CongressCritters, can you please get the left hand talking to the right hand?

March 25, 2010

From this Op-Ed.

The Institute of Medicine has recently released a report outlining the ominous public-health threat of chronic hepatitis C, much of which is the result of unwitting infection through medically-necessary blood transfusions, leading to 350,000 deaths worldwide each year and infecting more than three to five times as many people in the United States as HIV.

Narsty isn’t it? We should get right on that, don’t you think? Any decent models for research?

Currently, chimpanzees are the only experimental animal, except for humans themselves, susceptible to infection with hepatitis C. The Great Ape Protection Act would end the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research, grinding promising studies to a halt and unconscionably delaying the release of anti-viral therapies and a vaccine for chronic hepatitis C.


Of course this isn’t really any different than any other debate over whether the medical / health problem in humans is sufficient justification for a given type of animal research. Sure, we’re talking Great Apes here and this is a very special species indeed when it comes to considering costs and benefits.
Nevertheless what I really focused on here was the Congressional idiocy.
You may have heard there is a bill afoot which will ban all research on Great Apes. ( Or, I should say “may”. It is just a bill at this point, after all, and as we’ve just seen in the Health Care Reform debate, bills in the US Congress can be significantly modified prior to passage.)

The Institute of Medicine report did not go unnoticed by Congress: its release stimulated a press release from the Congressional Tri-Caucus promoting the Viral Hepatitis and Liver Cancer Control and Prevention Act (H.R. 3974) which, among other provisions, calls for additional research on a chronic hepatitis C vaccine. Ironically, nearly every sponsor of this legislation is also a co-sponsor of the Great Ape Protection Act, including Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who introduced the bill and has been a strong advocate for hepatitis research.

Now this is the real and actionable problem. Congressional decisionmaking that selects each bill for support/opposition based on how it looks in isolation. Great Ape Protection! Who can’t get behind that? Cure Hep C? Big w00tangs all around! Congress is working for you, American people.
So who is going to point out that support for the one goal seriously undermines the success of the other goal?
[h/t: @harlequinclrty]

27 Responses to “CongressCritters, can you please get the left hand talking to the right hand?”

  1. joe Says:

    I don’t like chimps either. They are ugly, mean, and smell bad. But baby chimps sure are funny in movies. If we have to stop murdering them…
    I guess we’ll have to rely on marmosets…
    Or cell culture…


  2. Fucktards, once again it just proves chimps are probably smarter than our elected representatives.


  3. Quantos Says:

    This seems like an important fact to point out to the people who are sponsoring the bill. Did any of you writers or readers actually write to these members of congress to point out their oversight? That would seem more productive than just calling them names on an obscure blog.


  4. Maria Says:

    If you’re writing to these member of congress it’s worth pointing out what happens if countries where animal research is tightly regulated stop doing this work. Animal work gets outsourced to countries which have very few restrictions and much less care for animal welfare. If they care for animals, then it’s important to keep research in the US.


  5. Carrie Says:

    @Quantos: As one of the authors of said OpEd (thanks for the shout out, Drug Monkey!), I can assure you we’re spending lots of time contacting members of Congress to make them aware of the potential consequences of this bill.


  6. Neuro-conservative Says:

    What if there were a politically well-organized community that also had experience mobilizing for increased biomedical research and had a higher than average incidence of Hepatitis C? What would a politically-correct activist or legislator do?


  7. Quantos Says:

    That is fantastic! I am so glad people realize how important civic engagement is so to the political process. Though I will admit my question was not directed at you and your co-author. As you are the director of scientific affairs in the Office of Public Affairs for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, I assumed that you were already working to inform our elected officials, and did not mean to imply anything otherwise.
    In fact my question was more aimed at readers and writers like “DrugMonkey” and “Genomic Repairman” to see if they have taken the step past posting general insults on a blog to actually getting involved in the political process. It is important to raise awareness of issues on the web, but also important to raise these issues directly with those making these decisions in Congress, and am curious to see if this has actually happened.


  8. It is important to raise awareness of issues on the web, but also important to raise these issues directly with those making these decisions in Congress, and am curious to see if this has actually happened.

    My mom told me it’s also important to always wear clean underwear. I am just curious: Do you have shitstains in yours?


  9. Claire (aka Harlequinclrty) Says:

    @Quantos & anyone else interested: I’ll save Carrie from tooting her own horn and mention that FASEB has made it easy for folks to contact their CongressCritters about GAPA:
    (Thanks for the mention DM!)


  10. Quantos Says:

    @ Comrade PhysioProf
    I’ll take that as a “no” then? In the amount of time it took to insult me, you could have actually participated in the political process and written to one of the co-sponsors of the bill. Though you may want to watch your language if you want anyone to take you seriously.
    Just remember; it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.


  11. I’ll take that as a “no” then?

    Take whatever you want. You don’t know fuck all about what anyone does or doesn’t do about anyfuckingthing. Furthermore, it’s both irrelevant to this discussion, and none of your fucking business.
    This is a discussion about the substantive merits of something that is going on in Congress. Feel free to contribute to that discussion. Concern-trolling about how there are more important things to be doing than having that discussion is off-topic. Grow up, or fuck off.


  12. DrugMonkey Says:

    Crediting for the moment that Quantos is just being a dumbass and not a concern troll, the answer is yes. I write and call my critters. Going from some prior threads others of my readers do too. But, as anyone who has had any touch with politics knows, the vast majority of people don’t bother.
    so what to do about that?
    If you keep up a constant bombardment on your own, all you do is get put in the ‘nutter’ file. This does not help your goals.
    If you want to have a little bigger impact you try to lead other horses to water. To encourage others to write and call *their* congressional representatives. This is the way constituent complaints have an effect. More people and more *different* people. Getting them fired up enough to actually make that call or navigate that infuriating web-based interaction is the goal. That’s why you see posts like this out of me on occasion.
    Other than exhortation, I agree with CPP. It’s none of my business or anyone else’s business whether my readers actually contact their critters, and for that matter which direction on an issue they push. There are more constructive ways to make your point…


  13. Quantos Says:

    @ Comrade PhysioProf
    Obviously you don’t have to tell me whether you wrote to your member of Congress or not, but I am legitimately curious as to how many people who care about the issue and participate in this discussion either by reading or contributing their views, have gone the extra step to contact someone in a position to do something about it.
    I am not “concern trolling” or telling people not to have this discussion. Completely the opposite, I would argue that encouraging civic participation is in fact a significant contribution to the discussion. Indeed, Claire (aka Harlequinclrty) provided a link to allow people to contact Congress directly.
    My only other point is that being uncivil about your views, and calling people names doesn’t move the substantive discussion forward.


  14. becca Says:

    MarmoSETS marmoSETS marmoSETS!!!!!!eleventy
    why no, marmosets aren’t a fantastic model species for vivax malaria, thus leading me to support their use for other diseases out of pure self-interest, no, I’m concerned for the poor poor chimpys. yes. that’s it.


  15. DrugMonkey Says:

    I am very much *not* a supporter of using CapWiz and similar systems, btw. If you are going to contact your Critter, go to the trouble of seeking out his/her official website and using the contact form. It is a pain but it has about eleventy-fold greater impact than CapWiz.
    Congress critters grade your contact more or less by the degree of difficulty. A personal leter is best, phone call not far behind. A personal, non form-mail electronic communication is ok. All that astroturf stuff? vastly inferior. Better than no contact at all but only slightly.
    I am of this opinion because of times in the past when I’ve actually gotten autobot responses from my Critters telling me that they have ignored my CapWiz submission and if I was serious to use their web form.


  16. My only other point is that being uncivil about your views, and calling people names doesn’t move the substantive discussion forward.

    This “point” has zero empirical basis. In fact, all of the evidence I am aware supports the diametric fucking opposite.


  17. Carrie Says:

    For the record, it very much depends – CapWiz software often integrates with the web form of members of Congress, so from the point of view of the staffer receiving the correspondence, they often cannot tell the origin of the electronic communication. That’s not true of every congressional office – depends on what type of web form they have – but is certainly true of many. However, personalizing the email (so they’re not receiving the same exact message from everyone, which screams “advocacy campaign”) is important, which is why FASEB always allows our email messages to be personalized.
    It also varies with congressional office how they view different forms of electronic communication. Some offices really do just tally up communications they receive with a “for or against” checklist, regardless of the form of communication, although many do follow the hierarchy you describe. One thing that is important to note, though, is that if you do want to send a non-web based or electronic message, either fax it to the DC office or mail it to the district office, as most DC congressional office buildings no longer accept snail mail in the wake of the anthrax incidents.


  18. Quantos, I (lowly graduate student who does no work with primate) took the time to blast off a letter to my congressman (read old greybeard who time and common sense has long past by) on this issue and many other scientific and non-scientific ones in the past. I think science bloggers as a whole tend to be pretty active with respect to this.


  19. TO all the answer to this problem is tree shrews.
    If you want more information email or call me.
    R. Stephen Porter, Pharm.D., FCP, MRCP
    Chief Scientific Officer – Asia
    54943 North Main Street
    Mattawan, Michigan 49071-9399
    269.668.3336 ext 2280
    269.329.8559 (Cell Blackberry Int’L)
    SKYPE “virtualdoc08”
    734.274.4707 (SKYPE Voice mail)
    +86.15021242314 (Cell China)
    Virology. 1998 May 10;244(2):513-20. Links
    Transmission of hepatitis C virus infection to tree shrews.
    Xie ZC, Riezu-Boj JI, Lasarte JJ, Guillen J, Su JH, Civeira MP, Prieto J.
    Department of Preventive Medicine, Guangxi Medical University, Nanning, People’s Republic of China.
    Although hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection can be reproduced in chimpanzees, these animals are rare and expensive. Tree shrews (tupaias) are small animals, closely related to primates, which adapt easily to a laboratory environment. In this work we have investigated the susceptibility of Tupaia belangeri chinensis to HCV infection. Tupaias caught in the wild in Yunnan (China) were inoculated in China with HCV genotype 1b (study A) and in Spain with a mixture of genotypes 1b, 1a, and 3 (study B). In study B tupaias were divided into three groups: group I was inoculated without previous manipulation, group II received 750 cGy of X-ray whole-body irradiation before inoculation, and group III was used as control. Transient or intermittent viremia occurred in 34.8% (8/23) and anti-HCV in 30.4% (7/23) of tupaias in study A. In study B a transient viremia was detected in 20% (2/10) in group I and in 50% (2/4) in group II. Anti-HCV was found in 1 tupaia from group I and in 3 from group II: Viremia lasted for longer and anti-HCV tended to reach higher titers in animals which received total body irradiation. ALT elevations and nonspecific pathological changes occurred in inoculated tupaias; however, the wild nature of the animals precludes the interpretation of these changes as solely due to HCV infection. In summary our results show that T.b. chinensis are susceptible to HCV and that whole-body irradiation may possibly increase the efficiency of the infection. These animals may serve as an in vivo system for culturing HCV and addressing pathophysiological and therapeutic issues of HCV infection.


  20. Joe Says:

    We can have our chimps and Hepatitis C research too!
    Maybe congress is smarter than we give them credit for…


  21. Namnezia Says:

    While I understand how supporting the Great Apes act will basically undermine any attempts to develop a Hep C vaccine, I don’t agree that it is completely inconsistent for Congressperson X to support both bills. If you look up the text of the “Viral Hepatitis etc act” (H.R. 3974 – a Google search will bring you a link) there is a lot more in there than simply development of a Hepatitis C vaccine. The bill is for education, prevention and research on all types of viral hepatitis, and this includes a lot of things like public health campaigns, increased surveillance, monitoring of blood products, increased vaccination for Hep A and B, etc. My understanding is that Hep C can actually be treated and managed fairly effectively if caught early. In the research portion of the bill a lot of the emphasis related to Hep C is on developing easy screening methods for Hep C and improving existing treatments. Both of which are doable without an animal model. Only at one point in the bill did I see supporting research toward a Hep C vaccine.
    So what’s my point? I’m not arguing that an animal model for Hepatitis C is not useful, nor am I saying that the best way to prevent the disease is to develop a vaccine. What I’m saying, is that the point of this article and the editorial cited is that congresspeople are oblivious if they support both bills. They are not. They could easily support the Great apes act and still feel like they are supporting most of what’s in the Liver bill without major contradictions.


  22. Namnezia Says:

    Another thing I was confused about – I’m pretty sure that most blood and organ products in the US are routinely screened for Hepatitis C (since 1992 according to NIH), yet the aforementioned editorial states that blood transfusions are the primary means for contracting the disease. As far as I know, sexual transmission of Hep C is low (unlike Hepatitis B), so this would leave IV drug users as the main vulnerable population. Spread among these communities could be slowed with education programs and needle exchange programs.
    What bothered me about the op-ed piece, was not that the authors were advocating calling your congressperson to oppose the Great Apes act in order to enable several kinds of important biomedical research, but rather the bending of the facts about the disease in order to make their case stronger. If their goal was to educate the general public about the need for animal research and importance of animal models, anybody who probes a little bit will easily spot the spin in the article and come off with a negative opinion of the research.


  23. ginger Says:

    The Op-Ed doesn’t say that blood transfusions are the primary means; it says that many infections are attributable to blood transfusion. Moreover, although the US blood supply is screened, there are many places where transfusion is still unsafe, and the role of other unsafe injections during health care in disease transmission is well-established. The IOM report attributes Egypt’s high HCV prevalence entirely to one schistosomiasis prevention campaign.
    I see your point, Namnezia, but I disagree with the extent of the factual distortion.
    (The change that screening made to the bloodborne hepatitides is evident here:


  24. Namnezia Says:

    Thanks ginger, I guess I was thinking more about the US as opposed to worldwide.
    Looking at the link, I’m also impressed by the drop in Hepatitis A cases in the US – I know that there is a vaccine, but at least in my state it is not given routinely, so is the drop in new Hepatitis A cases due to screening, food safety regulations or what?


  25. ginger Says:

    I claim no actual expertise here but your question made me curious and I poked around in the omnibus surveillance summary. “In 1999, ACIP also recommended
    that routine vaccination be implemented for children
    living in 11 states with average hepatitis A rates during 1987–1997 of >20 cases per 100,000 population and also be considered for children in six states with rates of 10–20 cases per 100,000 population.” (p.4,Surveillance for Acute Viral Hepatitis — United States, 2007 MMWR 2009;58(SS-3))
    (They’ve since recommended universal vax.)
    Man, I love vaccination. Greatest invention since the wheel.


  26. Passerby Says:

    HCV transmission mechanisms
    It’s clearly evident that the rapid reduction observed in reported annual acute cases is directly related to blood supply screening in the US, and further reduction in the case rate in recent years is hampered by the ease of maternal virus transfer to offspring, transfer via unprotected sexual intercourse, and contaminated needle among illegal drug users and hospital patient clusters by medical instrument reuse.
    HCV is very interesting, in that it shares exceptionally high spontaneous mutation rate with Picornavirus hepatitis A reflected in the historically high number of estimated acute cases reported in Ginger’s CDC citation, and the Bunyavirus hanta virus, HTNV.
    CASTRO, C., ARNOLD, J., & CAMERON, C. (2005). Incorporation fidelity of the viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase: a kinetic, thermodynamic and structural perspective Virus Research, 107(20):141-149.
    Response to antiviral treatment has been shown to be related to hepatitis C virus genotype, but virulence appears to be unrelated to genotype, but instead related to host factors that result in elevated tissue viral titers and cirrhosis, namely MBL gene and pathway polymorphisms.
    Genetic Clustering of Hepatitis C Virus Strains and Severity of Recurrent Hepatitis after Liver Transplantation. Gigou et al (2001) J. Virology 75(23):11292-11297.
    Mannose-binding Lectin MBL2 Gene Polymorphisms and Outcome of Hepatitis C Virus-infected Patients. (2008) J Clinical Immunology 28(5):495-500.
    Studies to clarify susceptibility should be carried out by other means (human cell models, polymorphic and phenotypic variability in acute case subpopulations) and simple mammal models as mentioned above, than can be discerned in a higher primate animal model. However work on HCV is entirely relevant to survival of endangered chimp populations in the wild, as these quasi-sentient animals under severe environmental and human predation stress with parallel jump in infectious viral disease susceptibility and pathogenicity observed in humans.


  27. Carrie Says:

    If you want more information about Hep C transmission, I highly recommend you read the IOM report we cited in the OpEd:
    Although you are correct, Namnezia, that since 1992, the blood supply, in the U.S. at least, has been screened for Hep C, many people were infected through transfusions or organ transplants prior to 1992, and are unaware that they are infected. Symptoms may not develop until many years after infection.


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