When at long last researchers find out how to keep HIV in check, that naturally makes news:
“Secret of HIV’s natural born killers out”
“Revealed: Secret of HIV’s natural born killers”
“SFU scientists contribute to HIV breakthrough — Natural resistance to AIDS may be key in developing a vaccine”
“Study digs into secrets of keeping HIV in check”
“People with rare natural ability to fight AIDS virus have potent ‘killer’ cells that recognise and destroy infection”
That’s just a sampling of what Google turns up about this just-announced phenomenal breakthrough. I was inspired to get the research article itself, published on-line ahead of print in Nature Immunology, 10 June 2012; doi:10.1038/ni.2342.
It’s a highly technical 12 pages long, with a rather technical title: “TCR clonotypes modulate the protective effect of HLA class I molecules in HIV-1 infection”.
There are 21 authors from 6 laboratories in 4 countries (Canada, Germany, Japan, USA).
The number of authors is greater than the number of studied subjects, who totaled 10: 5 of them “elite controllers”, the other 5 “HIV-positive” people on HAART.
Even the news reports cited researchers not involved in the work who pointed out that this in itself means nothing at all, given not only the small number of subjects but also the fact that “elite controllers” have never been found to be all alike in the immunological characteristics that seem to matter.
It is no mystery, of course, why such an inconclusive little bit of possible progress would be published: the vast majority of research articles are like this, adding no more than tiny bits of possibly useful information — LPUs, least-publishable units.
It is also no mystery, why the media would trumpet about it: Their attention was drawn to it by the paper’s authors, so that further grants and kudos would flow in their direction. After all, this work would not have been possible without grants from:
“Harvard University Center for AIDS Research . . . , the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation . . . , the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation . . . , the US National Institutes of Health . . . , the Howard Hughes Medical Institute . . . , the Mark and Lisa Schwartz Foundation . . . , the Intramural Research Program and the Office of AIDS Research of the US National Institutes of Health . . . , the Canadian Institutes for Health Research . . . and the Canada Research Chair in Viral Pathogenesis and Immunity . . . .”
The lead author, cited in the news stories, appears to be Bruce D. Walker, “professor at Harvard School of Public Health”.
One can only hope that he was not quoted correctly to the effect that “One person has been fending off AIDS since 1978”.
It would be a nice trick, after all, to have diagnosed “HIV infection” some 6 years before the purported discovery of HIV.
Not, of course, that reporters who cover such stories need know anything about the subject.
Nor, of course, that researchers studying elite controllers need know anything about the history of the discovery of “HIV”.