Thursday, January 04, 2007

ANTI-BIOTERROR DEVICE TO PURIFY BLOOD: Maybe not, but sounds good

Reading the press releases and news proclamations about small companies working the bioterror funding street in the US sometimes make for dry comedy of a different sort. However, it's not material for everyone. One has to know the jargon, the basic science underneath the great predictions.

The mainstream media is notoriously bad at portraying the facts of it. Its one-size-fits-all security industry beat journalism allows that anything that protects from bioterror is good for you, good for everybody and good for jobs.

In reality, none of this is guaranteed to be true.

With Senior GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow T-shirt on, DD can assure you most bioterror nostrums will never pan out. And those that do make it to this special market are unlikely to face a need, the potential threats having many times been only dreamt of in American national security labs.

As for jobs, the companies in the industry don't hire many people. The cumulative personnel in the McDonalds franchises in your hometown, for instance, employ more than the average small biotech/bioterror firm. And of the jobs that actually pay well within the bioterror industry, advanced degrees and a couple decades of training are required, putting them well out of reach of the average aspirations of Americans.

Moving on, DD comes to the fresh-off-the-presses "Letter to Shareholders" issued by CEO James A. Joyce of the small biodefense firm, Aethlon. Read it here.

Underneath the jargon and science discussion, what is essentially described is a revolution in medicine, coming to your courtesy of one medical device.

This device, a blood purifier, is advertised to selectively remove viruses, even those unknown from the blood. Shades of Keef and Mick allegedly going to Switzerland for blood cleansings in the 70s!

The company, based in San Diego, has released a steady stream of press releases for the past couple years, few of which have made it to the mainstream media.

One place news has shown up is in Army Times, which published an article entitled "Firm creates 'kidney' for first responder, device may help troops during bioterror attacks," last February.

"Imagine being infected with a deadly germ like anthrax or the Ebola virus and never feeling any ill effects - or even having to slow down," wrote Gordon Lubold breathlessly.

"A small biotech company based in San Diego thinks it has the answer for troops and other first responders who need protection against the kinds of biological agents that can kill them in their line of work. It's a small device that can be worn on an arm or leg as it cleans toxins from your blood - and allows you to keep working without missing a beat, company officials say."

You should be ready to snicker at the concept of keeping our boys in action even when they're infected with "anthrax" or "Ebola virus." They are two very distinct microorganisms, the former a bacterium, the latter a virus.

No such single source cure exists in modern medicine.

If you have pulmonary anthrax, you definitely aren't in action. If you have Ebola, you're even closer to being dead. Ah, journalists who don't know the difference between the two and the mistakes and wishful thinking which result!

However, often the selling points for bioterror nostrums, as pitched to the government in 2006, are characterized by wishful thinking -- that one can come up with a silver bullet for all bioterror threats.

This has been fueled by propaganda coming from the bioterror-is-coming lobby. Yes, there certainly is such a thing, and it maintains that future threats will be those which are totally new to medicine, diseases for which no specific cures yet exist. Except, of course, the silver bullets which the anti-bioterror experts are investigating.

Aethlon's blood purifier purports to be an artificial lymph node. This should get the curious asking the question, "How is it better than the human lymphatic system, fine tuned by evolution?"

Fair enough.

The blood purifier, somewhat more accurately described in Aethlon company literature, aims at taking a broad spectrum of viruses out of circulating blood by affinity binding macromolecules on their surfaces.

Conceptually, this sounds good. It's an avenue of research that has been around for a very long time with scientists developing methods to purify materials by creating matrices which selectively bind unique macromolecules, surface moieties on bacteria, and receptors on all manner of living cells, antibodies and viruses.

It's damnably complicated stuff.

And it is chacterized by the truth that there are no magic silver bullets which apply to everything. However, this is essentially what is called for by invention of a blood purifier, useful in bioterror defense.

"It can be quite frightening, how vulnerable our citizens and troops are," said Aethlon's CEO for Army Times in February 2006.

"The tubelike device, about a foot long and two inches in diameter, can be strapped onto the body and connected to a large artery," writes the journal. "Then, the device, filled with thousands of hollow fibers, acts as a filter, removing toxins from the blood."

If only it were that simple.

Complicating matters is the fact that viruses are host specific to target cells.

Viruses penetrate the walls of their targets, then use materials in the cell interior to replicate or insinuate themselves into the genetic material of the host. Replicating viruses then spread by a variety of means, not just through the blood.

For instance, the flu virus targets the upper respiratory system, fusing with the membrane of target cells through a protein called hemagglutinin, sixteen subtypes which exist within influenza viruses.

This variability, or drift in this protein on a year to year basis, along with the genetic variance of another protein known as neuraminidase in the flu virus, are the reason human immunity doesn't last long.

Therefore, filtering out, or binding flu viruses on the basis of their surface macromolecules, is an elusive task and of transitory effectiveness, even for the remarkable human immune system.

What a viral blood purifier purports to do, then, is nothing less than apply the same strategy for all potential bioterror threats, or all viruses, even those now unknown. One might think of it as an endeavor along the lines of finding that one item among the swap meets and antique sales in your county which is worth a couple billion dollars.

For Army Times, Charles Bailey -- a bioterror researcher at George Mason University was furnished for comment.

The blood purifier ". . . shows significant promise and needs to be developed further," said Bailey to Army Times. "There are a lot of advantages that this procedure would have."

Wrote Army Times, " . . . Bailey said he has no stake in the financial future of the company."

Ha-ha. Such shitty journalism!

A quick look by DD blog into the great Internet archive, however, shows George Mason's Charles Bailey on the scientific advisory board of the company in February of 2006, the same month as publication of the Army Times piece.

Also on Aethlon's science advisory board is Ken Alibek, a colleague of Bailey's and
once a steward of the Soviet Union's secret biowarfare operation. An author of lurid tattler on the subject, entitled "Biohazard," Alibek is also a scientist. However, since the waning of publicity on his book and the retelling of its story over and over, Alibek has been in the news somewhat more for a more unusual brand of science.

In September of 2003, a George Mason University press release made the startling announcement on results Ken Alibek and a colleague, Ray Weinstein, had observed in ten subjects vaccinated against smallpox. They claimed to have found that the AIDS virus either did not grow or was inhibited to a certain degree in cells isolated from the immunized cohort. This suggested to them that smallpox vaccination could be adopted to provide protection against the AIDS virus. Subsequently, it was claimed that patents had been filed for “therapeutic use of the smallpox vaccine and its application to HIV vaccine research.”

“This is evidence of the caliber of bioscience research out-of-the-box thinking that is going on at George Mason” said Charles Bailey, the director of the school's National Center for Biodefense, in the same press release.

In news articles which appeared a couple of weeks after the announcement other scientists dismissed the Alibek/Weinstein research on the basis of a “lack of evidence” and criticized its delivery via press release, ostensibly done to gin up financial interest. It was added that The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) had rejected an Alibek article on the research. For his part, Alibek was “offended by claims that research produced by his university and the National Center for Biodefense may be tainted by financial conflicts of interest.”

More on this is here summarizing Alibek's science of unusual patent applications funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Army -- and the endorsement of health pills known as "Dr. Ken Alibek's Immune Support Formula."

Moving back to the blood purifier, its applications are currently said to be immediately addressed to combating avian flu and dengue virus infection.

"If approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it could be fielded in a year or less, company officials said." wrote Army Times. At this point, it is said it could be marketed it to the military and medical practitioners.

In an editorial in the September 13 edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Aethlon CEO Joyce wrote -- the op-ed was entitled "Bird flu complacency" -- that "society just can't accept the fact that 50 percent of the population could die" from avian flu, quoting yet another researcher, Robert Webster. The statement was included in a longer piece which argued that Tamiflu, one antiviral drug - manufactured by the pharmaceutical giant, Roche Labs -- with activity against avian flu, might not be so hot.

A short time later, one reader replied in the letters section of the newspaper: "Regarding 'Bird flu complacency' (Opinion, Sept. 13): . . . James A. Joyce starts with a quote from a 'bird flu expert' who predicts that 50 percent of the population could die. Deeper into the commentary we learn it's not 50 percent of the population but 50 percent of the individuals known to be infected might die. That's still a lot of people, and I wouldn't want our medical community to ignore the potential problem. But if I were trying to get FDA approval for one of my company's products, I might be tempted to stir up a bit of panic also."

According to Army Times, Aethlon was founded in 1998 by CEO Joyce, who according to a company biography also once played football for the Denver Broncos.

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