A Science Odyssey On the Edge:  Doctor Ho

Hip Hop with Doctor Ho


Flow: Yo people! That was L.L. Blujay singin' his fresh track, "Killa Penny Sillin."

I'm Flow Fleming and you're jammin' to WHHP, hard hitting hip-hop with a conscience.

In the studio with me right now is Time magazine's Man of the Year for 1996, AIDS researcher Dr. David Ho! Aw right!

Listeners -- remember, you can call in with your questions.

Hit it, fellas!

Yo, Docta Ho! Welcome to my show.
You're the phat docta, who's in the know.
The tiny AIDS virus, you kill with your drugs,
Smokin' them thangs, as if they was thugs.

Dr. Ho: I thank you, I think. Although I'd like to point out that I don't smoke anything, and I don't consider myself fat.

Flow: Chill, baby. I didn't say fat, but phat, which means good, and to smoke means to kill. Anyway, let's get down to business...

Yo, man, your hype work in AIDS research is the bomb!

Dr. Ho: Let me first say that we have come so far because many people have made important contributions to AIDS research. And although we've come far, this odyssey is far from over.

Flow: I hear you were interested in the disease way back in the early 80s and even saw some of its first victims. What have we learned since those days?

Dr. Ho: One thing we've learned is what happens inside the body once it's infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Dr. Ho: The thinking at first was that the virus entered the body, then went into a dormant stage that might last from three to ten years. At the end of this dormant stage it would multiply like crazy and attack the immune system's T cells.

My team showed that there was no dormant stage. Instead, a billion copies of the virus are produced every day. And every day, the immune system fights back by producing a billion new immune cells.

The immune system eventually exhausts itself. And without the immune cells to keep the numbers in check, the viruses reproduce and overwhelm the body. The T cells take a tumble, leaving the body susceptible to other diseases.

Flow: It's a janky battle inside your body.

Virus and T cells, a beef in the bod.
"Help smoke them killas" I pray to god.
It ain't no use and I start to get sick
My T cells battle til they can't scrap a lick

Hey, we have our first caller.

Shout out, caller! What's your question?


Thanks Flo. Hey Doctor, I think it's really great what you're doing with AIDS and all, and your new cocktail therapy sounds promising. Could you talk a little about it?

Dr. Ho: Sure. Well cocktail therapy, or combination therapy, wouldn't be possible if we didn't have the drugs to work with. By 1995, we had some fairly potent drugs at our disposal, including a very effective "protease inhibitor."

Can I say a few words about these drugs?

Flow: Your world, doc! Go ahead!

Dr. Ho: As I said earlier, HIV, the AIDS virus, attacks the immune system's T cells. It uses the cell to make many copies of itself. The drugs we use in our combination therapy work to stop this copying process. Here's how.

First, a virus binds to a cell. RNA from the virus then enters the cell, where it is converted into DNA. RNA and DNA hold the genetic code that controls what a cell is and does. Anyway, drugs such as AZT and 3TC disrupt this conversion of RNA to DNA.

Dr. Ho: This "viral" DNA, if it is produced, then enters the cell's nucleus, where it becomes a part of cell's own DNA. The viral DNA then instructs the cell to make viral RNA, as well as proteins. The RNA and proteins will make up the new viruses.

To form the new viruses, though, an enzyme called protease is needed to cut the long proteins into smaller pieces. This is where the third drug of our cocktail, protease inhibitors, come in. The protease inhibitors prevent the protease from cutting the proteins.

Flow: Word. Does this cocktail therapy work?

Dr. Ho: Well, we started giving patients a combination of three drugs. This therapy isn't easy for the patients. They need to follow a strict regimen, and the drugs' side effects can be severe.

Dr. Ho: Anyway, during the first three weeks of the trial the amount of virus went down dramatically. After eight to ten weeks, no virus could be detected at all. We were very encouraged.

Flow: So no virus was detected in some patients. Does this mean they are cured?

Dr. Ho: Unfortunately, no. Even though the virus seems to have been wiped out in the bloodstream, it still exists in other places, such as the lymph nodes.

Flow: Oh. There's no chance that the cocktail will cure anyone, then?

Dr. Ho: We just don't know yet. We've started to give combination therapy to patients who have just been infected with HIV. The thinking is that, if we can keep the virus from making a billion copies of itself a day, the body's immune system will be able to focus its attention on the stragglers -- those strains of the virus that slip by the drugs.

Knuckle up, virus, let's get started.
It's cocktail time, and you're invited.
A bill'yun copies, in just one day?
Think again, baby gangster. We say NO WAY!

Flow: We have time for one more question. Shout out caller!

Caller: Hey, doc. What about an AIDS vaccine. Will we ever have one?

Dr. Ho: There's a lot of work that remains with AIDS research, especially in the area of vaccines. Nevertheless, great progress has been made over the past year. I'd like to remind everyone that, until a safe and effective vaccine is developed, prevention is still the best defense against AIDS.

Flow: Hey! That's all the time we have for today. David Ho, you are one tight doctor!

Fellas, work those wheels of steel!

Doctor Ho, he fights the fight.
He talks the talk, without the hype.
He's a true player, he's got real class
Yo AIDS virus! Ya betta watch your... RNA!

See ya!

The End

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