““No object, no event, no outcome or life circumstance can deliver real happiness to us. We have to make our own happiness—by working hard at activities that provide their own reward.” ― Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken

A team of online gamers has decoded the structure of a particular protein of a retrovirus, similar to HIV/AIDS, in three weeks using a video game as their platform toward discovery.  Scientists have been trying for ten years.

CBS News reported that University of Washington biochemistry professor David Baker’s “lab developed the game, called Foldit, about three years ago, believing that they could tap into the brain power that puzzle-loving humans pour into computer games….Foldit players use their intuition and 3-D problem-solving skills to figure out likely protein structures. Teams earn points by finding the most chemically stable shapes.”

Kevin Cunningham, author of Morgan Reynolds’s Diseases in History: HIV/AIDS, wrote about the structure of a HIV molecule, “A particle of HIV resembles a sphere studded with plunger-shaped proteins. Inside the particle, a cylindrical core holds two strands of ribonucleic acid, or RNA, coded with the virus’s nine genes. Copies of other proteins important to the virus also float around the core.”

The protein the Foldit players decoded is one that retroviruses use to multiply, called a protease. Cunningham explained, ” When buds of HIV began to break out of an infected cell, an enzyme known as the protease splits the virus’s proteins into various parts. This process is necessary for HIV to mature into an active agent and move on to infect new cells.” The knowledge of how this protein is structured may lead to the development of better AIDS drugs.

“One of the most terrifying aspects of the early AIDS epidemic was the fact that nothing worked against the disease,” Cunningham wrote. Now, that fact has driven scientists and civilians alike to search for answers to the unknowns of this disease.

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

For more information about HIV/AIDS, see Cunningham’s Diseases in History: HIV/AIDS, a Morgan Reynolds title. (ISBN 9781599351049)

Published in: on September 22, 2011 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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There is hope.

We are continuing with the disease trend from last week’s post, but instead of discussing bad news (E. Coli outbreak in Europe), we have good news.

In the past week, word of one British man’s victory over HIV has spread like wildfire. Timothy Ray Brown was a leukemia patient who was also HIV positive in 2007, when he underwent surgery for a bone marrow transplant. Mr. Brown received his bone marrow transplant from a donor who was immune to HIV. According to Yahoo! News, and estimated 1 percent of Caucasians are immune to the disease. After is surgery, the article reports, ” His HIV went away.” His symptoms disappeared, the virus has stopped replicating, and he does not take any medicine for the illness.

News of this medical breakthrough is fantastic, and comes almost thirty years to the day when the Centers for Disease Control issued its first report on the emerging AIDS epidemic. Kevin Cunningham, author of Morgan Reynolds’ Diseases in History: HIV/AIDS, writes, “One of the most terrifying aspects of the early AIDS epidemic was the fact that nothing worked against the disease. No medicine stopped it, certainly none cured it, and no vaccine prevented it.

“The epidemics and the pandemic that followed [HIV/AIDS] have taught us a lot–about ourselves and the world and our vulnerability to new and undiscovered viruses,” Cunningham adds. “Where HIV leads, and whether its lessons help us with the next disease to appear, remains to be seen.”

Brown’s case gives millions of HIV positive people reason to hope. However, bone marrow transplants are extremely dangerous and often deadly. It is unrealistic to assume that the 30 + million of HIV positive patients worldwide could receive this extreme treatment. But its discovery is a step in the right direction.

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

For more information on HIV/AIDS and the history of the disease, check out Diseases in History: HIV/AIDS by Kevin Cunningham (ISBN 978-1-59935-104-9)

Published in: on June 7, 2011 at 1:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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