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

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