OREGON, THE BELLE OF THE BALL ON WORLD AIDS DAY

OREGON, THE BELLE OF THE BALL ON WORLD AIDS DAY

(Portland scientists continue their trend in vaccine development breakthoughs.)

 

By: Sarah Glass  @SASzilla

Portland Oregon is the epicenter of the world’s reseach on the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV. Dr. Louis J. Picker, head of the Division of Pathobiology and Immunology at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), and his team have been the belle of the ball on World Aids Day since 2013, when the team cured SIV in a number of rhesus monkeys that are still disease-free today. “The vaccine stopped the infection from spreading and then cleared it from the bodies of half of the monkeys it was tested on,” Picker said in an OHSU press blog, “And we’re quite confident that this vaccine approach can work exactly the same way against HIV in humans.”

SIV, or simian immunodeficiency virus, is the equivalent of HIV in monkeys, making our cousins the perfect research subject surrogates in the search for a HIV cure. According to a report in Health News,”Picker also announced… trials to test a tuberculosis vaccine on monkeys, based on the design of the successful SIV one.”

December first marked the twenty-seventh annual World AIDS Day. Dr. Picker has re-set the bar for HIV research again this year, reinvigorating hope for a cure around the globe. While there are many reasons why HIV has been an elusive adversary, the Picker team has revealed an important strategy from the virus’s playbook. Their discovery has shed a new understanding on how the disease has been able to hide from the body’s security guard cells called CD8 “killer” T cells.  With this knowledge, researchers may be able to find a way to reach HIV wherever it goes, and proceed to destroy it.

Creating a vaccine is the process of stimulating the body’s defences.

One of Picker’s colleagues at OHSU, and leader of his own vaccine development team, Dr. Jonah B. Sacha, and healthcare professional and Africa traveler, Dan Sorenson, agree to speak with me on the subject. Their correspondence reveals the real face of HIV, as well as the science and difficulties that researchers face today from development to patent, production, and beyond.

Creating a vaccine is the process of stimulating the body’s defenses with a weakened or dead strain of the target virus. Once humans are infected with it, just as with any chemical reaction, the body tries to even out the equation by creating antibodies to destroy the virus as a response. Vaccines are developed for HIV all the time. The issue is the genetic variation of its progeny. By the time a vaccine can be manufactured to combat one HIV strain, the virus had already copied itself thousands of times. The vaccine will be able to destroy some of the copies, but others are different enough from the original that the it will have no effect. “One of the biggest stumbling blocks to a HIV vaccine is the sequence diversity of the virus,” says Dr. Sacha.

Experiments with animals, monkeys and mice in particular, presents another hurdle for scientists. “Is it hard to get results helpful to humans from your research on animals?” I ask Sacha.

“A rule of thumb in the field,” he says, “is that mice lie and monkeys exaggerate. With that said, a lot of big advancements have come from monkeys — Tenofovir, one of the biggest antiretrovirals, for instance. The humanized mouse model has a lot of issues and really isn’t a great model for HIV. Given how genetically and physiologically similar monkeys are to humans, they are the preferable model.”

I ask, “How will developing a cure for HIV be the same or different from what Dr. Picker has achieved with his vaccine?”

Says Sacha, “If creating a vaccine is scaling Mt. Everest on earth, a cure is scaling Mount Olympus on Mars. The field has been trying to create a HIV vaccine for thirty-five years. Curing HIV is even more daunting. Frankly, I am unsure it is even possible as it parallels cancer very closely. We can get people into remission, but never really say “cured of cancer.” It is the same issue with HIV. As the saying goes, absence of detection is not the same as detection of absence.”

“Can you expound on Dr. Picker’s latest discovery of what he calls a HIV ‘sanctuary’?”

“The B cell follicle is a region of the lymph node where you essentially need a key to enter. Infected CD4 helper T cells (Tfh) have the key and thus can enter the site. The problem is that the CD8 killer T cells do not have the key to enter. Thus, infected Tfh can enter the B follicle and remain safe from being killed by the killer CD8 T cells,” Dr. Sacha says.

AIDS demonstration by Philadelphia activist group, ACTUP. Photo by Bonnie Weller.

AIDS demonstration by Philadelphia activist group, ACTUP. Photo by Bonnie Weller.

Changing the subject to research politics, the infamous CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, Martin Shkreli in particular, I ask Dr. Sacha if scientists can help safeguard against people like Shkreli by choosing to work in publicly funded facilities instead of privately owned companies. Earlier this year, Shkreli realized his company held a monopoly on a drug meant to help HIV patients called Daraprim. Taking advantage of the situation, the CEO incited pubic outrage across the country by raising the price for the drug five-thousand percent.

“Sadly,” Dr. Sacha says, “once the patent is licensed, it is out of our [researcher’s] hands. That is just the way the system is set up. Martin Shkreli has no ethics.”

Dan Sorenson picks up the conversation just outside of the OHSU laboratory doors where Dr. Sacha bids adieu. As well as being an EMT and ER nurse for over fifteen years at Hamilton Montana’s Marcus Daily Hospital, Dan also spent time in the African province of Zimbabwe a few years after the first cases of HIV became known in the U.S.. “The differences in Africa versus here are most prominent when it comes to perception and approach to treatment. Here in the U.S., it’s a BIG deal,” Sorenson says, “It’s a death sentence and carries with it such a negative stigma. You are automatically considered a carrier of disease and questions always seem to swarm about your sexuality and your possible drug use and just how perverted are you if you have HIV.”

Most would agree that this paradigm has existed since the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) decided to note the “homosexual” orientation of the first reported case subjects to contract “cellular immune-dysfunction… acquired through sexual contact” in 1981.

The Top 5 Myths About HIV/AIDS (courtesy of: gladstonegala.ucsf.edu/hivmyths)

The Top 5 Myths About HIV/AIDS (courtesy of: gladstonegala.ucsf.edu/hivmyths)

Today, while American history can agree that HIV and AIDS have certainly effected the gay community, theCDC’s most recently available statistics for HIV in the U.S. claim that “homosexual and bisexual men represented only 54% of people living with HIV in 2011.”

One young woman shows it doesn’t take being homosexual, Charlie Sheen, Freddie Mercury, or in Africa to be affected by HIV. Going only by the handle Skinned on an online forum, she posted the following about her HIV diagnosis:

I got HIV at 17. Last year, actually. Last year, I also first lost my virginity. I got HIV from being ignorant and selfish. I just thought this carnival worker was cute and he thought I was cute and it turned out he had HIV. He called me a few months later and told me. I knew I had it. I got tested twice positive and now I am supposed to be taking these enormous pills but I CAN’T take them. I really am unable to… I’m also afraid the medications they give me have worse side effects than they do help. Liver damage? May lower your CD4 count? WTF? That’s like depression medication. ‘May cause suicidal thoughts.’ Anyway, I don’t want to die painfully. I want to die calm in my sleep beside my husband. I hope I die of old age before I die of AIDS.”

“Here we keep our HIV patients alive as long as possible,” Dan Sorenson says, “The medications are very expensive but have shown that they are quite effective in prolonging life. In Africa there does not exist the wealth. The most significant difference, in my opinion, is in how our cultures see HIV. Mind you I was in Africa in 1991, but I don’t believe it has changed much since. The attitude there seems to be ‘Well, we’re going to die anyway because Africa is a tough place.’ The people who put us up said their best guess was that one-hundred percent of the Zimbabwe military personnel were HIV positive. They don’t believe in prophylactics. The routine for the military person in Africa is to work during the day and at night go out and have multiple sexual partners without concern for the risk. Their culture is not the same as ours and concerns over the spread of disease do not prevail over the concerns for ‘pleasure while we are here.’ At one point I asked my host why the natives that lived on his property had so many kids (usually fifteen or more per family). He said that he had asked several the same question and the answer was always ‘That way if a bunch of them die it isn’t a big deal.”‘

Looking at the statistics, it can appear there will never be an indemnity against pain or loss. They span across cultural boundaries, sexual orientation, and race. World AIDS Day calls on us to remember the needless suffering of others and reconsider how to traverse the obstacles that separate the present from a disease-free future. While the road may end in Africa with a cure, the cutting edge research being done by the OHSU vaccine development teams here in Oregon is the real front line in the world’s battle against HIV. Until that time when this war is won, surely it will be here and against such as the works of Dr. Louis Picker and Dr. Jonah Sacha that the world will measure it’s progress.

(Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon. Photo from www.portland.va.gov/ohsu.asp.)

 

 

 

December 2015

FAST GUYS, RICH GUYS, AND IDIOTS

Sam Moses, from his website.

Sam Moses, from his website.

FAST GUYS, RICH GUYS, AND IDIOTS

(Sam Moses and The Bandit hit the Portland International Raceway.)

 

By: Sarah Glass  @SASzilla

Sam Moses, author and racecar driver, has been an icon at Sports Illustrated for the last 17 years, from being involved in assignments that would rival any at National Geographic, to getting inside a racecar himself to compete with the rest of the country, it is easy to see how Sam Moses and his award-winning journalism has taken him all over the world.

Recently part of The Bandit’s team at the Portland International Raceway, I sit down with team engineer, Dave Wimsett, at The Busy Bee Restaurant in Springfield Oregon, for some vitals and insight into Sam’s remastered book and most recent races before Sam and I connect via telephone, from his home in Washington, where he fills me in on all exploits past, present, and yet to come.

 “Rule One of Racing: Race cars blow up,” Dave bellows, as-a-matter-of-fact, fork in hand, gesticulating as he talks over his plate, hands hovering, maybe coincidentally, or maybe as tale of his trade- around the ‘ten’ and ‘two’ o’clock position of an invisible racecar wheel. “Rule Two: There’s no way to alter Rule One.”

Sam Moses disagrees. Still in disdain over his failed race in Portland over the 4th of July, he declares – and quite tenaciously- “I won’t talk about it.” Mid-interview, the tale diverged, he admits one way to avoid Rule Number One is to maybe listen to your engineer.

“I didn’t know I was abusing the thing,” Sam insists , talking about his notorious vintage 1982 Oldsmobile Cutlass and racecar, The Bandit. “Dave told me what the rules were. He told me ‘you can’t break the gearbox, Sam.’ I should have believed him.”

I ask Sam the obvious, which came first,racing or writing. In his book, Fast Guys, Rich Guys, and Idiots, it’s easy to tell Sam Moses wasn’t raised watching his dad picking at a typewriter, it was racing he watched his dad do, starting as far back as the summer of 1957, the year, Sam claims, “the speed in his [own] young blood was lit.”

Four years in the Navy, Sam took to writing his family about his exotic surroundings when he found he couldn’t sleep and there was nothing else to do. As a result, Sam took up journalism for a brief time at Penn State and The University of Miami before, given the first opportunity, he left to immediately become a nomadic journalist, following motorcycle circuits throughout the desert for the bi-weekly motorcycle magazine MotorCycle Weekly, where a measly $25 dollars covered both the expenses and wage for his first article.

“You have to get in wherever you can at first,” Sam advises me about writing, “Even if it doesn’t pay. If you’re any good at all, someone will notice you.”

Now Sam can say he’s brushed shoulders with them all, from motorcycle champion, Kenny Roberts to Dale Earnhardt. He’s witnessed over 40 years of motorsports culture and history, and Sports Illustrated has taken him all over the world. His remastered version of Fast Guys, Rich Guys, and Idiots, due to be released this September, is a compilation of stories taken from the best of over 200 of Sam’s own pre-1984 Sports Illustrated articles, as well as from a motley of personal racing experiences.

“I treated it like a vintage racecar,” he says, smoothly, of his pending new release, “I avoided calling it ‘revised’ or ‘edited.’Remastered is what musicians used to call their old albums made with new technology, and that’s what I did. …The original version was printed twenty years ago, before the internet, when… I had to have a hard copy of it sent away just to be turned into a word document. This version has more racing in it, and it’s written from the perspective of a veteran motorsports writer, not the self-involved kid I used to be. Also, it’s way better researched, and I know more now about the characters than back pre-1984.”

“I met Hunter S. Thompson, once, in Key West,” Sam reminisces, “My wife and I were driving a white, 1987 Z-28 Camaro across the whole of the U.S., from the furthermost point in the west to the furthermost point in the east. I asked her to marry me coming down the hill into Pueblo, Colorado at 90 miles-per-hour, during a thunder and lightning storm.”

“When we got to Key West, we went to the Sam Woody Creek Tavern. We were just having a good time, telling everyone there how we were planning to go to Nevada the next day for our marriage license, when there’s Hunter S. Thompson sitting right there in the corner. I didn’t really know him, or that he hung out there — I mean sometimes we covered the same events — but he must have overheard us because he stands up suddenly, says something like, ‘Oh!’ and runs out to his truck. He rummages around out there for, it seems like a while, and then he comes back in with this thing in his hands like a huge, million-watt spotlight, that I guess he had to spotlight things at night with.”

 “I said thank you.” Sam doesn’t forget to mention of the oddity, “Couldn’t tell you where it is now, though.”

Of course, Sam Moses never had to be bought with a red Ducati left in his driveway by such as Cycle World , as Hunter S. Thompson self-admittedly did. No, Sam needed no persuasion to indulge the speedster lifestyle and translate his experiences back to the world. That desire came on its own. He had the guts and the ability. It was only a matter of time beforeSports Illustrated  gave him the opportunity, and the keys.

Now, after over 40 years of observing motorsports history, and with a new chapter on the horizon, “The friendships endure,” Sam says, of his career with Sports Illustrated, racing in general, and of his time with The Bandit, Still, always the perfectionist, and never slowing down, Sam tells me he’ll race The Bandit at least once more time next year in September before passing on the torch. Still agonizing over the broken gearbox from his last race, he insists, “I can’t quit on this note.”

When I ask Sam what’s next, he admits, “My future is in Australia.” Maybe he will write another book out there, without a doubt he will continue kite-surfing, but the keys to The Bandit are to move on, as even now wheels are in motion for it to be auctioned off next year in Monterey.

Will this be the end of his partnership with The Bandit? Sure. Yes. Most probably, but it doesn’t mean the end of the Sam Moses legacy. As Sam so delicately puts it, “What does a guy really need with two race cars anyway?”

For more, check out Sam’s webpage and blog at http://papamadre.com/index/.

Sam Moses and The Skoal Bandit.

Sam Moses and The Skoal Bandit.

July 2015

OREGON NEVERLAND

Oregon Neverland

 

(An introduction.)

By: Sarah Glass  @SASzilla

Oregon. San Francisco North, they say. The Beaver state. But more on that later.

Here is green and Mother Earth. The streets are hemmed in by cherry trees that have been grafted to bloom pink and white flowers in the spring. And a city, it has to be, I thought when I first came here from Montana, it has a 24-hour Walmart after all; the nearest one is over an hour’s drive away from where I’m from.

Beauty, and a little more. Savagery, too. That’s Eugene, music, an unusual obsession with facial hair (male), and an underbelly to match any modern age Metropolis (and no, not the Metropolis from Superman, think a little further back).

Of course, the upper class here mostly consider themselves liberal (and they aren’t wrong). It makes me wonder, if the flower children of the 60’s and 70’s poured concrete over their gardens and own the futures of their children’s signatures in stocks and bonds, if ambition drove them to put away childish things (and body paint), and to accept the will of their fathers, who are these people here with their drum circles and city official jobs smoking spliffs at the steps of the city hall. Is it possible to have classes here but no warfare? Where are we?

Here there be gypsies. Here is Neverland, where some adults never grew up, and those that lose their marbles are sent to roam free since the state’s mental facilities shut down. Here steampunks play shows on street corners, hugging accordions in knee-high red leather docks while boasting daunting melodies. Here are lost boys drawn to wanderlust, vagrancy trends, the nomadic, bartering, bicycling, dirty, honest work and dishonest.

It’s the past, the futuristic, the forgotten, the involved, and, somehow the retrograde and evolved at once. It’s Oregon, and it is my home. I’d love to show you around.

Look for more installations to come from me, S.A.S.; behind-the-scenes with strippers, interviews from fast and furious novelists, what tweakers do when they think Santa Claus isn’t looking, the thoughtful and obscene, the artistic, and current events to come.

Entering Portland by car.

Entering Portland by car.

"Nowhere beach Oregon, with my dog Roxie." ~SAS

“Nowhere beach Oregon, with my dog Roxie.” ~SAS