28 April 2009

Vaccines without Chickens

You may not know that 'vaccine' originally meant something like 'bovine.' They don't involve cows anymore, but they do usually use chickens. Or atleast eggs in development with a nascent and pliable immune system that can be manipulated to make antibodies. Like many crude methods, this takes time, is imprecise, and causes problems for people with allergies and ethical concerns.

So to work in another animal into this post, I heard a report this morning regarding swine flu. It mentioned a company that has found a way to make vaccines faster, and more importantly, egg free. According to Baxter's site, they use Vero cell cultures instead of the eggs. While originally derived from the kidney of a grivet, I feel it is so far removed from that long-dead monkey to consider that aspect to be ethically OK. Sure, people with monkey allergies and concern over hereto unknown prion diseases can object, but atleast it's not aborting factory-farmed chickens. One step at a time folks!

One concern with this methodology (and also with in vitro meat) is that Vero cells are typically grown with the use of fetal bovine serum (FBS). Thus exchanging chicken fetuses for cattle fetuses. Net gain of zero, unless you think the unhatched chicken eggs are vegetarian, but that's a slippery slope. I looked into it a little more, and according to a document on the Baxter site:

"Also, Baxter’s Vero cell system is capable of producing very high yields of influenza virus without the addition of any animal-derived serum."
That's possibly great news. I sent them an email to confirm. I'll post if there is a reply.

Swine Flu May Test Baxter
Baxter Vaccines
Vero Cell Backgrounder

26 April 2009

You're not alone, or alternately titled, There are More of us Than You Think

So I thought I'd start out with a show of solidarity. I often feel like I'm the only one making lunches complicated at work, but I prefer to think that we're just evenly distributed across the workforce.

According to a handy list on The Wikipedia, there are atleast two notable vegan scientists: String theorist Brian Greene, and molecular geneticist George Church. Clearly a list that needs some additions.

And while a slight tangent, there are a number of vegan M.D.s. To name a few there's Dr. Michael Greger (A former classmate of mine, actually, not to name drop), Dr. Neal D. Barnard, and T. Colin Campbell (of the China Study). There's even a whole organization for vegan physicians. Maybe soon there will be one for us too. Baby steps.

Like I said, needs some fleshing out (pun not intended). Anyone have additions? Signal-to-noise ration on my web searches is kind of low.

23 April 2009

Epic First Post!

Hello all. Or maybe just hello me at this point. In any event, I have started this blogarooni.

Basically I hope this site will fill a need I see out there. I'm vegan, and a scientist, and I don't want to leave my ethics behind when I'm in the lab. I always loved animals and most living things, and that's why I went into biology. I never really understood the "I like animals, let's kill one and study it." mindset that some biologists have. But I guess to draw parallels to eating, I'm sure people just don't think about it too much. Which is odd for a scientist, I suppose: To not be thinking.

But beyond the visceral avoidance of vivisection, as a vegan I am always looking at ingredient labels and trying to figure out what is what and where it comes from. I do it at the market and I reflexively do it the the chemical supply cabinet. But unlike food, for which there are endless guides and resources out there, there isn't much information on what lab chemicals are made from. I'm hoping to start remedying that.

So I hope to gather information on animal use and animal products, and share what I find out with the interwebs. I also hope to have some discussions about various questions that arise. I know when people think about vegan issues and discussion they think trollbait, but I am going to try real hard to keep things civil here. I don't want any fights people, so be nice!

So there you go. Not too much ramble was it? Let me know what you think. And feel free to drop a line with topic ideas or suggestions. This won't just be about Biology, but that's what I know best, but if you know that theres some animal issue with particle physics or something, let's hear it!