachusetts

LOS ANGELES – A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds that an estimated 2.3 million adults in the U.S. identify as Hispanic or Latino/a and LGBTQ.

Researchers found that Latinx LGBTQ people fare worse than their non-LGBTQ counterparts on some measures of economic and social vulnerability, including unemployment and food insecurity. In addition, Latinx LGBTQ adults face disparities in mental and physical health such as depression, asthma, and chronic health conditions compared to non-LGBTQ adults.

However, similarities were found between the two groups, including household annual income and experiences of victimization and discrimination.

This study provides information on the well-being of Latinx adults in the U.S., as well as additional analyses of Latinx LGBTQ subgroups, such as Mexican, Central American, and South American LGBTQ people in California.

“In terms of economic security, we see both similarities and differences between Latinx LGBTQ and non-LGBTq adults,” said lead author Bianca D.M. Wilson, Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “The fact that Latinx LGBT adults tend to be younger may contribute to  disparities in employment and food insecurity, while U.S. citizenship—which many Latinx LGBTQ adults in California have—may help close the poverty gap.”

KEY FINDINGS

Demographic Characteristics

  • There are an estimated 2.3 million Latinx LGBTQ adults in the US.
  • 65% of Latinx LGBTQ adults are under age 35, compared to 45% of non-LGBT adults.
  • Just over half (52%) of LGBTQ Latinx adults are women, and 48% are men. 
  • Fewer Latinx LGBTQ adults (44%) than non-LGBTQ adults (57%) are raising children.

Economic Characteristics

  • Latinx LGBTQ adults are more likely to be unemployed (10% vs. 8%) and to experience food insecurity (32% vs. 25%) than Latinx non-LGBT adults.
  • 37% of Latinx LGBTQ adults and 39% of non-LGBTQ adults live with a household income below $24,000 per year.
  • Latinx LGBTQ adults are less likely to live in low-income households than non-LGBTQ adults, however, the rates of poverty are high for both groups: 60% of Latinx LGBTQ adults live below 200% of the federal poverty level, compared to 63% of non-LGBTQ Latinx adults.

Mental and Physical Health

  • Nearly one-third (30%) of Latinx LGBTQ adults have been diagnosed with depression, compared to 16% of Latinx non-LGBTQ adults.
  • Latinx LGBTQ women have the highest rates of depression (35%) compared with non-LGBTQ women (20%) and both groups of men.
  • Latinx LGBTQ adults (12%) are more likely to have Medicaid as their primary insurance compared to Latinx non-LGBTQ adults (9%).

Discrimination and Stress

  • 17% of Latinx LGBTQ adults disagreed with the statement “You always feel safe and secure” compared to 11% of non-LGBTQ adults.
  • 42% of Latinx LGBTQ adults reported experiencing physical assault and threats, and 69% reported experiencing verbal assault or abuse at some point in their lives.

Social Support

  • The majority (64%) of Latinx LGB adults and 40% of Latinx transgender adults reported feeling connected to the LGBT community.
  • Less than half (43%) of Latinx LGBTQ adults reported feeling connected to the Latinx community.

This study is part of the Williams Institute’s LGBTQ Well-Being at the Intersection of Race series, which examines demographic characteristics and key indicators of well-being, including mental health, physical health, economic health, and social and cultural experiences, of different racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. The series also includes analyses by region.

Read the report

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Congress

Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment legislation reintroduced

The legislation has failed to garner enough congressional support for passage beginning with its initial introduction in 2011

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Photo courtesy of the Tyler Clementi Foundation

WASHINGTON – Democratic U.S. Senators Patty Murray of Washington and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, along with Democratic U.S. House Representative Mark Pocan, also from Wisconsin, reintroduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act Wednesday.

If enacted, the legislation would require colleges and universities that receive federal student aid to have in place a policy that prohibits harassment of students based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Schools would have to distribute that policy to all students, along with information about the procedure to follow should an incident of harassment occur, and notify students of counseling, mental health, and other services available to victims or perpetrators of harassment.

The legislation would also require schools to recognize cyber-bullying as a form of harassment, and would create a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Education to help colleges and universities establish programs to prevent harassment of students.

“No student should live in fear of being who they are at school,” Baldwin said in a statement. “By reintroducing this legislation, we are taking a strong step forward in not only preventing harassment on campus, but also making sure our students have the freedom to learn and succeed in safe and healthy environments. Everyone at our colleges and universities deserves to pursue their dreams free of harassment and bullying.”

The lawmakers action was to mark eleventh anniversary of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi’s death, a suicide, after he lept from George Washington Bridge which connects North New Jersey to New York City on September 22, 2010. 

The Rutgers University freshman jumped to his death just days after his college roommate broadcast live images on the internet of him having a sexual encounter with another man. Fellow students Dharun Ravi, who was Clementi’s roommate, and Molly Wei were later charged. Wei struck a plea deal with prosecutors and a New Jersey Superior Court judge sentenced Ravi to 30 days in prison and three years probation for his actions.

The proposed law has failed to garner enough congressional support for passage over the past decade in beginning with its initial introduction in the 112th Congress in 2011. 

During a dedication ceremony on Monday February 4, 2013 of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, (D-N.J.) announced that he and U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) had reintroduced the legislation in Congress.

The legislation failed to get the required support for passage and it again languished.

Last year in the 116th Congress, it was introduced again by Pocan in the House and Murray and Baldwin in the Senate in May 2019.

“Today we honor the life of Tyler Clementi by reintroducing this critical legislation. No one should be bullied because of who they are or who they love,” Pocan said in a statement. “This bill will help ensure that students can learn in peace and not have to worry about living in fear or humiliation for being themselves.”

Tyler’s parents founded a non-profit organization in their son’s name committed to end online and offline bullying, harassment, and humiliation.

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