Under an ongoing initiative by the Obama administration, a federal mandate implemented nearly 30 years ago that restricts blood and plasma donations from members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community–specifically men who have sex with men (MSM)–is set for some significant changes in the coming months and years, according to a notice published last week by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington.
A request for information (RFI) was posted earlier this month in the Federal Register from the HHS seeking data regarding the design of a pilot program that would specifically allow MSM to donate to blood banks across the country. The “gay blood” would still be screened and analyzed to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS and the hepatitis B virus. However, gay men would no longer be excluded from donating blood or plasma.
In 1983, during the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a federal ban was invoked that prevented openly gay men from donating blood under the administration of Ronald Reagan. The mandate has remained in effect since then and the issue of tainted blood continued to be an issue during several high-profile cases in which people were infected with the HIV/AIDS virus through tainted blood transfusions, including basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson and late tennis star Arthur Ashe.
In the RFI, the HHS highlighted the fact that “significant advancements and effectiveness of donor testing for HIV, hepatitis B, syphilis and other infections has greatly enhanced blood safety. As a result, questions have been raised about the need to continue an indefinite deferral of all MSM and whether there could be blood donation by MSM who may not be at increased risk.”
In a related matter, scientists from Inovio Pharmaceuticals, based in Pennsylvania, reported success in a clinical trial study of an HIV vaccine. The Phase 1 clinical study of the drug PENNVAX-B was shown to boost T cell activity in HIV positive subjects. In its simplest definition, T cells, or T lymphocytes, belong to a group of white blood cells known as lymphocytes and play an essential role in determining whether someone has the HIV virus or AIDS.
“This data is a first for DNA vaccines by yielding robust T cell immune responses in people chronically infected with HIV,” said J. Joseph Kim, president and CEO of Inovio.
Kim said that while volunteers in the trial may have had their HIV viral load under control by various other antiretroviral drugs, “Their immune systems are not normal and would have difficulty generating strong T cell response to any immune-stimulating approach,” he concluded.
To read more about the clinical trail and PENNVAX-B HIV vaccine, visit Inovio Pharmaceuticals online at inovio.com.