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Category Archives: Virginia Stem Cells

Pollution could be sucking the youth out of you, quite literally – ZME Science

Posted: June 23, 2021 at 1:51 am

Exposure to pollution in all its forms could be making us age faster, according to new research.

Our everyday exposure to UV rays, ozone, cigarette smoke, industrial chemicals, and other pollutants might be even more damaging than weve believed. Such factors can lead to the production of free radicals in our bodies, highly reactive chemical molecules that damage tissues or DNA. A new study from West Virginia University, in collaboration with the University of Minnesota, reports that unrepaired DNA damage incurred from these radicals can cause us to age faster.

From their research on aging and cell damage in animals, the team is confident in the effect pollution could have on these factors in humans.

By the time [a genetically-modified mouse used in the study] is 5 months old, its like a 2-year-old mouse, said EricKelley, associate professor and associate chair of research in the School of Medicines Department of Physiology and Pharmacology.

It has all the symptoms and physical characteristics. It has hearing loss, osteoporosis, renal dysfunction, visual impairment, hypertension, as well as other age-related issues. Its prematurely aged just because it has lost its ability to repair its DNA.

Kelley and his team used genetically modified mice for their study. These animals had the data encoding a certain protein removed from their hematopoietic stem cells, undifferentiated immune cells that later mature into white blood cells. This protein is a key DNA-repairing component in the mammalian body, and without it, the team could observe what effects their ever-decaying DNA strands would cause to the mices cells.

In rough terms, the team explains, a 2-year-old mouse is about as old as a human in their late 70s to early 80s.

These genetically engineered mice showed more markers of senescence (aging), cell damage, and oxidation in their immune cells compared to control mice. However, The damage extended beyond the immune system, with the experimental mice showing aged and damaged cells in organs including the liver and kidneys. This, they note, suggests that unrepaired DNA damage can lead to premature aging throughout an individuals body.

The oxidation damage observed is largely due to the action of free radicals. There are two main ways that free radicals make their way into our bodies. The first is unavoidable oxidative phosphorylation. Its basically what happens after digestion, the step in which food is actually oxidized in our cells to produce energy. Without it, we couldnt be alive. However, pollution can also introduce these bad chemicals.

Chemical pollutants such as smoke from exhaust or cigarettes can lead to the formation of free radicals inside the body through the interactions they have with chemicals and tissues. Additionally, radiation treatments like those used against cancer can transfer energy to the water molecules in our body, which can break apart into free radicals.

Our bodies do have tools on hand to limit the effects of these free radicals, but nowhere near enough to resist the pollution levels were seeing today.

A cigarette has over 10 to the 16th free radicals per puff, just from combusted carbon materials, Kelley said. We have mechanisms in the mitochondria that mop free radicals up for us, but if they become overwhelmed if we have over-nutrition, if we eat too much junk, if we smoke the defense mechanism absolutely cannot keep up.

Furthermore, as we age, these defenses become less and less effective, as our bodies wear out. Eventually, invariably, the oxidants gain the upper hand, the damage they cause starts outweighing our bodies repair capacity. Many of the characteristics associated with aging are caused by this. But, the team proposes, if were exposed to more pollutants, and accumulate a greater level of free radicals in the body, that aging will take place sooner.

I come from an Appalachian background, Kelley said. And, you know, Id go to funerals that were in some old house an in-the-living-room-with-a-casket kind of deal and Id look at people in there, and theyd be 39 or 42 and look like they were 80 because of their occupation and their nutrition.

The impact is less on lifespan and more on healthspan, he adds. If you could get people better access to healthcare, better education, easier ways for them to participate in healthier eating and a healthier lifestyle, then you could improve the overall economic burden on the population of West Virginia and have a much better outcome all the way around.

Although we have a few pharmaceutical options to deal with free radicals, the team says its best to prevent their accumulation in the first place, mainly through lifestyle changes.

The paper An aged immune system drives senescence and ageing of solid organs has been published in the journal Nature.

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Habitable Earth an anomaly? Awardees of STEM grants study this and more | University of Hawaii System News – UH System Current News

Posted: June 6, 2021 at 2:04 am

2021 ARCS FoundationHonolulu Chapter Scholars

Nineteen University of Hawaii at Mnoa doctoral candidates have been awarded $5,000 Scholar Awards from the ARCS FoundationHonolulu Chapter. The 2021 award recipients are from six UH Mnoa units.

Institute for Astronomy student Erica Molnar Bufanda was named Scholar of the Year. Recipient of a George and Mona Elmore ARCS Award, Bufanda was selected by a panel of scientists for an additional $1,000 prize for submitting the best short video describing her research. She studies the chemical signatures imprinted on comets to determine if a habitable Earth is a common occurrence in solar system development or an anomaly.

ARCS Foundation is a non-profit volunteer group that works to advance science in America by providing unrestricted grants to outstanding U.S. graduate students in STEM fields. The Honolulu chapter has provided more than $2 million to UH graduate students since 1974.

Ryan Dungee received the Columbia Communications ARCSAward. His research lays important groundwork for other astronomers by improving image quality from telescopes using adaptive optics and benchmarking models for determining a stars age.

Khaldoon Ishmael received the Frederick M. Kresser Award. He works on non-invasive monitoring systems that use Doppler radar based on the ground or unmanned aerial vehicles to detect physiological signals, such as breathing and heart rate.

Harrison Togia received the Bretzlaff Foundation Award. He is engineering resilient methods for identifying hazards and adaptations for coastal communities using free access data, open source programming, evolving measures and deep learning.

Maria Constantini received a Maybelle F. Roth ARCS Award in Conservation Biology. She examines microbiome formation in the endangered akikiki honeycreeper to improve captive breeding efforts.

Ana Flores received a Mona and George Elmore ARCS Award. She monitors plant productivity and growth to gauge their response to environmental stress changes through key developmental stages.

Jeffrey Schueler received the H. Keith and Sue Ernst ARCS Award. He tests predictions of quantum mechanics by studying decay properties of B-mesonssub-atomic particles that are unstable and decay in interesting waysgenerated in the international Belle supercollider experiment in Japan.

Jordan Gossett received the Jacqueline Maly ARCS Award. She studies the co-evolution of leafhoppers and their endosymbiotic bacteria, which provide essential nutrients that are not available in the lava tubes where the insects live.

Bryson Nakamoto received a Sarah Ann Martin ARCS Award. He is developing a method for screening materials to fast-track discovery of a hydrogen storage material.

Samantha Pilgrim received a Sarah Ann Martin ARCS Award. She studies the relationship between symmetries that preserve distances and those that can be approximated by symmetries of finite sets, an area of mathematics with potential applications in physics, engineering and materials science.

Manya Singh received a Maybelle F. Roth ARCS Award in Conservation Biology. She wants to know if invasive plants modify the soil and the organisms living in it in ways that impede native plant restoration, and how that will be affected by droughts related to climate change.

Jeremieh Hasley received the Ellen M. Koenig ARCS Award. He employs CRISPR gene editing technology to create a model papaya crop that researchers can use to study gene function in both papaya and slower growing fruit trees.

David Honsberger received the Helen Jones Farrar ARCS Award. He seeks natural parasites and predators of invasive wood-boring insects like the coffee berry borer and the beetle responsible for spreading Rapid Ohia Death, and ways to improve their efficacy as biological control agents.

Kaitlin Driesse Keegan received an Ellen M. Koenig ARCS Award. She is trying to determine if antibodies from infection with the Dengue virus contribute to the congenital defects related to infection from the closely related Zika virus.

Alexandru Sasuclark received the George and Virginia Starbuck ARCS Award. He investigates the role of the micronutrient selenium in development of cells that transmit signals between motor and sensory neurons and the net that surrounds them.

Dillon Dodson received a George and Mona Elmore ARCS Award. He studies droplet clustering, which is related to droplet size and turbulent intensity, to better understand formation of precipitation.

Chiara Ferrari-Wong received the Toby Lee ARCS Award in Earth Sciences. She looks for predicted but yet-to-be detected organic compounds deposited on the Moon by solar winds.

Jessica Perelman received a George and Mona Elmore ARCS Award. She uses acoustic monitors to observe behavior of animals in the water column of a region targeted for deep-sea mining to inform development of marine protections.

Nicholas Ulm received an Ellen M. Koenig ARCS Award. He works on a wave energy buoy inspired by the Hlona blow hole to optimize power production and provide a stable docking station for autonomous ocean-observing research vehicles.

Read more about the 2021 ARCS Scholars.

This recognition is an example of UH Mnoas goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 201525 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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Clint Smith’s ‘How The Word Is Passed’ And Race History – NPR

Posted: at 2:04 am

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith Little Brown & Co. hide caption

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith

One hundred years ago, from May 31 through June 1, 1921, a group of white police officers organized white citizens in an attack on the Black residents of Tulsa, Okla., with both aircraft and ground forces. As many as 300 Black Americans were killed, many more were injured, and 35 blocks of the city were destroyed, with damages amounting to what would be more than $20 million today.

Tulsa was not the only site of white violence against Black communities in the early 20th century. But this history is generally not taught in schools.

Today, as writers, scholars, and activists push back against this erasure of Black history, conservative white Americans in power have responded with a push to make learning about this "critical race history" illegal along with sweeping anti-voting rights legislation. This all points to a desire to present a white-centered view of American history to erase the oppression of Black Americans and the history of white supremacy and white violence.

In his first major work of nonfiction, How the Word is Passed, poet, scholar and Atlantic Magazine staff writer Clint Smith seeks out this troubling history to understand the stories America tells itself about who we are through what is remembered. The aegis of the book is this: Smith traveled "to eight places in the United States as well as one abroad to understand how each reckons with its relationship to the history of American slavery."

Smith begins with Monticello, the plantation owned by Thomas Jefferson, which, like many institutions of its time was built mainly by the labor of enslaved Africans. Writes Smith: "Jefferson was not singular in his moral inconsistencies; rather he was one of the founding fathers who fought for their own freedom while keeping their boots on the necks of hundreds of others." There were, on average, 130 enslaved human beings at Monticello at any given time, vastly outnumbering Jefferson and his family.

Writes Smith: "The splitting of families was not peripheral to the practice of slavery; it was central. And Jefferson was no exception; in addition to the enslaved human beings he sold during his lifetime, nearly all the enslaved Africans in his possession were sold after his death to cover his extensive debts." Little remains of the history of these enslaved human beings; much of what is known comes from Jefferson's meticulous note-keeping of the buying and selling of enslaved Africans.

Thus, piecing together the lives of enslaved human beings from the paucity of records and artifacts becomes Smith's project: the marbles children crafted from dirt for play after all day labor, the reports of mothers beaten when struggling to hold onto their infants at the auction block.

Smith describes not just the places of history, but the reactions of people he meets upon his explorations. Some are cognizant of it; others, like the elderly white sisters-in-law he meets at Monticello, are grappling with hearing this information for the first time and wondering why this aspect of Jefferson's history had never been taught in their history classes. '"It really takes the shine off the guy,'" they say to Smith.

From Southern plantations to prisons, from memorials to cemeteries, Smith reckons with the truths and lies of slavery and race that are woven into the contemporary fabric of our society. There is his exploration of Angola Prison, which articulates how the racial inequities in policing and justice systems stem from post-Reconstruction white supremacy "meant to funnel Black people into the convict leasing system, replacing in part the labor force lost as a result of emancipation." There is the Blandford Cemetery of Confederate Soldiers where "the soft din of lawnmowers buzzed in the distance, their vibrating bodies held by Black men steering them in between tombstones and draped in Confederate flags" and the tour guides who won't talk about slavery because their majority white visitors view the Confederacy in a positive light.

There is the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, which centers the enslaved and explores how "sexual violence was ubiquitous during slavery, and it followed women wherever they went;" here, Smith learns about the Black women enslaved on breeding farms, systematically raped while their children sold at market, like cattle; how the violence did not end with death, but instead Black people's bodies were used as medical experiments to advance science and medicine post-mortem. How the Northern factories and European industry also were fueled by the labor of the enslaved.

There is New York City, which, during the 17th and 18th centuries held more enslaved Black people than in any other urban area across North America, where Wall Street banks traded in enslaved persons as capital and Central Park was built only "because several generations ago hundreds of Black people were violently forced from their homes."

And, in Senegal, there is Gore Island and the House of Slaves where Smith is struck both by the horror of the place and its similarities to other places he has seen; how the small, cramped cells where Africans were held captive before being shipped across the Atlantic to American slavery echo the cells in Angola Prison and the flimsy shacks on plantations used to house enslaved Blacks; the street names that bear the names of European colonizers in the same way that street names in the American South bear the names of Confederate enslavers.

It is important to understand the relationship of slavery to colonization; it is important to understand the history of Africa as existing before this violence as well as understanding the legacy that this violence has wrought.

"We have to look at who is at the other end of it," Smith writes. Who profited?

In rich, evocative language, Smith synthesizes first hand research, textual sources, and interviews as he weaves a lyrical and precise tapestry of the truth of America's past that many would like to continue to hide.

The detail and depth of the storytelling is vivid and visceral, making history present and real. Equally commendable is the care and compassion shown to those Smith interviews whether tour guides or fellow visitors in these many spaces. Due to his care as an interviewer, the responses Smith elicits are resonant and powerful.

And yet, repeatedly, Smith encounters resistance from white Americans to believing the horrors of the past. Consider the denial of Sally Hemings. She was the daughter of a Black enslaved woman, a mother who had no choice in her sexual relationship with Hemings' father (Thomas Jefferson's father-in-law). And Jefferson himself began a sexual relationship with the enslaved Hemings which she had no power to refuse when he was in his mid-40s and she was 16, fathering her six children. It's a part of history denied by Monticello for decades and only recently given space in the history of the place. The growing consensus among historians is that sexual relationships between white enslavers and enslaved Black women were rape because of this power imbalance: enslaved Black women had no ability to refuse the sexual demands of enslavers; indeed, the Virginia Slave Codes gave enslavers the power to enforce compliance by any means necessary and if an enslaved person "should happen to be killed in such correction, it shall not be counted a felony."

"There are just so many ways that our public education is failing people by just not giving them the context to understand that Monticello is a plantation, and that slavery was a system that created the economic prosperity that enabled our country to exist," writes Smith.

Smith deftly connects the past, hiding in plain sight, with the today's lingering effects. In Wallace, La., home to the Whitney Plantation, the descendants of the enslaved still live in the surrounding areas amid environmental blight and "the intergenerational poverty that plagues many formerly enslaved communities nearly a century and a half after emancipation." In Charlottesville, a short distance from Monticello, the racial terror demonstrated by white supremacists in 2018 echoes that experienced by Black folks during slavery and Jim Crow. "I found the county where my grandaddy was from and saw the people who were lynched there," recalls Yvonne Holden, the Whitney Plantation's director of operations, to Smith, about a trip to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., a family legacy of racial terror Smith knows only too well. "My grandfather grew up in a town where people were lynched and buried before the sun rose the next morning," he writes.

The past is not past; it is present.

One of the most poignant moments comes when Smith visits a celebration of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, both organizations with ties to the racial hate group the Ku Klux Klan, keynoted by Paul C. Gramling Jr. a moment that is especially emotive when juxtaposed with the Juneteenth celebration on Galveston Island in the following chapter. Even though he has taken care to invite a white peer along, Smith is acutely aware of being a Black man in that space of the hostility of the crowd; a white man filming him with his cell-phone, another putting on display his open-carry gun. "I felt a tightening of the muscles inside my mouth, muscles I hadn't even known were there," writes Smith.

As a former educator, with a grandmother who was an educator, Smith comes back to education as the way forward. There is a reason American slavers tried so hard to keep enslaved Blacks uneducated, making teaching an enslaved person to read or write a severe crime. There is a reason Texas tried to obfuscate slavery in textbooks, calling enslaved Africans "happy" and "workers." There is a reason for the attacks on critical race theory, on anything that teaches the truth of slavery and white supremacy; on anything that connects past injustice to its perpetuation through contemporary social injustice. There is a reason this history is not taught. Education creates knowledge and understanding, which creates a drive for truth, justice, and social change.

"But it happened, it really happened," writes Smith. And without learning the actual history to understand why society is the way it is today, nothing will ever be made right.

Hope Wabuke is a poet, writer and assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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Study: Israeli-made anti-COVID nasal spray reduced infection at mass gathering – The Times of Israel

Posted: February 23, 2021 at 3:43 am

An Israeli-made nasal spray appears to have contributed to a reduced COVID-19 infection rate among ultra-Orthodox members of a synagogue in Bnei Brak amid Rosh Hashanah festivities last year, a new trial has shown.

Of 83 worshipers who used the spray as instructed before Rosh Hashanah prayers and for the following two weeks, just two contracted the highly contagious virus, in a real-world test of the substance which is designed to create a protective gel layer over the nasal mucosa to blocks viruses from infecting the nasal cells. The study was conducted by makers of the Taffix spray, Nasus Pharma, along with scientists from the University of Haifa, the University of Virginia, and the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. The full study was initially published in November 2020, with an updated version posted last month.

According to the study, Nasus Pharma approached a medium-sized synagogue community of some 250 members in Bnei Brak ahead of Rosh Hashanah in September 2020 to gauge their interest in participating in the trial involving the spray, which was touted as an extra layer of protection. Each member was eligible to collect a bottle of Taffix at the synagogue the day before Rosh Hashana prayers and received written instructions on the proper usage of the spray.

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At the time, Israel was a world leader in the number of new COVID-19 cases per million citizens, and the infection rate among ultra-orthodox communities was double that of the general population. Since Rosh Hashanah is characterized by mass prayers in synagogues and family events, there were concerns about Jewish high holiday events as potential post-mass gathering outbreaks, especially in ultra-Orthodox communities. Before the holiday in mid-September, Bnei Braks positivity rates for COVID-19 were 17.6%, climbing to 28.1% two weeks later, the study showed.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews are pictured praying in a synagogue divided with plastic sheets in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, amid measures put in place to stem the spread of Covid-19 on September 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

This is a community that has different priorities and values, Nasus Pharma CEO Dr. Dalia Megiddo told The Times on Friday. Although the government tried to explain and to enlist opinion leaders, it was very clear they were going to go to the synagogue come what may. So we said, OK, this is going to be a super-spreader event.'

At the end of the two-week trial, 81 of the 83 members of the synagogue who used the spray as instructed every five hours whenever they left their residences for the following 14 days did not contract the virus. The two who did get infected rarely used the spray, and the remaining members of the community did not use Taffix at all.

These important results conform with prior in vitro studies performed with Taffix that proved its robust activity against the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 , Dr. Megiddo said in an announcement in October. This is the first clinical real-life data showing that the use of Taffix is highly effective even in the worst-case scenario of a super spread event in the heart of the worst-hit city in Israel.

In previous lab studies with Taffix, the spray was shown to be 99% percent effective in blocking viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, from infecting human cells, Nasus Pharma had indicated. The spray has been approved for use in Israel since last July and has a CE mark for use in Europe.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews during morning prayer in a synagogue during a nationwide three-week lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, in Bnei Brak, Sept 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Professor Yaakov Naparstek, the scientific director of the Meuhedet HMO Research Institute and a physician at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem who co-authored the study, said that the fact that Taffix was able to significantly reduce infection rate in users of the product is very encouraging.

It may offer an additional layer of protection to people who encounter events that pose high risk of infection. The data contributes to our knowledge of the effect on population protection, he went on, adding that additional controlled clinical studies will be needed to determine specific efficacy in different circumstances.

Given the excellent safety profile of Taffix and its statistically significant efficacy in preventing infection following what is defined as high-risk infection event it seems that this additional layer of protection can significantly reduce the risks of infection and may enable people to resume some part of their daily routine more safely, the authors wrote.

The Israeli-made nasal spray Taffix is said to reduce infection risk by 99 percent in lab studies, say makers of the product, Nasus Pharma. (Screenshot)

Nasus Pharma is a privately held clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company founded in 2019. Based in Tel Aviv, the company says it is developing a number of intranasal products aimed at assisting patients in several acute emergency situations such as opioid overdose and anaphylactic shock.

In addition to Taffix, Nasus Pharmas products include Intranasal Naloxone, heading to a phase II trial, and Intranasal Epinephrine, currently in phase II, as well as a number of preclinical products.

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Novel Bone Marrow ‘Ingredient’ To Help Arthritic Horses The Horse –

Posted: February 7, 2021 at 12:50 am

Regenerative therapies such as stem cells and platelet-rich plasma already play an important role in managing osteoarthritis (OA). Nonetheless, veterinarians have found that response to even these therapies is less than ideal in many cases, prompting researchers to continuously seek novel therapies for this all-too-common musculoskeletal disorder. One of the newest to be unveiled is called bone marrow mononuclear cell (BMNC) therapy. One researcher who presented at the 2020 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held virtually, reported that the equine industry is in critical need for therapies that resolve joint inflammation but preserve tissue healing, and BMNC appears a promising candidate.

Much more than stem cells classically sought for cartilage healing, bone marrow is rich in macrophage progenitor cells, explained James B. Everett, DVM, MS, previously of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, who now works at the Equine Surgical Center at ThorSport Farm,in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that play a role in tissue repair and cartilage integrity, and produce the anti-inflammatory mediators, including interleukin-10 (IL-10).

Everett said macrophages in the synovial (joint) membrane are essential for joint health, clearing aggressors, secreting key molecules required for optimal joint function, and forming a shield that protects tissues undergoing repair, similar to a wound scab. However, when the amount of tissue damage overwhelms these housekeeping functions, macrophages stimulate inflammation as a means of recruiting more cells, especially more macrophages, to cope with increased demands for repair.

If this response is efficiently accomplished, macrophages then produce, among other things, high concentrations of IL-10 and resolve the inflammatory process, returning the joint to a healthy state, he said.

Everett emphasized that not all inflammation is bad. This acute inflammation is essential to establish a resolving response, and anti-inflammatory therapies can negatively interfere.

As presented by Everetts colleague Bruno Menarim, DVM, PhD, in a separate session, studies show that BMNCs promote the endogenous resolution of experimentally induced inflammation. To see if these promising features translated to naturally occurring inflammation in live horses, Everetts research team studied 19 horses, dividing them into three treatment groups:

The selected horses were diagnosed with OA in a single joint, and the team injected those joints once with the saline, triamcinolone, or BMNCs. The BMNCs were autologous, meaning veterinarians collected them from each patients own bone marrow aspirate. They processed the aspirate in-house, and the isolated mononuclear cells, composed predominantly of macrophages, were ready to inject into the affected joint within three hours of aspiration.

We found that while objectively assessed lameness (via Lameness Locator) decreased in all three groups, it was only significant in the BMNC-treated horses, said Everett. Further, the treatment was well-tolerated with no adverse events appreciated in this study.

He said that using BMNCs can help reduce the need for chronic use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids, which produces potentially harmful consequences. Further, BMNCs preserve the production of molecules such as interleukins and cytokines that are essential for restoring joint homeostasis. Corticosteroids often inhibit these molecules.

The researchers noted that these results support a larger clinical trial using BMNCs in clinical cases of equine OA.

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Anatomy of a vaccine: What it takes to create a safe, effective COVID shot – University of California

Posted: December 9, 2020 at 1:58 am

Shawn stepped into the UCLA Vine Street Clinic in Hollywood with confidence. He offered up his arm. The UCLA doctor injected him. It took seconds; there was barely a sting.

Twenty-four hours after the first of two shots, given 28 days apart, he suffered the headaches and fatigue associated with a milder case of COVID-19. But Shawn remained calm, resolved to honor the memory of his mother, a nurse who had died in May 2020 from an unrelated cause.

The 57-year-old nonprofit worker had been thinking about the challenges of COVID-19 for a long time, and he decided to go through the lengthy consent process for the medical trial. It gave me something to do with my anger that was so much better than yelling at someone for not wearing a mask, he says. And [at UCLA] I felt I was in good hands.

Shawn is one of many volunteers who have stepped up to participate in medical trials at UCLA, which is part of a global network thats determined to help find a vaccine against the novel coronavirus.

The stakes are huge. More than 250,000 Americans have already died, and there have been more than 1 million deaths around the world. Economies have been brought to their knees, social tensions have disrupted communities and emotional maladies are on the rise.

In response, doctors and scientists have been challenged to be resilient and ingenious. Theyre taking an array of different approaches, knowing that public confidence in vaccines hangs in the balance.

In addition, it has been a challenge to create a vaccine in such a short amount of time similar efforts have taken five to 10 years. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and biotech firm Moderna have both reported remarkable progress, announcing in November that their vaccine candidates were more than 90% effective. All of which has raised questions about the next steps, such as how the vaccines will be distributed.

I dont want to make a vaccine to protect against mild disease, says Dr. Marcus Horwitz, distinguished professor of medicine and microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. I want to protect people who are going to get severe disease.

Horwitz has already developed vaccines against the bacteria behind tuberculosis, anthrax and the tick-borne disease tularemia, but he has never tried to create a vaccine against a virus. When faced with a worldwide pandemic, we thought we might be able to make a contribution, he says.

Vaccines work by training the immune system to recognize and fight disease-causing pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. Doctors introduce the bodys immune system to antigens, which are molecules from the virus or bacteria, and the immune system responds by making proteins called antibodies and immunity-building T cells, which both neutralize the pathogen.

The delivery of these antigens requires a delicate calculus: It must provoke the immune system, but not go so far as to make the patient ill. You need a vector that will wake up the immune system of the host, but not cause any further harm, Horwitz says.

The vaccine approach by Horwitz and his team, including lead investigator Qingmei Jia, is a medical outlier: They adapted an existing antibacterial platform to build protection against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The team has shown that their vaccine candidate protects hamsters, which develop severe disease in a way similar to humans.

Some of the potential vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 use a weakened form of an adenovirus, which causes the common cold, to deliver the S protein that is found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Horwitzs vaccine stands out from the pack because it uses a weakened bacterium to deliver two SARS-CoV-2 proteins, the M and N proteins.

That difference could have a tremendous impact. Billions of COVID-19 vaccine doses are needed, and bacteria, unlike viruses, are easy and cheap to produce and transportable.

The success of a COVID-19 vaccine also depends on the immune system, which can be less robust in older people.

This is a problem that has driven Song Li, chair of the bioengineering department at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, who has focused his career on cell and tissue engineering. Adapting a concept from cancer immunotherapy, Li is developing a biomaterial vaccine booster using artificial cells that could improve the immune systems ability to generate long-term protection.

When the immune system encounters a destructive pathogen, it produces cells that are designed to attack the invader. A small number of those cells, called T memory stem cells, can stay in the system for years ready for a future invasion. Unfortunately, our ability to produce T memory stem cells declines as we get older. Li hopes his booster, in combination with a vaccine, can help fragile immune systems effectively fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

My goal at the outset was to help the elderly population, Li says. But it could be useful for any person whose immune system needs help generating protection from the virus.

Another UCLA team led by Bogdan Pasaniuc, Dr. Manish Butte and Dr. Daniel Geschwind, the Gordon and Virginia MacDonald Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics at the Geffen School of Medicine is trying to find out why the virus significantly impacts some, but leaves others relatively unscathed.

We know age is a major factor, but we see older people who get infected and do quite well, Geschwind says. We have a limited ability to predict how sick someone will get. His team hopes that studying whole-genome sequences from thousands of COVID-19 patients will reveal hidden factors that make some more vulnerable than others. The research could help identify people who are at higher risk for infection as well as develop new treatment and prevention strategies.

Dr. Brigitte Gomperts, professor of pediatrics and pulmonary medicine and a member of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center, is studying how COVID-19 affects lung tissue. By using stem cellderived clusters of lung cells, known as organoids, she can rapidly screen thousands of prospective treatments. Because the organoids are grown from human cells and reflect the cell types and architecture of the lungs, they can offer insights into how the virus infects and damages the organ.

At UCLA medical centers around Los Angeles County, physicians are ensuring that their medical trials include diverse groups of people and women of all ages.

COVID-19 has hit the African American and Latino communities particularly hard, says Dr. Jesse Clark, associate professor-in-residence in the department of medicine at the Geffen School of Medicine. We have to make sure that any vaccine has been determined to be safe and effective in all populations that will receive it.

COVID-19 has hit the African American and Latino communities particularly hard. We have to make sure that any vaccine has been determined to be safe and effective in all populations that will receive it.

Dr. Jesse Clark, associate professor-in-residence in the department of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Clark is medical director of the UCLA Vine Street Clinic, which is involved in the Moderna clinical trial. Notably, Modernas vaccine works differently from a typical vaccine, because it doesnt contain the virus at all. Instead, it uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, which uses the bodys genetic code to produce antibodies against the virus.

CNN mentioned that the vaccine trials were having trouble finding minorities to participate, says Roderick, a 37-year-old IT manager and father of two, who is participating in the Moderna trial. Being Black and Mexican, and knowing how hard my demographic has been hit, I just went ahead and signed up online. Its worth doing to help out.

Meanwhile, Dr. Katya Corado, an infectious disease specialist at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, has been enrolling patients in a phase 3 clinical trial of an adenovirus vector vaccine thats under development by the University of Oxford and the biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

All vaccines undergo three phases of clinical trials, according to rules set by the Food and Drug Administration. Phase 1, which involves 20 to 100 volunteers, tests the safety and dosage of the vaccine. Phase 2 tests the drugs efficacy and side effects among several hundred participants, and phase 3 gathers more information about a vaccines safety and effectiveness by studying thousands of volunteers.

In the phase 3 trial, we focus on studying how effective the vaccine is in populations that need it most, Corado says.

Clark and Corado are both hopeful that their work can protect the most vulnerable, which includes people over 65, patients with chronic conditions, those facing economic disadvantages and essential workers.

Inoculations have eradicated past epidemics, such as smallpox. But public faith in vaccines has wavered, especially when a now-disproven report in 1998 suggested that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was linked to autism spectrum disorder. That has led to U.S. outbreaks of measles, which had been previously eliminated. So scientists recognize the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine right.

There are other factors to consider as well. Vaccine distribution will be high on the agenda of the incoming White House administration, but if supply is limited, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends prioritizing certain groups, such as medical workers.

Also, some vaccines currently in development need to be stored in ultra-cold conditions. For example, Pfizers vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, while Modernas vaccine must be kept at minus 20 degrees Celsius the temperature of a regular freezer. These factors will affect how the vaccines are distributed.

Some lawmakers have advocated letting the virus run its course in the hopes of achieving herd immunity, which is when enough people have become immune to an infectious disease, either through being infected or vaccination. Since the COVID-19 vaccine is still pending, a majority of people will need to be infected in order to achieve herd immunity and that comes at a terrible cost.

According to Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, professor-in-residence of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, up to 2 million Americans would have to die before the country reached herd immunity.

He argues that vaccines work, even if they are not perfectly safe or perfectly effective, as proven by the near-eradication of polio. But approving vaccines prematurely to buckle under the pressure of politics or profit could cause a terrible backlash against being vaccinated, which could lead to future outbreaks.

We want to make sure we are not cutting corners, Kim-Farley says, that we are getting the best vaccine that has the highest efficacy, the longest duration, the fewest number of side effects [with] the fewest number of doses.

This is a very high-stakes game, and its important to get it right, without recalls or playing into the [anti-vaccination] narrative. What still concerns me is the equitable distribution of vaccines to make sure that countries that are not as wealthy as us have access to these life-saving vaccines. We are all members of one global community.

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U.S. elections bring wins and losses for research community – Science Magazine

Posted: November 5, 2020 at 12:55 pm

An election worker in Pennsylvania prepares ballots for counting during yesterdays elections.

By Jeffrey Mervis, David MalakoffNov. 4, 2020 , 2:35 PM

Its not yet clear who will be the next U.S. president and which party will control the Senate. And although Democrats in the House of Representatives will remain in the majority in the next Congress, there was no blue wave. That last takeaway from yesterdays electionswith many votes still to be countedis not good news for several candidates and incumbents with science backgrounds and those holding influential positions on the House science committee.

Voters around the country also weighed in on more than 100 state ballot items, a few of which had drawn interest from the research community.

Among House races,Democrat Nancy Goroff, a Stony Brook University chemistry professor, is trailing badly in her bid to become the first female House member with a science Ph.D. Representative Lee Zeldin (RNY) is leading the race with about 60% of the vote, although the tally doesnt include tens of thousands of votes cast before 3 November. We owe it to voters that every single one be counted, Goroffs campaign manager, Jacob Sarkozi, said early this morning about a process that could take weeks.

Democrat Kathleen Williams, a water resource management expert from Montana, has been defeated by Republican Matt Rosendale, now state auditor. It was her second attempt at the at-large seat, and her 12-point loss was much larger than in 2018.

Democrat Cameron Webb, a physician and health care advocate, lost to Republican Robert Good for an open seat in a rural Virginia district. But Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, an emergency room physician, was narrowly ahead of Representative David Schweikert (RAZ) in a district outside of Phoenix, although the race was too close to call this morning. She lost her bid for a House seat in 2018.

Representative Joe Cunningham (DSC), an environmental engineer who was a surprise victor in 2018, failed to retain his seat, losing to Republican challenger Nancy Mace. His campaign touted his ability to cross the aisleand defy Democratic leaders at timesin a district that is strongly Republican.

Representative Lauren Underwood (DIL) is narrowly trailing state Senator Jim Oberweis. A health policy analyst whose 2018 victory made her the youngest Black woman in Congress, Underwood has strongly criticized the Trump administrations handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shes counting on the large number of ballots not yet counted to win a second term.

In contrast, a few rookie legislators with technical backgrounds will be returning. Representative Sean Casten (DIL)defeated Republican Jeanne Ives by a five-point margin. A biochemical engineer, Casten has madesustainable energy a key element in his platform. Representative Elaine Luria (DVA), a nuclear engineer, is leading a former House member, Scott Taylor, by a similar margin that is expected to widen once the count is completed. Representative Kim Schrier (DWA), a pediatrician, also has a comfortable lead over Republican challenger Jesse Jensen.

Despite Democrats retaining control of the House, there is likely to be a reshuffling of leadership positions on the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which has the broadest mandate over the U.S. research enterprise. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (DTX) will remain chairwoman after another easy victory, and Representative Frank Lucas (ROK) is expected to continue as the top Republican. But freshman Representative Kendra Horn (DOK), who chairs the space subcommittee, lost her bid for reelection. And Representative Haley Stevens (DMI), who chairs the research panel, is trailing Republican challenger Eric Esshaki.

The only Ph.D. physicist in Congress, Representative Bill Foster (DIL), has won a fifth 2-year term by a comfortable margin. He now chairs the panels investigations subcommittee. Two other subcommittee chairs, both first-time legislators, will also be returning. Representative Lizzie Fletcher (DTX) now chairs the energy panel, and Representative Mikie Sherrill (DNJ) leads the environmental panel.

In the Senate, a leading advocate for research has been toppled, while another is struggling to retain his seat. Senator Cory Gardner (RCO) lost to Democrat John Hickenlooper, while Senator Gary Peters (DMI) had a narrow lead this morning against Republican challenger John James. In 2017, as members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Commmittee, Gardner and Peters led a successful bipartisan effort to reauthorize a slew of research programs across several federal agencies. That committee is chaired by Senator Roger Wicker (RMS), who easily won reelection in 2018 for a third 6-year term.

In Wyoming, ecologist Merav Ben-David, a Democrat, lost her long-shot bid for a Senate seat. The state has not elected a Democrat to federal office since 1976. Former Representative Cynthia Lummis seized the Senate seat with 73% of the vote.

California voters appear to favor a proposition that would allow the state to sell $5.5 billion in bonds to provide a second round of funding for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which conducts work with human embryonic stem cells. In partial returns, yes votes on Proposition 14 outweighed nos51.1% to 48.9%. Proponents of the measure raised nearly $17 million, but editorials in several major newspapers argued the state shouldnt take on new debt during a time of economic hardship.

In Colorado, the fate of a plan to allow the state to reintroduce gray wolves was unclear. With about 85% of ballots counted, supporters of Proposition 114 had a 50.2% to 49.8% lead.

Oregon voters appear to have approved Measure 109, which would legalize the clinical use of edible fungi that contain psilocybin, which causes people to experience euphoria and hallucinations. With more than 80% of ballots counted, supporters of the measure have a 55.8% to 44.2% lead. If that lead holds, Oregon will become the first state to allow the use of so-called magic mushrooms in clinical research settings. (Possession of the fungi, which is illegal under federal law, has already been decriminalized in several cities; Washington D.C., voted yesterday to make possession of such substances among the lowest law enforcement priorities.)

Nevada appears to have approved Question 6, which would require utilities to double, to 50%, the amount of energy they obtain from renewable sources by 2030. With nearly 80% of ballots counted, supporters led opponents by 56.4% to 43.6%. This is the second time Nevada voters have approved the constitutional mandate, which by statute must be approved in two even-numbered election years to become law. Many experts expect utilities to lean heavily on solar power to meet the mandate.

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Viewpoint: Rightwing packing on Supreme Court means ERA more crucial than ever to protect Women’s Rights – Blog – The Island Now

Posted: at 12:55 pm

It is so curious how right-wing, Trumpers see mask-wearing mandate for public health as tyranny but cant wait to force women to bear babies, even if her own life is at stake, even if a 15-year old girl was raped by a relative.

But Amy Coney Barrett wants to go further than banning abortion even non-surgically using medication and denying a womans right to make her own health, reproduction, and family decisions.

She has indicated her inclination to ban contraceptives, fertility procedures like IVF, and Im betting would oppose any medical research that involved stem cells from fetal material (the breakthrough drug cocktail that Trump took for COVID-19 came from fetal material).

And what is next?

Women being prosecuted if they miscarry? Women being forced to isolate, prevented from traveling across state lines when pregnant, as some states have already tried to legislate? Thats what is at the heart of personhood essentially giving a fetus more rights than its mother (and who should decide what that fetus wants? Well the government!)

The U.S. Constitution guarantees religious freedom but specifically bars the establishment of religion what is known as separation of church and state.

That means that Barrett is free to follow her own conscience and religious beliefs for her own life if she opposes abortion, but it does not give her, or the government, the right to impose her religious beliefs on someone else. If government mandated mask-wearing is tyranny, what is denying a womans right to control her own body, her own destiny, to have the same ability for self-determination and fulfillment as a man?

It makes the woman a slave of the state, chattel, a broodmare, but not a full, equal citizen, not a full human being, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued so many years ago.

State actions, like New York State codifying the principles of Roe v. Wade into state law, will not be enough to protect a womans dignity, equality, or liberty if the activist regressive justices on the Supreme Court create a new principle of personhood the notion that a fetus has all the rights of a living sentient being even if it is only a cluster of cells.

What, you cant hear the fetus say whether it wants to live in pain with a prognosis of a very early death? Well, The government will decide on behalf of the fetus.

Wow, makes those mask-wearing mandates make the Nanny State look ridiculous; this is (still) the Daddy State.

Roe v Wade should not have been decided based on the premise of privacy and property, but on the 14th amendments guarantee of Equal Protection. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgs (R.I.P.) argument for gender equality stemmed from the same argument for racial equality.

Since RBG first used this argument in 1973, things have improved for women, it is true, but as this latest stolen lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court shows, it is fragile. Barrett said that Roe is not settled law, because it has always been controversial, thus broadcasting her intent to vote to overturn it at her earliest opportunity.

But consider this: a government that can ban abortion can also mandate abortion (think China).

But its not just Equal Protection between women and men. Striking down Roe altogether or giving states the ability to impose extraordinary barriers that effectively overturn a womans right to choose means that women in some states, and women in certain economic and social strata will have more rights than others by their sheer ability to travel to obtain an abortion. It is the same as why the Supreme Court realized that Marriage Equality needed to be federal and not left up to individual states.

Someone tweeted back at me during the Senate confirmation hearing for Amy Coney Barrett, who insists she is an originalist and only interprets law based on the original intent of the Founding Fathers (as if that can be divined) that abortion is not in the Constitution.

Well, the framework for the entire nation contains only 4,500 words and none of them are freedom, God or women (but it does contain the words Post Offices and Post Roads).

Indeed, the newly formed states were so wary of a new tyranny that a Bill of Rights had to be added (originally 12), and even that was forged in compromise and had to be amended and added to multiple times. Originalism is the biggest judicial fraud ever concocted.

Trumps Supreme Court-packing with ultra-conservative, undemocratic justices who conveniently divine what the founding Fathers were thinking according to their own political sensibilities and expediencies and who is occupying the Oval Office, means that the Equal Rights Amendment is more important than ever.

When Democrats take back the Senate, the House and the White House, they need to pass a law extending the validity of the state votes on the ERA, since Virginia just became the 38th state, and the last one needed to ratify, and then adopt it into the Constitution.

But this is all the more reason a Blue wave must sweep Joe Biden into the White House with overwhelming margins and the Democrats in control of the Senate, so that through law-making, versus judicial fiat, we restore health care, environmental protection, voting rights, womens rights, civil rights and equal protection under the law. And yes, if necessary, expand the court to restore balance and justice.

Women, who came out by the millions the day after Trumps inauguration, again took the streets of Washington and other cities in the final days before Election Day. Its not hyperbole to say everything is on the line, one said.

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Talaris Therapeutics Announces Collaboration With Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates to Advance Preclinical Study of Tolerance Induction to Organs From…

Posted: September 18, 2020 at 8:58 pm

Sept. 14, 2020 12:00 UTC

BOSTON & LOUISVILLE, Ky.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Talaris Therapeutics, Inc., a privately held biotechnology company developing transformative cell therapies that have the potential to induce durable immune tolerance across a range of indications, today announced a collaboration with Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA). KODA is an independent, non-profit organ and tissue procurement organization that facilitates deceased donor transplants throughout Kentucky, southern Indiana and western West Virginia. The collaboration will advance preclinical studies of the potential of Talaris allogeneic cell therapy to induce immune tolerance to an organ from a deceased donor.

Organ donation from deceased donors makes possible more than 80 percent of solid organ transplants in the U.S. These transplants are frequently lifesaving, but they bring the burden of lifelong immunosuppression for organ recipients, which puts patients at heightened risk of infection as well as a number of other potentially serious side effects. Additionally, immunosuppressant drugs are toxic to the kidneys over time, which can result in declining kidney function and necessitate another organ transplant.

Talaris novel cell therapy, FCR001, has shown promising potential to eliminate the need for immunosuppression among recipients of kidney transplants from living donors. Our collaboration with KODA will be an important step toward potentially extending this promise to recipients of organ transplants from deceased donors as well, said Scott Requadt, Chief Executive Officer of Talaris.

Within the collaboration, KODA, after authorization from the donors family, will recover vertebrae from deceased organ donors. Researchers at Talaris will then isolate stem cells from the vertebrae, with the goal of demonstrating the feasibility of producing FCR001 from vertebral bone marrow. These preclinical studies will serve as a first step toward enabling future clinical studies to evaluate whether FCR001 administered alongside organ transplantation can induce durable immune tolerance to an organ from a deceased donor.

The generosity organ donors and their families display is measureless. By initiating this collaboration with Talaris, we hope to further honor their gift by advancing an important treatment for transplant recipients with the potential to improve many individuals lives, said Julie Bergin, RN, BSN, MHA, President & Chief Executive Officer of KODA.

About Talaris Therapeutics

Talaris Therapeutics, Inc. is a late-clinical stage biotechnology company that is developing transformative cell therapies with the potential to eliminate the burden of chronic immunosuppression for organ transplant recipients as well as induce durable remissions in patients with severe auto-immune and immune-mediated disorders. Talaris was founded on technology discovered and developed by Dr. Suzanne Ildstad and operates its own cell processing facility in Louisville, KY. Talaris is backed by leading life sciences investors Blackstone Life Sciences, Longitude Capital and Qiming Venture Partners USA and maintains corporate offices in Boston, MA and Louisville, KY.

About Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA)

Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates is dedicated to saving lives through organ and tissue donation and transplantation. KODA is an independent, federally designated, non-profit organ and tissue procurement organization formed in 1987. KODA was recognized by Louisville Business First as the Nonprofit of the Year in 2011. KODAs mission is to provide organ and tissues to those in need and to maintain a profound respect for those who gave. KODA serves 114 counties in Kentucky, 4 counties in southern Indiana and 2 counties in western West Virginia. For more information visit or call 1-800-525-3456.

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Alleged unwanted hysterectomies and other abuses at ICE facility prompts investigation – USA TODAY

Posted: at 8:58 pm

ICE detention is meant to assure immigration compliance only, but detainees describe desperation, and punitive measures that resemble prisons. USA TODAY

Members of Congress are pressing the administration for further inquiries after the Department of Homeland Security announced this week it is looking into a whistleblower complaint that claimed federal immigration detainees underwent unnecessary gynecological surgeries including full hysterectomies without their consent.

Immigration attorneys said they were interviewing detainees this week to determine how widespread the problem might be, with some clients describing experiences where parts of their Fallopian tube and their ovaries had been removed while in custody.

More than 170 Democratic members of Congress dispatched a letter Tuesday to Homeland Security's Inspector General, urging the office to open "an immediate investigation."

The allegations stem from a 27-page complaint compiled by Project South, an Atlanta-based advocacy group, as well as Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rightsand South Georgia Immigrant Support Network. The complaint lists Dawn Wooten, a former nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center,as a whistleblower who details medical neglect such as refusal to test detainees for COVID-19 and an alarming practice of subjecting female detainees to hysterectomies without them fully understanding what was happening. The detention center is run byprivate prison companyLaSalle Correctionsand overseen by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,

Dawn Wooten, a nurse at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, speaks at a Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, news conference in Atlanta protesting conditions at the immigration jail. Wooten says authorities denied COVID-19 tests to immigrants, performed questionable hysterectomies and shredded records in a complaint filed to the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.(Photo: Jeff Amy, AP)

Officials at LaSalle Corrections, which runs the center, did not return several requests for comments.

The complaint doesn't name the doctor who allegedly performed the procedures, but several attorneys representing the women have identified him as Dr. Mahendra Amin, of Douglas, Georgia.

A person answering the phone at Amin's office Thursday declined to answer questions or locate Amin for comment. In an earlier interview with The Intercept, the doctor confirmed he has treated immigration detainees and said he had performed "one or two" hysterectomies on patients in recent years, but said all procedures on immigration detainees are approved by officials at the detention center.

According to ICE data, two individuals at the Irwin County facility have been referred to medical professionals for hysterectomies since 2018. But in a statement, Dr. Ada Rivera, medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps., said she "vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures" and vowed a full investigation.

"Detainees are afforded informed consent, and a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainees will," the statement said.

A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of a woman's uterus, which eliminates any possibility of conceiving a child. Other procedures including the removal of an ovary or a Fallopian tube can significantly reduce a woman's chances of conceiving.

The whistleblower complaint alleges that immigration detainees were routinely sent outside the detention center to a gynecologist who performed full hysterectomies, partial ones, and other surgical procedures without their full understanding or consent. In one case, Wooten said a detained young woman was supposed to have her left ovary removed because of a cyst but the doctor remover her right ovary instead. The doctor still had to remove the left ovary, Wooten said, leaving the detainee completely infertile.

"She still wanted children so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can't bear kids," Wooten said in the complaint.

Attorneys representing detainees at the Irwin County Detention Center said they didnt realize the extent of the problem until they started talking with each other about their clients after the whistleblower complaint was filed. National organizations have since asked attorneys around the country to review their cases and talk to their clients to see if the allegations out of Georgia have been seen elsewhere.

Sarah Owings, an Atlanta-based immigration attorney, is working with a team of lawyers to identify women who have received medical care from the doctor mentioned in the complaint. By Wednesday, the team had identified more than 15 cases of women who underwent questionable surgeries at the hands of the doctor, including the removal of parts of the Fallopiantube andremoval of the ovaries.

Protesters gather at a news conference Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Atlanta decrying conditions at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia. Nurse Dawn Wooten says authorities at the immigration jail denied COVID-19 tests to immigrants, performed questionable hysterectomies and shredded records in a complaint filed to the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.(Photo: Jeff Amy, AP)

"We are still in the process of comparing notes," she said. "I wouldnt say there is a systemic pattern, but based on people who have gotten in touch, it points to a lack of informed consent and full understanding by people of these medical treatments."

Benjamin Osorio, a Virginia immigration attorney, read about the allegations Monday night on a social media site shared by other attorneys and immediately thought of two clients he recently served at the Irwinfacility.

One of them, Maria Nuez de Rosales, of El Salvador, was at the facility in 2018 when doctors told her she had cancer and needed a hysterectomy, Osorio said. De Rosales, who only speaks Spanish, had the procedure done without entirely realizing what had happened, he said. De Rosales has since been returned to El Salvador.

"There was no explanation to her and no interpreter," Osorio said. "She woke up and didnt even know what had happened."

Another client, who didn't wish to be named because she's still in removal proceedings, also had a hysterectomy done at the facility, he said. After complaining of abdomen pain, doctors at the center performed a biopsy and told her she had cervical cancer. Amin performed a hysterectomy on her in August 2019, Osorio said.

After leaving the facility, she had a follow-up exam done by her primary doctor in Charlotte, North Carolina, who told her she was cancer-free. Osorio said he doesn't know if the 2019 procedure cleared out the cancer or if his client ever had it in the first place.

"Obviously, there are real questions here: whether this doctors giving the best medical advice, if he's getting informed consent," Osorio said. "All these questions are out there. Hopefully, these investigations could figure out what was going on."

Katie Shepherd, national advocacy counsel with the American Immigration Council, a group that advocates for immigrants and files lawsuits on their behalf, said they're hoping to learn more about the allegations through attorneys because ICEs historic "lack of transparency" makes it hard for them to truly know whats happening inside immigration detention centers.

Migrants watch TV in the medical facilities waiting room at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas.(Photo: Courtney Sacco, for USA TODAY)

"I would not be surprised if there are similar fact patterns in other corners of the ICE detention system," she said. "But obviously we want to learn more."

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who has been leading the congressional response to the allegations, said the complaint also raises questions about how ICE ensures that detainees consent to medical procedures. She said Homeland Security agents have a long history of forcing immigrants to sign all kinds of documents dropping immigration court appeals, submitting to voluntary deportations without having a translator present or fully understanding what theyre signing. Those questionable consent procedures would be even more disturbing, she said, if they led to partial or full hysterectomies.

"I'm concerned that the stories that the women tell may be quite different from what the medical records say," Jayapal said. "Even if the medical record says, 'We did x, y and z,' if the women haven't been informed or much less consented to (a procedure), where they dont have any clue what theyre signingthat is significant."

A 2019 USA TODAY investigation into the federal governments increasing use of private prison companies and local jails to house civil immigration detainees revealed systemic problems in the medical care provided to those detainees. An analysis of inspection reports highlighted problems at several facilities and court documents showed multi-million dollar settlements paid to detainees who were mistreated while in custody.

Most of the complaints focused on a lack of access to medical care, with one detainee saying her breast cancer returned after she was unable to get cancer medication while in custody and a civil rights organization creating a specialized medical team to respond to the growing medical complaints from ICE detainees.

"People who need life-saving medical treatment dont get the care they deserve," said Lorilei Williams, a senior staff attorney for the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative in Georgia."But it is interesting we have seen a lot of folks who receive gynecological care."

Immigrant attorneys and advocates have been flagging concerns about medical mistreatment at the Irwin center for years. The center is located in Ocilla, Georgia, a city of roughly3,000residents almost 200 miles south of Atlanta. It housed about 650 detainees under ICE custody as of Sept. 8.

In April, a group of eight medically vulnerable detainees at the Irwin detention center andthe Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, sued DHS claiming a lack of medical care and deplorable conditions at these facilities made them vulnerable to COVID-19. The people named in the lawsuit, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, had preexisting medical conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma, among other conditions.

They described living in very close quarters that made social distancing and recommended hygiene measures impossible. The conditions were described as "flagrantly unsanitary and dangerous to the health of detained individuals."

At Irwin, detainees said they were punished if they requested medical attention, sometimes by being placed in solitary confinement, according to the lawsuit. One man at Irwin reported that a guard told him "medical staff would only take him to the hospital if they see him dying."

Others said that the Irwin center lacks a medical alert system to notify guards of an emergency. The lawsuit also claims that a 2017 inspection of the facility found that medical unit cells were so dirty, that "floors need to be mopped, walls wiped down, toilets cleaned, and trash and refuse removed."

Follow Jervis, Gomez and Clark on Twitter: @MrRJervis, @alangomez, @MariaPClark1.

After 9/11, the U.S. enforced stricter control on immigration. This enforcement led to the birth of Homeland Security and ICE, but what is ICE exactly? We explain. USA TODAY

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