Thursday, February 21, 2008
Deadly emerging diseases have roughly quadrupled over the past 50 years, according to new research by an international team of scientists who have mapped the outbreaks' main sources. New diseases originating from wild animals in poor countries are the greatest threat to humans, the scientists warn.
These diseases spread to humans who move into shrinking pockets of biodiversity and have contacts with wildlife there.
Kate Jones, an evolutionary biologist at the Zoological Society of London and first author of the study, said the work urgently highlights the need to prevent further intrusion into areas of high biodiversity.
"It turns out that conservation may be an important means of preventing new diseases," she said.
"We are crowding wildlife into ever smaller areas, and human population is increasing," said coauthor Marc Levy, a global change expert at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, an affiliate of Columbia University's Earth Institute. "The meeting of these two things is a recipe for something crossing over."
This is the first map that shows where pathogens passed from wildlife to humans. The lowest occurrences are green, the highest are red. (Image courtesy Nature)
The main sources of these emerging diseases are mammals, the scientists have learned. Some pathogens may be picked up by hunting or accidental contact. Others, such as Malaysia's Nipah virus, go from wildlife to livestock and then to people.
Humans have evolved no resistance to diseases that move from animals to humans, called zoonoses, so these diseases can be extraordinarily lethal. The scientists say that the more wild species in an area, the more varieties of pathogens they may harbor.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic, thought to have started from human contact with chimpanzees, has led to over 65 million infections; recent outbreaks of SARS originating in Chinese bats have cost up to $100 billion. Outbreaks like the African ebola virus have been small, but deadly.
Despite three decades of research, previous attempts to explain these seemingly random emergences have been unsuccessful.
In the new study, researchers from four institutions analyzed 335 emerging diseases from 1940 to 2004, then converted the results into maps correlated with human population density, population changes, latitude, rainfall and wildlife biodiversity.
Some 60 percent of the diseases traveled from animals to humans and the majority of those came from wild animals. With data corrected for lesser surveillance done in poorer countries, "hot spots" jump out in areas spanning sub-Saharan Africa, India and China; smaller spots appear in Europe, and North and South America.
"This is a seminal moment in how we study emerging diseases," said University of Georgia professor John Gittleman, dean of the Odum School of Ecology, who developed the approach used in analyzing the global database. "Our study has shown that bringing ecological sciences and public health together can advance the field in a dramatic way."
About 20 percent of known emergences are multidrug-resistant strains of previously known pathogens, including tuberculosis. Richer nations' increasing reliance on modern antibiotics has helped breed such dangerous strains, said Peter Daszak, an emerging diseases biologist with the Consortium for Conservation Medicine at the Wildlife Trust, who directed the study.
Daszak said that some strains, such as lethal variants of the common bacteria e. coli, now spread widely with great speed because products like raw vegetables are processed in huge, centralized facilities. "Disease can be a cost of development," he said.
The group's analyses showed that more diseases emerged in the 1980s than any other decade, likely due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which led to other new diseases in the immune-compromised victims.
In the 1990s, insect-transmitted diseases saw a peak, possibly in reaction to rapid climate changes that started taking hold then. Team members soon hope to study this possibility and its future implications.
Daszak says the study has immediate uses. "The world's public-health resources are misallocated," he said. "Most are focused on richer countries that can afford surveillance, but most of the hotspots are in developing countries. If you look at the high-impact diseases of the future, we're missing the point."
Team members say nations must share more technology and resources in hotspots to reduce risk. "We need to start finding pathogens before they emerge," said Daszak.
The study appears in the February 21 issue of the scientific journal "Nature." The research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, an NSF/NIH Ecology of Infectious Diseases award from the John E. Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health, and by three private foundations - The New York Community Trust, The Eppley Foundation and the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
By Sheila Kaplan
Here’s the report that top officials of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thought was too hot for the public to handle—and the story behind it.Download Excerpts from the ReportFor more than seven months, the nation’s top public health agency has blocked the publication of an exhaustive federal study of environmental hazards in the eight Great Lakes states, reportedly because it contains such potentially “alarming information” as evidence of elevated infant mortality and cancer rates.Researchers found low birth weights, elevated rates of infant mortality and premature births, and elevated death rates from breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer.The 400-plus-page study, Public Health Implications of Hazardous Substances in the Twenty-Six U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern, was undertaken by a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the request of the International Joint Commission, an independent bilateral organization that advises the U.S. and Canadian governments on the use and quality of boundary waters between the two countries. The study was originally scheduled for release in July 2007 by the IJC and the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).The Center for Public Integrity has obtained the study, which warns that more than nine million people who live in the more than two dozen “areas of concern”—including such major metropolitan areas as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee—may face elevated health risks from being exposed to dioxin, PCBs, pesticides, lead, mercury, or six other hazardous pollutants.In many of the geographic areas studied, researchers found low birth weights, elevated rates of infant mortality and premature births, and elevated death rates from breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer.Since 2004, dozens of experts have reviewed various drafts of the study, including senior scientists at the CDC, Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies, as well as scientists from universities and state governments, according to sources familiar with the history of the project.“It raises very important questions,” Dr. Peter Orris, a professor at the University of Illinois School of Public Health in Chicago and one of three experts who reviewed the study for ATSDR, told the Center. While Orris acknowledged that the study does not determine cause and effect — a point the study itself emphasizes — its release, he said, is crucial to pointing the way for further research. “Communities could demand that those questions be answered in a more systematic way,” he said. “Not to release it is putting your head under the sand.”In a December 2007 letter to ATSDR in which he called for the release of the study, Orris wrote: “This report, which has taken years in production, was subjected to independent expert review by the IJC’s Health Professionals Task Force and other boards, over 20 EPA scientists, state agency scientists from New York and Minnesota, three academics (including myself), and multiple reviews within ATSDR. As such, this is perhaps the most extensively critiqued report, internally and externally, that I have heard of.”Last July, several days before the study was to be released, ATSDR suddenly withdrew it, saying that it needed further review. In a letter to Christopher De Rosa, then the director of the agency’s division of toxicology and environmental medicine, Dr. Howard Frumkin, ATSDR’s chief, wrote that the quality of the study was “well below expectations.” When the Center contacted Frumkin’s office, a spokesman said that he was not available for comment and that the study was “still under review.”De Rosa, who oversaw the study and has pressed for its release, referred the Center’s requests for an interview to ATSDR’s public affairs office, which, over a period of two weeks, has declined to make him available for comment. In an e-mail obtained by the Center, De Rosa wrote to Frumkin that the delay in publishing the study has had “the appearance of censorship of science and distribution of factual information regarding the health status of vulnerable communities.”Some members of Congress seem to agree. In a February 6, 2008, letter to CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding, who’s also administrator of ATSDR, a trio of powerful congressional Democrats—including Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology—complained about the delay in releasing the report. The Center for Public Integrity obtained a copy of the letter to Gerberding, which notes that the full committee is reviewing “disturbing allegations about interference with the work of government scientists” at ATSDR. “You and Dr. Frumkin were made aware of the Committee’s concerns on this matter last December,” the letter adds, “but we have still not heard any explanation for the decision to cancel the release of the report.”Canadian biologist Michael Gilbertson, a former IJC staffer and another of the three peer reviewers, told the Center that the study has been suppressed because it suggests that vulnerable populations have been harmed by industrial pollutants. “It’s not good because it’s inconvenient,” Gilbertson said. “The whole problem with all this kind of work is wrapped up in that word ‘injury.’ If you have injury, that implies liability. Liability, of course, implies damages, legal processes, and costs of remedial action. The governments, frankly, in both countries are so heavily aligned with, particularly, the chemical industry, that the word amongst the bureaucracies is that they really do not want any evidence of effect or injury to be allowed out there.”The IJC requested the study in 2001. Researchers selected by the ATSDR not only reviewed data from hazardous waste sites, toxic releases, and discharges of pollutants but also, for the first time, mapped the locations of schools, hospitals, and other facilities to assess the proximity of vulnerable populations to the sources of environmental contaminants. In March 2004, an official of the IJC wrote to De Rosa to thank him for his role in the study, saying that he was “enthusiastic about sharing this information with Great Lakes Basin stakeholders and governments,” and adding, “You are to be commended for your extraordinary efforts.”Unlike his Canadian counterpart, however, the ATSDR’s Frumkin seems anything but thankful. De Rosa, a highly respected scientist with a strong international reputation from his 15 years in charge of ATSDR’s division of toxicology and environmental medicine, was demoted after he pushed Frumkin to publish the Great Lakes report and other studies. De Rosa is seeking reinstatement to his former position, claiming that Frumkin illegally retaliated against him. Phone calls to ATSDR seeking comment about the pending personnel dispute were not returned.“I think this is really pretty outrageous, both to Chris personally and to the report,” Dr. David Carpenter, a professor of public health at the State University of New York at Albany and another of ATSDR’s peer reviewers, told the Center for Public Integrity.Some members of Congress have also taken De Rosa’s side. That same February 6 letter to Gerberding, which was co-signed by Rep. Brad Miller of North Carolina, chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the Science and Technology Committee, and Rep. Nick Lampson of Texas, chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, expressed concern that “management may have retaliated against” De Rosa for blowing the whistle on ATSDR’s conduct related to this investigation and another involving work on formaldehyde in trailers supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “The public is well served by federal employees willing to speak up when federal agencies act improperly, and Congress depends upon whistle blowers for effective oversight,” the letter states. “We will not tolerate retaliation against any whistle blowers.”Barry Johnson, a retired rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service and a former assistant administrator of ATSDR, told the Center that before he left in 1999 he recommended that the agency investigate the dangers that chemical contaminants might pose to residents of the Great Lakes states.“This research is quite important to the public health of people who reside in that area,” Johnson said of the study. “It was done with the full knowledge and support of IJC, and many local health departments went through this in various reviews. I don’t understand why this work has not been released; it should be and it must be released. In 37 years of public service, I’ve never run into a situation like this.”Sheila Kaplan is a journalist who divides her time between Washington, D.C., and Northern California. Research support for this story was provided by the Nation Institute Investigative Fund.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Our current network of scientific communities have become so encrusted with big money from big Pharma that they have become handcuffed and blinded, unable to act at a level of integrity to advocate and protect the public health. Academics (even tenured full professors) are afraid to stand up against these powerful influences with the threat of loss of research money or threat of termination or blacklisting. In addition, our government has passed laws to financially link itself, like Siamese twins, to big Pharma in order to speed technology to market; and in doing so, has become part of the problem, not part of a solution.
As scientific advances are touted for their potential benefits and pushed upon the unsuspecting public, I hope this website will bring to the forefront the factors surrounding why the public threats and risks that being ignored. I hope eventually this will bring about change to increase public awareness, to invoke rights to biotech workers and to demand responsibility from the biomedical and academic communities who have left their post of guardian for public health and safety. In so being, this website will focus on the bioethical and safety issues and the political and economic influences related to biotechnology in hopes that it will contribute to educating at least a few more people to become “watchdogs on science”.
I encourage any input to this site, especially since I have little experience with blogs, but most importantly because you are a powerful and important part of the solution to this serious and troubling problem.
Perhaps those who have been studying gene therapy and are “banging your head against a wall” should consider switching disciplines and study bioethics instead. With a little research you would find out why gene therapy has rightly so been targeted by public watchdog groups.
But first….answer this question….After studying gene therapy, would YOU undergo an arthritis gene therapy trial if you had only mild to moderate arthritis that didn’t impact your lifestyle to any large degree? I don’t think so. You know very well that the unknown effects and risks of gene therapy are too high to experiment on such a group. Unfortunately, physicians and scientists in gene therapy have been pushing these high risk technologies on the unsuspecting and uneducated public.
This doesn’t mean that all of you studying GT are bad and do not have good intentions. But the leaders in your world of gene therapy, who have the power, influence and money and who act as if they do not value any life but their own (and who would no doubt sell their own sister into sex slavery for a publication in Science or Nature) have given gene therapy a terrible image. Unfortunately these “powers that be” have more influence than your good intentions.
And here is another little trinket of information for you on more of a personal level... Do you know that if one of your lab mates accidentally (or intentionally for that matter) exposed you to an infectious “gene therapy” agent and you became ill, you would have no rights to the appropriate genetic information regarding that exposure which is necessary for you to get health care?
It’s true. Biologists have little exposure information rights and healthcare rights when they go up against “trade secrets” or patent rights under any circumstances even if they are ill from an exposure from work. Science has not only lost sight of public health issues as it pushes its “touted advances” forward, but it even ignores the health and safety rights of its own worker bees.
You see, science is causing its own problems and delaying your PhD research, not the watchdog groups or public who expose them. The public is alarmed at what it sees within the scientific community. Scientists working in gene therapy and embryonic stem cell technologies are some of the worst offenders in the biotech community by promoting obscure benefits and ignoring the dangerous risks. These scientific communities are pushing technologies forward without apt biosafety and bioethical consideration. They are losing the trust of the American people and have lost the trust of many who have become so concerned that they are genuinely compelled to become watchdogs.
If you are troubled with your studies in gene therapy, perhaps you should consider a switch to a PhD in bioethics. At this time, you would do the community a greater service. The need is great. The scientific community and public are in desperate need of well trained and honest bioethicists (who hopefully have the integrity not to be bought off by big business and big money). Good luck in your career. And whatever direction you choose, may it lead you to truth and not blindness.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Scientific Misconduct Blog: BMJ Advertising Watch : 09 February 2008 (a difficult balance)
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Human Cloning Masquerades as Gene Therapy: Killing two birds With One Stone
“The fact is that this research study is more of a human cloning experiment than a gene therapy experiment. Basically, this is human cloning experimentation with a twist of gene therapy” says spokesperson from WATCHDOG ON SCIENCE. “All the cloning techniques used in this experiment are the exact procedures used to clone a human being. The only difference is that they are using the nuclear DNA from an early staged embryo instead of from an adult. This embryonic DNA is then inserted into an enucleated human donor egg to form a human clone. The human clone is grown to six days old and then destroyed.’
The driving force behind using this technology does not appear to be linked to gene therapy per se. Despite the fact that there are about 40 different mitochondrial disorders, the incidence of children borne with mitochondrial disorders is about 0.0003% per year in the
The claim that they formed a human embryo from three parents is nothing out of the ordinary. Any human clone that is generated using an enucleated donor egg would contain DNA from three parents unless the donor egg, of course, was donated from the natural birth mother.
This type of research is not only controversial because it entails human cloning, but also because it destroys human embryos through experimentation. “In essence, I guess you could say that they are killing two birds with one stone: the first being the 2 parent-embryo that supposedly has a mitochondrial disorder and secondly, the 3 parent-embryo that was formed from the human cloning technique".
Key words: human cloning; gene therapy; mitochondrial disease; human rights; human experimentation; bioethics; destruction of human embryos for research purposes
THREE PARENT BABIES11:59:54 06/02/2008Gene therapy could cure hereditary diseasesScientists at Newcastle University have succeeded in creating human embryos with DNA from three different parents – two women and one man. The achievement, they say, could potentially prevent a whole host of hereditary diseases. The project has been aimed at preventing the transfer of defective mitochondrial DNA onto children, which comes exclusively from the mother. Mitochondria are the power-houses within a cell and faulty mitochondrial DNA can lead to around 50 known hereditary diseases, including epilepsy and diabetes.In their research, the scientists used normal embryos with the genetic material from one woman and one man that contained defective mitochondrial DNA from the mother. In the embryo, the mitochondrial DNA is the only genetic material not contained within the nucleus, meaning that the team could extract the nucleus from the fertilized embryo and deposit it into an emptied donor egg. The new embryo then develops with the genetic material from its original mother and father almost completely intact, but with the healthy mitochondrial DNA of a different woman. Experiments in mice have shown that the DNA that controls an individual’s appearance is not contained in the mitochondria, so the offspring would only inherit the characteristics of two people – the man and the woman who are the source of the nucleic DNA.The Newcastle team only had permission to carry out lab experiments and the embryos were destroyed after within six days. But it’s hoped a ‘mitochondria transplant’ could be offered as a genetic treatment sometime in the future.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
RESEARCHERS FIGHT FOR THE DEVIL AGAINST A NEW EMERGING DISEASE
A new emerging disease has been discovered in the devil. The disease causes aggressive disfiguration by a rapidly growing cancer and is unique in how it is transmitted, especially when devils fight with each other. The disease threatens the devil’s extinction.
How do these new emerging diseases come about? Could this new “devil disease” be caused by unregulated research in embryonic stem cell laboratories where dangerous genetically-engineered viruses are being used to make disease-state models? Will the researchers find GFP upon sequencing the devil which could shed some “light” on this subject”?
Will scientists continue to hide the fact that dangerous biological research is being performed in every major academic and private research center which could contribute to new emerging disease? Or will scientists just remain tongue-tied and continue to fight for the devil?
Public release date: 28-Jan-2008[
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory researchers race against time to save Tasmanian devils
A delegation of Tasmanian government officials traveled halfway around the world to visit Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), to lend their support and extend their gratitude for research aimed at understanding a unique transmissible and rapidly spreading cancer that threatens the very existence of Tasmanian devils. To combat this particularly aggressive disease, a CSHL research team in collaboration with 454 Lifesciences is committing resources to sequence parts of the devil’s genome in an effort to increase the odds of saving them from extinction.
In 1996 scientists first discovered the facial tumors on Tasmanian devils. Subsequent research revealed that the cancer is transmitted from one devil to another when tumor cells are transplanted through fighting, biting, and other physical contact. Once afflicted with the cancer, aggressive tumors begin to appear on the face and neck of the devils, restricting their ability to eat. Within approximately three months, the devils succumb to the disease and often die of starvation. The disease has decimated the devil population by nearly 90 percent in certain geographical areas of Tasmania, and officials project that within twenty years the entire species could become extinct.
The process by which the disease spreads among the devils has only been seen once before and represents a new field in cancer biology. Inbreeding in wild populations may prevent the devils’ immune system from recognizing the cancer as foreign, allowing the cancer to be transmitted. To provide an alternate fate for the devils, the Tasmanian government will have an insurance population of more than two hundred devils in quarantined facilities before the end of 2008.
The CSHL research team, led by researcher and native Tasmanian Elizabeth Murchison, Ph.D., aims to understand how the tumors work at a molecular level by sequencing the genes expressed in the devils’ tumor. As part of the delegation’s visit, CSHL researchers presented an overview of the research being conducted to address the crisis. “Once the cancer genes are fully sequenced, we will have a better chance to identify the cause and genetic make-up of this unique cancer,” said Dr. Murchison.
“Our efforts to sequence the devil’s genome mark the first time anyone has attempted to use the technology for exploring this particular type of cancer biology,” explained David L. Spector, Ph.D., CSHL director of research. “When we have a complete view of the devil tumor genes, scientists will be able to identify the cancer causing genes, which may lead to the development of therapies and vaccines.”
According to Hannah Bender, an Australian veterinarian and Ph.D. student who works with the CSHL team, the disease is now found in more than 50 percent of the devils’ habitat. “This research will be a vital component of the Save the Devil Program and will assist in fully understanding the disease, its characteristics and what might be done for future approaches,” said the Honorable Doug Parkinson, Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council of Tasmania. Information gathered by the CSHL team during their research of the tumor’s genome will also aid the Tasmanian breeding program to ensure a genetically diverse insurance population.
The uniqueness of the tumor structure also has human implications. “We’re using all of the research tools employed for understanding human tumor biology,” said Gregory Hannon, Ph.D., CSHL professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator who oversees Murchison’s work. “A cure for the devil may have applications for humans as well.”
Simon Boughey, senior adviser to the Tasmanian Minister for Primary Industries and Water said, “We appreciate what Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is doing to help combat this problem, and thereby save the devils.”
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is a private, non-profit research and education institution dedicated to exploring molecular biology and genetics in order to advance the understanding and ability to diagnose and treat cancers, neurological diseases, and other causes of human suffering.Contact: Jim Bonobono@cshl.edu516-367-8455Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Monday, February 4, 2008
February 4, 2008
David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor
A high-security laboratory where deadly microbes are being grown by scientists seeking defenses against terrorist attacks began operating in Livermore last week without public announcement, and opponents said Friday that they will go to federal court in an effort to close the facility down.
Built inside the closed campus of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the facility has been controversial ever since it was first proposed by homeland security officials more than five years ago. Tri-Valley CARES, the East Bay watchdog group that has long fought nuclear weapons research there, has led the fight against it with protests and legal actions.
The facility is known as a Biosafety-level 3 laboratory where highly trained workers, high-tech airlocks and extremely rigorous safety measures are required by federal rules in order to contain any of more than 40 potentially lethal disease-causing bacteria, viruses and fungi stored inside.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, an agency of the Energy Department, which oversees the Livermore site, announced Monday only that it had “granted approval” for Livermore to begin operating its new biosafety laboratory.
But the announcement did not disclose that the facility had already opened and that its scientists had begun working there the previous Friday - a fact that immediately outraged the lab’s opponents.
Robert Schwartz, the staff attorney for Tri-Valley CARES, said he will file suit in federal District Court next week to shut down the facility on the grounds that the final environmental impact statement published by the lab’s oversight agency was inadequate and that another supporting document was released without public hearings in violation of the Energy Department’s own rules.
In October, the Ninth District Court of Appeals in San Francisco had overruled an earlier federal court decision in support of the operation of the Livermore facility. The appeals court required officials to prepare a new environmental statement, including an assessment of the possibility that a suicide attack by terrorists could breach the facility’s walls and allow killer germs to spread beyond the lab.
In response, the security agency filed a document that said such an attack would be “highly unlikely,” and that it “found no significant impact” on the public or the environment from operations at the germ research facility.
A spokesman for the Energy Department’s nuclear security agency at Livermore told The Chronicle that its office manager approved the final revised environmental documents on Jan. 25, and that scientists began work at the lab the same day.
Asked why the press release on Monday did not disclose that the facility was already operating, the spokesman said “because we needed the time to physically copy the documents and place them in the public reading rooms as well as post them on the Web.”
Eric Gard, director of the new facility, said Friday his staff is now growing live cultures of many disease-causing organisms that could be used by terrorists in enemy biological warfare attacks and for which laboratory scientists will seek to develop countermeasures. Understanding the phenomenon of resistance to antibiotics is a high priority, he said.
Among the microbes held in the laboratory are bacteria that cause such highly dangerous and often deadly diseases as bubonic plague, anthrax, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Q fever, tularemia and brucellosis or undulant fever, Gard said.
But scientists in his lab will also be researching other microbes unlikely to be used in terror attacks and that pose such major public health problems as tuberculosis, flu, and SARS, the severe acute respiratory syndrome that proved so deadly among elderly people in China, he said.
The scientists are barred by federal rules from conducting any research using germs for “potentially offensive use or purposes,” nor for the production of any bio-warfare weapons, according to the Energy Department.
Continuing its opposition to the Livermore facility by Tri-valley CARES, Marylia Kelley, the organization’s executive director, charged in a statement Friday that the lab and its sponsors “are jeopardizing the health and safety of the local community and the surrounding Bay Area.” Live anthrax germs grown in the lab and released into the air from the facility, even if it were only “lightly damaged” in a terrorist attack, for example, “could result in up to 9,000 deaths, depending on wind patterns,” Kelley maintained.
Consider this from a previous story:
Lab fined $450,000 for mishandling anthrax
A former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientist who lacked proper credentials sent off an uninspected package containing two open vials of deadly pathogen anthrax across the country in 2005, triggering a $450,000 federal fine against the lab, authorities say.
The scientist, who resigned her post at the Livermore lab after the incident, left the twist caps off two containers and a loose cap on a third vial in a 1,025-vial shipment to Palm Beach, Fla., in September 2005, according to the findings of a federal agency’s review that led to the fine.
The lab in Florida then opened the anthrax shipment without proper precautions, and two of its workers were possibly exposed. The workers were treated with the antibiotic Cipro for a week, then returned to work.
A second shipment of about 3,000 vials made the next day by the same Lawrence Livermore scientist to a lab in Virginia had more vials than it should have, a separate violation of packaging restrictions. The scientist’s official credentials vouching for her ability to ship the pathogen had lapsed at the time of the shipments.
The fine was levied against the University of California - the former manager of the lab - as part of a recently reached negotiated settlement that became public at a congressional hearing about the safety of the government’s pathogen research programs. A key finding was that lab officials failed to inspect the shipments to ensure they were properly packaged and that labeling accurately reflected the contents.
Lab spokeswoman Susan Houghton said no anthrax leaked from the vials in the Florida shipment, and that the inner packaging would have trapped any anthrax if it had.
However, the government summary of the incident concluded: “During the transfers, anthrax was released from the shipped vials.”
Houghton said the lab has made a total of 30 shipments in the last six years without other incident. She noted that the 2005 case led to a seven-month shutdown of all the lab’s anthrax-related research for an audit, reorganization and retraining. In April 2006, the lab earned a three-year renewal of its registration to handle biological agents.
A citizen group, Tri-Valley CAREs, seized on the incident as an example of the danger to the community posed by the lab, as well as a new lab that has yet to open.
Marylia Kelley, the head of the group and who lives across from the lab, said lab officials “deliberately withheld important information” and lied about the magnitude of the incident, which was originally described as an inner packaging problem of an unnamed biological agent. It never mentioned anthrax.
“We now know that was a deception,” Kelley said in a statement. “The lab disclosed only one aspect of a major accident involving multiple violations of law and regulation and resulting in the release of a dangerous pathogen.”
Houghton said that with the renewal of its registration, the lab has a new oversight system, training and procedures. She said the federal Department of Transportation concluded the problem shipments amounted to “an isolated incident.”
“The registration allows our laboratory to continue necessary research on behalf of the nation,” the lab said in a statement.
Pope says some science shatters human dignity
Pope says some science shatters human dignity Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges the crowd during his weekly general audience at the Vatican January 30, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Helgren
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Thursday that embryonic stem cell research, artificial insemination and the prospect of human cloning had "shattered" human dignity.
In an address to members of the Vatican department on doctrinal matters, Benedict said the Church had a duty to defend the "great values at stake" in the field of bioethics.
The speech was the latest in a series in which the conservative Pope has told his listeners that scientific progress should not be accepted uncritically.
Benedict, who headed the same department for years before his election in 2005, said the Church was not against scientific progress but wanted it based on "ethical-moral principles."
He said this included total respect for the human being as a person "from conception until natural death," and respect for the natural transmission of life through sexual intercourse.
Practices like freezing embryos, suppression of embryos in multiple pregnancies, embryonic stem cell research, the prospect of human cloning and artificial insemination outside the body had "shattered the barriers meant to protect human dignity," he said.
"When human beings in the weakest and most defenseless state of their existence are selected, abandoned, killed or used as pure 'biological material,' how can one deny that they are being treated not as 'someone' but as 'something,"' he said.
Such practices "questioned the very concept of the dignity of man," he said in the speech to the department known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Widespread interest in medicine by the general public, who get most of their information from the media, had made it even more imperative for the Church to take a stand, he said.
Embryonic stem cell research involves the destruction of embryos. Scientists hope to use stem cells to transform medicine, providing regenerative treatments for injuries and seeking new insights into diseases like cancer and AIDS.
Last year scientists reported they had tricked ordinary skin cells into behaving like embryonic stem cells.
The Pope said the Church "appreciates and encourages" research on stem cells that come from other parts of the body and do not involve embryos or their destruction.
He rejected accusations from critics who say the Church is an obstacle to science and human progress, saying growing concern about cloning and other practices showed it was right to raise the alarm.
It was the Pope's latest foray into scientific issues. On Monday he warned against the "seductive" powers of science, saying it was important that science did not become the sole criteria for goodness.
U.S. Cardinal William Levada, Benedict's successor as head of the doctrinal department, said it was mulling the possibility of preparing a new Vatican document on bioethical issues.
(Editing by Michael Winfrey)