Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Good For Something

Gary Stix has a hopeful piece about the benefits of anthrax. That's right, the benefits. The key section reads as follows:

"The toxin's breaking-and-entering strategy has not gone unnoticed by scientists seeking new ways to deliver vaccines into cells. And the lethality of one of the proteins has attracted the attention of investigators who have shown an interest in marshalling its killing power to combat tumors.

"The idea of using a notorious pathogen as a therapeutic tool did not immediately generate an enthusiastic audience. Yichen Lu, a researcher at the Harvard University School of Public Health, remembers telling the director of the vaccine branch of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1999 of his plans to use anthrax in an HIV vaccine. He described how a version of the toxin could be genetically engineered to eliminate its pathogenicity and how it could deliver a protein from the AIDS virus into an immune cell called an antigen-presenting cell. Once processed there, pieces of the protein would be displayed on the cell surface. That would induce production of killer T cells by the immune system that would then attack and kill the virus throughout the body. Lu remembers clearly the response of the FDA official when he suggested how important it was to move ahead with a safety test of the anthrax-derived vaccine on army soldiers: "She said, 'You're crazy.'