Research Ethics Roundup: The fight against ebola, lab-made red blood cells, green tea, and US launches biomedical agency 

This month’s research ethics roundup covers a new billion-dollar biomedical agency, the potential development of an mRNA vaccine against Ebola, lab-made red blood cells, and how red wine and green tea compounds could slow Alzheimer’s.  

US Government Launches Billion-Dollar Biomedical Agency 
JD Supra | Tina Reynolds 

The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) may help transform biomedical research in the US. The new independent sub-agency within NIH in the US Department of Health and Human Services was authorized by Congress earlier this year. ARPA-H aims to develop mRNA cancer vaccines, minimize racial disparities in maternal morbidity and mortality, and more. The agency also seeks to build on existing biomedical advances in the areas such as cancer and Alzheimer’s to create new treatments with potentially new cures. President Biden has proposed a $5 billion budget for the agency in the fiscal year 2023. This is a significant increase compared to the budgeted $1 billion for 2022. With strong support from the Biden Administration, ARPA-H has great potential to propel biomedical research and innovation in the US.  

Can mRNA vaccines transform the fight against Ebola?  
Nature | Max Kozlov 

Sudan ebolavirus is the Ebola strain responsible for the current outbreak in Uganda. So far, the Sudan ebolavirus has inflicted approximately 132 infections and 51 deaths. Health professionals are wondering if mRNA vaccines can be used to help fight against Ebola similarly to how they have been used against COVID-19. However, COVID-19 vaccines are more effective in minimizing severe infection and death than preventing infection. An Ebola vaccine would need to be preventative to limit transmission. Currently, there are only two Ebola vaccines—and they only protect against one Ebola species, Zaire ebolavirus. Ideally, one vaccine would be used to protect against multiple filoviruses. Bloomberg reports that Moderna is working towards acquiring a deal to develop an mRNA vaccine that will be effective against Ebola and other filoviruses.   

Two teaspoons of lab-made blood could have enormous potential for people with rare blood conditions
CNN | Jen Christensen 

Scientists’ lab-made red blood cells might eliminate the need for donors and transfusions, helping people with rare blood types and conditions. UK scientists have transfused volunteers with their lab-made red blood cells without showing unwanted or unexpected side effects. The trial process included extracting whole blood cells from donors and isolating the stem cells. Red blood cells were then grown from the stem cells and transfused into healthy volunteers. Then, volunteers receive two more small transfusions at least four months apart, one with the same lab-made cells and the other with standard donor cells. There will be further trials to determine if lab-made red blood cells could be used clinically, but if proven successful, this research could help people with sickle cell, genetic disorders, and more.  

Can compounds in wine, green tea slow Alzheimer’s?
Futurity | Taylor McNeil-Tufts 

A new study shows that catechins in green tea and resveratrol in red wine and other foods help reduce the formation of Alzheimer’s plaques. These compounds not only reduced plaque formation but also had little to no side effects. Such compounds are safe, effective, and easily accessible. Dana Cairns, PhD, lead author of the study, has prefaced that seeing effects in the lab “doesn’t always necessarily translate to what you might see in a patient.” However, this discovery remains significant for a disease with no cure or approved preventative treatment. Cairn suggests that researchers and pharmaceutical companies “try to enhance” the beneficial properties of these compounds “to make them more bioavailable or penetrate the blood-brain barrier a bit better,” to ensure that they are effectively absorbed.