Ive totally been a Debbie Downer lately.

I dont mean to be, its just that I really friggen hate it when main-stream media trumpets the latest, greatest ‘CURE FOR AIDS OMFG’– and then 10 years later scientists have to explain to the general public why we havent cured AIDS yet.

Why cant reporters just say ‘Hey this is really cool, might contribute to a treatment for HIV/AIDS in the future’?

But again, I dont mean to be a Debbie Downer. I wouldnt be in this field of research if I didnt believe we had a chance of kicking HIV-1s butt some day. We do have a few things going in our favor in this fight. A few little footholds in HIV-1s seemingly unscalable wall that give us hope we will figure out a solution.

1– Using stupid, completely untrue, materialistic, Nazi principles of the theory of evolution, like ‘The Red Queen Hypothesis‘, ‘competitive exclusion principle‘, and ‘Mullers ratchet hypothesis‘, weve figured out that the fitness (the viruses ability to produce progeny in a set environment) of a virus ex vivo is associated with disease progression. The ‘more fit’ a virus is in a culture dish in the lab, the faster that patient is going to progress to AIDS.
What does this tell us? It means that we dont have to worry about every figgen HIV-1 variant in the quasispecies. We dont need to worry about variants that let the patient live for +30 years without drugs. We need to worry about the ‘more fit’ variants that can kill someone very quickly. And we can figure out what makes a ‘more fit’ variant more fit ex vivo. In the lab. This is huge.

2– The relative fitness of an HIV-1 virus (in the absence of anti-retrovirals) is determined by env. If you exchange the env genes between a ‘more fit’ and ‘less fit’ HIV, the fitness pattern follows the env– the ‘less fit’ virus with a ‘more fit’ env becomes the ‘more fit’ virus.
What this means– This is friggen perfect. So we know fitness is associated with disease progression, and we know fitness is associated with env. We make antibodies to env!!! We might not be able to make an HIV-1 vaccine that totally prevents transmission, but maybe we can at least make a vaccine that targets ‘more fit’ envelope proteins! You would still be infected with HIV-1… but ‘more fit’ HIV-1 variants could not evolve, so maybe you could live +30 without drugs.

Giving everyone with HIV-1 delta-32 bone marrow transplants is not realistic to me.

Giving everyone with HIV-1 personalized genetic engineering is not realistic to me.

Figuring out a therapeutic vaccine that improves the quality and quantity of life of HIV-1 infected patients is realistic.

Comments

  1. #1 Christie
    November 17, 2008

    Now, hypothetically speaking, why can’t we give bone marrow transplants to the people with virulent strains? Couldn’t that be used (again, assuming it really is a ‘cure’) to eradicate AIDS in developed countries, at least? Albeit it would be hard to get a lot of donors… but what about a handsome reward for their marrow?

    Just playing devil’s advocate :)

  2. #2 matt
    November 17, 2008

    I thought the term was “Negative Nancy?”

  3. #3 Joshua Zelinsky
    November 17, 2008

    You say that “We dont need to worry about variants that let the patient live for +30 years without drugs.” Don’t we still need to be concerned about those since they can a) be transmitted to other individuals (and could then mutate into a more deadly strain) and b) because they still put additional stress on an already stressed immune system?

  4. #4 Nick
    November 17, 2008

    matt: Debbie Downer is from an SNL skit.

    Joshua: I don’t think anyone plans on ignoring the less virulent strains. It’s a matter of prioritizing research efforts.

  5. #5 J-Dog
    November 17, 2008

    Dear Abbie,

    Not to worry! Dembski stepped away from UD, and says he is doing research, and DaveScot is now free to use his HUGE autodidact skillz to solve AIDS and all other problems, since he just got axed from UD.

    Can World Peace be far behind?

  6. #6 Joshua Zelinsky
    November 17, 2008

    J-dog, and Dembski will be particularly successful since he won’t be bound to by the need to match the biologists’ pathetic level of detail.

  7. #7 martinj
    November 17, 2008

    Ah, I love the smell of tempered but scientifically underpinned optimism in the morning! … Well, evening actually, but never mind.

  8. #8 Colugo
    November 17, 2008

    Is it just me, or does Rachel Dratch’s Debbie Downer character remind anyone else of Sarah Vowell?

  9. #9 David
    November 18, 2008

    Hey Abbie, if it’s okay with you I’m going to use this nice post in today’s HIV lecture.

    btw, you should take a look at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker at MIT if you want your confidence renewed that outstanding and accurate scientific writing can still be had in some last vestiges of the MSM – the post from their summary says, “The circumstances that made this treatment feasible are exceedingly unlikely to be found in others.”

    One last thing for which my students will hammer me in your point #2: such antibodies would be drugs – yes, I know you meant RT, protease, or fusion inhibitors, but some of my gang work on therapeutic monoclonal antibodies in the pharmaceutical setting.

  10. #10 Ian
    November 18, 2008

    Of course there’s a cure for AIDS. It’s called science.

  11. #11 Gary
    November 18, 2008

    Exaggeration is the fuel that runs the mainstream media’s engine.

  12. #12 Tatarize
    November 19, 2008

    You mean we can’t at this current stage find a lot of rare homozygous delta-32 donors of bone marrow in order to allow some small subsection of the population, who would otherwise be fairly okay, go through a procedure with 30% mortality rate as a widespread treatment for HIV? HOW DARE YOU!

  13. #13 Anti
    November 20, 2008

    OK, call me a noob here but I’m confused. Are you saying that ‘The Red Queen Hypothesis’, ‘competitive exclusion principle’, and ‘Mullers ratchet hypothesis’ are not accurate representations or explanations of certain evolutionary phenomena? Or perhaps I misread that part of your post…

    I’m just learning this stuff and would like to know if there’s something I’m missing.

    Great blog, by the way. I love this stuff.

  14. #14 Eric Saveau
    November 20, 2008

    Anti,

    Abbie was mocking creotard characterizations of the “stupid, completely untrue, materialistic, Nazi principles of the theory of evolution” by pointing out that they are the only things that actually increase our understanding of, and promote solutions for, real-world problems.

    Stick around; you’ll find lots of good stuff here, punctuated by occasional right-wing sociopaths like “William Wallace”.

  15. #15 Anti
    November 22, 2008

    Thanks for the clarification. Apparently I’m missing some background info or I have no skills in reading comprehension :P

    Thanks again :)

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