Education

Scientist Addresses Misconception That His Lab Has Used Competent HIV to Cure Cancer

NOTE:  The open letter below was originally published on Facebook Fan Page of Ray Flores and reprinted with Dr. Posey’s permission.

By Avery Posey, Jr

I just responded to the author of an article from Upworthy that is circulating the web through social media. The article is titled “Doctors Take A Long Shot And Inject HIV Into Dying Girl. The Reason Why Will Amaze You.” The media has a tendency to sensationalize the news and we often find ourselves believing what we read, so I want to clarify the assertion made by this article because I find the title to be misleading and troublesome.

It is true that the therapy developed in my lab that has treated and cured leukemia in approximately 12 patients. However, it is not entirely true that this treatment is done with HIV. The truth is that we only use parts of the HIV virus that are necessary to insert DNA into other cells (like T cells in this case). This virus is only able to insert into a cell once, cannot replicate, and does not inactivate patient CD4 cells like HIV does. The patient is not HIV+ after therapy.

The real work of this cure is the DNA that we insert into the patient T cells. It is a special and novel gene that does not exist in nature. The new gene enables the T cells to now find and kill the patient’s tumor cells based on a molecule they can now see on the surface of those tumor cells. This is why the therapy works. It has nothing to do with the use of parts of the HIV virus.

As a member of an ethnic community that has been preyed upon by the medical community, I find it terrible to suggest that any doctor would intentionally infect someone with HIV. No medical professional would use HIV to treat anyone; Tuskegee shall never be repeated.

As a member of a social community that has been victimized by HIV and still deals with the stigma of HIV, I am disturbed by the possibilities that could arise from articles with such sensational titles. HIV does not cure cancer.

Thank you for allowing me to clarify misconceptions reported and circulating the web. Please share this and help dispel the rumors if possible. If anyone is interested in learning more, they are welcome to inbox me.

Avery D. Posey, Jr., Ph.D.

This commentary is not written on the behalf of any company or institution. The article is linked.

NOTE:  The above open letter is a re-post of a social media response from Dr. Posey

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Connecting scientist mentors with students who have the desire to learn

By Caleph B. Wilson

Every scientist has three key experiences that helped them on the road to a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM: 1) being born with a desire to learn; 2) having opportunity to apply STEM principles; and 3) guidance from an effective mentor. The desire to learn started early in our lives, and those of us who were lucky began to receive guidance while we were in school. As we navigated the various stages of our careers, all three experiences built upon each other. We scientists know the value of mentoring and providing opportunities to others. However, without a road map to community engagement, finding out how to give back to the community can be difficult…

Read entire post at Planetary.org click here.

Kiera Wilmot Avoids Prison, But Now What?

By Caleph B. Wilson

The initial thought behind ‘zero tolerance’ policies in schools was  that children with consistent discipline issues would make up most suspensions.  However, ‘model students’ can also become entangled in mandatory school punishments.

On April 22, 2013, 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot was expelled from her South Florida high school for creating small ‘explosive’ by mixing household chemicals and a small wad of aluminum foil.  Further, Florida’s state attorney charged her with felonies equal to if she had discharged a firearm and a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ on school property.  Interestingly, Wilmot’s principal Ron Pritchard was disturbed by the harshness of the school district’s punishment…

Read entire post at Ebony.com click here.

School Security: Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire?

By Caleph B. Wilson

Before the end of the school year a middle school in Grenada, MS (my hometown) identified a student that brought a loaded handgun to school.  In this case clear communication between students, staff, teachers and administrators lead to disarming the student without incident.  (Because a minor was involved some of the details of the situation is incomplete.  Hopefully, this very serious incident will be rapidly resolved and include measures that will eventually allow the student re-enter the educational system.)  This was a clear demonstration of how communities can entrust school districts to keep their children safe.  Unfortunately, the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hood Elementary School in Newton, CT is the backdrop for this situation.

With this in mind, the Grenada School District (GSD) has worked with local authorities and parents to review their security plans and contingencies.  This process has been played out by school districts all over the country.  It is a clear demonstration that communities and policy makers are working together to keep children safe and focused on learning.  Commonsense and professionalism is where we all should place our trust.

On top of this, some have moved to pushing for armed security, metal detectors and other security measures.  However, arming teachers moves unreasonably to the extreme.    Teachers are trained education professionals and should be focused on teaching not staying on the ready to engage armed threats.  Further, with all that we demand for educators adding more to their plates will likely have negative impact on the education of children.

Additionally, the cost in insurance and added security would likely mean reallocation of funds from pure educational activities.  Here is a question:  Does it make sense to hurt education quality by taking away funds that are already stretched thin? Educating our children is the point.  That is why all stake holders have to be engaged in the conversation.  Parents, families, students, educators, school administrators, law enforcement and government (local, state and federal) have to be shape the conversation for efficient, effect and balanced school security measures.

So, adding armed uniformed off duty police officers for security is a reasonable response.  Yet this situation can go overboard.  Remember schools are not correctional facilities and over doing armed security at schools may change the atmosphere.

We live in an open and free society.  Preserving our way of life truly depends on maintaining our identity in the face of horrific tragedy.  Reason and data driven professional advice should always guide our response(s).

UPDATE (12 December 2012):  A source within the Grenada School District confirmed that GSD did not detect the firearm until after the suspected student brandished the handgun at another student while on a school bus.

Carrying the Good Baggage with Us

By Caleph B. Wilson

Now that we have moved on from the structured world of the PhD candidate, taking the lessons learned with us is  imperative  for  future  success  in  the  scientific enterprise  within  and outside  of academia.   Along  the way,  technical  skills  were  gained,  papers  were published,  and we somehow  convinced  our thesis advisors and at least two other people to write solid letters of recommendation.

For all of that have successfully   obtained our PhDs, there is one thing that we can agree on, IT WAS AN EXERCISE IN SELF-­‐MOTIVATION!  We should begin to consistently view our postdoctoral experiences not just in terms of technical training but the development of your overall marketability…

Read entire post at BPC Newsletter click here.

How Do You Know that You Have Been Heard?

By Caleph B. Wilson

What is the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC), and what has it done for me lately? Unfortunately, too many biomedical postdocs are asking these questions. As scientists our approach does not just require posing a question. Instead, we have to ask the most appropriate question(s). So, I propose this question: How can postdocs proactively maximize their overall training experience at the University of Pennsylvania?

Okay, let’s start with the two opening questions. The BPC serves as a platform to advocate for policy issues related to the postdoctoral training. In fact, each biomedical postdoc is a member of the BPC; however, only a few us chair or serve on committees. Now, before your blood pressure rises in anticipation of a lecture, let me be clear: I am not wagging my finger at postdocs. We are very busy people who are intensely focused on our careers. Our time is very valuable. However, the collective diversity of all of our respective training experiences can serve your individual postdoctoral training experience very well, and the BPC is listening…

Read entire post at BPC Newsletter click here.

Wanted: More Under-represented Minority Professors in the Life Sciences

Article Co-Authored with Marybeth Gasman

If you ask minority high school students interested in biology what they want to do as a future career, they typically tell you that they want to be a physician or dentist.  Unfortunately, what they don’t tell you is that they want to be a professor or researcher.  This lack of interest is often due to a lack of exposure or negative stories about being a professor in the sciences.  Becoming a professor in the life sciences often takes at least 10 years after the bachelor’s degree due to the need for post-doctoral experiences.  In addition, students are often lured to practitioner-focused careers by higher starting salaries and the prestige associated with being a physician or dentist.

Read entire post at Diverse Issues in Higher Education click here.