Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Speed of Light Broken?

'We have broken speed of light'



A pair of German physicists claim to have broken the speed of light - an achievement that would undermine our entire understanding of space and time.

According to Einstein's special theory of relativity, it would require an infinite amount of energy to propel an object at more than 186,000 miles per second.

However, Dr Gunter Nimtz and Dr Alfons Stahlhofen, of the University of Koblenz, say they may have breached a key tenet of that theory.

The pair say they have conducted an experiment in which microwave photons - energetic packets of light - travelled "instantaneously" between a pair of prisms that had been moved up to 3ft apart.

Being able to travel faster than the speed of light would lead to a wide variety of bizarre consequences.

For instance, an astronaut moving faster than it would theoretically arrive at a destination before leaving. 

The scientists were investigating a phenomenon called quantum tunnelling, which allows sub-atomic particles to break apparently unbreakable laws.

Dr Nimtz told New Scientist magazine: "For the time being, this is the only violation of special relativity that I know of." 

Perpetual Motion Machine

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mexican Alien Discovery


Is this bizarre creature really an alien babyhttp://twitpic.com/flj6z 

or just part of an elaborate hoax - and was it the cause of a mysterious revenge death?

Mexican TV revealed the almost unbelievable story - in 2007, a baby 'alien' was found alive by a farmer in Mexico.

He drowned it in a ditch out of fear, and now two years later scientists have finally been able to announce the results of their tests on this sinister-looking carcass.

At the end of last year the farmer, Marao Lopez, handed the corpse over to university scientists who carried out DNA tests and scans.

He claimed that it took him three attempts to drown the creature and he had to hold it underwater for hours.

Tests revealed a creature that is unknown to scientists - its skeleton has characteristics of a lizard, its teeth do not have any roots like humans and it can stay underwater for a long time.

But it also has some similar joints to humans.

Its brain was huge, particularly the rear section, leading scientists to the conclusion that the odd creature was very intelligent.

But it has seemingly left experts stumped.

And in a further mystery, Lopez has since mysteriously died.

According to American UFO expert Joshua P. Warren (32), the farmer burned to death in a parked car at the side of a road.

The flames apparently had a far higher temperature than in a normal fire!

Now there are rumours that the parents of the creature Lopez drowned were the ones who in turn killed him out of revenge.

There are frequent UFO sightings and reports of crop circles in the area where the creature was found. Perhaps it was left behind deliberately by aliens.

Mexican UFO expert Jaime Maussan (56) was the first to break the story. He claimed it was not a hoax. Farmers also told him that there was a second creature but it ran away when they approached. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Qigong and Chi?

Javanese practitioner John Chang

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Plant That Eats Rats

Nepenthes attenboroughii: They need to start growing these in the NYC subways via Stewart McPherson

Deep in the jungle primeval, Nepenthes attenboroughii awaits its furry prey. But N. attenboroughiiisn't a stealthy cat or poisonous lizard. It's a plant, and it eats rats.

Scientists recently discovered this new species of pitcher plant on the verdant face of Mount Victoria in the Philippines. It is the largest carnivorous plant ever discovered, and has been named after the famous naturalist and TV personality Sir David Attenborough.

Meat-eating pitcher plants were first described by science in the time of Linnaeus, but the previously discovered Nepenthes species stuck to small prey like insects and spiders -- if an unlucky mouse or bird became a meal, that was a rare treat. But the giant N. attenboroughii is a vertebrate specialist.

The plant lures in the rats with the promise of sweet nectar. When the rat leans into the plant to drink the saccharine liquid, it slips on the pitcher's waxy interior, and gets stuck in the gooey sap. Once it is trapped, acid-like digestive enzymes break down the still-living rodent.

To better explain the whole process, as well as the life cycle of pitcher plants, here's a video narrated by none other than N. attenboroughii's namesake, David Attenborough himself.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How pornography has revolutionised technology


It's the unspoken rule in the world of technology; sex innovates. For generations, the urge to create, disseminate and watch pornography has driven many of the great technological advances we now take for granted.

Super 8 projectors

The Super 8 projector rose to popularity due in part to the large amount of pornographic content which was quickly available for it. The Super 8 camera was a favourite for fraternity house 'home movies' although it was a drawback that the film had to be developed. Released in 1965 by Kodak the film came in plastic cartridges containing plenty of potential on their 50 feet of film. But the projector, a temperamental contraption, would sometimes disappoint anxious viewers by refusing to work. 


A need for instant satisfaction prompted the invention of the Polaroid camera. You get to take delightfully rude images of your nearest and dearest in the comfort of your own home and you don't have to wait weeks before you can reap the benefits. Despite the frantic hand flapping that comes with developing a Polaroid negative, you get to see the result in less than a minute. Plus, you get to avoid the embarrassing trip to SnappySnaps to see the disapproving shop assistant.


Voice over Internet Protocol was developed to feed the porn market after frustrated internet users bemoaned the lack of 'dirty talk' online. VoIP basically allows you to use internet-based sex phone lines (a bit like Skype, but filthier) and allows you to view whatever you like while you chat. What could be simpler? And, you don't even need to hold a phone to your ear as you can use an ear piece or web cam Mic to speak to your 'date'.


The war of video formats began in 1975 when Sony launched the Betamax system, closely followed in 1976 by JVC's VHS. Despite the technical superiority of the Betamax system, VHS won the battle for customers as it was easier for amateur pornographers to produce their own content with VHS, and porn was readily available in the VHS format. Although porn helped VHS to dominate over Betamax, the relationship was reciprocal, with VHS offering the pornography industry a system of distribution which allowed it insinuate itself into the mainstream. The rival Betamax tapes were not long enough to record a film, at only 60 minutes, and adult content was not available on Betamax.

DVD players

The DVD player has not only increased the availability of pornography beyond VHS, but allowed it to be viewed in a more accessible format. Fans of risqué films could quickly flick to their favoured scenes or pause to view particularly agreeable moments in high definition. The advent of the DVD player has seen history repeating itself, with the VHS vs. Betamax war being channelled into the fight between HD-DVD and Sony's Blu-ray. Sony appear to be suffering due to the company's continued reluctance in supporting the adult films, with Blu-ray not releasing its first adult film until 2007.

The internet

For many, the internet is synonymous with pornography. While statistics on usage are difficult to come across given the shady legal status of the industry, 2007 estimates claimed that the industry was worth $2.84 billion a year, with 89 per cent of pornography produced in the US. It's difficult to ascertain precisely how much of an influence salacious material had on the rise of the World Wide Web, but it's generally acknowledged that which such a sizeable chunk of internet traffic dedicated to the transmission and reception of pornography we may not have seen the 100 per cent year on year growth of the internet witnessed from the mid-nineties to the early noughties.

Pay-per-view cable or satellite

  The pay per view format on satellite and cable helped pornography to thrust itself into the mainstream. Instead of videos only being available to those brave enough to rent racy material face to face, one could order porn from the TV at home, or through premium services within hotels. The ubiquity of pornography available in the home led to Jacqui Smith's husband recently getting in trouble for billing the taxpayer for two porn films he bought on pay per view, via his wife's expenses.

Interactive television

Have you seen that little red button your TV remote? Well, the interactivity that button supplies you with for mainstream news and satellite sports channels was reportedly developed for the porn industry. It was intended to allow users to home in on the most er interesting actors/actresses/activities available. Apparently the TV remote control element means you can bypasses the embarrassment of having sign up and pay-to-view via a call centre.

The video phone
Not only have video phones allowed for customers to view downloaded pornography whenever and wherever they choose, they have also given the public a constant instrument to film with, allowing amateurs to immortalise their tawdry dalliances without the hassle of any forward planning. This benefit has been particularly embraced by teenagers, and has allowed peers to share amorous moments with one another electronically, leading to the 'sexting' craze, which has been reported in Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK.  


  Electrical outlets in the 1990s saw sales boosted by the libidos of people wanting to make their own adult movies using snappy little camcorders - a far cry from the hefty film cameras of old. With Women's magazines lambasting the home made blue movie as a way to spice up a long term romance, young and old began to get a bit creative. Just don't forget which tape is and record Coronation Street over it.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Future of gaming?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

So That Explains Whacky Cat Owners

Research Shows That a Certain Cat Parasite Affects Our Behavior and Mood

Kevin Lafferty is a smart, cautious, thoughtful scientist who doesn't hate cats, but he has put forth a provocative theory that suggests that a clever cat parasite may alter human cultures on a massive scale.

PHOTO Researchers say a cat parasite could be responsible for all kinds of human behavior and qualities.
Researchers say a cat parasite could be responsible for all kinds of human behavior and qualities. Here, an Abyssinian cat participates in a beauty contest in Bucharest, Romania, on April 26, 2009.
(Vadim Ghirda/AP Photo)

His phone hasn't stopped ringing since he published one of the strangest research papers to come out of the mill in quite awhile.

The parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, has been transmitted indirectly from cats to roughly half the people on the planet, and it has been shown to affect human personalities in different ways.

Research has shown that women who are infected with the parasite tend to be warm, outgoing and attentive to others, while infected men tend to be less intelligent and probably a bit boring. But both men and women who are infected are more prone to feeling guilty and insecure.

Other researchers have linked the parasite to schizophrenia. In an adult, the symptoms are like a mild form of flu, but it can be much more serious in an infant or fetus. Oxford University researchers believe high levels of the parasite leads to hyperactivity and lower IQs in children.

Lafferty, who is a parasite ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey at the University of California at Santa Barbara, is an expert on the role parasites play in the ecology of other animals.

Building on research by scientists in the Czech Republic, Lafferty took a long look at areas of the globe where infection levels are quite high, or quite low. In Brazil, for example, two out of three women of child-bearing age are infected, whereas in the United States the number is only one out of eight.

Lafferty argues in a research paper published Aug. 2 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biology, that aggregate personality types, or what cultures tend to be like, fit neatly with the effects that the parasite produces in individuals.

So that led to a basic question:

Can a common cat parasite account for part -- even if only a very small part -- of the cultural differences seen around the world?

From Lafferty's perspective, that's quite likely, although he admits his theory is a bit off the wall.

"It's kind of way out in left field," he says. "I think it's the strangest thing I've ever worked on."

Bizarre, perhaps, but less so considering the wily parasite that lays the foundation for Lafferty's theory.

Toxoplasma, he notes, is "frighteningly amazing."

It can change the personality of a rat so much that the rat surrenders itself to a cat, just as the parasite wanted.

The parasite's eggs are shed in a cat's feces. A rat comes along, eats the feces, and becomes infected. The behavior of the rat undergoes a dramatic change, making the rat more adventuresome and more likely to hang out around cats.

The cat eats the rat, and the parasite completes its life cycle.

That manipulation of the local ecology is not unusual for a parasite, Lafferty says.

"This is something that many parasites do," he says. "Many manipulate hosts' behavior."

So it wasn't much of a jump to the next question.

"We have a parasite in our brain that is trying to get transmitted to a cat," he says. "This changes an individual's personality."

So if enough personalities are changed in a given society, will the culture of that society also be changed?

He's not suggesting that it's a big player in cultural evolution. Lots of other things are more powerful, ranging from geography to weather to the availability of natural resources.

But if enough of us are infected and undergo personality changes, will that also alter our combined personalities or our culture?

Lafferty admits anthropologists are not likely to embrace his theory. A single powerful leader can have a dramatic impact on a culture. We can all think of examples. But can the collective personality have a similar effect?

"Anthropologists are not in agreement that you can drive a culture from the bottom up," Lafferty says.

But he sees that happening throughout the parasitic world, involving many types of animals, so why is it inconceivable that it could also be happening among humans?

It will be a long time before we have the answer to that, if we ever do, but in the meantime here's a bit of good news.

Cat lovers need not get rid of their cats. The chances are not great that a modern cat, kept on a diet of safe cat food and not left to feed off rats, will transmit the parasite to humans. It's possible, but not likely, Lafferty says.

He ought to know. As a kid he had cats, so after he got into this line of research he assumed he had been infected with the parasite.

"So after I submitted the paper I put down my 30 bucks and got a blood test," he says. "It came out negative. I was so surprised."

And that leads him to this final comment:

"This isn't about trying to freak cat owners out," he says. "Simply having a cat as a pet doesn't mean you're going to get infected, for sure."

Of course, maybe some other parasite is making him say that.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Concept image (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)
A diamond that is almost forever
Twinkling in the sky is a diamond star of 10 billion trillion trillion carats, astronomers have discovered.

The cosmic diamond is a chunk of crystallised carbon, 4,000 km across, some 50 light-years from the Earth in the constellation Centaurus.

It's the compressed heart of an old star that was once bright like our Sun but has since faded and shrunk.

Astronomers have decided to call the star "Lucy" after the Beatles song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Twinkle twinkle

"You would need a jeweller's loupe the size of the Sun to grade this diamond," says astronomer Travis Metcalfe, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who led the team of researchers that discovered it.

The diamond star completely outclasses the largest diamond on Earth, the 546-carat Golden Jubilee which was cut from a stone brought out of the Premier mine in South Africa.

The huge cosmic diamond - technically known as BPM 37093 - is actually a crystallised white dwarf. A white dwarf is the hot core of a star, left over after the star uses up its nuclear fuel and dies. It is made mostly of carbon.

For more than four decades, astronomers have thought that the interiors of white dwarfs crystallised, but obtaining direct evidence became possible only recently.

The white dwarf is not only radiant but also rings like a gigantic gong, undergoing constant pulsations.

"By measuring those pulsations, we were able to study the hidden interior of the white dwarf, just like seismograph measurements of earthquakes allow geologists to study the interior of the Earth.

"We figured out that the carbon interior of this white dwarf has solidified to form the galaxy's largest diamond," says Metcalfe.

Astronomers expect our Sun will become a white dwarf when it dies 5 billion years from now. Some two billion years after that, the Sun's ember core will crystallise as well, leaving a giant diamond in the centre of the solar system.

"Our Sun will become a diamond that truly is forever," says Metcalfe.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

'Quiet Sun' baffling astronomers

By Pallab Ghosh 
Science correspondent, BBC News

'Still Sun' baffling astronomers

The Sun is the dimmest it has been for nearly a century.

There are no sunspots, very few solar flares - and our nearest star is the quietest it has been for a very long time.

The observations are baffling astronomers, who are due to study new pictures of the Sun, taken from space, at the UK National Astronomy Meeting.

The Sun normally undergoes an 11-year cycle of activity. At its peak, it has a tumultuous boiling atmosphere that spits out flares and planet-sized chunks of super-hot gas. This is followed by a calmer period.

Last year, it was expected that it would have been hotting up after a quiet spell. But instead it hit a 50-year low in solar wind pressure, a 55-year low in radio emissions, and a 100-year low in sunspot activity.

According to Prof Louise Hara of University College London, it is unclear why this is happening or when the Sun is likely to become more active again.

"There's no sign of us coming out of it yet," she told BBC News.

"At the moment, there are scientific papers coming out suggesting that we'll be going into a normal period of activity soon.

"Others are suggesting we'll be going into another minimum period - this is a big scientific debate at the moment."

Images from Soho taken in 2001 (left) and 2007 (right)
Sunspots could be seen by the Soho telescope in 2001 (l), but not this year (r)

In the mid-17th Century, a quiet spell - known as the Maunder Minimum - lasted 70 years, and led to a "mini ice age".

This has resulted in some people suggesting that a similar cooling might offset the impact of climate change.

According to Prof Mike Lockwood of Southampton University, this view is too simplistic.

"I wish the Sun was coming to our aid but, unfortunately, the data shows that is not the case," he said.

Prof Lockwood was one of the first researchers to show that the Sun's activity has been gradually decreasing since 1985, yet overall global temperatures have continued to rise.

"If you look carefully at the observations, it's pretty clear that the underlying level of the Sun peaked at about 1985 and what we are seeing is a continuation of a downward trend (in solar activity) that's been going on for a couple of decades.

"If the Sun's dimming were to have a cooling effect, we'd have seen it by now."

'Middle ground'

Evidence from tree trunks and ice cores suggest that the Sun is calming down after an unusually high point in its activity.

Professor Lockwood believes that as well as the Sun's 11-year cycle, there is an underlying solar oscillation lasting hundreds of years.

He suggests that 1985 marked the "grand maximum" in this long-term cycle and the Maunder Minimum marked its low point.

"We are re-entering the middle ground after a period which has seen the Sun in its top 10% of activity," said Professor Lockwood.

"We would expect it to be more than 100 years before we get down to the levels of the Maunder Minimum."

He added that the current slight dimming of the Sun was not going to reverse the rise in global temperatures caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

"What we are seeing is consistent with a global temperature rise, not that the Sun is coming to our aid."

Data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows global average temperatures have risen by about 0.7C since the beginning of the 20th Century.

And the IPCC projects that the world will continue to warm, with temperatures expected to rise between 1.8C and 4C by the end of the century.

No-one knows how the centuries-long waxing and waning of the Sun works. However, astronomers now have space telescopes studying the Sun in detail.

According to Prof Richard Harrison of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire, this current quiet period gives astronomers a unique opportunity.

"This is very exciting because as astronomers we've never seen anything like this before in our lifetimes," he said.

"We have spacecraft up there to study the Sun in phenomenal detail. With these telescopes we can study this minimum of activity in a way that we could not have done so in the past."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cosmic hand

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tsar Bomba (The King of Bombs)

This was one big mother fucker.
The bomb was built and eventually tested on October 30, 1961, on the west coast of Novaya Zemlya Island (Arctic Sea).

Estimated to have had a yield of 50,000,000 TONS of TNT.

Heat from the explosion was enough to cause 3rd degree burns 62 miles away.

Mushroom cloud was nearly 7 times taller than Mt. Everest (~40 miles).

The seismic shock from the blast could be measured on its third passage around the Earth.

The fireball from the explosion was nearly 5 miles in diameter:

*According to its Wiki (seems legit for what little math I did):  the entire fission-fusion process, lasting around 39 nanoseconds, was about 5.4 yottawatts (5.4 X 10^24), equivalent to about 1.4% of the power output of the sun.

A comparison to other notable bombs:

Here's something fun. Type your address or any address that you can find on google maps, and drop a bomb there and see how big the blast and fallout is:

Click to play

Friday, March 6, 2009

Exercising for Only 30 Second bursts Best for Health

Short bursts of intense exercise every few days could dramatically cut the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to an expert.

Rather than slaving away for hours in the gym, people should focus their attention on quick "sprints" with each workout lasting just a few minutes.

James Timmons, Heriot-Watt University professor of exercise biology has studied the effects of quick exercise.

He recommends 4 x 30 second sprints on an exercise bike three times a week.

He said people could reduce their risk of diabetes and heart disease substantially with short, intense workouts - with such "time-efficient" exercising appealing to busy workers.

An intense workout for a few minutes may keep heart disease and diabetes at bay
In his study, published in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders, 16 men exercised for three sessions a week for two weeks.

Each session was made up of 4 x 30 second sprints on an exercise bike.

This involved the men going as fast as they could for 30 seconds and then taking a few minutes of complete rest between each sprint.

After two weeks, Prof Timmons said the results were "substantial", with a 23% improvement in insulin function.

While his research focused on young men, Prof Timmons said it would work for people of all ages and for both men and women.

He said: "This study looked at the way we break down stores of glycogen.

"Think about diabetes as being glucose circulating in the blood rather than stored in the muscles where it should be.

"If we take out the glycogen from the muscles through exercise, then the muscles draw in that excess glucose from the blood."

Intense contractions

He added: "If you go for a jog or a run you oxidise glycogen but you are not depleting the glycogen in your muscles.

"The only way to get to this glycogen is through very intense contractions of the muscles.

"If we can get people in their 20s, 30s and 40s doing these exercises twice a week then it could have a very dramatic effect on the future prevalence of diabetes."

He said the effects were bigger than the traditional "one hour of running per day".

The exercise routine is known as "high-intensity interval training" or HIT for short.

Prof Timmons said current guidelines on how much exercise people should take may need revising.

Diabetes UK research manager Victoria King said short duration, high-intensity training improved insulin action in young healthy males but the research had only been undertaken in a small group of people without diabetes.

She said: "Whilst the improvement in the control of insulin action in those who undertook the training is interesting, it's limited at this stage as to what we can learn."

Compilation of the best Bigfoot video evidence

Supposed hybrid son of a Yeren (Chinese Bigfoot)

This person is the result of a supposed rape of his mother by a Yeren. His mother went missing for months. When she came back to the village, she hardly spoke, but claims she was raped by the yeren. She never spoke about it after that. Scientists have asked her if they could study him, but she always just asked them to go awat and leave them alone.

The Yeren, variously referred to as the Yiren, Yeh Ren, Chinese Wildman or Wildman of China, Man-Monkey, or Man Bear, is said to be an as yet undiscovered hominid residing in the mountainous and forested regions of China's remote Hubei province.

The Yeren is sometimes described as a large, hairy bipedal hominoid, and some believe that this animal, or its close relatives, may be found around the world under different regional names, such as Bigfoot of the United States and Canada, the Yeti of Tibet and Nepal, and the Yowie of Australia.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dr Max's windmills for water


Here's an idea that could improve Australia's water problems in a much grander way than any old rainwater tanks, grey water systems or two-minute shower timers.

It's called the Whisson Windmill and it extracts water from the air using windmill-based technology. If every house had one in the backyard, it would be like having your own wind-supplied fresh water stored on site just waiting for you to use.

Dr Max Whisson is a keen scientist and inventor - he created various safe hypodermic needles at the height of the AIDS crisis - and came up with the bold yet simple idea of extracting clean water from the air in much the same way dew or frost is created in nature.

Phillip Adams wrote about him first in this story, and this article from Erik Leipoldt's Alternate Energy Sources explains the technology better than I can.

I am a big Australian Story fan (how good was last night's story about the Jesus Christians and the mother desperate to stop her son donating a kidney?), and three weeks ago I caught the end of an episode about the good WA Dr Whisson and couldn't help wanting to find out more.

I called Max up this morning to have a quick chat, and was delighted to hear him pretend not to be Dr Max Whisson until he knew who I was and why I wanted to talk with him. I confessed my delight at his Whisson Windmill idea, and sensed he was flattered yet strangely uncomfortable.

"I'm a bit embarrassed at that name, Whisson Windmill," he finally admitted. "I have thought about other names - perhaps Wind Water Harvester?"

But I rather like the name Whisson Windmill, not least because alliteration always arouses interest and the name credits the man who came up with the idea.

(I also liked the name of one of Whisson's first patents - Spots-Stops. "That's a palindrome you see, I thought it was very clever," he says, of the invention that is essentially an eyelash to go on the back of a woman's shoe to stop puddles splashing the back of her legs. "Inventing is a disease and I'm trying to find a cure. My patent attorney says 'no, not another one'.")

The Whisson windmill is better than rainwater tanks ... no one has to wait until rain falls to collect water. It's better than grey water re-use ... as long as there is wind, there is water to be harvested. And it's better than waiting years for politicians to act.

Dr Max Whisson has asked his small team of financial backers to ensure that the first Whisson Windmills are rolled out in remote communities that don't have any fresh water.

"The first units should go to communities in need, where people carry pots of water on their head for 20km each day," he says. "I would very much like that to happen. This does have wide implications internationally. It can supplement the water supply of cities but to me it's exciting because it gives remote communities clean water."

Whisson says none of the windmills are available for sale yet, but hopes the first water-making windmills will cost between $30,000 and $40,000 and be available within months. "I've always said I would like it to be the price of a good car. Prices should fall once production gets going," he says. "The first ones might be too big for houses to put one in the backyard, but eventually they will be small enough for people at household level."

Dr Max Whisson's inventions have hardly made him a rich man, but I sincerely hope this one makes the commercial grade as quickly as possible.

"There is a vast difference between an invention from your backyard and an invention you have to create an industry for," he says. "Governments make it very difficult and there are so many barriers."

What do you think? Should inventions like this be supported and commercialised as quickly as possible?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cure for HIV?

Man appears free of HIV after stem cell transplant
Updated 4:51 p.m. EST, Wed February 11, 2009

By Jacquelyne Froeber

A 42-year-old HIV patient with leukemia appears to have no detectable HIV in his blood and no symptoms after a stem cell transplant from a donor carrying a gene mutation that confers natural resistance to the virus that causes AIDS, according to a report published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"The patient is fine," said Dr. Gero Hutter of Charite Universitatsmedizin Berlin in Germany. "Today, two years after his transplantation, he is still without any signs of HIV disease and without antiretroviral medication."

The case was first reported in November, and the new report is the first official publication of the case in a medical journal. Hutter and a team of medical professionals performed the stem cell transplant on the patient, an American living in Germany, to treat the man's leukemia, not the HIV itself.

However, the team deliberately chose a compatible donor who has a naturally occurring gene mutation that confers resistance to HIV. The mutation cripples a receptor known as CCR5, which is normally found on the surface of T cells, the type of immune system cells attacked by HIV.

The mutation is known as CCR5 delta32 and is found in 1 percent to 3 percent of white populations of European descent.

HIV uses the CCR5 as a co-receptor (in addition to CD4 receptors) to latch on to and ultimately destroy immune system cells. Since the virus can't gain a foothold on cells that lack CCR5, people who have the mutation have natural protection. (There are other, less common HIV strains that use different co-receptors.)

People who inherit one copy of CCR5 delta32 take longer to get sick or develop AIDS if infected with HIV. People with two copies (one from each parent) may not become infected at all. The stem cell donor had two copies.

While promising, the treatment is unlikely to help the vast majority of people infected with HIV, said Dr. Jay Levy, a professor at the University of California San Francisco, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. A stem cell transplant is too extreme and too dangerous to be used as a routine treatment, he said.

"About a third of the people die [during such transplants], so it's just too much of a risk," Levy said. To perform a stem cell transplant, doctors intentionally destroy a patient's immune system, leaving the patient vulnerable to infection, and then reintroduce a donor's stem cells (which are from either bone marrow or blood) in an effort to establish a new, healthy immune system.

Levy also said it's unlikely that the transplant truly cured the patient in this study. HIV can infect many other types of cells and may be hiding out in the patient's body to resurface at a later time, he said.

"This type of virus can infect macrophages (another type of white blood cell that expresses CCR5) and other cells, like the brain cells, and it could live a lifetime. But if it can't spread, you never see it-- but it's there and it could do some damage," he said. "It's not the kind of approach that you could say, 'I've cured you.' I've eliminated the virus from your body." Health.com: 10 questions to ask a new partner before having sex

Before undergoing the transplant, the patient was also found to be infected with low levels of a type of HIV known as X4, which does not use the CCR5 receptor to infect cells. So it would seem that this virus would still be able to grow and damage immune cells in his body. However, following the transplant, signs of leukemia and HIV were absent.

"There is no really conclusive explanation why we didn't observe any rebound of HIV," Hutter said. "This finding is very surprising."

Hutter noted that one year ago, the patient had a relapse of leukemia and a second transplant from the same donor. The patient experienced complications from the procedure, including temporary liver problems and kidney failure, but they were not unusual and may occur in HIV-negative patients, he said.

Researchers including Hutter agree that the technique should not be used to treat HIV alone. "Some people may say, 'I want to do it,'" said Levy. A more logical -- and potentially safer -- approach would be to develop some type of CCR5-disabling gene therapy or treatment that could be directly injected into the body, said Levy.

Less invasive options to alter CCR5 could be on the horizon within the next five years, said Levy. "It's definitely the wave of the future," he said. "As we continue to follow this one patient, we will learn a lot."

One drug that's currently on the market that blocks CCR5 is called maraviroc (Selzentry). It was first approved in 2007 and is used in combination with other antiretroviral drugs. Health.com: Who's most at risk for STDs?

In 2007, an estimated 2 million people died from AIDS, and 2.7 million people contracted HIV. More than 15 million women are infected worldwide. HIV/AIDS can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, sharing needles, pregnancy, breast-feeding, and/or blood transfusions with an infected person.

"For HIV patients, this report is an important flicker of hope that antiretroviral therapy like HAART [highly active antiretroviral therapy] is not the endpoint of medical research," Hutter said.

Not the cure for AIDS

November 14, 2008
By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

A German hospital announced this week that a 42-year old American living in Berlin who did not want to be identified had come to them three years ago for treatment. It was determined that he had acute leukemia (blood cancer) and was HIV positive too.

After a bone marrow transplant, it appears that not only did the man’s cancer go away, so did the virus that causes AIDS. This has been reported worldwide as a “cure” for AIDS. But even the doctors involved in this case say they don’t know if they cured this man of HIV. So what’s all the fuss about? Should HIV patients be treated with a bone marrow transplant?

One of America’s top AIDS expert doesn’t think so. “This is interesting but not a practical application. It’s not feasible and has extraordinarily limited practical application” long-time AIDS researcher and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN. He and other researchers first learned of this case back in February. But this study of one patient has not yet been published or been reviewed by other AIDS experts. It didn’t get much attention back then because of the many limitations it has. Dr. Robert Gallo is one of the scientists who discovered HIV. “While this procedure might help a very small minority of people living with AIDS,” Gallo says, “it is by no means the answer to the world’s HIV/AIDS pandemic.”

Doctors first began treating the cancer with chemotherapy. They also gave him anti-retrovirals to contain the virus that causes AIDS. Doctors said at a press conference this week that the patient did go into remission, but eventually the cancer came back. The next step to treat the cancer was a bone marrow transplant, which is common for leukemia patients.

His doctors emphasized that without further treatment, without the bone marrow transplant, he would have died of cancer - not HIV or AIDS.

But the patient’s physician, Dr. Gero Huetter, wanted to combine the cancer treatment with something he had heard about in medical school 12 years ago. That’s when researchers found out that a certain genetic mutation prevents the virus from getting into a person’s cells. But to be resistant to HIV, one has to have inherited this mutation from both parents.

So when it came to looking for a bone marrow donor for his patient, Huetter decided to see if he could find a donor that not only was a marrow match for his patient, but one who also had these two copies of the genetic mutation to see if they would get the bonus of treating the HIV, while treating the more urgent need - cancer.

Here’s where the German doctors admit they were very lucky. They told reporters they normally find one to five qualified donors for their patients in need of a transplant. In this case they found 80 donors. So they systematically tested each donor for the mutation and when they came to the 61st potential donor they hit the jackpot. Nearly two years after the bone marrow transplant, the patient is still in remission from his cancer and he doesn’t seem to have any detectable HIV either.

This is probably why many newspaper headlines interpreted the success as being a cure.

However there are many caveats to this story.

1. Even though their tests do not show a presence of HIV in his system, doesn’t mean it’s not there. This virus is known for hiding well and popping up later. It’s been seen before in patients taking anti-retroviral drugs. It is possible that if more sophisticated tests were used on this patient, they would detect the virus that is still in his body. So it’s still not entirely clear that he is HIV-free.

2. The chances of finding a bone marrow donor with two copies of this genetic mutation for everyone one of the 33 million people worldwide living with HIV or AIDS is not realistic because only one percent of Caucasians and zero percent of African Americans or Asians have this particular genetic mutation.

3. Bone marrow transplants are dangerous for patients. Before they can get the donated stem cells that will replace their own, they have to take strong chemotherapy to destroy their own bone marrow — leaving them without an immune system to fight off any disease — until the transplanted bone marrow can make new blood cells. Plus patients run the risk of rejecting the new cells, which means they have to take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of their life.

4. Bone marrow transplants are very expensive and not an option for many people living with this disease around the world.

Both the doctors in Berlin and AIDS experts we’ve spoken with say this is a “proof of principle.” “It’s an interesting case for researchers,” according to Dr. Rudolf Tauber, from the Charite hospital in Berlin, where the patient was treated. The hope is that this one case could lead to future treatments. Dr. Gallo says, “If patients living with HIV and AIDS have access and can adhere to today’s retroviral therapy, many will live longer, healthier lives, perhaps full length lives.”

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