Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Chakabox Research Corner!

Last week was not the best week in the history of clinical STD research.  Some of the news was disappointing, but not at all surprising, and some was just so awful, it makes me want to barf.

Happy October, everyone!

First, the merely disappointing:  last Thursday, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (a division of the National Institutes of Health) announced that a vaccine they'd been working on for about a hundred years, Herpevac, didn't work pretty much at all.  

Herpevac was supposed to be kind of like Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, only for herpes simplex type 2 (HSV2).  It was developed to be given to young women (high school age and older), to prevent acquisition of HSV2, which is the most common cause of genital herpes.  Only it didn't work.

You win this one, herpes.  Ya jerk.

I have personal interest in this because I coordinated the Herpevac clinical trial site here in Seattle for about 75 of the hundred years the study was going on, and if I had grey hair, I would blame at least a couple of them on it.  I'm not at all surprised at the results, though being surprised would have been awesome. I am weirdly happy the damn thing is done, though I haven't been attached to the study for almost a year and a half.    

OK, on to the horrible:  recent work from a woman at Wellesley College has revealed that in the 1940s, the US government conducted research in Guatemala in which soldiers, prisoners and mental patients were deliberately infected with syphilis and other STDs in order to test the efficacy of penicillin. Some people they infected by jabbing needles teeming with pathogens into open wounds, others they sent to prostitutes they had deliberately infected.

As the US was helping prosecute Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg, partly for conducting horrific experiments on people without their consent, it was conducting the same kind of atrocities against people in other parts of the world.  NOT.  COOL.  AMERICA.

to ignore that I'm behaving in a revolting manner

Turns out the guy who led the study, John C. Cutler, was later a key player in the infamous (and also disgusting) Tuskegee syphilis experiment conducted on black men in Alabama from the 1930s - 1970s, something he staunchly defended well into the 1990s.  You see, to Dr. Cutler, brown and/or poor people fall into the "useful" category of human, and therefore can be utilized at will and with impunity.

And the scientific community wonders why it's so hard to get non-white people to participate in clinical research.

It's not just Cutler who is to blame for this - both the Guatemala and Tuskegee experiments were done with the blessing and the funding of the US government.  I truly believe that things like this rarely happen anymore, if ever, but the fact that it ever did is just so shameful, I'm having a hard time expressing it in constructive ways.

Allow the owl to illustrate...

Participation in clinical research today is safe, my friends, though I don't blame you if you're a little skeptical of that.  I encourage everyone to try it at least once (I was a subject in the Gardasil trial, among others) It's a great way to pick up a little extra money, if nothing else.  However, you do want to look out for yourself - actually read the consent forms they give you.  They're boring as hell, but you might find something in there you're not cool with.  

Also, ask questions, even if you think they're silly - the only kind of researcher that won't happily field all your questions is the kind you should run the hell away from.  Finally, don't be afraid to say no, at any time.  Being a research subject is a PURELY voluntary endeavor and you have the right to stop being one whenever you want.

It's you - forget Tony Danza

Want to try being a guinea pig?  Provided you live in the US, here's a good place to start.  For you lovely international-types, try contacting universities around you, ideally ones with medical schools.  Psychology departments are generally looking for people, too.  Let's try and get some GOOD news out there, people - let's cure some stuff!!


  1. Very eye opening indeed, Chakabox. Thanks for the education. :)

  2. Fantastic. Well the study wasn't all a failure, having participated as a human guinea pig in it, I learned so much from you and literally lecture people about Herpes. I lecture my nephew who's 14 about it, and have been for a couple of years. I tell friends who's partners have it that they need to be aware that just avoiding kissing them while they are showing symptoms doesn't guarantee that they are out of harms way. It's an under educated topic and should be discussed more! I'm happy to report that my husband is negative for both as well!