Thursday, September 24, 2009

Breaththrough in AIDS Vaccine

For the first time, an experimental vaccine has prevented infection with the AIDS virus, a watershed event in the deadly epidemic and a surprising result. Recent failures led many scientists to think such a vaccine might never be possible.

The World Health Organization and the U.N. agency UNAIDS said the results "instilled new hope" in the field of HIV vaccine research, although researchers say it likely is many years before a vaccine might be available.

The vaccine — a combination of two previously unsuccessful vaccines — cut the risk of becoming infected with HIV by more than 31 percent in the world's largest AIDS vaccine trial of more than 16,000 volunteers in Thailand, researchers announced Thursday in Bangkok.

Even though the benefit is modest, "it's the first evidence that we could have a safe and effective preventive vaccine," Col. Jerome Kim told The Associated Press. He helped lead the study for the U.S. Army, which sponsored it with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The institute's director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned that this is "not the end of the road," but he said he was surprised and very pleased by the outcome.

"It gives me cautious optimism about the possibility of improving this result" and developing a more effective AIDS vaccine, Fauci said. "This is something that we can do."

The Thailand Ministry of Public Health conducted the study. The U.S. Army has long worked with that government and others to develop and test vaccines and medicines to protect troops and the general public.

The study used strains of HIV common in Thailand. Whether such a vaccine would work against other strains in the U.S., Africa or elsewhere in the world is unknown, scientists stressed.

Even a marginally helpful vaccine could have a big impact. Every day, 7,500 people worldwide are newly infected with HIV; 2 million died of AIDS in 2007, UNAIDS estimates.

"Today marks a historic milestone," said Mitchell Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, an international group that has worked toward developing a vaccine. Warren was not involved in the study.

"It will take time and resources to fully analyze and understand the data, but there is little doubt that this finding will energize and redirect the AIDS vaccine field," he said in a statement.

The study tested the two-vaccine combination in a "prime-boost" approach, in which the first one primes the immune system to attack HIV and the second one strengthens the response.

They are ALVAC, from Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine division of French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis; and AIDSVAX, originally developed by VaxGen Inc. and now held by Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases, a nonprofit founded by some former VaxGen employees.

ALVAC uses canarypox, a bird virus altered so it can't cause human disease, to ferry synthetic versions of three HIV genes into the body. AIDSVAX contains a genetically engineered version of a protein on HIV's surface. The vaccines are not made from whole virus — dead or alive — and cannot cause HIV.

Neither vaccine in the study prevented HIV infection when tested individually in earlier trials, and dozens of scientists had called the new one futile when it began in 2003.

"I really didn't have high hopes at all that we would see a positive result," Fauci confessed.
The results proved the skeptics wrong.

"The combination is stronger than each of the individual members," said the Army's Kim, a physician who manages the Army's HIV vaccine program.

The study tested the combo in HIV-negative Thai men and women aged 18 to 30 at average risk of becoming infected. Half received four "priming" doses of ALVAC and two "boost" doses of AIDSVAX over six months. The others received dummy shots. No one knew who got what until the study ended.
Thanad Yomha, a 33-year-old electrician from southeastern Thailand, said he didn't expect anything in return for volunteering for the project.

"I did this for others," Thanad said. "It's for the next generation."
Participants volunteered for the study and were told about the potential risks associated with receiving the experimental vaccine before agreeing to participate.

All were given condoms, counseling and treatment for any sexually transmitted infections, and were tested every six months for HIV. Any who became infected were given free treatment with antiviral medicines. All participants continued to receive an HIV test every six months for three years after vaccinations ended.

The results: New infections occurred in 51 of the 8,197 given vaccine and in 74 of the 8,198 who received dummy shots. That worked out to a 31 percent lower risk of infection for the vaccine group. Two of the infected participants who received the placebo died.

The vaccine had no effect on levels of HIV in the blood for those who did become infected. That had been another goal of the study — seeing whether the vaccine could limit damage to the immune system and help keep infected people from developing full-blown AIDS.

That result is "one of the most important and intriguing findings of this trial," Fauci said. It suggests that the signs scientists have been using to gauge whether a vaccine was actually giving protection may not be valid.

"It is conceivable that we haven't even identified yet" what really shows immunity, which is both "important and humbling" after decades of vaccine research, Fauci said.

Details of the $105 million study will be given at a vaccine conference in Paris in October.

This is the third big vaccine trial since 1983, when HIV was identified as the cause of AIDS. In 2007, Merck & Co. stopped a study of its experimental vaccine after seeing it did not prevent HIV infection. Later analysis suggested the vaccine might even raise the risk of infection in certain men. The vaccine itself did not cause infection.

In 2003, AIDSVAX flunked two large trials — the first late-stage tests of any AIDS vaccine at the time.

It is unclear whether vaccine makers will seek to license the two-vaccine combo in Thailand. Before the trial began, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said other studies would be needed before the vaccine could be considered for U.S. licensing.

"This is a world first which proves that vaccine development is possible," Supachai said. "But this is not to the level where we can license or manufacture the vaccine yet."
Mass-producing the vaccine, plus how to proceed with future studies, will be discussed among the governments, study sponsors and companies involved in the trial, Kim said. Scientists want to know how long protection will last, whether booster shots will be needed, and whether the vaccine helps prevent infection in gay men and injection drug users, since it was tested mostly in heterosexuals in the Thai trial.

The study was done in Thailand because U.S. Army scientists did pivotal research in that country when the AIDS epidemic emerged there, isolating virus strains and providing genetic information on them to vaccine makers. The Thai government also strongly supported the idea of doing the study.

Associated Press

Friday, August 28, 2009

When will all this End??

An Artist's Musings
Image by walknboston
A convicted rapist who fathered two children by a girl he kidnapped when she was 11 has claimed his life is 'the most powerful heart-warming story'.

Phillip Garrido, who abducted Jaycee Lee Dugard in 1991 and kept her hidden in his backyard as a sex slave, admitted his behaviour was at first 'disgusting'.

But in a bizarre, rambling phone interview from inside a Californian prison, he claims his life completely changed when she had the first of their two children.

The 58-year-old boasted 'wait until you hear the story of what took place at this house' and insisted the world would be amazed by his rehabilitation.

The discovery of Miss Dugard after almost two decades has stunned America as further details emerged today of her incredible ordeal.

Snatched on her way to school 18 years ago, she had two daughters by Garrido - one when she was just 14 and the second four years later.

Police said the three had been living in sheds and tents hidden at the back of the his home in Antioch, near San Francisco, 170 miles from where she was abducted.
Phillip Garrrido

Phillip Garrido is charged with kidnap, rape, conspiracy and committing lewd acts with a minor

Miss Dugard, now 29, was renamed Allissa by her captors. Her children were born on the property and had never been to school or seen a doctor.

He claimed to be "Born Again"

His claim that he turned his life around is thought to be a reference to his born-again Christianity.

People who knew him said he had become increasingly fanatical about his religious beliefs in recent years, sometimes breaking out into song and claiming that God spoke to him through a box.

He ran a church called God's Desire from the house and is said to have conducted religious revival ceremonies in a tent in the grounds of his home, which had bars on the windows.

A web blog apparently written by Garrido includes bizarre religious ramblings.

One post says: ‘The Creator has given me the ability to speak in the tongue of angels in order to provide a wake up call that will in time include the salvation of the entire world.’

He claimed he had hired a private investigator to verify his ability to speak to people using only his mind.

An 'affidavit' said he could 'control sound with my mind and have developed a device for others to witness this phenomena'

Where she lived while in captivity

Miss Dugard, now 29, spent part of her time as Garrido's hostage locked in a tiny 10ft by 10ft shed hidden in a secret compound at the back of his home.

The shabby outhouse was soundproofed so neighbours would not hear her and could only be opened from the outside.

She later shared the room, another shed and two small tents, with her two daughters. Power was provided by leads from the house's electricity supply and there was a 'rudimentary' shower and toilet

How Jaycee Dugard was freed:

Miss Dugard was eventually freed after Garrido aroused the suspicions of guards as he tried to give out religious leaflets to students on the Berkeley campus of the University of California.

A campus policeman checked his record and discovered he was a listed sex offender and on parole after serving a jail sentence for a vicious rape and kidnapping in Nevada in 1971.

State police were called and ordered Garrido to check in at his parole office. He arrived there with his wife, 'Allissa' and the two children.

The parole officer was immediately wary because he had never seen the younger woman and the two girls on visits to Garrido's home.

He called police who began questioning Allissa and discovered she was really Miss Dugard.

This case is similar to that of ELISABETH FRITZL who was 18 when her father Josef Fritzl drugged her with ether imprisoned her in the cellar warren he had built beneath the family home in Amstetten, two hours from Vienna. For 24 years she was raped and assaulted and had seven children through incest.

Three of the children had been imprisoned along with their mother underground for their whole lives before their release last year. Fritzl was jailed for life in March this year after being convicted of murder, rape, enslavement and incest.

Read more
Mail Online

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How flexible are you?

Contortion (sometimes contortionism) is an unusual form of physical display which involves the dramatic bending and flexing of the human body. Contortion is often part of acrobatics and circus acts.

In general, contortionists have unusual natural flexibility, which is then enhanced through gymnastic training. Many contortionists have a genetic disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

What is Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS)?

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (Also called: Cutis elastica, EDS) is a heterogeneous group of heritable connective tissue disorders, characterized by articular (joint) hypermobility, skin extensibility and tissue fragility.

Individuals with EDS have a defect in their connective tissue, the tissue that provides support to many body parts such as the skin, muscles and ligaments.

The fragile skin and unstable joints found in EDS are the result of faulty collagen. Collagen is a protein, which acts as a "glue" in the body, adding strength and elasticity to connective tissue.

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is uncommon. About 1 in 5,000 people has EDS.

What are the types of EDS:

There are six major types of EDS. They can range from mild to life-threatening. The different types of EDS are classified according to their manifestations of signs and symptoms. They are:
  1. Hypermobility type (formerly type III): This is the most common form. It may affect as many as one in 10,000 to 15,000 people
  2. Classical type (formerly types I and II): This type probably affects about one in 20,000 to 40,000 people
  3. Vascular type (formerly type IV): This is one of the most serious forms of EDS. It affects an estimated one in 250,000 people.
  4. Kyphoscoliosis type: This uncommon form has few cases reported worldwide.
  5. Arthrochalasis type: This is rare. Only about 30 cases have been reported worldwide
  6. Dermatosparaxis type: This form is also rare, with only about a dozen cases reported worldwide.
Each type of EDS is a distinct disorder that "runs true" in a family. This means that an individual with Vascular Type EDS will not have a child with Classical Type EDS.

What are the symptoms of EDS?Some of the more prominent symptoms of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome include flexible joints that extend beyond the normal range of movement, and skin that's especially stretchy or fragile. Clinical manifestations of EDS may include:

  • Joint hypermobility
  • Loose/unstable joints which are prone to frequent dislocations and/or subluxations
  • Joint pain
  • Hyperextensible joints (they move beyond the joint's normal range)
  • Early onset of osteoarthritis.
  • Soft velvetâ-like skin
  • Variable skin hyper-extensibility
  • Fragile skin that tears or bruises easily (bruising may be severe)
  • Severe scarring
  • Slow and poor wound healing
  • Development of molluscoid pseudo tumors (fleshy lesions associated with scars over pressure areas).
Miscellaneous/Less Common:
  • Chronic, early onset, debilitating musculoskeletal pain (usually associated with the Hypermobility Type)
  • Arterial/intestinal/uterine fragility or rupture (usually associated with the Vascular Type); Scoliosis at birth and scleral fragility (associated with the Kyphoscoliosis Type)
  • Poor muscle tone (associated with the Arthrochalasia Type)
  • Mitral valve prolapse
  • Gum disease.
  • Hernias

There is no cure!!!
There is no way to reverse the genetic alterations that cause Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Treatment focuses primarily on managing individual signs and symptoms and preventing further complications. Much of this consists of self-care strategies to protect joints and prevent excessive bruising and injuries.
The required health care team may include specialists from a variety of different fields, including medical genetics, surgery, pediatrics, orthopedics, cardiology and ophthalmology, to name a few.
A point to note:

Not all contortionists have EDS. Many may have normal yet very flexible joints, or "double joints." This isn't the same as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
So how flexible are you?

Read more:
MedLine Plus
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research
Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Boko Haram in Nigeria

Very recently my country, Nigeria was rocked by violence which shook Nigeria and the world as a whole. For yet another time, Nigeria made front page news all over the world for the wrong reason.
The group behind the latest violence in northern Nigeria is known by several different names, including al-Sunnah wal Jamma, or Followers of Muhammad's Teachings in Arabic, and Boko Haram, which means "Western education is forbidden" in the local Hausa dialect.

The group was founded in 2002 in Maiduguri by Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf. In 2004 it moved to Kanamma, Yobe State, where it set up a base called "Afghanistan", used to attack nearby police outposts, killing police officers.

Yusuf was hostile to democracy and the secular education system, vowing that "this war that is yet to start would continue for long" if the political and educational system was not changed.
In Bauchi the group was reported as refusing to mix with local people. The group includes members who come from neighbouring Chad and speak only Arabic.
Boko Haram opposes not only Western education, but Western culture and modern science as well.In a 2009 BBC interview, Yusuf stated that the belief that the world is a sphere is contrary to Islam and should be rejected, along with Darwinism and the theory that rain comes from water evaporated by the sun.

What I find so ironic is the fact that the Western culture they oppose makes up a great part of their lives.........the guns and ammunition they use (and used) were all Western. As a Nigerian, it is very saddening that the Northern part of my country has been and continues to be the site of a lot of violence which are mostly religious in nature.
In July 2009 the Nigerian police started investigating the group, following reports that the group was arming itself. Several leaders were arrested in Bauchi, sparking deadly clashes with Nigerian security forces and the estimated deaths of at least 700 people.
I pray this kind of violence would come to an end and become history.


Friday, July 31, 2009

Throat cancer on the rise

"Changing sexual practices over the last 20 years, especially as they relate to oral sex, are increasing the rate of head and neck cancers and may be increasing the rates of other cancers as well."
Otis Brawley, MD Chief Medical Officer American Cancer Society

Changing sexual practices have led to a dramatic rise in throat cancer in the United States over the past two decades, and experts say they fear an epidemic of the disease.

Increasing rates of HPV infection, spread through oral sex, is largely driving the rapid rise in oropharyngeal cancers, which include tumors of the throat, tonsils, and base of the tongue, said Scott Lippman, MD, who chairs the thoracic department at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

The experts agreed that it is critical for the public to understand that oral sex doesn't equal safe sex.

Photo: takomabibelot

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Nessum Dorma

I have always loved this piece of music.................long before I heard Pavorotti's rendition.Nessun dorma (English: No one shall sleep)is an aria from the final act of Giacomo Puccini's opera Turandot, and is one of the best-known tenor arias in all opera.


It is sung by Calaf, il principe ignoto (the unknown prince), who falls in love at first sight with the beautiful but cold Princess Turandot. However, any man who wishes to wed Turandot must first answer her three riddles. If he fails, he will be beheaded.

The Story:
In the act before this aria, Calaf has correctly answered the three riddles put to all of Princess Turandot's prospective suitors. Nevertheless, she recoils at the thought of marriage to him. Calaf offers her another chance by challenging her to guess his name by dawn. (As he kneels before her, the Nessun dorma theme makes a first appearance, to his words, "Il mio nome non sai!") If she does so, she can execute him; but if she does not, she must marry him. The cruel and emotionally cold princess then decrees that none of her subjects are to sleep that night until his name is discovered. If they fail, all will be killed.
As the final act opens, it is now night. Calaf is alone in the moonlit palace gardens. In the distance, he hears Turandot's heralds proclaiming her command. His aria begins with an echo of their cry and a reflection on Princess Turandot:
"Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma! Tu pure, o Principessa, nella tua fredda stanza, guardi le stelle che tremano d'amore, e di speranza!"
(English translation: "None shall sleep! None shall sleep! Even you, O Princess, in your cold bedroom, watch the stars that tremble with love and with hope!")

"Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me; il nome mio nessun saprà! No, No! Sulla tua bocca lo dirò quando la luce splenderà!"
("But my secret is hidden within me; none will know my name! No, no! On your mouth I will say it when the light shines!")

"Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio che ti fa mia!"
("And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!")

Just before the climactic end of the aria, a chorus of women is heard singing in the distance:
"Il nome suo nessun saprà... E noi dovrem, ahimè, morir, morir!"
("No one will know his name... and we will have to, alas, die, die!")

Calaf, now certain of victory, sings:
"Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! Tramontate, stelle! All'alba vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!"
("Vanish, o night! Set, stars! Set, stars! At daybreak I shall win! I shall win! I shall win!")

Paul Potts also shocked the world with his performance of this magical piece in the 2007 final of Britain's got talent.



Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Swine Flu

Cover your nose with a tissue when you sneeze. Visit for more information.
There's been a lot of hype and news making the rounds lately about H1N1 virus aka "Swine Flu". It was first discovered in Mexico in early June and since then it has spread rapidly around the world and so far over 700 people have died from this flu. It is no more a western problem because it has gotten to Africa. The department of Health in South Africa has meanwhile confirmed that there are over 100 cases of swine flu in South Africa since its outbreak on 12 June. It was recently declared a level 6 pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

Have you ever bothered to know what it is all about? Do you know what to look out for in terms of signs and symptoms? Knowledge is power and it goes a long way to know what it is one is up against.

What is Swine Flu:

Swine flu is an infection caused by a virus. It's named for a virus that pigs can get. People do not normally get swine flu, but human infections can and do happen. The virus is contagious and can spread from human to human.


These are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills and fatigue.
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Wash your hands with soap and clean running water. Visit for more information.
  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. You can also use alcohol-based hand cleaners.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Trying to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Staying home from work or school if you are sick.

Helpful Resources:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Teen Suicide

Dunno where to start really. Got a lot of things I'd like to talk about at the same time but I guess I'll have to take things slow and steady. There's always a tendency to get too overly excited...........and indeed I am excited.

One thing I'll like to address is the topic of one of Oprah Winfrey's shows: Teen Suicide.

I was taken in by the mothers of 2 11 year old boys who had committed suicide at home. One had just buried her son 3 days previously while the other buried her son 2 weeks before coming on the show. Both of them stated that their boys complained of bullying at school and they believe this was what drove their boys to suicide. Both boys committed suicide by hanging.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, surpassed only by accidents and homicide.

According to KidsHealth:

Suicide rates differ between boys and girls. Girls think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys, and tend to attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves. Yet boys die by suicide about four times as often girls, perhaps because they tend to use more lethal methods, such as firearms, hanging, or jumping from heights.

I found the show quite alarming and more alarming was the fact that the trend was or is on the increase. Down here in Africa, suicide's not common. It's generally believed that suicide's a western problem.

I marvel at the irony that lies hidden in that truth: Suicide's commoner in a place where there's hardly any hunger or suffering. A place where under 5 mortality rate is below 5%. A place where the basic amenities that make life worth living are within reach. But suicide is rare in a place where 3 out of every 5 children die from Malaria, malnutrition or from a complete lack of access to medical treatment before they reach the age of 5. It is rare in a place where constant electricity/power supply is a privilege (I still can't help jumping up anytime I turn on the light switch and the bulb comes on!!!!).

This all means that when one is deprived of what makes life easier and fun, he/she's forced to look inward and lay less emphasis on what the rest of the world considers "the source of happiness".

Nevertheless, the sooner this suicide trend is addressed by families, the government and school authorities; the better for us all.


This is saying a big hello to you and a big thank you for taking the time to visit and my blog: An Artist's Musings. There are a lot of things that pique my interest thus I'll be using this platform to address those things.

I talk strictly about art and art related matters at my main blog: Paintings by Nkolika Anyabolu (M.D). I hope you'll take out time to visit there.