This week, Trumps opponents misunderstood a Regeneron press release to conclude that the REG-COV2 treatment (which may have saved his life) was created from stem cells. When that was proven false, his opponents nonetheless deliberately misinterpreted events to conclude there was still an ethical paradox. Ive read the scientific papers and it seems like this is an issue that can be understood with basic high-school science, so I thought Id write up a detailed discussion.
The short answer is this:
Now lets do the long, complicated answer. This starts with a discussion of the science of Regenerons REG-COV2 treatment.
Antibodies are produced by the immune system to recognize and latch onto foreign things, including viruses (the rest of this discussion assumes viruses). They either deactivate the virus particle, or mark it to be destroyed by other parts of the immune system, or both.
After an initial infection, it takes a while for the body to produce antibodies, allowing the disease to rage unchecked. A massive injection of antibodies during this time allows the disease to be stopped before it gets very far, letting the bodys own defenses catch up. Thats the premise behind Trumps treatment.
An alternative to harvesting natural antibodies from recently recovered patients is to manufacture artificial antibodies using modern science. Thats what Regeneron did.
An antibody is just another protein, the building blocks of the body. The protein is in the shape of a Y with the two upper tips formed to lock onto the corresponding parts of a virus (antigens). Every new virus requires a new antibody with different tips.
The SARS-COV-2 virus has these spike proteins on its surface that allow it to invade the cells in our lungs. They act like a crowbar, jamming themselves into the cell wall, then opening up a hole to allow the rest of the virus inside. Since this is the important and unique protein of the virus, its what most antibodies will want to lock onto.
Proteins are created from genes. A new protein, like an antibody with tips identifying a new virus, needs a new gene to create it. In other words, we need new DNA.
Before we go down into Lamarck genetics, we should point out that these genes are not passed down to children. Only a few white blood cells change their DNA, but this doesnt affect any other cells, especially not the ones in your gonads.
The way Regeneron makes its treatment is to harvest the white blood cells, extract the gene that makes the antibody, then sticks that gene inside some hamster cells to produce copious amounts of the antibody. (Yes, hamsters, but well get to that).
Sometimes human subjects arent available as a source of white blood cells. For example, lets consider a disease that hasnt infected humans yet, but which has a potential to do so. In that case, you need a factory for white blood cells that isnt human.
Regeneron has a solution for this: transgenic mice that have the important parts of the human immune system grafted in. This allows them to inject things into the mice to cause this hypermutation of the antibody gene, which they can then harvest.
In the case of their REG-COV2 treatment, Regeneron used both mice and men. They gathered about 200 candidate antibody genes from both sources.
Remember: each time white blood cells mutate to create an antibody, theyll do it differently. That means everybodys antibodies are different even though the disease is the same. Even a single patient will have multiple strains of white blood cells mutating in different directions, creating different antibodies, for the same thing.
Thus, from 32 mice and a few human patients, Regeneron got around 200 candidate antibody genes. They then reduced this number down to 4 really good candidates, and then 2 (one from a human, one from a mouse) that they decided to use for manufacturing. These were sent to the hamster factory.
You can keep tissues alive outside the body by bathing them in a nutrient bath, but they wont grow on their own. But in some cases, you can cause them to grow without end, in which.case, youll have an endless supply of those cells. The cell line has then become immortal. This is especially true if the original cells came from a cancer thats what cancer is, when the thing that prevents cells from dividing has been broken, and they grow out of control.
This test wasnt necessary to the creation of REG-COV2. It was included with the tests because other researchers used the technique, and thats what science does, replicates the work of other researchers.
But the results are still ethically tainted. The point here isnt to excuse this taint, but to simply point out its different type of taint. Theres a range of ethical questions here. The issue is being politicized to make this one ethical question, when its a different ethical question.
The major issue that upsets Republicans is the harvesting of newmaterial from blastocysts, embryos, and aborted fetuses. This is a wholly separate question of continuing to use oldmaterial from 50 years ago.
Thus, if you are trying to show that Republicans are hypocrites, that their rules change when their own life is at stake, then the evidence doesnt support your conclusion. Even if the HEK293 cell line was used for manufacturing instead of testing, it still would be consistent with Republican positions. Their concern is to stop the use of exploitation of new embryos.
From that perspective, then all medical research is tainted. For example, our knowledge from all vaccines comes from Edward Jenners testing on an unwitting 8 year old boy. Ethics have been continually changing throughout history, if we reject all knowledge from what we now consider to be unethical sources, then we wouldnt have any medicine. 50 years ago when the HEK293 was acquired, it was under a different understanding of ethics than we have today.
This piece is not a defense of Trump but of science. Please vote for Biden on November 3. European countries with leaders to the left of Biden are nonetheless still prosperous. Conversely, when otherwise prosperous democracies have failed, its because of leaders as unfit and corrupt as Trump.
This issue started when people gleefully believed they had caught Trump in a trap. When this was proven a misconception, they went searching for other ties to stem cells, and found them. This is still a gross distortion of science every modern medical treatment can be found to be tainted if you look hard enough. Trying to rescue your misconception by jumping through hoops like this makes you look worse, not better.
There are important areas where science is entangled with politics (e.g. climate change). But it seems like everyone takes the opportunity to irresponsibly distort science to further their politics, as seen here.
Frankly, Im freaked out by planting a human immune system into mice into order to drive hypermutation, to extract a gene that you then place into an immortal line of hamster ovary cells to produce a crafted protein. Im sure when somebody makes a movie based on this, it wont be anything other than dystopic.
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*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from Errata Security authored by Robert Graham. Read the original post at: https://blog.erratasec.com/2020/10/factcheck-regenerons-use-of-embryonic.html
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