Q&A with Dr. Max Essex of Harvard AIDS Initiative

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Our funded research doctor, Max Essex, is the Lasker Professor of Health Sciences at Harvard University, as well as the Founding Chair of both the Harvard AIDS Initiative and the Botswana Harvard Partnership. He talked with Martha Henry, HAI’s Director of Communications, about mentoring students and young scientists and we’ve excerpted this interview here.

You’re primarily a research scientist. How important is your role as a mentor?

Extremely important. I think mentoring students to learn how to do research is one of the most important things I do.

How do you do that?

Essex teaching freshmen
Essex teaching freshmen seminar

You have to emphasize the importance of generating new hypothesizes to explain how or why a virus like HIV is causing a certain amount of pathology or damage in a certain way, or how the immune response can respond to it, or how it gets transmitted from one person to the next—all of those kinds of issues. But the important part of generating new knowledge is addressing new imaginative questions or hypothesizes. And you can only do that if you think in a multi-dimensional way. It’s probably the most important thing for students to learn to become successful scientists.

To read the rest of this interview, please click here.

 

Today is National Cancer Prevention Day!

Everyday Ways to Prevent Cancer

By Leslie Vandever

February is National and World Cancer Month—observations meant to increase public awareness of cancer, cancer prevention, and cancer research. And Tuesday, Feb. 4 is National Cancer Prevention Day.

Even today, with the incredible scientific and medical advances that have taken place over the last hundred years, cancer remains one of the most frightening—and deadly—diseases we face. Fortunately, we’ve gotten much better at treating and even curing some types of cancer, some of the time. Unfortunately, a definitive cure for all cancers remains beyond our reach.

What is cancer?

Simply, “cancer” is the word for a group of diseases in which the cells—the body’s basic unit of life—develop abnormally and do not die when they should because of a mutation in their DNA. Instead, out of control, these “malignant” cells divide and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymph system.

Sometimes mutated cells may form a mass of tissue called a tumor. It’s considered “benign” if it doesn’t spread to other parts of the body, can be removed, and doesn’t come back.

There are more than 100 different types of cancer. In many cases, what starts, or triggers, cells to mutate abnormally and spread is unknown. But scientists have been able to pinpoint some possible triggers for some forms of malignant cancer—and by avoiding or controlling those triggers, you can reduce your odds of contracting the disease.

What steps can you take toward cancer prevention?

  •  Don’t use tobacco. If you do, stop. Smoking has been linked to cancers of the lung, bladder and kidneys. Chewing tobacco has been linked to cancer of the oral cavity and pancreas.
  • Eat healthy. Choose a diet rich in plant-based foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes and whole grains. Limit fat, particularly fat from animal sources. Avoid sugar. Foods that are higher in fat and sugar (and calories) contribute to obesity, which can cause cancer.
  • Avoid becoming overweight or obese. Maintaining a healthy weight for your age, height and build might help to prevent cancer. Obesity has been linked to cancer of the breast, prostate, lung, colon and kidney.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise helps to maintain overall health, helps to control your weight and might protect against breast and colon cancer.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. Many types of skin cancer are linked to the harmful ultraviolet rays in the sun. Use sunscreen liberally and wear tightly woven, loose-fitting clothes in bright or dark colors to protect exposed skin. Try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. And avoid tanning beds and sunlamps—they’re just as damaging as natural sunlight.
  • Cancer screening. Mammograms, PAP smears, breast and skin exams, and colorectal screening can catch precancerous conditions early. By finding abnormal cells and treating or removing them, some cancers can be prevented. They include cervical cancer, breast cancer and some skin cancers.
  • Chemoprevention.  The vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) and the hepatitis B vaccine can prevent certain types of cancer. There are also medications can treat some pre-cancerous conditions and keep them from developing into a malignant form.

Other steps you can take include limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, and avoiding risky behavior. HPV and HIV infections, which can make you more susceptible to liver, cervical and other cancers, can be prevented by never sharing needles and practicing safe sex: limiting the number of sexual partners you have, and using condoms. Finally, visit your doctor at least once a year for preventive screening and an overall health checkup.

For more information about cancer and other health issues, click here.

Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer. Under the pen-name “Wren,” she also writes a blog about living well with rheumatoid arthritis called RheumaBlog (www.rheumablog.wordpress.com). In her spare time, Vandever enjoys cooking, reading and working on the Great American Novel.

References:

  •  What is Cancer? (2013, Feb. 8) National Cancer Institute. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on January 26, 2014 from http://www.cancer.gov/

In honor of National Cancer Prevention Day, please consider making a donation to the T.J. Martell Foundation by clicking here. The Foundation funds cutting-edge research that will lead to clinical trials and drug discoveries that will help save lives!

 

Martell Investigator Weighs in on H.I.V. Breakthrough

Doctors announced on Sunday that a baby had been cured of an H.I.V. infection for the first time, a startling development that could change how infected newborns are treated and sharply reduce the number of children living with the virus that causes AIDS.

The T.J. Martell Foundation is proud of our history of funding innovative HIV/AIDS research; Dr. Max Essex is our Principal Investigator and we reached him on site at the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute for comment.

“‘Cure’ and ‘eradication’ of HIV are words that were never used by AIDS researchers until very recently. But progress with powerful drugs has been very impressive in recent years. You will hear such terms used more and more.”

Dr. Essex is Chair of the Harvard AIDS Initiative (HAI), the Lasker Professor of Health Sciences at Harvard University, and Chair of the Botswana–Harvard AIDS Institute (BHP). He received his DVM degree at Michigan State University, his PhD at the University of California Davis, and was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Tumor Biology at the Karolinska Institute School of Medicine in Stockholm.

In 1982, Essex hypothesized, with Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier, that a retrovirus was the cause of AIDS. For this the three shared the 1986 Lasker Award, the highest honor given for medical research in the U.S.

For more information about Dr. Essex’s AIDS research, please click here; for the full article, please click here.

December is AIDS Awareness Month

Did you know that December is AIDS Awareness Month? While the T.J. Martell Foundation is perhaps better known for funding cancer research, we are proud of our long history of supporting excellent AIDS researchers such as Dr. Max Essex, who is Chair of the Harvard AIDS Initiative, the Lasker Professor of Health Sciences at Harvard University, and Chair of the Botswana–Harvard AIDS Institute.

In 1982, Essex hypothesized, with Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier, that a retrovirus was the cause of AIDS. For this the three shared the 1986 Lasker Award, the highest honor given for medical research in the U.S.

His recent research has focused on the use of antiretroviral drugs for chemoprophylaxis to prevent mother-to-infant transmission and for the treatment of clinical AIDS. These studies have resulted in several guideline recommendations used by the World Health Organization (WHO) to reduce maternal transmission of HIV in developing countries.

We look forward to bringing you more information on this life-saving research throughout the month. To donate to our AIDS research programs, please click here.