Friday, September 5, 2008

Bringing Down Mountains

I learned two important lessons from hill-climbing on the last Empire State AIDS Ride - each hill is made shorter by momentum gained on the previous decline and to aim only for the next horizon, even if another soon follows.

Scientists originally thought they could treat HIV like a standard virus and quickly get it under control. They've since discovered HIV is not your standard virus. I applaud and support those researchers who persevere in light of this knowledge, knowing HIV will only be defeated through innovative science and won't allow their creativity to be constrained by that most common hurdle - funding.

Dr.Yuntao Wu and his research team at George Mason University are just such an innovative team whose breakthrough research (announced today) was published in the Sept.5 issue of the journal Cell. They've figured out how HIV breaks a protective barrier to get inside a T cell, eventually causing the cell to die. That CD4 T-cell death leads to full-blown AIDS. With this understanding, research can now focus on the next horizon, short-circuiting that process. If the virus can't get in, the cell won't die and an HIV infected person would never develop the compromised immune system that is AIDS. This result of a return to basic science, called for by Dr. Robert Gallo earlier this year when two key vaccine trials were deemed a failure, is exciting news providing needed momentum to reach new heights in the war on AIDS.

"This study really opened avenues for us and we hope to use this information as a foundation for more detailed studies that could lead to the development of new therapeutic tools," Wu said.

Next week, I'll join 24 cyclists and 19 volunteer crew (including Wu's family and entire lab team) on the inaugural NYCDC AIDS Research Ride, created to raise $200,000 to accelerate the next stage of Dr. Wu's research to search for the compound that would prevent the HIV virus from infiltrating T cells. Our fundraising, including your donation, adds even more momentum to ending AIDS by keeping these scientists focused on the next horizon in their labs and out of the grant-writing business. Thanks for the push.

Interested in the scientific details? Read the complete article in Cell.

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