|3/19/2006 8:25:02 AM
|If avian flu doesn't get us, the political Numskulls will
By Niall Ferguson
Think of the world as a human head. If that makes your own head hurt, then perhaps a little nostalgia on my part may help. When I was a boy, I was an avid reader of The Beezer (which was to The Beano what The Telegraph is to The Mail). My favourite cartoon strip was The Numskulls.
Most of the action in The Numskulls took place within a human head that was operated by a small team of homunculi. "Blinky" controlled the eyes, "Brainy" the brain, "Cruncher" the mouth, "Luggy" the ears and "Snitch" the nose.
The setting being 1970s Britain, the five Numskulls did their jobs with all the energy and efficiency we then associated with unionised employees in a nationalised public utility. They were forever falling asleep on the job or skiving off work altogether. Above all, there was an almost total absence of cooperation. Regular demarcation disputes would lead to paralysing strike action. As a result, "Our Man" - as the owner of the head was invariably known - suffered humiliating mishaps on a weekly basis.
Now translate this metaphor into our own times. Think, as I said, of the entire world as a human head populated and run by Numskulls. There are many more of them than there were in The Beezer. Indeed, the head has never been more crowded. Yet compared to his British counterpart in the Seventies, this global version of Our Man is amazingly well run.
Cooperation between the different faculties has never run so smoothly. The Numskulls who operate the brain are busily exchanging ideas. Those whose job it is to send sensory information to the brain are working even harder: never have there been so many visual and aural stimuli to transmit.
Above all, Cruncher is setting records for productivity. For this global head is consuming resources insatiably. Our Man was a relatively thin chap. But the body underneath this global head must be truly huge. (I am not sure whether it is a muscle-bound Mr Universe or an obese Fatso, but let that pass).
This is not a bad metaphor for globalisation, that remarkable process of international integration that policy wonks, finance geeks and academic nerds love to discuss. Globalisation is good. By knitting together global markets for commodities, manufactures, services, capital, labour and knowledge, we have significantly raised the material standard of living for a majority of the world's population. A few diehards on the Left still dispute this, but the empirical evidence is against them.
The International Monetary Fund's most recent World Economic Outlook tells the story. Since the 1970s, the trend growth rate for world output per capita has risen from just over 2 per cent to just over 3 per cent. It's never been higher. In the same period, the growth rate for the volume of world trade has risen from 6 per cent to 8 per cent. Capital flows have grown even faster. International migration has also accelerated.
The reduction of barriers to free economic exchange has not only boosted growth, it has also reduced inflation and long-term interest rates. And, just as importantly, it has reduced volatility, so that the world economy seems to suffer fewer painful recessions than before. In other words, the Numskulls are cooperating. What's more, it's not just some of the Numskulls who are reaping the rewards of this cooperation.
The biggest anti-globalisation myth is that inequalities are widening, a relic of Marx's idea that capitalism would lead inexorably to the concentration of wealth in a few hands. Wrong: as in the last age of globalisation (before 1914), growth is benefiting most people.
Only think of the extraordinary leap forward being achieved in Asia, largely on the back of rapid export growth. How can a process that enriches the two most populous countries in the world be increasing international inequality? (That's not to deny that inequalities within some countries, notably China and the US, are increasing. But don't blame globalisation for that; blame national tax and welfare systems.)
Now let's ask what could go wrong. After all, Globalisation Mark I fell apart disastrously in the mid 20th century. The Numskulls fell to fighting among themselves. Even in peacetime they ceased to cooperate. Ideological fevers such as fascism infected the global brain. Then, after 1945, the world was afflicted by a split personality, as one "lobe" went communist while the other stayed capitalist.
Could globalisation break down again? History suggests it faces two kinds of threat: the natural and the man-made. The most obvious natural threat is that the world could be swept by a pandemic. True, the World Health Organisation has thus far confirmed only 173 cases of avian flu in humans, but more than half of those people died. And the virus has been spreading rapidly westwards from East Asia as far as Western Europe. A small genetic mutation could greatly facilitate its transmission from birds to humans and between humans.
To understand what could happen, consider the impact of the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-19. As if to mock the efforts of men to kill one another during the First World War, the virus spread rapidly from America to Europe aboard crowded troop ships. Within three months of the first recorded outbreak in Kansas, it had reached India and Australasia. In all, around 40 million people died, including one in every 100 American males between the ages of 25 and 34.
A pandemic of comparable magnitude would kill globalisation, not least because of the panic it would unleash. International travel would cease. Indeed, all face-to-face meetings would have to be abandoned. Offices, factories and schools would close. We would all be confined to our homes until hunger drove us to don face masks and venture forth to scavenge in deserted supermarkets. In this scenario, there is no need to use a metaphor to convey the danger we face. Every human head would be terrified of inhaling the lethal virus.
Yet this is only one of the ways that history suggests globalisation could end. It is just as possible that we might wreck it ourselves, without any help from a vengeful Nature. After all, the end of the first age of globalisation predated the flu pandemic by some years.
The outbreak of world war in 1914 led to an immediate breakdown in international trade. Even before that, a backlash against free trade and migration had begun, as one state after another moved to raise tariffs or restrict immigration, trends that reached their disastrous nadir in the 1930s. Call it a globotomy. For it was deliberate action by the Numskulls themselves that severed the world's neural pathways.
Today the Numskulls doing the most to lobotomise the global mind are to be found (not for the first time in history) in the US Congress. Earlier this month, Senators effectively blocked a company based in the United Arab Emirates from acquiring facilities in American ports on the ground that their employees might help Islamist terrorists.
Not content with this insult to Middle Eastern investors, the same body last week came within a hair's breadth of defaulting on the federal debt, voting by just four votes to increase the legal debt ceiling. Given that around half that debt is held abroad, this was playing with financial fire.
Never in the history of the world economy has one advanced economy been as reliant on inflows of foreign capital as the United States today. It's that international overdraft which allows Our Man to keep sucking in and consuming foreign goodies. Unfortunately, the Numskulls in Congress seem more worried about impending mid-term elections than the stability of the global economy.
Yes, globalisation is good, but that doesn't make it irreversible. My fear is that if the flu doesn't get Our Man, then the political Numskulls almost certainly will.
Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University www.niallferguson.org
© Niall Ferguson, 2005
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|3/19/2006 9:23:22 AM
|Officials to give update on U.S. bird flu plans
Posted on Sun, Mar. 19, 2006
McClatchy News Service
WASHINGTON - Springtime is here and, with it, fevered chirping about bird flu.
On Monday, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and outgoing Interior Secretary Gale Norton are to present a joint update on national preparedness, covering bird testing, poultry industry protections, anti-smuggling measures, vaccine development and the status of state and local emergency planning.
Leavitt also is in the midst of a multi-city tour, answering questions about the virus' spread globally and telling Americans how to respond should it reach U.S. shores.
He is asking people not to panic -- even if it should reach birds here, that doesn't mean people are at risk -- but to start stockpiling enough nonperishable food, water, flashlights, batteries and medicine to last a couple of weeks, just in case.[[[I thought the pandemic will last 12-18 months!!]]]
A confluence of science and politics are at work:
• The change of seasons each year, from winter to spring, sends wild birds from Asia and the continental United States north to Alaska, where they commingle while they nest and molt.
• The H5N1 avian flu virus has remained resilient as it makes its way around the globe, from Asia into Europe and Africa. It has been mutating.
• The annual appropriations process on Capitol Hill is gearing up. Each spring, federal officials and lobbyists representing various industries begin making their cases to have their priority programs funded by taxpayer dollars. Late last year, President Bush sought $7.1 billion for avian flu preparations. Congress at the time gave him about half, or $3.8 billion.
Test shows Egypt has bird flu death
CAIRO, Egypt -- Initial tests at a U.S. Navy lab show that a 35-year-old woman who died last week in Egypt had bird flu, officials said Saturday. If the results are confirmed, she would be the country's first known human death from the disease.In Israel, vets on Saturday slaughtered thousands of turkeys suspected of having H5N1, and Israel Channel Two TV reported it had been officially confirmed at one of four suspected locations.
Bird Flu Answers
Q. Do I have to worry about catching bird flu, or is the threat of a pandemic overblown?
There has yet to be a reported case of birds, animals or humans with the H5N1 virus in the United States. But the disease has been moving west, from Asia into Europe and Africa, touching at least 43 countries and killing millions of birds since 2003. It appears to be spreading via wild birds as well as poultry. Between this spring and autumn, migratory birds could bring the virus to the United States. In other countries, avian flu has killed some people and pets, but it isn't yet easily transmissible from person to person.
Q. If it hits the United States, how quickly will avian flu spread?
That depends on:
• How the virus mutates between now and then.
• The controls in place in the poultry industry, the public health infrastructure, and airlines and other transit systems.
• How quickly and effectively vaccines and treatments could be produced and distributed.
• Whether uninfected people could sequester themselves from contagious people soon enough, if necessary.
Millions of birds have died, but fewer than 200 human cases have been confirmed.
Q. How do I stay informed about avian flu, and what should I do to prepare?
Visit these Web sites:
• U.S. government has information at pandemicflu.gov, or call (800) 232-4636.
• The World Health Organization's has information at who.int
McClatchy News Service
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|3/20/2006 7:35:07 AM
|NanoViricides, Inc. Achieves Broad Success in Initial FluCide-I(TM) Anti-Influenza Studies; Company Says That Nanoviricides(TM) is Now a Proven Platform To Attack Bird Flu
WEST HAVEN, Conn., Mar 20, 2006 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- NanoViricides, Inc. (Pink Sheets:NNVC), today announced it has received additional results from its FluCide-I(TM) efficacy studies performed at a major US research facility. On the basis of these data, Dr. Krishna Menon, the Company's Chief Regulatory Officer, said that the drug candidate tested was worthy of filing an Investigational New Drug Application (INDA) with the FDA. "The results were so positive that with an appropriate dosage protocol, it may be possible to save human lives even in bird flu cases using this test nanoviricide itself," suggested Dr. Menon.
According to the company's President, Dr. Anil Diwan, "The study involved our nanomicelle to which a broad-spectrum, anti-influenza test ligand (virus targeting molecule) was attached. This combination of a micelle and ligand is called a nanoviricide(TM). While the objective of the study was to prove that the core technology worked, the results clearly exceeded our expectations. We feel that we have in development the world's best anti-influenza drug in our hands!"
In a Fast Protocol study, mice were infected with high levels of a human influenza virus. These levels resulted in an untreated survival period of only seven (7) days. A sub-group of these mice were treated with the test nanoviricide 24 hours after infection. The survival time of treated mice was increased significantly at relatively low and safe dosage levels. The safety of the dosage used was confirmed by gross histology as well as microscopic examination of a number of organs and tissues. These results suggest that the dosage can be increased several fold without significant adverse effects and that these higher dosage levels of our nanoviricide(TM) may already be capable of saving human lives in H5N1 bird flu cases.
"We can now say that the nanoviricide is a proven platform," stated Dr. Eugene Seymour, the company's CEO, "and believe that we can take any enveloped virus and attack it by attaching the right ligand (virus targeting molecule) to the nanomicelle. For instance, we can attack multiple subtypes of influenza by using a broad-spectrum ligand, as we have recently proven, or we can attack a specific virus subtype, such as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) and H5N1, with precise ligands that are intended for greater efficacy and specificity." Dr. Seymour also stated that "although the possible extent of any future bird flu pandemic is not at all clear, emergency preparedness purchases by agencies worldwide have been in several billions of dollars. More importantly, the market for a true targeted anti-viral for human influenza is enormous considering the tens of millions of cases diagnosed just in the US and Western Europe alone. Tens of thousands of people die of human influenza year after year."
The truly unique aspect of the technology is that once a drug to attack one virus is created, developing a new drug for another virus involves only changing the targeting molecule, not necessarily the underlying nanomicelle. This novel feature enables us to either respond to a mutating virus or else go after a completely new virus in a relatively short period of time. The Company is currently developing drugs against avian flu (H5N1), emerging highly pathogenic avian influenza threats (HPAI such as H9N2), common influenza, and rabies. The Company plans to develop additional drugs against HIV and Hepatitis C in the near future. "Our goal is to file two INDAs with the FDA within the next 12-18 months," said Dr. Seymour.
About NanoViricides - nanoviricides.com
NanoViricides, Inc. is a development stage company that is creating special purpose nanomaterials for viral therapy. A NanoViricide(TM) is a specially designed, flexible, nanomaterial that contains an encapsulated active pharmaceutical ingredient and targets it to a specific type of virus, like a guided missile. NanoViricide drugs are designed to block and dismantle the virus particles before they can infect a cell, thereby controlling viremia. This is a completely novel approach that is proving to be superior to existing approaches.
SOURCE: NanoViricides, Inc.
CONTACT: NanoViricides, Inc. Leo Ehrlich, 917-853-6440 firstname.lastname@example.org
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|3/20/2006 8:32:55 AM
|Big Problems From Small Avian Flu Mutations
20 March 2006
As the H5N1 time-bomb continues to tick away, the World Health Organization (WHO), its resources stretched to the limit, is trying to plan containment measures and identify a possible vaccine to stem a possible pandemic. While the 100 deaths and 177 documented cases of the avian influenza virus may seem modest, the WHO says that with each new case comes the possibility of the virus mutating into a form that is transmissible from human-to-human. Once this happens, say experts, there will be few, if any, places on Earth where anyone can escape the deadly virus. But researchers are hopeful that a newly developed technology, the glycan microarray, will at least be able to quickly identify new strains of the virus that have the potential to make that critical mutation.
"With continued outbreaks of the H5N1 virus in poultry and wild birds, further human cases are likely," said Ian Wilson, a Scripps Research professor and head of the laboratory that conducted the work on the glycan microarray. "The potential for the emergence of a human-adapted H5 virus, either by re-assortment or mutation, is a clear threat to public health worldwide."
Wilson's lab has been conducting experiments to observe the kind of mutation needed for the H5N1 virus to become transmissible from human-to-human. So far the researchers have examined one strain called A/Vietnam/1203/2004 (Viet04), which was sourced from a 10-year-old Vietnamese boy who died from the infection in 2004. Researchers say that the Viet04 virus is one of the most pathogenic H5N1 viruses studied to date. When they observed the virus, researchers found that the hemagglutinin (the agent responsible for binding the virus to the cell being infected) structure from Viet04 was closely linked to the 1918 virus HA, which caused 50 million deaths worldwide.
The new findings, reported in Science, were made possible using a newly developed microarray technology comprised of hundreds of microscopic assay sites on a single small surface. Using the microarray technology, researchers concluded that only minor mutations are needed for the binding site preference of the avian virus to switch from receptors in the intestinal tract of birds to the respiratory tract of humans. The researchers wrote that these mutations are already: "known in [some human influenza] viruses to increase binding for these receptors."
Receptor specificity for the influenza virus is determined by the glycoprotein hemagglutinin (HA) on the surface of the virus. These viral HAs bind to host cell receptors containing complex glycans-carbohydrates that in turn contain terminal sialic acids. Avian viruses mostly bind to 2-3 linked sialic acids on receptors of intestinal epithelial cells, while human viruses are usually specific for the 2-6 linkage on the epithelial cells of the lungs and upper respiratory tract. These exchanges allow the virus and host membranes to fuse, so that viral genetic material can be transferred to the cell.
The lack of a jump from a 2-3 to a 2-6 receptor is the major reason why human-to-human transmission following avian-to-human infection has not occurred. But the researchers also made careful note that their study is presuming only a single route for the virus to adapt, and that there are likely many as yet "unidentified mutations" that could surface. Alternate routes may allow the virus to switch receptor specificity and make the necessary jump from human-to-human, since "once a foothold in a new host species is made, the virus HA can optimize its specificity to the new host."
"Our recombinant approach to the structural analysis of the Viet04 virus showed that when we inserted HA mutations that had already been shown to shift receptor preference in H3 HAs to the human respiratory tract, the mutations increased receptor preference of the Viet04 HA towards specific human glycans that could serve as receptors on lung epithelial cells," Wilson explained. "The effect of these mutations on the Viet04 HA increases the likelihood of binding to and infection of susceptible epithelial cells."
Although the study seems only to reinforce previous gloomy avian flu predictions, the use of the glycan microarray technology is actually a positive step toward identifying new active virus strains in the field. "This technology allows researchers to assay hundreds of varieties in a single experiment," said Jeremy M. Berg, the director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. "The glycan microarray offers a detailed picture of viral receptor specificity that can be used to map the evolution of new human pathogenic strains, such as the H5N1 avian influenza, and could prove invaluable in the early identification of emerging viruses that could cause new epidemics."
Source: Scripps Research Institute
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|3/20/2006 8:41:01 AM
The government bought 4.5 million standard masks for about 10 cents each. Ontario nurses say the masks are inadequate protection against avian flu, and the government needs to buy N95 surgical masks at about 10 times the cost.
Nurses demanded and received N95 masks three years ago during Toronto's SARS outbreak.
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|To: donpat who wrote (36)
|3/21/2006 9:39:37 AM
|James Baker designs nanoparticles to guide drugs directly into cancer cells, which could lead to far safer treatments.
By Kevin Bullis
This article is the second in a series of 10 stories we're running over two weeks, covering today's most significant (and just plain cool) emerging technologies. It's part of our annual "10 Emerging Technologies" report, which appears in the March/April print issue of Technology Review.
The treatment begins with an injection of an unremarkable-looking clear fluid. Invisible inside, however, are particles precisely engineered to slip past barriers such as blood vessel walls, latch onto cancer cells, and trick the cells into engulfing them as if they were food. These Trojan particles flag the cells with a fluorescent dye and simultaneously destroy them with a drug.
Developed by University of Michigan physician and researcher James Baker, these multipurpose nanoparticles -- which should be ready for patient trials later this year -- are at the leading edge of a nanotechnology-based medical revolution. Such methodically designed nanoparticles have the potential to transfigure the diagnosis and treatment of not only cancer but virtually any disease. Already, researchers are working on inexpensive tests that could distinguish a case of the sniffles from the early symptoms of a bioterror attack, as well as treatments for disorders ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to cystic fibrosis. The molecular finesse of nanotechnology, Baker says, makes it possible to "find things like tumor cells or inflammatory cells and get into them and change them directly."
[To view an illustration of nanoparticles delivering a drug, click here. technologyreview.com ]
Cancer therapies may be the first nanomedicines to take off. Treatments that deliver drugs to the neighborhood of cancer cells in nanoscale capsules have recently become available for breast and ovarian cancers and for Kaposi's sarcoma. The next generation of treatments, not yet approved, improves the drugs by delivering them inside individual cancer cells. This generation also boasts multifunction particles such as Baker's; in experiments reported last June, Baker's particles slowed and even killed human tumors grown in mice far more efficiently than conventional chemotherapy.
"The field is dramatically expanding," says Piotr Grodzinski, program director of the National Cancer Institute's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer. "It's not an evolutionary technology; it's a disruptive technology that can address the problems which former approaches couldn't."
The heart of Baker's approach is a highly branched molecule called a dendrimer. Each dendrimer has more than a hundred molecular "hooks" on its surface. To five or six of these, Baker connects folic-acid molecules. Because folic acid is a vitamin, most cells in the body have proteins on their surfaces that bind to it. But many cancer cells have significantly more of these receptors than normal cells. Baker links an anticancer drug to other branches of the dendrimer; when cancer cells ingest the folic acid, they consume the deadly drugs as well.
The approach is versatile. Baker has laden the dendrimers with molecules that glow under MRI scans, which can reveal the location of a cancer. And he can hook different targeting molecules and drugs to the dendrimers to treat a variety of tumors. He plans to begin human trials later this year, potentially on ovarian or head and neck cancer.
Mauro Ferrari, a professor of internal medicine, engineering, and materials science at Ohio State University, is hopeful about what Baker's work could mean for cancer patients. "What Jim is doing is very important," he says. "It is part of the second wave of approaches to targeted therapeutics, which I think will have tremendous acceleration of progress in the years to come."
To hasten development of nano-based therapies, the NCI alliance has committed $144.3 million to nanotech-related projects, funding seven centers of excellence for cancer nanotechnology and 12 projects to develop diagnostics and treatments, including Baker's.
Baker has already begun work on a modular system in which dendrimers adorned with different drugs, imaging agents, or cancer-targeting molecules could be "zipped together." Ultimately, doctors might be able to create personalized combinations of nanomedicines by simply mixing the contents of vials of dendrimers.
Such a system is at least 10 years away from routine use, but Baker's basic design could be approved for use in patients in as little as five years. That kind of rapid progress is a huge part of what excites doctors and researchers about nanotechnology's medical potential. "It will completely revolutionize large branches of medicine," says Ferrari.
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