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TWiV 105 Letters

Timothy writes

Dear Vince and Alan,

Being a seasoned virologist and a science writer, I was hoping you could discuss the interface between basic science, public health, the media and the general public...

While I was listening to you discuss the controversy surrounding the potential involvement of XMRV in CFS, it unfortunately reminded me of the Andrew Wakefield story.

Like the Wakefield saga, it seems as though the Wittemore Peterson study has given a glimmer of hope to a patient population suffering from a difficult to diagnose disease. As we saw with the Wakefield study, even though several studies disproved the association between the MMR vaccine and autism, many people were reluctant to believe it. Alas, pipets are no match for hope.

Is there any way to temper the media's response to studies like these in order to send a message that is more realistic? Relatedly, the media response to H1N1 pandemic threat was especially painful to watch. The media could be one of the most effective arms of the public health machine but oftentimes instead of helping, it creates a world of hurt. What is your take on this situation? How can the scientific community disseminate more responsible and accurate information to the public? Is this even possible since the media's business revolves around attention grabbing. Are pipets no match for the dollar?

Keep up the good work. Until next week...


Ilya writes:

Hello, Vincent, Allan, Rich and hopefully Dickson!

I write to tell you again of how fascinating and useful I find TWIV. Your ability of being descriptive and as simple as possible while talking about serious questions in virology attracts people and makes them wait passionately for each new episode. Interestingly, this TWIV FENOMENON spread far beyond virologists. You are great!

Recently I had a talk with a non-virologist on how could a non-living object multiply and influence cell so much. Another chapter of "chicken and egg question" in virology :) Successfully I managed to find a decent model for explaining it to him. Now I want to share it with you.

Imagine a fine Swiss-made mechanic watch. Each gearwheel is in its place and everything works fine. Suddenly one tiny tooth slips through a chink inside the watchcase and get stuck between two gearwheels. The watch is still ticking but something goes wrong from now on. One by one teeth start to break from stalled gearwheels, damaging working ones. Now, the watchcase breaks open exploding lots of tiny teeth to other watch.

Maybe it’s a bit too mechanistic, but descriptive. It worked.

LISTENERS! Vote for MORE TWIP campaign!


Arsen writes:

Hey! TWiV 88 gave me some pretty nourishing food for thoughts.

I’d like to thank you for bringing my attention to the article on gene therapy being a potential cure for HIV. I’ll translate and publish it in my Ukrainian blog on advances in medicine: http://laboratoria.zahray.com .

Also I have found the article on reconstruction of an ancient human retrovirus fascinating. It would be also interesting to conduct a different experiment: how about removing from human embrio’s DNA the traces of recent (since apes) retrovirus infections and observe, if there are any noticeable differences. The experiment probably wouldn’t be conducted because of the ethical considerations, however, it would be just fascinating to find out, if some of our superior human intellect was originated by retroviruses.


Ed writes:

Hi Vincent and the Gang,

I came across a book the other day that scratches the same itch as listening to TWIV and TWIP. It's called "Genes, Germs, and Civilization". I'm only a little into the book, but so far it's covered some interesting links between the origin of diseases (measles, malaria, ...) versus the human population density needed to keep the infection from dying out. I wonder if you've read it, and what your opinion on it is.

I've been listening to TWIV since your first appearance on Futures in Biotech early last year. I'm an electrical engineer, and as other have mentioned in letters you've read on the air, there's something compelling about viruses and their programming. The question of whether computer programs can mutate and develop successful new features came up on one of your recent shows. The biological system has an advantage over present day computers in that each cell is equivalent to a computer. In an infected individual you essentially have billlions of parallel computers each producing occassional random variations, and billions more uninfected computers each testing the outcome. Some day we may have that many computers, but so far it's a math thought experiment.


Samuel writes:

Dear Sirs-

I love twiv and hope it becomes even more popular/famous. I read "H1N1 Lessons Learned" in April's CIDRAP--an article in by Robert Roos in which you (Vincent) were interviewed--and I was surprised that there is not an agreement among scientists on what to expect from this upcoming flu season. Why is it that some virologists have doubts that the 2009 H1N1 will replace other subtypes as the major seasonal flu? Is it mainly b/c the cycling strains of the 1977 H1N1epidemic--and possible lab accident--muddle things so that we have no analogous history to compare to the current situation? I don't want to sound like a pushy reporter, but I would be interested if anyone would like to place a bet on what we will see from H1N1 this autumn.

Can there only be one serotype that carries the day and becomes the major seasonal flu? I ask b/c in 2009 H1N1 seemed to have usurped the previous flus. What is the significance of "serotype"? If the 2009 H1N1 and the 1957 H1N1 have the same hemagglutinin and neuraminidase proteins does that mean they have the same antigens? Do they elicit the same immune response?

Thanks for bearing with me through all these questions.

PS: I enjoyed the article in CIDRAP and thought you did a good job explaining complex concepts concisely, and in a way palatable to the public. (I read the article as part of a course co-taught by Drs. Phillip Brachman and Jan Patterson for the University of Michigan Epidemiology Summer Sessions



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