A Cure Within Reach
(Photo courtesy of Care Resource)
Famed researcher believes HIV/AIDS cure is on the near horizon
By Michael W. Sasser
For those old enough to remember 25 years ago, it was a very different landscape for those with HIV and AIDS. At the time, little was known about AIDS, what caused it, how it was spread and if there would ever be an effective treatment for it. For many, particularly older gay men in LGBT meccas such as San Francisco and New York, it was considered the “gay cancer” and most often, it was regarded as a death sentence.
It was in that environment that AIDS Walk Miami launched and it was not necessarily an environment that in those days brought together all aspects of the community to combat the scourge of a generation. There was misunderstanding. There was fear. But there was AIDS Walk Miami as well, for that first time, in those days when it was the condition that bore no name.
Fast-forward to 2013 and AIDS Walk Miami is celebrating its 25th anniversary, with broad community support and the general good will of a broader community that recognizes the benefits of the event and the progress that has been made since AIDS first emerged decades ago.
Among those being honored at the 25th Anniversary AIDS Walk Miami is the man who arguably has long since placed his own stamp on efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, and who has very strong thoughts on the future of addressing a condition he’s studied and worked to understand and fight.
Today, event Grand Marshal Dr. Robert C. Gallo is optimistic to a fault about progress in the struggle against HIV/AIDS, and he should know what he’s talking about. Gallo is the eminent scientist who became world famous in 1984 when he co-discovered HIV as the cause of AIDS. He is currently the founder and director of the Institute of Human Virology, which was established to create and develop a world-class center of excellence focusing on chronic viral diseases, especially HIV/AIDS and virally-linked cancers.
“There are four things I wanted to help make people aware of by participating in the Walk,” Gallo told Wire Magazine in advance of AIDS Walk Miami. “The first thing is that we have been working on a vaccine and that we are going to go into the first phase of trials in 2014.”
Gallo made clear that the work being done builds on the work of others and, furthermore, that there are others also working on a vaccine. There will be three phases of trial and there remains one particular challenge in preventing antibodies introduced into the body from dying and thus providing only short- to medium-term results.
If a potential vaccine sounds optimistic, one of Gallo’s other primary messages for South Floridians is startling.
“It is something I made a decision about long ago – that a cure was not practical, but there have been some advances in basic biochemistry, I’ve changed my mind,” Gallo said. “I think a cure is theoretically in hand, at least when it comes to people in wealthier nations. I think it may be in existence in the next five or six years.
“It’s not a novel idea, and we may not be the first to develop it, but it will be the best,” Gallo continued.
Gallo also wanted to introduce people to the Institute of Human Virology, the work it does and the role he feels the Institute can play globally.
“It’s a world organization that meets twice a year and functions not like first-responders, but rather as a resource for consultation and discussion and research,” free from the constraints that often limit the effectiveness of organizations, such as a widely-scattered focus and the intervention of governments, he said. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can’t be expert in everything. We saw with HIV that there were not enough experts.”
Gallo had a personal experience with the limitations of virologists just recently. “Last summer I thought I had West Nile Virus and I found out there was virtually nothing being done on it,” he said.
With funding – which Gallo said is obviously essential – the Institute could consult, conduct in-depth research and act as a resource for medical virologists. “There is a decline in the number of people going into medical virology in the future, for a lot of reasons,” he pointed out.
Finally, Gallo cited an article that he says he wrote and which has been published in the Washington D.C. area thrice. In the piece, he has argued for a domestic PEPFAR program focused on inner cities and urban areas. PEPFAR is the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a George W. Bush administration initiative to combat HIV and AIDS overseas. As Gallo sees it, with the funding available for defending the homeland against biological attack, there should be a similar, domestic-focused program.
“If we had the program for the United States, it might not cost all that much money and it would give us a fraternal instead of paternal relationship with other countries in the world,” Gallo said. “With a program here, doctors and nurses could penetrate communities where it’s needed.”
Gallo mentioned Baltimore, Atlanta and Miami as locations where the infection rate calls for action. In fact, in an April 9 press release, Gallo revealed that the rate of new AIDS cases in the Miami/Miami Beach-Fort Lauderdale area is higher than it is in Nairobi.
“It could really help a number of cities, including Miami,” Gallo said. “I think we would be able to do much better.”
This article was originally published in Wire Magazine Issue #16, 2013
Top Cancers of 2012 in the United States
By Anthony Japour, MD
(Photo Credit: © Realisature 123D)
Cancer is diagnosed when the human body is experiencing uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells known as malignant cells. Sadly, most of us are probably too familiar with this illness and have been diagnosed with cancer or know someone who has been.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s the second leading cause of death in the U.S., just after heart disease. In 2012, the American Cancer Society estimated there were close to 1,638,910 new cases of cancer. The state of Florida came in 2nd with 117,580 new cases and California was 1st with 165,810.
In men, the top three cancers are prostate, lung and colorectal cancer, but the chances of dying from lung cancer are the greatest. For women, the three leading types of cancers are breast, lung and cervical, with the chances of dying from lung cancer again being the greatest.
Using the data published by the American Cancer Society, in 2012 the leading cancers were as follows:
1. Skin Cancer
Skin cancer can be split into non-melanoma (basel cell & squamous cell) and melanoma. Although melanoma is a more serious type of skin cancer, non-melanoma is more common with over 2 million cases in the U.S. in 2012. Prevention methods for skin cancer include protection from excessive sun exposure. This includes wearing sunscreen (I generally recommend SPF 30 or higher), appropriate gear at the beach such as long sleeve shirts and a protective hat, as well as avoiding indoor tanning beds.
2. Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the top killer cancer in the United States accounting for about 28% of all cancer deaths in 2012. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common form but small cell lung cancer spreads more quickly. Smoking and the use of tobacco products are the major causes of lung cancer and thus the easiest way to prevent this deadly sickness is to avoid or quit using tobacco-containing products.
3a. Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the third leading type of cancer in American women. It’s the second most frequently diagnosed cancer in women after skin cancer and ranks second in cancer deaths in women. Breast cancer can also occur in men and accounted for almost 2,000 cases between 2003-2008.
3b. Prostate, Colorectal and Anal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is assumed to have caused more than 51,000 deaths in 2012 alone. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men.
The Mayo Clinic recommends annual screening from your physician to find the polyps in your colon or anus before they become cancerous. Regular screenings and examinations can detect early signs of colon cancer, rectal cancer or prostate cancer. This can help the early detection of precancerous growths and the removal of precancerous tissue.
Anal Cancer is caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the same virus that causes cervical cancer in women. Anal cancer became more known after the actress Farah Fawcett made her own struggle with it public. While generally considered rare, anal cancer is 20 times more common in gay men – and if one is HIV-positive, the rate is about 40 more times higher. While there are many HPV strains, only certain ones are associated with cancer. Prevention through the use of condoms is recommended. Some experts now recommend anal PAP smears for gay men.
Most common cancer in men aged 20-39?
Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men. It is also among the most curable cancers if diagnosed early, up to 90-100%. I recommend (along with the American Cancer Society) all men aged 20-40 years-old check their testicles monthly for any new lumps and if so, see your doctor immediately.
How to do a testicular self-exam
The best time to do the self-exam is during or after a bath or shower, when the skin of the scrotum is relaxed. To do a testicular self-exam:
- Hold your penis out of the way and check one testicle at a time.
- Hold the testicle between your thumbs and fingers of both hands and roll it gently between your fingers.
- Look and feel for any hard lumps or smooth rounded bumps or any change in the size, shape, or consistency of the testes.
Who’s at risk of developing any kind of cancer?
Unfortunately, anyone these days can develop cancer. However, the risk of being diagnosed with cancer increases with age, use of tobacco and alcohol, excessive exposure to chemicals, radiation, sunlight and infectious organisms, if you’ve had a first degree relative with cancer, and if you’re obese or physically inactive.
Stay Healthy, Stay Active
Most cancers and death from cancer can be avoided by staying active and making healthier life choices.
- Choose to eat a healthier diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.
- Steer clear of tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco.
- Protect yourself from excessive sun exposure.
- Choose a form of exercise that you enjoy, to keep active.
- Schedule annual colonoscopies, colorectal exams, mammograms, and computed tomography scans (CT scans) of the chest to help catch any abnormalities in the early stages.
This article was originally published in Wire Magazine Issue #14, 2013
HIV/AIDS: AMERICA’S DIVIDE
More than thirty years after the first case report of HIV, AIDS remains a significant problem in America. Despite tremendous advances in testing and treatment, not everyone has benefitted equally. Discovery Channel takes an in depth look at the color lines of HIV/AIDS in a world premiere documentary HIV/AIDS: AMERICA’S DIVIDE airing Saturday, March 17 at 8am e/p.
Every nine and half minutes someone in the United States is infected with HIV – and chances are that it will be someone of color. African American represent nearly half of all new cases of HIV, although they represent only 15% of the population. HIV/AIDS: AMERICA’S DIVIDE tells the unheard stories of triumph and tragedy in America’s neighborhoods and spotlights the heroes on the front lines of the fight to prevent and treat the disease. This compelling look at the new reality of HIV/AIDS exposes the cultural stigmas and social disparities that are widening the gap between who is living and who is dying.
“We know how to prevent HIV transmission. We also know that putting people on treatment greatly lowers their risk of passing on the virus. Nobody should be contracting HIV in 2012,” said fashion icon and amfAR Chairman Kenneth Cole, who is featured in the documentary. “We must continue to work together to curb all new infections, especially among the most vulnerable, to bring this epidemic to an end.”
Across the country, the crisis in HIV/AIDS is increasingly seen in minority communities and yet the issue has flown under the media radar. HIV/AIDS: AMERICA’S DIVIDE reveals the latest data from CDC and shows not only where the problems are but how to solve them using advanced medical technologies and evolving patient and community care.
“People in America are still dying of HIV,” said Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Expert at Discovery Channel. “We’ve come full circle. Thirty years ago, those most impacted were disenfranchised members of society. Today, it’s a different group, but still primarily disenfranchised. The faces of AIDS has literally changed. I hope this documentary helps us to better understand why these problems persist and how we can combat them.”
“This program spotlights one of most serious and overlooked of our problems. In some regions of the United States, the incidence of new AIDS infections is greater than in some countries in Africa. Today, effective HIV testing and AIDS treatment is available. Ignorance of testing and treatment is our enemy.” said Dr. Robert Gallo, Founder and Director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who is also featured in the documentary.
HIV/AIDS: AMERICA’S DIVIDE will repeat on March 24 and also be available to view online athttp://www.discoverychannelpatiented.com