23 February 2009

Bird Flu Vaccine: the Next Moral Dilemma?

A story on Breitbart.com today states that scientists are closing in on an "universal" vaccine for influenza. This brings some hope in the fight against limiting serious influenza outbreaks, such as a feared "bird flu" pandemic.

I sent a link to the story to the Director of the Children of God for Life organization for her take on this development, and whether the resulting vaccine would be derived from aborted fetal cell lines, or by some ethical source.

The exchange:

(from me) Can you comment on the vaccine mentioned as being developed in this article? Aborted fetal cell lines, or no?

(from her) ...well, its not a vaccine yet - scientists have created a monoclonal antibody at this point. But in researching how they constructed it, yes indeed they used aborted fetal cell line HEK (human embryonic kidney) 293 cells. I am not sure how they intend to use the antibodies in a future vaccine, but without question it would be tainted. (sigh)

From the Breitbart story:

Scientists close in on 'universal' vaccine for flu: study

Scientists on Sunday unveiled lab-made human antibodies that can disable several types of influenza, including highly-lethal H5N1 bird flu and the "Spanish Flu" strain that killed tens of millions in 1918.

Tested in mice, the antibodies work by binding to a previously obscure structure in the flu virus which, when blocked, sabotages the pathogen's ability to enter the cell it is trying to infect, according to the study.

Because this structure -- described by one scientist as a "viral Achilles' heel" -- is genetically stable and has resisted mutation over time, the antibodies are effective against many different strains.

The breakthrough "holds considerable promise for further development into a medical tool to treat and prevent seasonal as well as pandemic influenza," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which helped fund the study.
Clinical trials on humans could begin within a couple of years, the researchers said.

Seasonal flu kills more than 250,000 people every year, and pandemic flu, which occurs with the emergence of deadly viral strains against which people lack immunity, remains an ever-present threat.

Vaccines have long been the first line of defense against flu, but even seasonal viruses evolve so rapidly that the vaccines need to be updated every year. Even then, they are not always effective.


Marasco and colleagues turned up 10 of the artificial antibodies that bound to the H5N1 avian flu, said the study, published in the Nature Group's journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.

In further experiments with mice, the scientists found that three of these monoclonal antibodies neutralised 10 of 16 known influenza "A" viruses, including H5N1.

To date, only persons in close contact with infected fowl have become infected with this deadly strain. But scientists fear that a future mutation could "jump species" and become easily transmissible among humans.

These were startling results. Not only had a single type of antibody honed in on different strains of virus, it had disarmed the pathogens on its own without having to call in immune system reinforcements.


In a commentary, also published by Nature, Taia Wang and Peter Palese of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York said the study had uncovered "a viral Achilles' heel" that is resistant to genetic variation.

The new findings "brings us closer to the development of a universal influenza virus vaccine," they said.


Anonymous said...

Just a comment and a thought:

Comment: antibodies are not used in vaccines. Vaccines are designed to cause the body to make its own antibodies.

Thought: sadly, a baby died to make the HEK cells. However, we cannot undo that. If these cells are scientifically useful, can we not use them so that some good can come out of this and if an effective vaccine is made then let it be known that the supreme sacrifice that this child made was to some good. Having said that, no baby should die in such a way.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

I understand where you're coming from, but unfortunately there is a dangerous semantic flaw in saying that these pre-born children "made the supreme sacrifice", when in fact the sacrficie was a decision wrongly -- murderously -- made for them, little differently than decisions made by the Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele in the name of medical research.

Accepting the use of new vaccines based on this argument would, I fear, compromise our moral resolve and give ammunition to those hoping to green-light further such abuses.

When President Bush -- whom I admire for being a pro-life leader generally -- made a flawed decision to allow the use of already existing embryonic stem cell lines, I initially thought he had made a good call. However, when I reflected that it would be wrong to use, say, a lampshade or bar of soap made from the bodies of Holocaust victims, I had to revise my position.

It is Satan, the tempter, who has created this terrible, painful situation we find ourselves grappling with. We must resist.