Friday, November 18, 2022

Drug offers hope in fight against Covid

At last: Immunotherapy for Covid. Immunotherapy saved me from stomach cancer: Completely wiped it out

Australian scientists have taken a critical step towards developing a one-stop Covid-19 therapy to combat existing and future strains of the virus.

In what it described as a “very significant” development, a team at Brisbane’s Translational ­Research Institute repurposed an existing oral drug that acts on cholesterol receptors, activating the body’s immune response ­rather than attacking the virus. The drug reduces inflammation in the lungs and associated coughing and breathing difficulties.

A study involving mice, published in the European Respiratory Journal, found the virus that causes Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, triggered the production of ­oxidised cholesterols.

In response, the body creates immune cells to fight the infection, which have a cholesterol-sensing receptor named GPR183. While white blood cells are ­important to fight the infection, having an excess of a particular type called macrophages is a hallmark of severe Covid-19.

Recent tests on infected mice found the drug was effective in blocking the cholesterol receptors and reduced the number of macrophages cells within the lungs. It also reduced the mice’s viral load. Associate professor Katharina Ronacher realised the significance of oxidised cholesterols in respiratory illnesses while ­researching tuberculosis six years ago while in South Africa. When she realised the two viruses worked in similar ways, she tested her findings on Covid-19.

“It was actually initially very intuitive,” Professor Ronacher said. “Once we understood the mechanism and studied this in mice infected with tuberculosis first, I knew it would actually work well in Covid-19.”

She said the reason the ­discovery was so exciting was ­because the cholesterol receptor had never before been targeted with a drug. “It’s a completely new therapy and this really opens up the research in other areas,” she said.

The study took two groups of mice infected with Covid-19 and gave one group the drug and the other a placebo. Mice given the treatment lost less weight, ­appeared happier and had less ­inflammation in the lungs. ­Researchers were also surprised to find the medication also caused them to carry less of the virus.

The treatments would not need to target a specific Covid-19 variant as it worked to trigger the immune response of the body rather than target the virus itself like typical antivirals.

With the fourth wave of Covid-19 expected to hit over the Christmas period, Professor ­Ronacher said it is important to have alternative treatments.

“At any time, a new variant can emerge that can be so different that our current immunity does not really help us much, and vaccines don’t really help much, then we definitely need other drugs,” she said.

“We also need drugs that are not necessarily antiviral, because viruses produce resistance to those back very quickly. We really need host-directed therapies … like a type of immune therapy.”

Patients with other severe respiratory illnesses and transplant recipients could also find relief with the drug, although this has not been tested.

“It has really far-reaching ­implications,” Professor Ron­acher said.

The study was a collaboration between Mater Research, the University of Queensland and the University of Copenhagen, and was funded by the Mater Foundation, the Australian Infectious Disease Research Centre and Diabetes Australia.

Human clinical trials have yet to be locked it, with more funding needed.


A new food fanaticism

On a recent Qantas flight from Sydney to Melbourne, I opened the inflight magazine and after flicking past interminable articles about sustainability, I landed on the restaurant section in the hope that it might be free of the virtue signalling at which our national airline excels. My eye was drawn to a new Torres Strait Islander restaurant called Big Esso which opened in Melbourne’s Federation Square a couple of months ago and my interest was piqued.

Big Esso’s chef-owner says that her mission is to ‘make indigenous ingredients and cuisine more accessible’ and so has put together a menu which features such dishes as ‘Kangaroo tail and pepperberry bourguignon, island fried scone’, ‘Kebi Ebur-wattleseed crumbed spatchcock, Congo pomme purée, quail brown sauce, yam crisps’ and ‘Charred emu, kutjera (desert raisin), pepperberry, molasses, cassava crisps.’

So far so good. It all sounds quite delicious. But on closer inspection, I have realised that I will never be able to sample the complex flavours of wattleseed crumbed spatchcock paired with Congo pomme purée. This is because Big Esso informs prospective diners that ‘We are working towards a sustainable and socially driven supply chain. Where possible, we source from First Nations, queer-led, women-led, and environmentally conscious producers who align with our ethos.’

I have a great many questions for the management, none of which are adequately addressed on the website. For instance, how will I know if my emu was sourced, packaged and shipped off to Melbourne by a queer producer or a First Nations producer? Will the quality of the pepperberries indicate whether they were sourced by members of the LGBTQ+ community or just plain old heterosexual men? Does the producer’s sexual orientation or skin colour improve or diminish the quality of what is on my plate? If the berries were sourced by a queer Indigenous woman, does this make them taste better than if they were sourced by a queer Indigenous man?

Welcome to the Foucauldian world of ‘food justice’ or ‘postcolonial food politics’ which has been simmering away in Western humanities departments and is now being served up in our restaurants. The central thesis is that Western food production is just another oppressive system which needs to be deconstructed in order to put an end to social inequality, discrimination, racism and sexism. Agriculture is considered patriarchal, white supremacist and heteronormative and colonial food production serves the interest of the dominant hierarchy. It suggests that there is an ethical responsibility to deconstruct and challenge how food is sourced and produced, and the way to do this is to prioritise other systems.

Unsurprisingly, Australian academics have embraced ‘postcolonial food politics’ with gusto. In his book Unsettling Food Politics. Agriculture, Dispossession and Sovereignty in Australia, Christopher Mayes, Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Arts at the Alfred Deakin Institute posits that ‘the industrialised global food system erodes democracy, perpetuates injustices, undermines population health and is environmentally unsustainable.’ Mayes believes that colonial agricultural practices have caused historic injustices and that ‘contemporary agricultural practices reflect racism and the dispossession of indigenous peoples.’

It is of course, entirely in keeping with the restaurant’s ethos that it also makes sure to ‘acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are based in Naarm (Melbourne); the Wurundjeri and neighbouring Boonwurrung Peoples of the Kulin Nation, and we pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.’ Finally, it declares in no uncertain terms that ‘Sovereignty was never ceded.’

If that is the case, I would like to know how much of the proceeds of this business, including the shop which sells stubby holders and tee-shirts, is going to the descendants of the Wurundjeri and neighbouring Boonwurrung people from whom they believe that the land has been stolen.

And while Big Esso means ‘the biggest thank you’ in Torres Strait Islander slang, it seems to me that any customers who cannot trace their lineage back to the Traditional Owners are also being told that they are not really welcome. Sorry Big Esso, but unfortunately, it’s the Biggest No Thank You from me.

The hyper-politicising of everything in our lives is becoming intolerable. We are no longer permitted to go out with friends and family to enjoy good food without being told that we are racist oppressors occupying stolen land. Nor, it seems, are we allowed to appreciate good music without being harangued about reinforcing forms of inequality, the gender pay gap, systemic injustice, and social inequality.

A UK-based organisation called ‘Donne, Women in Music’ which is ‘dedicated to achieving gender equality in the music industry’ recently published its latest research report which analysed the repertoire of over a hundred orchestras from 31 countries, including the Adelaide, Melbourne, Queensland and Sydney Symphony Orchestras. Its purpose was to look at equality and diversity in concert programming in 2021-2022.

The report’s main finding was that less than 0.1 per cent of the classical music pieces performed by 111 orchestras were written by non-binary composers. Shocking! Of the 20,400 compositions examined, 92.3 per cent were composed by men but only 7.7 per cent of the works were written by women. 87.7 per cent were composed by white men and 76.4 per cent of those men were dead. So, there you have it. By going to a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth, you are oppressing women and other minorities.

What kind of person worries about if their food has been sourced by queer-led producers, or makes distinctions about composers based on race and gender? The same kind of person who makes divisive group identity the only thing that matters, and who has rejected the notion of a shared humanity. It’s the person who has lost the idea of what it is to participate in something that transcends human nature, and who is trying to drag the rest of us down with them.


Cut the fat in the curriculum. There’s a lot in the curriculum kids can live without.

The recent release of the 2022 NAPLAN results were met with a collective sigh of relief from governments and the education sector after the doomsday prediction of students suffering significant learning setbacks due to the Covid pandemic did not occur.

While it is undoubtedly a good thing that the damage to our students was limited from the catastrophic public policy failure that was Australia’s pandemic response, the latest NAPLAN results should surprise and concern us all.

For example, the national Grade 3 reading results placed 95.5 per cent of students at or above the National Minimum Standard in 2022, compared to 95.9 per cent in the previous two tests in 2021 and 2019. Likewise, Grade 3 numeracy shows similarly consistent results with 95 per cent, compared with 95.4 per cent and 95.5 per cent in 2021 and 2019, respectively, and writing, equally consistent, with 96.2, 96.7 and 96.3 per cent of students at or above the National Minimum Standard.

Based on these figures it would appear that almost two years of lockdown made no difference to the Grade 3 cohort. The results also suggest that those parents of Grade 3 students – who during Covid were likely working from home, juggling family responsibilities, are unqualified, and lacked access to usual teaching resources – did just as well as their child’s school could have.

But how can that be?

Given the knee-jerk lockdowns in Victoria, often announced with less than two-hour’s notice, teachers were asked to perform miracles and provide a curriculum for parents to teach their children with no notice and achieved this by focusing only on the core items.

A Melbourne Prep teacher told the Institute of Public Affairs’ Class Action program about her experience immediately after hearing her school would be forced to close due to a snap lockdown;

‘I ran off heaps of worksheets for parents focusing on numbers and I gathered a selection of appropriate readers for each child and sent it all home in folders. It was pretty basic, but I knew it would do the trick. There’s a lot in the curriculum kids can live without.’

The Grade 3 NAPLAN results are testament to the great job teachers and parents did and, yet again, reinforces that foundational skills are pivotal to setting students up for success.

Yet, the very same NAPLAN results also highlighted what happens when the basics are not taught to students. Of all Year 9 students, 23.5 per cent are at or below the minimum national standard and shockingly, almost 15 per cent of Year 9 boys did not meet the National Minimum Standard for reading.

Federal Minister for Education, Jason Clare, sought to dismiss these worrying figures by saying, ‘It’s not clear whether that’s Covid, but I would suspect that’s a big part of it.’ Sorry Minister, the standard ‘Covid caused it’ excuse doesn’t pass the test here.

While the current crop of Year 9 students has shown stable results in numeracy every year since they were first tested, their reading and spelling results tell a different story. The percentage of this cohort at least achieving the National Minimum Standards in reading when in Grade 3 was 95.1 per cent, in Grade 5 was 94.9 per cent which has now fallen in Year 9 to 89.6 per cent. Spelling shows a similar decline from 94.4 per cent when they were in Grade 3 and 5, which has now fallen to 91.8 per cent.

If the pandemic is to blame for these worrying reading and spelling results, as Jason Clare suggests, then why did these students’ numeracy results stay consistent?

Could it be more fundamental? Could it be the teaching methods these students have been exposed to since the time they started their schooling?

This cohort of students have been exposed to the widely used teaching method of ‘whole word’ and ‘inquiry’ approach to learning to read and spell. These methods have rightly been criticised by many as the culprit of falling standards for failing to provide students with the necessary foundation and analytical skills required to understand more sophisticated language.

NAPLAN is sometimes criticised as a myopic view of a child’s development because it only tells part of their story, and there is some merit to this argument. However, what it does provide parents is an independent and objective radar for whether their child is grasping the basics, and the truth of the matter is that many students are simply not.

Just throwing more money into education as some teachers’ unions would like to see is clearly not the answer. Institute of Public Affairs research shows in Victoria, since 2014, spending on education has increased by 30 per cent, yet critical reading and numeracy results have not increased in a commensurate manner.

And Covid is definitely not the culprit the Federal Minister of Education would have us believe.

If we learn anything from the pandemic, it is that students need to be taught the basics if they are to have a solid foundation for future study. Under pressure to produce lesson plans before being locked down, many teachers recognised the amount of unnecessary fat in the curriculum and when given the freedom to dismiss it, achieved great results.

We need to get serious about fixing the curriculum taught to our children, and it’s time we got back to basics.


Novak’s mandate: How dangerous are the vaccines?

This week, Labor immigration minister Andrew Giles quietly confirmed on Tuesday 15 November that the ban on Novak (No Vax) Djokovic would be dropped but refused to comment ‘on privacy grounds’. Whose privacy? Presumably that of the minister, frightened of a backlash from zero-Covidian zealots. So far, it hasn’t materialised.

The tide is slowly turning in Australia. The latest True North Strategy Compass polling of Australians, released on 16 November, showed that despite the fact that 95 per cent of Australians over the age 18 had been vaccinated, almost half of all Australians surveyed, 46 per cent, said governments should not have the power to mandate vaccines and 8 per cent of those who were vaccinated regret it. On a national scale, that would equate to around 1.5 million Australians over the age of 18. Of those who got vaccinated most (48 per cent) said they were glad they did it because it allowed them to escape lockdown sooner. Only 44 per cent were glad because they didn’t get Covid.

The polling comes as the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) quietly confirmed for the first time on 12 November that it was unlikely to approve another booster for people under 30 due to the increased risk of myocarditis and the fact that there would only be a ‘minimal’ reduction in transmission from a fifth jab. ATAGI member Professor Allan Cheng said ‘the more doses you get, the less benefit you derive from them and then we start to worry about causing side effects’. That’s a rare confession.

Woolworths, Australia’s largest retailer, which employs 180,000 people, announced on 15 November that it would end its vaccine mandates for staff effective 22 November.

But Australian Football League star and nurse Deni Varnhagen and fellow nurse Courtney Millington have lost their second legal challenge to the South Australian vaccine mandate for healthcare workers and their application to appeal the decision was dismissed.

Refusing to hire unvaccinated nurses is testimony to idiocy of the Australian health establishment which has belatedly admitted that vaccination doesn’t stop transmission and infection provides protection. So why persist with a mandate when the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation says there is a nationwide shortage of at least 8,000 nurses?

Varnhagen who was working in intensive care and has just given birth to a baby girl was particularly concerned about the impact of the vaccine on her fertility. She is not alone.

In the US, on 10 November Dr James Thorp, an obstetrician gynaecologist with over 40 years of experience including on the board of the Society of Maternal Foetal Medicine and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, author of over 200 publications and a reviewer for major medical journals, wrote that Covid vaccinations are ‘the greatest disaster in the history of obstetrics and all of medicine’, should never have been used in pregnancy and were promoted unlawfully, with ‘falsified data’. He notes that it was known as early as 2012 that lipid nanoparticles concentrate in the ovaries of rats, that in the Pfizer trial on rats, vaccine concentrated in the ovaries 118-fold in 48 hours and may permanently damage the human genome for multiple generations. Thorp writes that he has witnessed a dramatic rise in foetal morbidity, malformations and mortality since vaccination commenced, a 75-fold increase in miscarriages and a 12,000-fold increase in menstrual abnormalities.

In France, Mélodie Feron has formed a group of 10,000 women called ‘Where’s my cycle’. She organised a rally in Paris attended by Dr. Laurence Kayser, a Belgian gynaecologist who told investigative journalist Mary Beth Pfeiffer that, ‘The injections didn’t create a new disease, they revealed… dormant pathologies, and allowed them to explode…’. In October, a committee of the European Medicines Agency recommended that heavy menstrual bleeding in menstruation be acknowledged as a possible side effect of mRNA vaccines.

Dr Kimberly Biss, an obstetrician gynaecologist in Florida, said in October that since the vaccine rollout she has seen a 50 per cent rise in infertility and miscarriages and a 25 per cent increase in abnormal Pap smears and irregular cervical malignancies.

Michelle Gershman, a whistleblower nurse in Fresno California reported an increase at her hospital in stillbirths after 20 weeks (foetal demise) from one to two every two or three months to 22 in July and 22 in August. Gershman released an email she received from the hospital which said stillbirths were projected to increase stipulating babies must be put in a white bucket and adding callously, ‘I know that it feels disrespectful to many of you to pour a bottle of saline over the baby, so you can wrap the baby in a saline soaked Chux if it feels better to you.’

Is it happening in Australia? The Australian Bureau of Statistics won’t release data on births for 2022 until December. So far, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has received more than 5,390 reports of menstrual disorders, 891 incomplete abortions, 844 spontaneous abortions, 235 reports of premature babies of whom 11 died, 176 foetal deaths, 88 cases of foetal distress, four of whom died, 90 stillbirths, 88 cases of multiple congenital abnormalities of whom 11 died, 62 cases of congenital heart disease of whom 10 died. The TGA says none are related to the Covid vaccines although it does admit that at least 14 Australians are likely to have been killed by the vaccines and at least 700 hundred injured by myocarditis.

Vaccine injuries are still a taboo topic in Australia. The federal government has only offered a maximum of $20,000 compensation for vaccine injuries but it will cover funeral costs. The October budget revealed the scheme has paid out less than $1 million but that is projected to increase to $76.9 million next year, the equivalent of 3,845 claims at the maximum rate. That is not going to be the end of it. So far there have been 136,529 reports of adverse events including 946 deaths, more than any other vaccine in history. In the absence of any longterm safety data, or evidence of efficacy, that should be reason enough to end the vaccine mandates.

Don’t hold your breath.




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