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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

HIV-like virus suppressed in monkey experiment

Thursday, 31 October 2013 02:17 Published in Health & Fitness

   NEW YORK (AP) — Doctors may one day be able to control a patient's HIV infection in a new way: injecting swarms of germ-fighting antibodies, two new studies suggest.

   In monkeys, that strategy sharply reduced blood levels of a cousin of HIV. The results also gave tantalizing hints that someday the tactic might help destroy the AIDS virus in its hiding places in the body, something current drugs cannot do.

   The study results "could revolutionize efforts to cure HIV" if the approach is found to work in people, said a commentary published Wednesday by the journal Nature along with the monkey studies.

   Antibodies are proteins in the blood that grab onto specific germs and mark them for elimination. People infected with HIV naturally make antibodies to fight the AIDS virus, but they are generally ineffective. The two new studies used lab-made versions of rare antibodies with unusual potency against HIV.

   One study of rhesus monkeys showed a profound effect from a single injection of antibodies, said lead author Dr. Dan Barouch of Harvard and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

   The 18 animals had been infected with SHIV, a monkey version of HIV. In 13 animals, blood levels of SHIV became undetectable by standard tests within a week of the treatment. After the antibodies petered out, the virus came back. That happened one to three months after treatment.

   In three monkeys with the lowest levels of SHIV before treatment, the virus didn't return during an observation period of up to eight months. Barouch said the animals were not cured, but the treatment had apparently improved their immune systems enough to keep the virus in check.

   The two other monkeys started with the highest blood levels of SHIV. Treatment lowered those levels but not to the point where they were undetectable.

   The second study in Nature, from the National Institutes of Health, showed encouraging results in a smaller group of monkeys.

   In people, standard drugs routinely tamp down HIV to undetectable levels in the blood. But the antibody approach may someday help doctors attack virus that's hiding in infected cells, beyond the reach of today's drugs, said the Nature commentary by Dr. Steven Deeks of the University of California, San Francisco, and Dr. Louis Picker of the Oregon Health & Science University in Beaverton.

   In theory, antibodies might activate the body's immune system to kill those infected cells, they wrote. Barouch's results hinted at such an effect, they noted. Virus levels dropped faster in the monkeys than they do when people get standard HIV drugs, and when the monkey virus returned, it generally didn't reach its pre-treatment levels. Barouch also found virus levels reduced in cells and tissues after treatment.

   The findings of the two studies are "provocative" about prospects for attacking HIV's hiding places, Deeks said in a telephone interview.

   "These studies raised more questions than they answered," he said. "But that's how science advances."

   ___

   Online:  Nature: http://www.nature.com/nature

ISP investigating shooting involving Alton police officer

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 04:38 Published in Local News

   The Illinois State Police are assisting in an investigation after an Alton police officer shot a suspect Tuesday, critically wounding him.  The Officer had been responding to a call for shots fired in the area of McClure and Harriett Street when he encountered the suspect.  

   Alton Police Chief Jake Simmons say an officer fired on the man when he drew a weapon after being ordered to the ground.  

   "The initial investigation disclosed that the gun the suspect drew was an airsoft-type handgun," he aid.  "The handgun looks identical to a Glock semi-automatic handgun carried by law enforcement."

   Chief Simmons says it's a tragic incident any time a law officer has to discharge a weapon.  The officer involved is on routine administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

 

Fed expected to maintain pace of economic stimulus

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 03:38 Published in National News

   WASHINGTON (AP) — Renewed questions about the economy's health and uncertainty surrounding the government's budget fight will likely lead the Federal Reserve on Wednesday to maintain the pace of the stimulus it's supplying to the economy.

   That expectation marks a reversal from just six weeks ago, when almost everyone expected the Fed to start trimming its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases. The bond buying is intended to keep long-term interest rates low to help the economy rebound from the Great Recession.

   The Fed is to announce its decision in a statement after a two-day policy meeting.

   The central bank surprised investors and economists at its last meeting in September when it chose not to reduce its bond buying. Since then, a 16-day partial government shutdown shaved an estimated $25 billion from economic growth this quarter. And a batch of tepid economic data pointed to a still-subpar economy.

   Now, few think the Fed will reduce its stimulus any time soon. Many analysts now predict the Fed will maintain the pace of its bond purchases into next year.

   "I think March is now the earliest that any reduction in bond purchases will happen," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial.

   By then, Fed members expect to have seen several months of stronger job growth. They also expect Congress to have resolved its budget impasse.

   If the Fed does start slowing its stimulus in March, it will have left its policy unchanged not just this week but also at its next meeting in December and at its subsequent meeting in late January.

   The January meeting will be the last for Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is stepping down after eight years. President Barack Obama has chosen Vice Chair Janet Yellen to succeed Bernanke.

   Assuming that Yellen is confirmed by the Senate, her first meeting as chairman will be in March. Many economists think no major policy changes will occur before a new chairman takes over.

   Congress' budget fight has clouded the Fed's timetable. Though the government reopened Oct. 17 and a threatened default on its debt was averted, Congress adopted only temporary fixes. More deadlines and possible economic disruptions lie ahead.

   A House-Senate conference committee is working toward a budget accord. But wide differences separate Democrats and Republicans on spending and taxes. Without a deal by Jan. 15, another shutdown is possible. Congress must also raise the government's debt ceiling after Feb. 7. If not, a market-rattling default will remain a threat.

   The standoff has led economists to trim their forecasts for economic growth in the October-December quarter. The Conference Board said Tuesday that its index of consumer confidence dropped to 71.2 in October, the lowest level since April. The decline was attributed, in part, to the government shutdown.

   Employers added just 148,000 jobs in September, a steep slowdown from August. And temporary layoffs during the shutdown are expected to depress October's job gain.

   In June, when Bernanke suggested that the Fed could reduce its bond buying by year's end, the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 560 points in two days. Many investors feared that the Fed might remove its support prematurely and derail an already subpar recovery from the recession.

   Interest rates rose, too. The increase particularly in mortgage rates, before the Fed had even begun to change policy, alarmed the central bank. Higher mortgage rates could dampen the gains in housing, which has been a rare bright spot for the economy.

   Given the panic among investors when Bernanke raised the prospect that the Fed would slow its bond purchases, analysts think any pullback will be very gradual.

   "The one thing Janet Yellen will not want to do is start her term by making a mistake," said Brian Bethune, an economics professor at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif. "She will be extremely cautious and will try to signal that the Fed is starting to back off its bond purchases without causing the kinds of effects we saw in the summer."

   This week's meeting is the first since Obama announced Oct. 9 his choice of Yellen to be chairman. David Jones, chief economist at DMJ Advisors and the author of several books on the Fed, said her status could change the dynamics.

   "Bernanke is essentially a lame duck, and Yellen has not yet taken over," Jones said. "It will make the Fed more cautious."

   Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has said he will oppose Yellen's nomination unless the Senate votes on a bill he's sponsoring to subject the Fed's rate decisions to review by the Government Accountability Office.

   Yellen is still expected to win Senate confirmation, but a vote by the full Senate may not come until January. The Senate Banking Committee is considering holding a hearing on the nomination Nov. 14.

   Once the Fed starts trimming its bond purchases, economists foresee reductions of $10 billion to $20 billion a month as long as the economy improves consistently. Some analysts think the Fed could finish its purchases by the end of 2014.

   "But if something goes wrong, then they will stop or at least slow down the reductions," said David Wyss, a former chief economist at Standard & Poor's and now an economics professor at Brown University.

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