In Vitro Infertilization

November 4, 2009

I don’t know about you, but my birth control experience isn’t satisfying unless I can be confident that my own immune system will be used to destroy my ability to harbor new life. Enter the promising up-and-coming antifertility vaccines, some of which target either the infamous pregnancy-sustaining hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) or the libidinous hypothalamic henchman known as gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) (Talwar, Vyas, Perswani & Gupta, 2009). Essentially, these vaccines work by stimulating your immune system to wipe these endogenous hormones from your system. Without these hormones, becoming pregnant or maintaining pregnancy is impossible. Furthermore, since cancerous cells can develop fun party tricks like hormone production and secretion, some cancerous cells (such as certain T-cell leukemias) are known to produce GnRH and/or hCG. Antibodies that target these hormones seem to help neutralize some of these cancers. Prostate growth is also stimulated by GnRH, and phase I/II clinical in Austria and India show atrophy of the prostate and improvement of prostate cancer in vaccinated patients.

As far as I can tell, interest in an antifertility vaccine began in the late ’60s/early ’70s. Significant gains were made in the ’70s and ’80s, and much of the work on the actual hCG/GnRH vaccines seems to have been done by various members of a small team of researchers out of India headed by our good friend G. Talwar (cited above.) If clinical trials continue to go well, Mr. Talwar’s baby (no pun intended) may live to see the light of the free market within the next five or ten years.

Objections to the vaccine are obvious: Groups or governments will abuse the vaccine;  vaccines  treat pregnancy like a disease; the vaccine is intended to impact populations and therefore supports a woman-blaming approach to population control; the H1N1 vaccine is actually the antifertility vaccine; since hCG is produced by a fertilized egg, the vaccine kills babies; babies conceived despite vaccination may be harmed by the antibodies; etc.

Some concerns are valid, though women’s advocacy groups will be happy to know that researchers are also making progress on an anti-sperm vaccine as well (Naz, 2009). And the rather one-sided focus on the cautionary arguments overshadows the possibility that this technology will be of enormous use in battling cancer and inexpensively, harmlessly controlling animal populations (Fayrer-Hosken, 2008). Still, one wonders whether the forty years worth of immunocontraceptive funding would have been better spent supporting sociopolitical and economic liberation of women and girls, or efforts aimed at environmental health and sustainability. Perhaps. Perhaps not. It takes more time and money to tackle population control by addressing overarching global problems like inequality, poverty, cultural and social rot, and systematic poisoning of the planet than it does to teach my immune system to bounce  any pesky hCG-secreting embryos hoping to get into my hot uterine nightclub.



Halloween Vaccine Sampler

October 30, 2009

For all you parents of trick-or-treaters worried about creepy neighbor Jerry popping a roofie into your kid’s “fun-sized”  glucose glob, I’d be more concerned about Junior’s little costumed friends and the sticky, slobbery, flu-infested mucosal secretions all over their chubby hands. Why? Because swine flu doesn’t seem to understand that it’s supposed to kill off old, sick people languishing in nursing homes instead of healthy little children and glowing pregnant women. That’s right. 95% of hospitalizations have occurred in those under 65 years old, with 45% occurring in children under 18. Believe it or not, the situation isn’t all just media hype and scare tactics. It’s ugly out there. True, not everyone dies or ends up in the hospital, but even an uncomplicated course of swine flu will park your ass in bed for a week or longer. So these days, I’m more worried about kids catching H1N1 than swallowing a razor blade hidden in a popcorn ball.

So there’s the usual “I don’t trust the government/science/western medicine/drug companies” grumbling over the H1N1 vaccine. Yeah, I get it. Sure, sure. Whatever. You’re not going to blow my freakin’ mind with the argument that the pharmaceutical industry WANTS us to be scared and WANTS us to get the vaccine because that means lotsa cash for them. I understand that profit is a motivating factor. That doesn’t really change the risk/benefits analysis all that much, nor does it change the fact that both the H1N1 shot and nasal spray are safe and effective, even for pregnant women (Tamma, Ault, del Rio, Steinhoff, Halsey, & Omer, Sept. 2009). So, if you’re able to, I’d toss a dose of H1N1 vaccine into your Halloween treat bag this weekend. Here’s info on how to pay for it. Here’s info on who should get vaccinated first. If you live in New Mexico, you can try these clinics, or contact your regular health care provider (if you’re lucky enough to have one). While you’re there, consider getting a seasonal flu vaccine as well (seasonal flu is different from H1N1 swine flu, and you’ll need a separate vaccine for each one.)

Hey, you also might want to throw a pneumococcal vaccine into your goody bag as well, since many viral flu deaths occur in people who develop bacterial pneumonia in addition to the flu.

And while you rot your enamel with sweet sugary Halloween candy, ponder the fact that we’ll soon have a vaccine against cavities (Li et al., 2009; Nui et al., 2009; Lui et al., 2009; etc., etc. Apparently Asia is all over this one.)

Sugar ain’t your thang? Perhaps the upcoming anti-nicotine and the anti-cocaine vaccines are more your style.

Too old to need anti-party vaccines? Keep holdin’ out for that vaccine against Alzheimer’s!

But whatever you do, don’t toss the condoms just yet. The new HIV vaccine was only 30% effective (which is still a major breakthrough).

There’s a whole exciting world of novel vaccines out there. From anthrax to cancer, the boring ol’ CDC vaccine schedules are about to get a whole lot more interesting. For now, though, I’ll be happy if I’m able to get immunized against the dreaded swine flu before I catch it from one of my germy little patients. Secretly, though, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for an anti-cellulite vaccine…