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Williams Institute Planning A Massive Study Of Trans Health Needs


The Williams Institute at UCLA is partnering with Columbia University and the Fenway Institute to conduct what they hope will be one of the most comprehensive studies of the US’s transgender and gender non-conforming populations to date. “TransPop: U.S. Transgender Population Health Survey,” as the research team is calling it, plans to gather vital information about the health concerns of the trans community, and create a more representative model of just what our trans population looks like.

“Timely and accurate data about the transgender population is crucial for designing evidence-based public health and policy interventions,” said TransPop’s lead researcher Ilan H. Meyer, a senior scholar of public policy with the Williams Institute. “With awareness about transgender people growing in the public and among researchers and policymakers, there are new opportunities to establish policies that address the needs of transgender people in the United States.”

One of the biggest obstacles impeding the creation of more widespread initiatives to provide health and social services to the trans-community is the fact we don’t collect a lot of information about them. The information that we do collect, according to the researchers behind this new study, tends to be shot through with a certain degree of statistical inaccuracies due to research methodology.

Most large-scale, survey-based studies of LGBT-identified people are distributed through organizations queer social networks and organizations. While gathering information that way is incredibly useful and effective volume-wise, it runs the risk of skewing sample data by not pulling from a pool that accurately reflects the broader population.

For example, if you weren’t in a position to take advantage in your city’s trans-outreach efforts or if your city simply didn’t have them, there’s a strong chance that you could be missed by a targeted study. That’s one of the issues facing the oft-cited, but rarely understood populations of “at-risk” trans-youth, many of whom are made virtually invisible to studies like these by the fact that they aren’t connected to larger LGBT social networks.

Rather than specifically targeting the trans-population directly through trans-rights organizations and community organizers, TransPop’s researchers plan to work their way from the top down, partnering with Gallup to initially survey about 350,000 over the course of a year.

By starting with a comparatively large sample population and whittling it down to those who identify as trans or gender non-conforming, TransPop aims to draw a more accurate picture of what the US’s trans community looks like and what it is that they need. Ultimately the TransPop team estimates that they’ll gather responses from about 300-500 people, but the responses that those people give could change the way that we think of the trans-population.

Syphilis Rates in Chelsea Are 6 Times the NYC Average And Are Being Driven Primarily By Gay Men

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The rate of syphilis transmission in Chelsea has skyrocketed to more than six times the city's average infection rate - a rise that the city's health department says is primarily being driven by gay men having unprotected sex.

In 2013, the neighborhood had 93.3 syphilis infections per 100,000 people. The city average is 14. Chelsea's infection rate is higher than any city in the nation. 

DNAinfo reports:

ChelseaAnthony Hayes of AIDS service organization GMHC said that because syphilis is difficult to detect early on, the disease spreads rapidly.

"In those areas you have a sexual network that are likely unaware that they have syphilis. When you have sexual networks that are unaware that they have something, it is easy for it to multiply more quickly," he explained.

"More people are having unprotected sex ... the other thing is it’s really easy to get, you don’t have to just engage in intercourse. You can get it through oral sex,” he added, saying GMHC offers free testing at their West 29th Street clinic.

FDA Approves Further Study Of Promising Gene Therapy HIV Treatment


Experimental stem cell gene therapy that could act as functional cure for HIV infection has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to move into early human test trials. Unlike other treatments that use healthy stem cells from uninfected donors, this form of therapy uses cells harvested from a positive person’s own body. The stem cells are genetically manipulated to develop into white blood cells that are missing the key cellular receptors that the HIV virus uses to insert its genetic code into healthy cells. The modification effectively models a HIV-positive person’s white blood cells after the cells of people who have a natural resistance to HIV.

After introducing the modified white blood cells into a positive person’s bloodstream, researchers reason, the cells would naturally proliferate, effectively revitalizing their immune system to be able to fend off the virus indefinitely. A small testing pool of 12 volunteers have undergone the therapy in controlled trials being conducted by Calimmune, a California-based pharmaceutical research firm.

The preliminary results have been promising, with uncompromised white blood cells remaining present in test subjects’ bloodstreams for up to four years. In theory, later versions of the treatment would result in permanent rejuvenation of healthy cells after a single round of treatment.

The FDA’s authorization of further tests means that a larger group of people will be able to participate in a future study exploring the therapy’s efficacy. As of now trials are planned for California’s City of Hope medical research center with funding help from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

“This kind of work is too important to just try one method at a time and sit back and wait to see if it is effective,” CIRM board chair Dr. Jonathan Thomas explained to Imperial Valley News. “We have a mission to find treatments for patients in need. By trying several different approaches, taking several shots at goal at the same time if you like, we feel we have a better chance of being successful.”

23AndMe Aims To Cure Diseases By Developing Its Own Pharmaceutical Drugs


23AndMe is in the process of reinventing itself as a pharmaceutical research firm powered by the unique pieces of genetic information provided by its vast customer base. In the eight years since the company’s founding, it’s collected unique genetic data from over 800,000 different people. Going forward 23AndMe plans to mine that valuable data (with its owners explicit consent) as it develops its own pharmaceutical drugs.

“People want to see a cure,” 23AndMe CEO explained to Forbes. “And cures don’t magically appear.”

“Cures come from pharma, and biotech. And so part of what I think we can do is by making sure that the consumer really is at the forefront, that they are informed, that they know what’s going on, I’m hoping that they can really do a meaningful service for them by helping to develop those types of therapies.”

When the Mountain View-based company first launched, its core products were focused on providing people with access to relatively cheap genotyping. With a simple at-home saliva test 23AndMe claimed to be able to give people a better idea about who they were genetically.

The test offered information about predispositions for certain diseases and physical developments hard coded into a person’s genes. In 2013 23AndMe was ordered to cease offering its services (which are considered medical devices) in the US by the FDA after failing to secure the necessary approvals. That initial setback appears to have inspired the startup to reevaluate its approach to disrupting the medical industry.

Between a high-profile partnership with the Michael J. Fox Foundation and poaching noted drug research Richard Scheller from Genentech, it’s clear that 23AndMe’s new direction is more than a mere shift in product focus. It remains to be seen what, if any, drugs 23AndMe will end up bringing to market. Their mere entrance in the pharmaceutical field, however, could change the way that we develop life-changing drugs.

The Other SCOTUS Case We Should Care About



Healthcare.gov_aapiThere is another Supreme Court case that matters to the LGBT community. Last week, the justices met to hear arguments in King v. Burwell, and to decide, once again, the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

Health reform may not seem like an equality issue, but it is. We are more likely to benefit from the law because we’re more likely to be low-income, uninsured, and discriminated against in the health care system. But the Affordable Care Act is already working for our community by addressing these gaps: between 2013 and 2014, the uninsured rate for low- and middle-income LGBT people fell from 34 percent to 26 percent. And, of those who purchased coverage through the marketplace, 48 percent are paying less than $100/month in premiums. Although LGBT people are still disproportionately likely to be uninsured, the law is having a significant positive impact—just ask our friends Aurora in Houston or Robbie in Nashville.

So what is at issue in King v. Burwell? The petitioners—vocal opponents of the Affordable Care Act—claim that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) misinterpreted a four-word phrase in the Affordable Care Act to incorrectly offer health insurance subsidies to eligible Americans in every state. They claim that subsidies should only be available to people purchasing coverage through a marketplace “established by the state.” Since 34 states are relying on the federal government to operate their marketplaces, the petitioners argue that subsidies should not be available in those states. If they succeed, millions of people—including an estimated three-quarters of a million LGBT people, according to data analyzed by the Center for American Progress and the Williams Institute—will lose access to financial assistance that can help them afford health insurance. As a result, a decision in King v. Burwell that eliminates these subsidies has the potential to wreak havoc on the lives of millions of newly insured Americans and destabilize state insurance markets across the country.

We’ll discuss the arguments, what to expect, and the impact of the decision AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "The Other SCOTUS Case We Should Care About" »

Researchers Identify Origins of Elusive HIV Strains, Shed Light on The Virus' Evolution

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The final two virus strains thought to have made the cross-species jump from simians to humans and ultimately developed into HIV-1 have finally been identified. In order to understand the significance of the discovery, it’s important to understand where these two particular strains fall within HIV’s larger virological family tree.

Eight of the most broadly recognized strains of HIV are classified as HIV-2 and are commonly coded A-H. These various strains each sprung from individual human exposures to different strains of SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) found in the sooty mangabey. As Robbie Gonzalez points out for io9, while there are many different strains of HIV-2, the virus is not commonly observed outside of West African countries and is markedly less virulent than HIV-1.

HIV-1, on the other hand, is far more common globally due to higher virulence and a larger volume of different mutations. Some of the variants like CRF19, an M-class strain, have proven themselves to be markedly more effective at infecting individuals at an accelerated rate. Unlike HIV-2 strains the M and N classes of HIV-1 are thought to have originated from human to chimpanzee contact in areas where the animals are sometimes hunted for consumption. The origin of the O and P classes, however, had proven much more difficult to trace back.

According to a study covered in the most recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers from the French University of Montpellier have positively identified a link between the O and P classes of HIV and a form of SIV found in gorillas.

“Two fully sequenced gorilla viruses from southwestern Cameroon were very closely related to, and likely represent the source population of, HIV-1 group P,” the study’s abstract explains. “Most of the genome of a third SIVgor strain, from central Cameroon, was very closely related to HIV-1 group O, again pointing to gorillas as the immediate source.”

Pinpointing the organisms in which these two variants of HIV originated, explains the study’s lead virologist Martine Peeters, has allowed her team to more wholly understand the ways in which different HIV strains have had such different evolutionary paths.

In an interview with The New York Times Peeters lays out her team’s theory that gorilla-sourced strains of HIV were met with more biological barriers to entry--making it less prevalent in the human population--purely by chance:

“So why did the chimpanzee S.I.V. lead to a worldwide epidemic, while S.I.V. from gorillas morphed into a human virus that remained in one small country?

Both viruses then adapted to their new hosts. The human immune system can stop viruses like H.I.V. with a protein called tetherin, which links newly made viruses to the cell in which they formed. The “tethered” viruses are unable to escape to infect a new cell.

In their new study, Dr. Peeters and her colleagues found that the chimpanzee and gorilla viruses evolved different strategies for attacking tetherin. But only one got an excellent opportunity to spread.”


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