Science & Technology Almanac

By Lynn Lauerman | Go to book overview
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Health & Medicine

HEALTH & MEDICINE: NEWS

AIDS

Developments in AIDS Vaccines

In 2001, promising new developments in AIDS vaccine research were announced at scientific meetings in the United States, including the 8th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections held in Chicago, Illinois, in February, and the AIDS Vaccine 2001 Conference held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in September.

As the number of people with HIV infection and/or AIDS increases and as little progress in drug treatments for AIDS has been made in recent years, many researchers have turned to developing vaccines against the disease, which has been aided by a large increase in funding for AIDS vaccine research from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, as well as from nonprofit organizations and industry.

Some of the new vaccines, including two presently undergoing clinical trials in humans, are based on a protein called gp 120. This protein occurs on the surface of the AIDS virus and binds to CD4 receptors on the surface of white blood cells, which the AIDS virus infects and destroys. Researchers hope that the vaccine will prime the immune system to destroy any AIDS viruses in the blood before they can infect white blood cells.

Other vaccines under development are aimed at boosting cell-mediated immunity, which involves killing cells that have already been infected. These vaccines are made from a vector, such as a harmless virus, bacterium, or loop of DNA, which has had specific AIDS genes added to it. The vector infects white blood cells and produces AIDS proteins, which stimulate certain cytotoxic T cells to kill infected cells. It is then hoped that any subsequent infection would be wiped out by the primed cytotoxic T cells.

Encouraging news for AIDS vaccine research also came from the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, at a conference in Keystone, Colorado, held in April 2001. The company announced that they are testing five AIDS vaccines in over 100 monkeys. The most successful vaccines are now being tested in humans, but it may be several years before researchers know if they are effective in people.


AIRBORNE ILLNESS

Health Implications of Ground Zero

After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City on September 11, 2001, recovery workers and residents in lower Manhattan raised health concerns about dangerous substances released into the air. In addition to the toxic chemicals from the burning debris of the World Trade Center, other potentially poisonous substances, including asbestos, fiberglass, and coolant from air-conditioning units, were released into the air when the WTC collapsed. After the attack, an increase in respiratory disorders was reported among firefighters at the WTC. Recovery workers and residents are now worried about long-term health implications.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been monitoring the levels of dangerous chemicals at the site of the WTC, now known as Ground Zero. The EPA found that the levels of highly toxic dioxin and benzene exceeded permissible levels laid down by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Levels of asbestos were up to three times the acceptable limit in 34 of 128 samples of debris.

The New York City Health Department warned that the dust, ash, and soot from burning materials could worsen existing breathing problems. They also informed

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