Tuesday, November 30, 2010

HIV & the Ethics of Human Research

My friend Shar and another friend of hers brought up some excellent questions regarding my last post.  They wanted to know more about the methods used in the HIV prevention study and specifically about the ethical issues involved.  I was going to respond with just a comment, but it actually deserves its own post.  The ethics behind such studies are critically important.  And science has a pretty shameful history when it comes to things like this.  But fortunately the recent news about Truvada comes from a very responsibly-conducted study.  This is a good opportunity for me to talk about the three fundamental ethical principles for human research, outlined in the famous Belmont Report.  I'll try to use specifics from the HIV study to explain each of these principles: Respect, Beneficence, and Justice. 
The infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment.  Unethical in every sense: deceptive & lacking informed consent, deliberately harmful, and exploitative of disadvantaged populations.  (image from wikipedia)
1. Respect
Researchers must respect people's autonomy and right to the truth.  A key part of this principle is informed consent.  I'm happy to say that all of the subjects in the HIV Truvada

Friday, November 26, 2010

Big News About HIV

When it comes to HIV, there's not always much to be thankful for.  But this week has brought an incredible wave of great news:  a major discovery that sheds light on the way HIV works, and new hope for prevention.  I'm going to focus on the most science-y parts, but I'll try to cover everything.  If you're in a hurry, you can skip to the summary diagram at the end.

FIRST, an exciting new study that finally answers the question of why immune cells die in HIV.  This work was led by Gilad Doitsh in the lab of Warner Greene at the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology.  You can find it in the current issue of Cell

The study resolves a long-standing debate in the field.  Basically the mystery was this: why do immune cells die in HIV?  Death of CD4 T cells is a hallmark of AIDS, but only a small fraction

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Danger of Science Denial

While I prepare something of my own for this site, here's a video to check out in the meantime.  It's from the 2010 TED conference (if you don't already know about TED, I highly recommend going to www.ted.com -- they have hundreds of fascinating talks from amazing people!).  This particular talk is by Michael Specter, a journalist at The New Yorker who specializes in science and technology.  The subject is science denialism and the danger it poses to our society and our world. 

I've shared this video before, but it's worth re-posting.  And it's not without controversy.  But

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Birth of a Blog

There's a show on TLC called "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant."  If you're not familiar with it (!!), the basic premise is this.  They tell the stories of women who, for one reason or another (e.g. negative pregnancy tests, continued menstruation, tubal ligation, and often but not always excess body weight), manage to remain completely unaware of their pregnancy until the very end.  Sometimes up until the point that the baby is out and crying.  Oh!  Surprise!  

Well, here on the occasion of the birth of my blog, I too am caught off-guard, surprised at the sudden existence of something I never really thought I'd have.  But in hindsight I realize that it's been developing for many months, somewhere slightly below my conscious awareness.