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I’ve Moved!

February 18, 2012

You can find me blogging with a bunch of crazy talented science writers at The Last Word on Nothing. Visit me there!


CAPRISA vaginal gel video

July 20, 2010

This video offers an overview of the study I described yesterday.

Anti-HIV vaginal gel prevents infection

July 19, 2010

This is how HIV gets in. Now how do we stop it? (credit: Microbicide Trials Network, University of Pittsburgh and Magee-Womens Research Institute)

Big news from the 2010 International AIDS Conference in Vienna: After more than a decade of research, scientists have finally developed a microbicide that works against HIV.

The clinical trial, which included nearly 900 South African women, looked at the safety and effectiveness of a vaginal gel laced with tenofovir, a drug that stops HIV from replicating. Half of the women in the trial received the real gel and half received a placebo. The researchers asked them to insert the gel before and after sex. Overall, women using the tenofovir gel had a 39% lower risk of contracting HIV than women using the placebo gel. When the researchers looked at the subset of women who used the tenofovir gel correctly more than 80% of the time, they found even greater protection. These women were 54% less likely to contract HIV than women in the placebo group. You can find the full study here.

Vaginal gels laced with antiretrovirals aren’t going to put a stop to the spread of HIV, no matter how effective they are. Perhaps nothing can. But they could still be an important addition to the HIV prevention toolbox. Women can use vaginal gels with or without their partner’s knowledge or consent. As University of Pittsburgh professor John Mellors said in this feature that I wrote on HIV prevention for Nature Medicine last year, “It’s empowerment, baby.”

For more on HIV prevention, take a look at the two articles I wrote for this month’s Nature supplement on HIV. The first, “Tiny steps towards an HIV vaccine” examines researchers’ progress in developing an HIV vaccine. The second, “Joining forces,” looks at other HIV prevention methods, including microbicides, and how they might be combined to get the most bang for our collective buck.

More PCR Music

March 2, 2010

Who would have thought that the technique scientists use to amplify DNA — polymerase chain reaction (PCR) — could have inspired not one, but TWO songs? Last month, I posted a PCR rap song. And now I stumbled across another ode to PCR on science writer Virginia Hughes’ blog. Enjoy this “We Are the World”-inspired parody!

Gregory Hannon on microRNAs

February 11, 2010

Tuesday night’s Secret Science Club speaker was Gregory Hannon, a molecular biologist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Hannon is a pioneer in the field of RNA interference, a field about which I know almost nothing, hence my decision to attend the talk. His hour-long lecture focused on “microRNAs,” small snippets of RNA that play a big role in gene regulation. I ate a cupcake while my friend quietly sipped a “cell-o-bration” — the night’s drink special. Together we tried to absorb the material. Read more…


February 10, 2010

Last night I trekked halfway across Brooklyn to attend a Secret Science Club event at the Bell House. The club, which has long since ceased to be a secret, offers rock star scientists a chance to present their research to the masses (the scruffy-faced, skinny-jean-wearing, cowboy-booted masses). I’ve been to scientific talks that drew more people, but never has the crowd been so artfully disheveled. Half of Williamsburg was there. And that just goes to show you that, in New York at least, science is hip. Read more…

Walt Disney Battles Malaria (with a little help from the Seven Dwarfs)

January 25, 2010

In this vintage Walt Disney cartoon, the Seven Dwarfs help battle the dread mosquito to stop the spread of malaria. Some of the recommendations for combating malaria (drain wetlands, dump oil in the water) are just a wee bit outdated. But Dopey looks so cute chasing mosquitoes around the house with his sprayer full of pesticide, I’ll forgive the creators for their lack of environmental enlightenment. Thanks to Twisted Bacteria for pointing out this classic.