From poison to potential panacea

Right-wing pundits/Conservatives/the Usual Suspects hate how much money the government has spent/is spending on HIV/AIDS. “No one gets AIDS but homos and blacks, so why the hell is the government spending all this money on AIDS and not cancer?” (random example)

There is a pattern Im seeing in these kinds of people: They are stupid, and they have an inability to delay gratification.

Example: HIV/AIDS research does not only benefit HIV/AIDS patients. Our understanding of the human immune system and cell biology has increased exponentially because of HIV/AIDS research, which has far reaching effects on every human disease, including the one Im going to write about today, rheumatoid arthritis.

In a sterile environment, theoretically HIV/AIDS patients could ‘normal’ lives. People dont really die ‘from HIV-1 infection’, they die from the inability to respond appropriately to secondary infections because of the effects of HIV-1 infection. An example of a secondary infection would be cryptococcus neoformans. Its not a big deal for healthy people, but it causes lung infections (and fungal meningitis) in AIDS patients.

In other words, we probably would have ignored cryptococcus neoformans if it werent for AIDS.

Good thing we didnt. Because to understand how this yeast invades AIDS patients, we learned more about the biochemistry, cell biology, and immunology of cryptococcus neoformans infection. That information might be useful to us when we try to treat other diseases! If we figure out how cryptococcus neoformans picks our locks in AIDS, not only can we treat AIDS patients, we can use cryptococcus neoformans hacks as a hack for different diseases!

Turns out cryptococcus neoformans produces a polysaccharide, glucuronoxylomannan (GXM), which further immunosuppresses the hosts immune system– stops the release of proinflammatory cytokines, and tells your immune cells to sit down and shut up. Thats how it gets a foot-hold in AIDS patients lungs. However, the immunosuppressive signaling cascade GXM starts turns out to be basically the opposite cell signaling pathway of immune activation we see in rheumatoid arthritis patients! So researchers gave RA mice doses of GXM at various points in disease progression– they not only stopped RA progression (low clinical scores after treatment), they stopped the development of RA totally in 10% of the mice treated early.

Of course, mice arent humans. We have to do studies in humans. But giving RA patients GXM instead of corticosteroids or NSAIDs would be a very attractive option– scientists gave mice (and human culture cells) high doses of GXM without any obvious issues, as opposed to the side-effects of current therapies.

Im terrified of developing the kind of RA my grandmother had (severe RA in her hands), so Im pretty damn glad we spend ‘all that money’ on HIV/AIDS, independent of my own research interests.

Comments

  1. #1 oscar zoalaster
    November 28, 2009

    Our understanding of the human immune system and cell biology has increased exponentially because of HIV/AIDS research, which has far reaching effects on every human disease

    I’ve been making this point for years, the knowledge obtained by AIDS research justifies every penny that has been spent on it. Having the incentive of saving lives is important too, but the knowledge obtained from the research is so important that even the nastiest of the ‘right-wing creeps’ should have been pushing for AIDS research on a simple cost-benefit basis. It is a pity that they have so separated themselves from reality in order to accommodate their hate.

  2. #2 becca
    November 28, 2009

    First, this is a rather cool study, and it’s awesome you blogged it.

    Secondly, because I’m an asshole, quibbles with how you presented it:
    Shorter erv: “I can’t convince assholes to not be homophobic, but I can get them to give me money so I can cure grandma’s arthritic hands!”

    Also “panacea”, “exponentially”, “every human disease”… hyperbole much?

  3. #3 Sili
    November 28, 2009

    It’s exactly the same argument that works for human spaceflight/Nasa.

    And now that I think about it, while the Rethugs are likely to have trouble with that, it seems to be a bugbear for the left as well – “Whyyyyyy are spending BILLIONS (0.7% GNP) to space, when there are still soooooo many problems to solve down here on earth?!!!”

  4. #4 Mary
    November 28, 2009

    Yeah, I had the same thought about research outcomes when I heard about that gene therapy for ALD that was reported recently. The vector they used was disabled HIV.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/genetics/article6905232.ece

  5. #5 Jason Dick
    November 28, 2009

    Of course, it’s also just not true that HIV only infects homos and blacks.

  6. #6 Joshua Zelinsky
    November 28, 2009

    I’m not sure this line of response works completely. The argument that research will benefit other areas is true for many different diseases, not just HIV/AIDS research. The point that Jason made really seems stronger.

  7. #7 Mobius
    November 29, 2009

    Great article, Abbie.

    I, too, have some fear of RA. My aunt suffered terribly from the disease for many years. She was just a little younger than I am now when it started, so it is definitely a concern of mine.

    Fortunately, to date all I have is a few arthritic aches here and there, but nothing indicating RA. Just the usual stuff one would expect at age 54.

    However, it is still wonderful to hear news that, just in case, there are new treatments out there in the works.

    As for the wing-nut right, I expect that their feelings on research are a result of their black-or-white world view. HIV research is, in their minds, about nothing BUT HIV. No applications to other diseases or anything else for that matter. They really do not understand that pure research can literally lead anywhere, with unexpected and wonderful applications.

  8. #8 D. C. Sessions
    November 29, 2009

    HIV/AIDS research does not only benefit HIV/AIDS patients. Our understanding of the human immune system and cell biology has increased exponentially because of HIV/AIDS research

    Even back in the early 90s, there was a lot of commentary to the effect that HIV/AIDS research was driving our understanding of physiology at an unprecedented pace — and accelerating.

    Of course, it’s also just not true that HIV only infects homos and blacks.

    Nope, Arthur Ashe was a melanin-American. That proves you wrong.

    I’m not sure this line of response works completely. The argument that research will benefit other areas is true for many different diseases, not just HIV/AIDS research. The point that Jason made really seems stronger.

    There is no One True Way. Use what works.

  9. #9 Reynold
    November 29, 2009

    Well, I’ll say this: It’s better than the religious right’s way of dealing with HIV…

  10. #10 William Wallace
    November 30, 2009

    Positive and negative unintended consequences would result from research into any disease. So why not cancer, again?

    Also, who has ever said only homos and blacks get HIV? Only homos, drug users, and their victims get HIV. LOL.

  11. #11 SVN
    November 30, 2009

    http://www.newsok.com/anthrax-study-rejected-by-osu/article/3421451?custom_click=headlines_widget

    This is totally retarded…I wonder if this is fallout related to Mrs. Picken’s objection to the OSU vet school.

  12. #12 Three Chord Monty
    November 30, 2009

    11/20: “You might have missed my earlier posts on CFS, but I made it very clear I dont give a shit about your disease (which, if your description is accurate, is well beyond the capabilities of MLV), how its diagnosed, or anything about it. I dont. Really.”

    11/28: “Im terrified of developing the kind of RA my grandmother had (severe RA in her hands)…”

    I would hope nobody ever told your grandmother anything like your comment from your post from last week. Although given that studies were done on RA as a psychosomatic condition, something tells me that a patient may well have been spoken to in that manner at one time or another.

    Just something you might want to consider. If you give a shit, that is.

    As for the right-wingers, they are at least entertaining when out of power.

    http://moralitywar.blogspot.com/2009/04/ok-gop-platform.html

  13. #13 Stephen Wells
    November 30, 2009

    Three Chord, you seem to be missing a point: This is Abby’s blog, so she gets to decide what she does or doesn’t post and what she does or doesn’t give a shit about. You don’t have to care about Abby’s RA, and she isn’t going around other people’s blogs demanding they care about it.

  14. #14 Paul Browne
    November 30, 2009

    Interesting post ERV, the degree to which different areas of medical research influence each other is not given as much recognition as it ought to be.

    SVN “http://www.newsok.com/anthrax-study-rejected-by-osu/article/3421451?custom_click=headlines_widget

    This is totally retarded…I wonder if this is fallout related to Mrs. Picken’s objection to the OSU vet school.”

    The rumours were true then:-(

    This decision has everything to do with Mrs. Picken’s objection to animal research and the hundreds of millions the Boone-Pickens have donated to OSU in the past few years.

    The biomedical research community at OSU needs to nip this one in the bud fast!

  15. #15 D. C. Sessions
    November 30, 2009

    Positive and negative unintended consequences would result from research into any disease. So why not cancer, again?

    Because “cancer” isn’t a disease. It’s a catch-all label for a long laundry list of cellular disorders.

    Forest, trees.

    You could make the argument that cancer research has progressed more from the research on HIV than from the research on cancer itself. Dunno if you’d be right, but you could make the argument.

  16. #16 SimonG
    November 30, 2009

    That sounds like very good news.
    My mum’s going in for a hip replacement in a few days. Osteo, not RA, so I know it’s not relevant to her but it’s been on my mind a little. Her dad had rheumatoid arthritis and had several joint replacements, with varying degrees of sucess. He was also taking loads of medicine for years and although that was appropriate, it also seems quite likely that it shortened his life significantly. Something which can to some extent switch off the disease would be wonderful.

  17. #17 Gabriel Hanna
    December 1, 2009

    There are indeed conservatives who read and appreciate this site; I am one (kind of). And there are indeed fundamentalist right-wingers who support AIDS vaccines and research. Or is Jesse Helms not a conservative?

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/04/01/ED2779.DTL

    Atheism, liberalism, and evolution are not synonymous, despite what the Discovery Insitute would like you to believe.

  18. #18 Conservapedia
    December 4, 2009

    Of course, it’s also just not true that HIV only infects homos and blacks.

    Of course. It also infects drug users and sexual deviants.

    jk

  19. #19 LanceR, JSG
    December 4, 2009

    At what point did “conservative” become synonymous with “ignorant, deluded asshole”?

    I used to be able to respect people who held conservative views. We used to be able to disagree politely, and go on with our lives. I thought they were wrong, but good people.

    Now we get jackasses, “Liar”, and Rush Limbaugh. C’mon, conservatives, what happened?

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