The first mRNA-based HIV vaccine is about to start human trials


Two of Moderna’s mRNA-based HIV vaccines could start human trials this week, according to a new posting in the National Institutes of Health’s clinical trial registry. The Phase I study would test the vaccines’ safety, as well as collect basic data on whether they’re inducing any kind of immunity, but would still need to go through Phases II and III to see how effective they might be.

These shots are based on the same technology as Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine: mRNA strands in the vaccine enter human cells, providing them with the code to make little bits of the same proteins that sit on the virus’s exterior. Those proteins then act like test dummies for our immune systems to recognize, so immune cells in the future can identify and neutralize the actual virus. The process works incredibly well against SARS-CoV-2, and there’s hope that it may work with HIV as well.

HIV has historically been extremely challenging to produce a vaccine for, in part because the virus integrates itself into the human genome rapidly—within 72 hours of transmission—thus producing an irreversible infection. This means “high levels of protective neutralizing antibodies must be present at the time of transmission to completely prevent infection,” according to a July review paper in Nature Reviews Immunology. Many people infected with HIV don’t develop those antibody levels, much less people exposed to the various attempted vaccines throughout the decades.

But the hope is that an mRNA vaccine could work where other candidates have failed.

Carol Greider achieved success in molecular biology after overcoming dyslexia as a child


Carol Greider achieved success in molecular biology in the same way she overcame dyslexia as a child: with persistence and creativity. She discovered telomerase, an enzyme that is key to the ageing process and the growth of cancer cells, and has major implications for medical research.

Woman who spent 17 days in coma with Covid while pregnant celebrates birth of ‘miracle baby’

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Laura Curtis wants people to know there can be life after a severe Covid-19 infection. In her case, there were two.

The 29-year-old from Baldoyle in Dublin was 21 weeks’ pregnant when she ended up on a ventilator in Beaumont Hospital’s intensive care unit after being diagnosed with the disease last March.

Before being put in an induced coma, she remembers struggling for breath and becoming hysterical as doctors pointed out that her pregnancy was not viable at 21 weeks and their priority would be keeping her alive.

“It was one of the hardest things I ever had to hear,” said the youth worker, who suffered a miscarriage a year ago. “I didn’t want to lose another one.”

What Curtis did not know was that while she spent 17 days in an induced coma, doctors and nurses from Beaumont and the Rotunda maternity hospital were working to save her and her daughter.

She was oblivious to the fact that her partner, Robbie Dalton, who tested positive for Covid-19 at around the same time Curtis, was keeping tabs on their baby thanks to the wonders of technology and the dedication of medical staff.

When Dr Maria Kennelly, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at the Rotunda, came to scan the baby, staff at Beaumont made sure Dalton had a bird’s eye view.

“They FaceTimed his phone while Maria was scanning my belly so he could see it live,” said Curtis. “It was mad. He could see her while I was asleep in the coma.”

When the medics woke Curtis up, she assumed she had lost the baby because of her last conversation with doctors.

“Robbie was sitting there masked and gowned. They had let him in for half an hour. I told him ‘you know I’m not pregnant any more’ and he said ‘you are Laura’,” she recalled.

Curtis said he played her a recording of the baby’s heartbeat that the medics had sent on and “that’s how I found out I was still pregnant”.

Initially, she found the news difficult to grasp, not least because while in the coma she had believed she was visiting places such as Dubai and Poland.

The couple’s daughter, Demi, was born in the Rotunda on July 14th, weighing in at 7lb 2oz.

“We are both doing well and are both here to tell the tale. She is perfect – 10 fingers, 10 toes. Everyone tells me she is a miracle baby and she is,” Curtis says.

“Without the staff in Beaumont Hospital I would not be alive today. Thanks to them and the staff in the Rotunda we are both here. I don’t think they get the recognition they deserve. They really went above and beyond for us.”

“I am so thankful to be still alive and to have Demi. Maybe if this had happened a year earlier they would not have known so much about Covid . Maybe it’s good it happened when it did.”

Good Samaritan who helped HANSLE Parchment to GOLD invited to Jamaica


The Good Samaritan who gave taxi fare to Olympic gold medallist Hansle Parchment in Japan, allowing him to secure his place in history, is being invited to Jamaica by the Government.

The woman who literally saved Parchment from missing the 110 metres hurdles, when he accidentally boarded a bus to the aquatic venue instead of the track and field stadium, is now being tracked by the Ministry of Tourism, Minister Edmund Bartlett told The Sunday Gleaner yesterday.

Known only as Tiana, Parchment, who dedicated a three-minute and 27-second video saluting her for her kindness, said, had it not been for her selflessness, he probably would not have run in the historic race which also saw his countryman Ronald Levy medalling.

Parchment said, when he realised he was on the wrong bus, and tried to get assistance from the official cars at the Olympic event, they were all already booked, and his only other option was to return to the village and take another bus, which would cause him not to even be able to warm up for the run.

“I saw this volunteer and I had to beg, ‘cause of course she is not allowed to do much, and she actually gave me some money to take one of the taxis. And that’s how I was able to get to the warm-up in time, and had enough time to compete,” said the Olympian, who described the incident as awesome.

Parchment not only thanked the Good Samaritan publicly, but he paid back the money she gave him and gifted her a Jamaican shirt.

After viewing the video yesterday, the tourism minister said he was compelled by the fact the lady went beyond the call of duty to achieve great results.

“It is selfless what she did; one would not know what the outcome would have been,” he stated.

Bartlett said he was moved to invite the lady to Jamaica, where she will be hosted by his ministry team.

“No matter where in the world she is, we want to reciprocate the kindness shown to one of our own,” he said.

Statement of intent: boy raises £640k with 500-night camp out

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Max Woosey has woken up in his tent in the depths of winter, teeth chattering, his sleeping bag and blankets coated with frost. The 11-year-old was almost tempted indoors one night when his tent blew down in a storm but he repitched and carried on.

This summer there have been some uncomfortably hot, sticky nights, especially after the family labradoodle, Digby, took to snuggling in with Max and licking his face at all hours.

But on Tuesday night Max, from Braunton in north Devon, will enjoy – and he insists it really is enjoyment – his 500th consecutive night camping out, an adventure that has raised more than £600,000 for charity.

“It feels amazing to reach 500 nights,” said Max. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long because so many cool things have happened since I started camping. I never ever thought that it would last this long, but I absolutely love it.”

The marathon began in early 2020 when Max’s mum and dad, Rachael and Mark Woosey, were helping to care for a neighbour, Rick Abbott, who had terminal cancer.

As lockdown restrictions dragged on, Max refused to come in from the cold and donations poured into his JustGiving page. He attracted national and international attention and was invited to camp next to the lion’s enclosure at London zoo and in the Downing Street garden.

As his 500th day approached, Max had raised £640,000 – more than half of what the hospice estimates it will have lost in donations due to the pandemic. And got through 10 tents.

Detective Mike Blair adopted boy from murder case

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A detective who investigated a double murder in which an eight-year-old boy was left badly burnt has ended up taking him into his own family.

Mike Blair and his wife Danyel adopted Ronnie Oneal, who had been soaked in petrol, set alight and stabbed by his father.

Ronnie witnessed the murder of his mother, Kenyatta Barron, in March 2018 at their home near Tampa, Florida, and later testified against his father, Ronnie Oneal III, who pleaded not guilty. Oneal Snr was sentenced to three life terms plus 60 years for the murdering his girlfriend and their disabled nine-year-old daughter, and for the attempted murder of Ronnie.

“It was extremely gruesome,” Blair, 45, said of the murder scene. “It was chaotic. It was violent.”

A colleague mentioned to Blair that Ronnie, who was being treated in the intensive care unit at Tampa General Hospital for severe burns, knife wounds and internal trauma, enjoyed watching American football.

Blair contacted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who agreed to donate a jersey and other sports gear. As Blair was leaving the hospital room after bringing the gifts, Ronnie took his hand and asked if he would stay and watch a film with him. Blair promised to return that evening with his wife after work.

“I was kind of shocked because at the time, he tried to keep work and life compartmentalised,” Danyel, 42, told The Washington Post. “It surprised me in a good way that he was willing to take me into that world and allow me to meet this kid.”

The couple, who have been married for 23 years and have five children aged between 15 and 23, said they felt a strong connection to Ronnie. “He had skin grafting over 30 per cent of his body, he had a breathing tube, he had a feeding tube,” Danyel said. “He had extensive damage. Nobody had expected him to live through what he did.”

Once Ronnie had recovered he was placed with foster families, though the first couple of placements were unsuccessful. His legal guardian remembered the detective and called Blair. “There’s going to be a lot of medical appointments,” the guardian told Blair, who replied: “Just bring him to our house. We’ll take him.”

By the end of his first evening “we made the decision to adopt him,” Blair said. “The biggest thing that we wanted to give him was stability and a place where he knows he’s safe. Whatever we needed to do to move towards that, we were willing to do. We kind of jumped off a cliff and figured we’d land OK. And we have.”

Ronnie, now 12, told the newspaper: “They take care of me. They’re really nice. I feel happy.”

Blair added: “We assured him that he would never move again, that he would be permanently part of the family. We can’t imagine life without him.

“He has a daunting question he thinks about every single day, which is, ‘Why?’ It’s the unanswerable question.”

‘I finally feel at home working as a surgeon in Scotland’

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For Dr Maya Shahsavari, the last year working on the NHS frontline during the Covid pandemic has been tough.

The 37-year-old, who sought asylum in the UK from Iran when she was 13, works in Scotland as an ear, nose and throat surgical registrar.

Based at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, she has experienced the effects of Covid first-hand.

But despite those challenges, she finally feels at home for the first time in more than 20 years.

When Covid arrived in Scotland last year, Dr Shahsavari said she felt unprepared for what working in a pandemic would be like.

“They prepare you for a global pandemic in medical school for like a week,” she said.

“I remember being sat in this class and thinking: ‘What’s the point of this? When will I ever be in a global pandemic?’

“Then when the pandemic did hit, I couldn’t believe it. It was like a horrible nightmare.”

Dr Shahsavari sometimes had to examine patients in their cars when there was not enough space in the hospital.

“What we found quite difficult was that information was given to us every hour, and that information could change every hour,” she said.

“It was hard to keep up with the change and knowing if you were doing the right thing for patients. It was a lot of pressure.”

Dr Shahsavari’s journey to becoming an NHS surgeon was far from conventional.

When they were teenagers, her parents were political activists in Iran, campaigning for free speech.

Because they had been arrested a few times, Dr Shahsavari said their names were included on a database used to keep tabs on campaigners.

When her parents were arrested again in the 1990s, years after they had stopped campaigning, they believed their lives were in danger.

The family decided that they had to flee Iran.

“We gave all of our things away, sold what we could and moved to the UK with absolutely nothing apart from the clothes we were wearing,” she said.

“I was feeling very depressed and confused at the time, but I remember my dad saying that even though I’d lost my home and luxuries in life, I had gained something that they couldn’t give me before – freedom.

“So he said that I should make sure that whatever it is that I do, I don’t look back at my life and think that I’ve wasted that opportunity.

“He told me to think about how I wanted to give back to the community I’d entered.”

She set her sights on becoming a surgeon. But there were more hurdles to overcome.

When she arrived, she did not speak a word of English.

“I went from being top of my class in Iran to being at the bottom,” she added.

Her university applications were initially rejected for medicine, so she studied biomedical science, followed by a masters in genetics.

However, she never gave up her dreams of becoming a surgeon.

She was finally accepted into medical school, qualifying from St George’s University of London.

Her job eventually brought her to Scotland, where she has found a “magical” country that feels like home.

When she was offered a job in Dundee, Dr Shahsavari said she didn’t even know where it was.

But the moment she travelled across the Tay Bridge, she saw the scenery and “felt different”.

“The first weekend I was here I started exploring. It was absolutely amazing and it just felt like home,” she said.

“The nature of Scotland has just drawn me in. And the people – they are just on a different level.

“They are honest, kind and supportive. There has never been a time where I have asked somebody for directions up here and they have not walked me halfway there.”

Reflecting on her journey from Iran to her life now in Scotland, Dr Shahsavari says her story is proof that “horrible struggles can end well”.