Easy Read: Telling JJ by John Woodrow Cox

Have you ever wondered about the lives of the many infants born with HIV? What becomes of their childhood and what obstacles do they face, socially, emotionally, and medically? This fascinating article: Telling JJ by John Woodrow Cox, takes us into the private life of one such little girl. This story captivated me and broke my heart at the same time. This is a must read, trust me you will have your perspective changed and your understanding of what it means to live with HIV altered, forever.safe_imageJJ has sat at this table many times coloring pictures with crayons at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington. JJ had long known that something else was wrong with her — that no one should touch her blood. A pile of medical records of children who have HIV sit atop a conference-room table at the hospital. – excerpt from Telling JJ

Since the introduction of antiretroviral drugs, mother-to-child transmission of HIV has fallen to below 1-2% in the United States. However, transmission still occurs due to missed opportunities for prevention, such as,  prenatal, intrapartum, and postnatal antiretroviral treatment to both mother and infant. Transmission can occur during pregnancy (particularly in the 3rd trimester), during labor and delivery, or during breastfeeding.

News Article from 1983 talks about Genetically Engineered Vaccines

Written  for the Wall Street Journal by Jerry E.  Bishop and Michael Waldholz, the article is entitled New Genetically Engineered Vaccines Aim at Blocking Infectious Disease in Millions.

I stumbled upon this article written way back in 1983. It’s amazing, to see what appears to be a current health issue dating back so far. I was only a fetus at the time!

vaccinegmo copy

The article talks about the vaccines “being spurred by major advances in genetic engineering” The ability to manipulate genes and transfer them from one organism to another being called “new found”. The writer goes on to say that “the vaccines represent the first major change in vaccine technology in almost 200 years.”

Instead of using weakened pathogens like viruses and bacteria to make vaccines, the genetically engineered vaccines would use antigens (proteins present on the surface of microbes) to trick the body into recognizing the vaccines active agent as the pathogen itself. The problem with old vaccines is that although it seems simple to weaken  or kill a bacteria or virus, it’s actually quiet difficult. Hence why we don’t have a cure for every infectious disease. According to the article there are difficulties in the new engineered method; in that it’s still tricky to identify the right antigens to elicit the appropriate response from the body. At the time, scientists even hoped to create a multi-purpose vaccine that would present many antigens from many different pathogens.  However:

“But there is a roadblock instead of using just purified antigens as a vaccine, the New York NIH approach uses a whole virus that has been genetically manipulated to carry “foreign” genes from other viruses it is, in essence, a genetically-engineered organism that would be injected into humans. There already are fears-unfounded-the scientists say- about releasing genetically engineered organism into the environment. Federal regulators are likely to be extremely cautious about using such a vaccine in humans.” 

Book Review: the Disappearing Spoon…

The Disappearing Spoon– by Sam Kean …and other true tales of madness, love, and the history of the world from the periodic table of the elements.


Back Cover

Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium nearly ruin Marie Curie’s reputation? And why is gallium (Ga, 31) the go-to element for laboratory pranksters?*

The periodic table is a crowning scientific achievement ,but it’s also a treasure  trove of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow all the elements on the table as they play out their parts in human history, fiancé, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientist who discovered them. The Disappearing Spoon masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, discovery, and alchemy, from the big bang through the end of time.

Sam Kean reading his book for an audience

My Review

I first read this national bestseller a few years ago. Yes, I know I said the same thing about the last book I reviewed; that just happened to be during the time I was applying for doctoral programs, and as a result spent a lot of time in Barnes and Nobles using up their free Wi-Fi. Anyhow, back from my tangent, this book was fascinating and fun to read.

What makes it fascinating is that it is pretty-much  history through the lens of the periodic table. It’s the interesting stories they never told you in science class, and had they, you might have paid more attention, or even developed a fond and respectable interest in chemistry. You will never look at the periodic table of elements the same way, if you remember every story, which you probably won’t, but that is the reason I bought the book.

I read the book over the course of about 3 days, I hid it in the book shelves for the first two days, but then I became afraid that it would be sold or taken off the shelves (as happened often), before I could finish it, so I ended up buying it. I’ve re-read a few chapters recently, so that I could give you guys a good review. I liked it, I think you will too. It’s definitely a great gift for a teenager, who say’s science is boring.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Review

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – written by Rebecca Skloot


Back Cover

“Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as Hela. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells-taken without her knowledge in 1951-became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta’s cells have ben bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.”

My Review

I first read this book about 3 years ago.  Haven worked in cell/tissue culture for many  years, even I was unaware of the origins of not only HELA cells but, the genesis of immortal cell-lines as a whole. I was further unaware that it involved cells taken from a black woman! You never hear about this during black history month. The book for me revealed how little the general public understands about the very work that is being done by scientist around the world to help improve all of our lives. It also showed me how important it is to bridge this gap, because there are many social and political factors that affect whether, how, and which research is performed and even funded. In school we learn the basics of science, but there is little to no emphasis on how that science relates to everyday life. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks really illustrates these points. It was a fascinating, eye-opening, and at times heartbreaking read. I think you will enjoy it; I read the entire book in one day and still decided to buy it afterwards.

HeLa Cells


The first Immortal cell-line used to perform in vitro scientific research. Cell-lines are cells from organs, tissue, blood, or tumors that are grown in an artificial environment (petri dish or flask) outside of the body in a laboratory. Immortal cell-lines are those that can be grown (cultured) indefinitely while retaining its characteristics, these are usually derived from tumors/cancer cells. Cell-lines can be from human cells or animal cells, and they allow researchers to carry out experiments quicker, cheaper, and safer with little to no ethical complications.