New HIV vaccine trial

The new HIV vaccine candidate: BG505 SOSIP.664 gp140. Picture by Clare Garrard.

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) yesterday announced the start of a Phase I clinical trial for a new HIV vaccine candidate: BG505 SOSIP.664 gp140. Long string of letters and numbers aside, this three-pronged trimer construct of the HIV Envelope protein is the first complete and stable structure which resembles the form that the protein takes when HIV is circulating in the body.

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Reaching for mental fitness

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The last couple of months have seen an increase in conversations around mental health following the terrible news of the suicide of UCT Health Sciences Dean, Bongani Mayosi. This post has been sitting as a half finished draft for months – ironically because of my own dip into depression. I thought this would be a good time to finish it, as the conversations around mental health open up and as I recover and learn firsthand what it is indeed that contributes to a healthy mind.

Everyone knows about the benefits of exercise. It’s this cure-all thing that can make you happier, improve your cholesterol, give you a healthy heart, make you stronger and generally raise your immunity. (And if you call now, we’ll even throw in longer life!) If we get sick or injure ourselves, we take the time to rest and look after ourselves. But it’s far less common to talk about how we keep our minds fit and functional. Continue reading

Long term thinking and the antibiotic resistance crisis

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Adapted from a photo by Fredrik Rubensson

There was the email: I would like to invite you to our July event Getting Cozy with Catastrophe: Superbugs, Drug Resistance … When I received an invitation to a talk on antibiotic resistance, I have to admit, I was initially a little bit uninspired by the topic. If you’ve been in a biological field for long enough, you kinda know the antibiotic resistance story. But then I looked a little closer at the write-up. Superbugs, Drug Resistanceand the Power of Long Term Thinking. “Ah,” I thought. “Maybe there will be something new to bring to the table.” And so it was that when on July 5th, Women in Tech Cape Town hosted a TechTalk with drug resistance scientist Dr Imogen Wright as the speaker, I was sitting in the audience, with my pen at the ready. Continue reading

White hat hacking to combat disease

white hat hacking to combat disease (2)Information can be hacked – unfortunate as it is, it’s true. And interestingly, hacking can take place not only on the internet, but also within your very cells. Viruses use our genetic information against us to make more of themselves – a form of molecular hacking. However, hacking doesn’t always imply something bad. Just as there are white hat hackers, there is also good molecular hacking. Continue reading

Difficult conditions can be difficult to study: the journey of a little white pill

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The problems with human subjects
Credit: xkcd

It all starts with a cause. Of course it does. Be it malaria, Alzheimer’s or something else – there is a reason to start looking for a cure. Sometimes, it’s easy. Traditional healing plants are obvious avenues for drug discovery. Sometimes, it’s hard. What do you do when bacteria become resistant to all known drugs? Or if you just don’t understand a disease enough to develop something that will target the underlying cause rather than just the symptoms. Whatever road is taken, drug development has to tick certain boxes, and contend with certain politics, before a pill ends up in your bathroom cabinet. Continue reading