Science Writing

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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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.

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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.