Roundup: A Doctor, a Mutation and a Potential Cure for AIDS

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Roundup: A Doctor, a Mutation and a Potential Cure for AIDS

Brady Swenson

A bone marrow transplant gave an HIV positive man in Berlin apparent immunity from the disease; Real change for reproductive health policy could emerge from less divisive politics; Evangelicals in the Obama era; Expect more attempts to limit abortion in South Dakota.

A Doctor, a Mutation and a Potential Cure for AIDS

The startling case of an AIDS patient who underwent a bone marrow
transplant to treat leukemia is stirring new hope that gene-therapy
strategies on the far edges of AIDS research might someday cure the

The patient, a 42-year-old American living in Berlin, is still
recovering from his leukemia therapy, but he appears to have won his
battle with AIDS. Doctors have not been able to detect the virus in his
blood for more than 600 days, despite his having ceased all
conventional AIDS medication. Normally when a patient stops taking AIDS
drugs, the virus stampedes through the body within weeks, or days.

"I was very surprised," said the doctor, Gero Hütter.

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The breakthrough appears to be that Dr. Hütter, a soft-spoken
hematologist who isn’t an AIDS specialist, deliberately replaced the
patient’s bone marrow cells with those from a donor who has a naturally
occurring genetic mutation that renders his cells immune to almost all
strains of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The mutation in question prevents a molecule called CCR5 from appearing on the surface of cells:

CCR5 acts as a kind of door for the virus. Since most HIV strains must
bind to CCR5 to enter cells, the mutation bars the virus from entering.
A new AIDS drug, Selzentry, made by Pfizer Inc., doesn’t attack HIV
itself but works by blocking CCR5.

About 1% of Europeans, and even more in northern Europe, inherit the
CCR5 mutation from both parents. People of African, Asian and South
American descent almost never carry it.

Scientists will certainly be following up on the accidental discovery, even though the Berlin case could simply be a fluke and there are many potential caveats even if it proves not to be a fluke: 

If enough time passes, the extraordinarily protean HIV might evolve to
overcome the mutant cells’ invulnerability. Blocking CCR5 might have
side effects: A study suggests that people with the mutation are more
likely to die from West Nile virus. Most worrisome: The transplant
treatment itself, given only to late-stage cancer patients, kills up to
30% of patients. While scientists are drawing up research protocols to
try this approach on other leukemia and lymphoma patients, they know it
will never be widely used to treat AIDS because of the mortality risk.


Real Change Could Emerge from Less Divisive Politics

Jessica Arons writes about the various abortion-related ballot initiatives around the country that were all rejected at the polls on Tuesday.  Her point about creating real change through an end to the divisive politics of abortion is certainly worth taking to heart:

Imagine the real change society could accomplish if we stopped fighting
over antiabortion ballot initiatives and instead spent our money, time,
and energy helping women avoid unwanted pregnancies and supporting
their decisions to continue or end unexpected pregnancies when they
occur. Perhaps we would have the resources to provide women with
adequate prenatal care and birthing options, healthy living and working
conditions, accurate sex education and affordable contraception,
protection from violence and sexual abuse, and unobstructed access to
compassionate abortion care.


Evangelicals and the Obama Era

David Gushee, Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, looks at the role evangelical Christians will play in politics during the Obama administration.  He wrote an article at the beginning of the year that predicted evangelicals would move toward this center during this election cycle and the exit poll numbers do indicate an incremental shift that amounts to an estimated 2 million new evangelical voters in the Democratic fold in 2008 as opposed to the 2004 presidential election.  His vision for the agenda that evangelical Christians should work toward over the next four years is a much broader one that politically active Christian communities have fought for in the past: 

The center and left of the white evangelical community are in a far
better position to play a constructive role in affecting major policy
decisions on the ethically significant issues that will be decided in
the next four years.

Of course, we will not do so alone, but will work in partnership with
the black and Hispanic evangelical communities, the center-left of the
Catholic community, and a host of other interested parties who are
ready to work with the Obama administration on a number of challenges
our nation and world faces.

I am eager to see the Obama administration reverse Bush administration
detainee policy as decisively as possible; sponsor necessary
climate-change legislation and alternative energy measures; press for
effective abortion-reduction strategies; spearhead comprehensive
immigration reform; posture the United States as an adherent of
international norms and practitioner of creative diplomacy; lead the
world in the reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons;
ensure that every American has access to needed health care; and jump
start our economy in a way that especially benefits those who most need
help now.


Leslee Unruh says She Will Try for Another Ban in South Dakota

Leslee Unruh, leader of South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, the organization that put the abortion ban on the ballot in South Dakota this year says that she "wouldn’t rule out another initiated measure as soon as 2010." 

Leslee Unruh of Sioux Falls said the office will
remain open, and anti-abortion forces will begin examining strategies
for possible action to further restrict or ban abortion in the state
Legislature or through a return to the South Dakota ballot.

"We’re going to look at when exactly that will be, but we’re going to be back," Unruh said.



Topics and Tags:

Abortion, AIDS, Evangelicals, HIV, Politics, research