Research

Dangerous Mis-information About a Federally Funded HIV Vaccine Trial

By Caleph B. Wilson

Since, my days as a graduate student, family, friends and strangers have asked me about the validity of biomedical science reports in the media.  Many articles and blogs are accurate; however, sometimes inaccurate information is put forward.  In those instances, I attempt to help the questioner understand why the information is incorrect.

Below is a case of a website getting the information HORRIBLY WRONG!

A Facebook friend shared a blog post that stated that a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded HIV vaccine trial “gave 41 people HIV.”  As expected a post like that got my attention immediately!  So, my first question was:  Why haven’t I heard of this before?  It seems like major news because of the safety concern.  This would have been alarming news in the HIV research community.

So, as usual I navigated to the shared webpage and began to read.  After reading the post, I did a Google search for the name of the trial: HVTN 500.  The sixth post was a press release from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), the NIH branch that funded the study.

While reading the NIAID press release, I was wondering when I would get to the part discussing the new HIV infections.  The information was in the fourth paragraph.  This is what I said:

Overall in the study from the day of enrollment through the month 24 study visit, a total of 41 cases of HIV infection occurred in the volunteers who received the investigational vaccine regimen and 30 cases of HIV infection occurred among the placebo vaccine recipients.”

This is what the above quoted text means.  Yes, participants that receive placebo or the vaccine contracted HIV.  However, the sentence does not indicate that the vaccine or placebo was the source of the new HIV infections.  What the press release is pointing out is that the vaccine was not effective enough to justify continuing to spend tax payer dollars on it.  Simply put, scientist and physicians determined that a careful public health research project did not work and decided to stop it.  This is how science works.

Given the misleading information in the website posted by my Facebook friend, I decided to respond to the post and point out why it was dangerous misinformation.  This is how I determined that the information on the website was incorrect:

1.)    The website did not list or link to the group that did the study

This is a major red flag.  Anytime a website cannot point me to facts, I get concerned.  As a scientist, I always challenge myself to read the sources.  Creditable information will invites critical review.  This webpage was making me work to find information rather than pointing me to it.  Especially given, that it claimed that a federally funded clinical trial was responsible for spreading HIV, I wanted to read this information.

2.)    No other media or science outlets came to the same conclusion as the shared webpage

News like this warrants independent verification from multiple sources.  It is hard to believe that media outlets would not consider it to be major news that an NIH sponsored trial was spreading HIV.  If this would true, it would be inescapable.

3.)    Carefully reading the both the NIH press release, the blog post and linked information in each

Anyone can read the available information and make a conclusion based on what is there.  It only requires a working knowledge of what is presented. In this case, there is a major discrepancy between what the NIAID has to say and what the website stated about the HIV vaccine trial.  I invite you to read the press release, blog post and sited sources to reach your own conclusion.  Also, search the internet, PubMed and other sources.  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section of this post.

Above all, I am pointing out that each of us has a responsibility to insure that we effectively evaluate information that we consume.  Not doing so, will result in spread information that may not be accurate.  The danger in the case above is that success in combating HIV requires informed volunteers.  Mis-information or inaccurate media reports may prevent advancements in battling HIV.

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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

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.

Breast Cancer Prevention and Angelina Jolie: A Story of Empowerment and Access

By Caleph B. Wilson

Today Angelina Jolie announced that she had a double mastectomy because of a mutation in her copy of the BRCA1 gene.

This deserves attention for everyone especially women of color.  Although, Jolie had the BRCA1 mutation she has income, access and/or insurance to have this preventative procedure.  (Information on BRAC1/2:  http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/BRCA) For too many women gene testing and preventative surgery is out of reach.  Moreover, women of color have breast cancer related surgery at a delayed rate which increases the rate of death.  Transferring Jolie’s ‘empowered’ feeling to others would hopefully help breast cancer survival rates.

Also, let’s note that the US Supreme Court is listing to arguments over patents for BRCA.   This case will determine if access to life saving tests will be in reach for everyone.  The other issue is related to companies or research institution owning genes of patients.  If they can patients have to argue their cut of any money generated.  I wonder what Jolie’s stance on this is.

As with most things, it is great that a celebrity face has been associated with a disease.  Now attention will be focused on it.  Now, we (scientist) need everyone else to tell Congress to not let sequestration hurt the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  New effective surgeries or treatments will not happen without the money to do the experiments.

NOTE:  Please, share your thoughts and comments on our Facebook page:  First Generation STEM: Education, Science, Community and Knowledge.

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.