Re: Whoa.

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This is a really great story and it's easy to understand its importance too.

These aren't the totipotent stem cells, or embryonic stem cells, though -- they are cells that you can actually find in adult blood. CD34 is a marker of hematopoietic stem cells, which can become any white blood cell including lymphocytes, macrophages, and even red blood cells and platelet progenitors.

This transfer of CD34+ cells from blood is actually the usual way "bone marrow transplants" are done nowadays, to reconstitute the immune system after immunosuppressive therapy [radiation cancer treatment, usually].

More info.

People with transplanted bone marrow are susceptible to a lot of complications, rejection, weak immune systems in general. Usually better than AIDS though.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 2:53 PM
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Can they harvest enough HIV-resistant stem cells? How many HIV-resistant folks have been identified? Can they just grow more and more after initial donations? (Forgive my no doubt deep and appalling ignorance.)


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 3:11 PM
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These cells can't be grown in the lab as far as we know. They aren't stem cell LINES. It's like a transplant, you need sort of a wide range of cells in there to have the proper effect, I think.

The great thing is that, you know, the blood regenerates. One person could supply cells for many people.

The CCR5 mutation is present, in the homozygous form that confers HIV resistance, in about 1% of white people. And very few non-white people. [Maybe HIV was created by the CIA all along.]


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 3:16 PM
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they are cells that you can actually find in adult blood

I love having people around who actually know what they're talking about. Give me a second, I'll come up with a better reason to keep hating on Bush.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 3:17 PM
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The great thing is that, you know, the blood regenerates. One person could supply cells for many people.

Human slave factory farming here we come! Hopefully one of you programmer types can design the matrix and make it pleasant.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 3:27 PM
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So, could you get a woman with HIV resistant adult stem cells, have her donate some eggs, fertilizes 'em, then harvest the the stem cells from those embryos, and then, sh-bam, a whole bunch of HIV resistant stem cells?


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 3:29 PM
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I'm just thinking of ways to make this more objectionable to the religious right. I'm thinking of pairing it with an "Abortions for AIDS" promotional campaign.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 3:30 PM
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If we were to clone people, we could definitely clone HIV-resistant people, if that's what you're asking.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 3:35 PM
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Is HIV-resistant the same thing as HIV-proof? Because that's usually a key distinction in product marketing. There are things labeled 'water-resistant' that will still get you damn soggy, IYKWIM.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 3:41 PM
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If we were to clone people

No, no, that would be unethical. These are only half clones.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 3:47 PM
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AM I GOING TO BENEFIT FROM THE CCR CLONING AND EGGS IN MY OVARIES AND THE CHILDREN THAT CAN BE CLONED THAT WAY? NO! ALL THESE HORRORS WILL BENEFIT THE NEW GENERATION. GARY GOOP, HERE WE COME

WE NEED TO all DEMAND THAT all NEW DISEASE-RESISTANCE CLONES, WHETHER HUMAN OR MOSQUITO, BE MADE FROM ARSENIC-BASED LIFE, SO WE CAN SHUT THEM OFF IF THEY GET TOO ROWDY


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 4:01 PM
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Paging Cosma:
"The conventional viewpoint has been there is 'little terrorism' and 'big terrorism,' and little terrorism doesn't tell you anything about big terrorism," Clauset explains. "The power law says that's not true."
And bonus:
Last year, he married Lisa Mullings, a nutrition educator who, until recently, worked for the state of New Mexico. "I often joke that Lisa's having a more important impact on the world than I am," he says.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 4:11 PM
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Paging Dsquared:

At Haverford College, he hoped to double major in physics and sociology, but he grew disenchanted with the latter after taking only two courses. "Even Newtonian mechanics is more advanced than the best social theory we have, and Newtonian mechanics is 300 years old," he says.

Argh you fucker you fucker.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 4:22 PM
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12: Dude was Cosma's collaborator on this. So I would be he actually knows whereof he speaks when he says "power law".


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 4:28 PM
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"I would bet he..."


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 4:28 PM
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But yeah, I'm not getting why his wife having a more important impact is a joke.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 4:31 PM
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Shit, I suspected I should have looked him up when I noticed he works at the Santa Fe Institute. He just sounded soooo douchey.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 4:33 PM
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Because Clauset has shown that terrorism obeys the arcane laws that seem to govern complex systems, it follows that ordinary predictive tools are useless for guessing when and where terrorists might strike.

Eh?


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 5:35 PM
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There are a lot of weird statements in that article.
Rather than accept the lesson that I shouldn't mock the work of professionals without, you know, actually knowing anything, solely off a magazine article, I've been considering arguing that his statement that "little terrorism" tells you something about "big terrorism" because of the power law is wrong, because it doesn't tell you anything you wouldn't know from "medium terrorism" and kernel estimation. Sadly, I lack the trolling and statistical chops.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 6:43 PM
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12: There's one not necessarily obvious benefit to this type of data-driven terrorism research: It is less prone to the ideological distortion that accompanies more subjective analyses

Uh-huh. Tell me another one. That's what you get when you defund the humanities: A bunch of number crunchers who like to pretend that they don't have an ideology.

It strikes me as morbidly amusing that there is a group called "Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO". Perhaps the Taliban, al Qaeda, the FARC and Hamas could colaborate on a "Joint Armed Drone Defeat Organization" -- it would probably save a lot more lives in the long run.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 7:15 PM
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I still am amazed there is a law enforment orgazination called ICE! so cheesy tv-movie men in black (fatigues and sunglasses)


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 10:21 PM
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17 He just sounded soooo douchey.

I give him the benefit of the doubt and suspect the article makes him sound more douchey than he really is. It certainly makes his research sounds more "well, duh" than I expect it is, cause I'm sure it must be about more than the realisation that small scale terrorist attacks happen more frequently than large scale attacks or that this too obeys a power law. That's not interesting at all.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 12-14-10 11:21 PM
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I am rather suspicious of the data sets under discussion, to be honest.

(It really strongly reminds me of Freakonomics which may be part of why he seems so douchey. Also `physicist decides he can explain everything' syndrome.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 12:30 AM
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& obvs. there's nothing wrong with statistical analysis of events and all that.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 12:32 AM
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I think someone may have got involved with a journalist wishing to blow smoke up his ass (and who knows, perhaps a journalist wishing to play Dubner to Clauset's Levitt), and allowed an article to go out making some fairly absurd claims on his behalf. It's notable that you have to read halfway down the article before you get, smuggled in a couple of paragraphs, something along the lines of "oh yeah, there was that one time he made a horribly embarrassing prediction of another 9/11 being imminent but that wasn't really him, or at least he wishes he hadn't made it now".

I would also note that the article also cites Neil Johnson, author of an unforgivably bad article about network analysis of the Eurovision Song Contest.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 12:55 AM
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Looking at the actual papers on arxiv would tend to support the "stitched up" hypothesis. He actually does cite the political science literature fairly copiously and prominently mentions that the power law in question ("Richardson's Law" apparently) has been known since the 1940s. He cites one paper on Colombia by Michael Spagat that was very controversial indeed (Spagat ended up accusing local NGOs of falsifying the data IIRC!), but there you go.

But if the "Newtonian mechanics" quote was accurate, one can only hope he was drunk when he said it.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 1:04 AM
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Also, the actual papers have bits where he goes `yeah, I can't tell you why Spain/Turkey/Germany/Italy/France/UK are outliers in terms of terrorist events compared to the OECD go talk to sociologists etc', which yeah, stitched up.

(But god, that article. It's as embarrassing as watching statisticians try to do literary criticism.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 1:11 AM
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And finally, looking at this one, I think we reach the actual work which the journo article was based on. To be honest, I am pretty sure that I had guessed its main conclusion (that terrorist organisations have similar experience and learning curves to manufacturing firms) in a blog post a couple of years ago, but it's nice to see it confirmed in the data. Also, looking at his chart for Fatah really does underline the fact that you can't just look at the fitted functions - the Second Intifada shows up crystal clear in the data, but not at all in the fit, badly undermining the assertion that these things are independent of local and historical conditions.

The really interesting conclusion is that attack severity is independent of group experience, but I think this could also probably have been guessed.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 1:17 AM
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Actually, looking at the articles, I would say that:

"The conventional viewpoint has been there is 'little terrorism' and 'big terrorism,' and little terrorism doesn't tell you anything about big terrorism," Clauset explains. "The power law says that's not true."

seems to me to be a very poor summary of the overall conclusions indeed; if it's a direct quote then it must surely be out of context (the context possibly being an explanation of what a power law is). The entire point of the paper I linked to is that observing a group's current size doesn't tell you anything about how big it might grow or how severe an attack it might be able to carry out.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 1:20 AM
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28.last: Yes, the stuff about experience is quite interesting. It would be quite interesting to poke around there more --- in particular, what does experience actually mean?

After all, the IRA isn't the sort of thing that gets more experienced. Bits of the IRA get experienced, and bits of the IRA pass on experience, but the organisation as a whole doesn't really*. It might be possible that individual cells get more effective (in terms of severity) with time, but are pants at passing that knowledge on. (But maybe they don't; maybe the main influence on severity is the permanently operating factors and the rest is fluff, basically.)

So I think experience is a rather bad word to use, I think.

* Barring organisational changes I guess.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 1:26 AM
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It just means in the context of the paper "number of attacks carried out by that group". I think it's a consequence partly of actual experience and capital-building shortening the control loop (which is in the model) and partly of the tendency of terrorist attacks to result in repressive measures, which motivate further attacks (not in the model).


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 1:44 AM
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After all, the IRA isn't the sort of thing that gets more experienced. Bits of the IRA get experienced, and bits of the IRA pass on experience, but the organisation as a whole doesn't really*

I'm a bit puzzled by this statement, Keir. The IRA was reasonably centralised as terrorist organisations go, and there are plenty of stories of them becoming more sophisticated and adapting to security-force tactics as the Troubles went on. One obvious example: noticing that standard army reaction to an IED attack involved setting up an incident command point about 200m away from the attack in a reasonably protected spot; and planting a second IED in the most obvious spot for the command point to be set up after the first IED went off. That was Warrenpoint.

It's an interesting result that attacks don't get more severe as the group develops experience. That's not perhaps what I might have assumed.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 2:26 AM
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I think I would have guessed it, simply from thinking about the IRA (which I agree is more or less the model of a learning organisation). Terrorist organisations aren't output-maximising organisations and "number of deaths" isn't a performance metric for them - if it was, they wouldn't give warnings. Ex 9/11, the severity of the attacks is likely to have been heavily driven by cases in which warnings failed. Suicide bombers in the Middle East and Sir Lanka don't give warnings, but that's intrinsically a low-to-medium severity method.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 2:33 AM
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Yes, obvs that's how they're using it. I just think it's a bad label to use because it suggests there's some real thing `experience' it is related to, which is I think v. v. unlikely.

That's the wrong way to put it. But anyway. It would be quite fascinating to look at transmission of knowledge -within- these groups --- to what extent do the IRA/LTTE etc learn? etc. etc.

Er. What do I mean by the IRA not getting more experienced? Well, obviously individuals in the IRA get more experience at plotting, placing bombs, shooting people, etc. But that knowledge isn't held by the IRA; it is held by parts of the IRA. I doubt that most terrorist groups are particularly good at transmitting information (that experience) between different parts of the same nominal organisation. (The IRA was centralised and good at sharing experience, so it's a bad example.)

But individual people may well get more experienced, and more deadly without that making much difference when looked at the level of the whole organisation. (Because cadre die off, because new recruits come in who aren't experienced, etc.)

So I think the question of experience is quite interesting.

If a terrorist group is a firm producing political violence, somehow it has to get inputs. One way is surely donations. Presumably every attack is also a fund-raising opportunity. This would both enable and encourage further attacks, without necessarily making them any more likely to be deadly.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 2:46 AM
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It's an interesting result that attacks don't get more severe as the group develops experience. That's not perhaps what I might have assumed.

The thing about classical terrorism, like the IRA, is that such a group needs to strike a balance between causing hurt to the oppressor and not losing the support of the oppressed masses. More indscriminate bang for your buck doesn't work, but e.g. property orientated violence without mass casualties can.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 2:59 AM
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But individual people may well get more experienced, and more deadly without that making much difference when looked at the level of the whole organisation.

Even in decentralised "terrorism" though you see learning curves, as with IED attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, which rapidly evolved as US countertactics involved in a classic sort of arms race. Obsolete devices disappear and *somebody* is transmitting knowledge how to get around the latest US safety measures.



Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 3:04 AM
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I doubt that most terrorist groups are particularly good at transmitting information (that experience) between different parts of the same nominal organisation.

OK, I see what you mean. I disagree completely, but I see what you mean.
If an organisation can't transfer this sort of information between various bits of itself, is it really an organisation at all?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 3:11 AM
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A lot of his remarks quoted down the article about not trying to draw a map of Afghanistan's friendship relationships and assuming you'll know who to kill are sensible and notably non-wankerish.

Also, on the merits, it shouldn't be assumed that learning in a terrorist organisation would be manifested by attack severity (bigger blasts). They might choose to put their resources into more frequent attacks (repetition - would it have been better for the 2005 tube bombers' aims for them to explode individually over a couple of weeks?), or more highly targeted ones (for example, individual assassination, infrastructure sabotage, or provocation like the Samarra mosque).


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 3:22 AM
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Well, yeah that's the difficulty. So then that just becomes an argument about what is one organisation and what isn't and so-on, and that isn't very fruitful.

--- I grope towards theories of large acephalous peasant risings, where there's not a huge amount of co-ordination and yet there is still a sense in which it is all one organisation.

(I think here I am restating things we already know (or more to the worrying point, know to be false) in a rather backwards kind of way...)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 3:25 AM
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A lot of his remarks quoted down the article about not trying to draw a map of Afghanistan's friendship relationships and assuming you'll know who to kill are sensible and notably non-wankerish

yes, the trouble is though that he ends up (this is a common feature of power law type research, the experience curve literature is rife with it) with a nearly magical theory of how it is that knowledge and experience is transmitted. There are some people who are specialist bombmakers, for example, and there aren't very many of them and their knowledge would be difficult to reproduce. The trouble is that it's all very difficult working out where the bottlenecks are.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 3:41 AM
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36. There seems to have been a strategic learning curve among the current batch of decentralised terrorists, at least in respect of their anti-Western operations, whereas the IRA pursued a fairly consistent strategy, but learned tactically.

The typical IRA Active Service Unit comprised people with some level of training, who undertook a campaign with a reasonable expectation of making several (targeted, anti-property) attacks and quite possibly going home in one piece at the end of it. That required a degree of centralisation to disseminate both information (experience) and materiel. And planning.

The groups that undertook the African embassy bombings, the Cole, the WTC and Atocha attacks were similar in most respects (in most cases they didn't expect to go home). All these operations invoved considerable planning, training and expense.

However, as far as I can see, the decentralised groups are now concentrating on teasers, in the expectation that Western security forces will react identically to some loser failing to make a working bomb in the back of their car as they will to a seriously spectacular attack by trained operatives. This is, above all, much cheaper. Recent "AQ" statements seem to be pretty explicit about this.

It's a strategic development that wasn't available to the IRA, though I'm not sure why. but it's certainly a learning process.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 3:45 AM
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The point I was trying to make is that it's a learning process that's much easier for a decentralised semi-organisation than the tactical approach of a group like the IRA.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 3:47 AM
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It's a strategic development that wasn't available to the IRA, though I'm not sure why.

Oh, it was, sort of - they did plenty of fake bomb warnings, which had the same disruptive effect as real bombs. AQ has a habit of not giving warnings which makes the situation rather different.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 4:11 AM
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Can you learn much from a successful suicide bombing? Well --- you can learn from it the same way anyone else can, right? (Obviously eliding the planning here, but even then, depending on how the planning worked...) But you can't learn from it the way that the IRA could learn from a successful operation. There's not much hope for learning on the job, really, (except for the planner; but then a great many of these operations aren't really planned, are they?)

This suggests that AQ looks at their own operations from the outside in to some extent. Which would have an effect on how they conceptualise them I would imagine. (AQ knows about September 11 in much the same way we do.) That might have something to do with it.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 4:13 AM
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43. True-ish. But the fact that "AQ" doesn't give warnings makes the fake/dud bomb approach more effective. At the end of the day the IRA was fucking squeamish.

I don't want there to be enough data to answer the obvious question, which is, what ratio of proper operations to expendable losers offers the best return in disruption for resource allocation?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 4:19 AM
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44.2 Good point.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 4:20 AM
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I just want it noted that I cannot wait to start farming HIV-resistant straight people to support my extravagantly lewd homosexual lifestyle. It is going to be so satisfying to be, finally, the villain I've been told I am.

So, assuming that this turns out to be true and accurate and a viable means of treatment, and you had a population of willing blood donors, how would it work? Would people be paired with a donor? Would this stuff be able to be stored? I take it from 1 that people who receive this treatment (for whatever reason) are still susceptible to the usual problems of organ transplant, but yeah, it has to be better than some of the alternatives.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 6:34 AM
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The power law tells us inconclusive things about the ability of any given homosexual to build HIV-resistant clone farms.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 6:51 AM
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22, 29, and the like make sense.
Regarding the OP, did they put this previously HIV positive patient on immunosuppresives as they would for most transplant patients?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 6:56 AM
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how would it work

As I understand it, it's a bone marrow transplant, which is a very unpleasant (and risky) procedure that starts with high-dose chemotherapy or radiation to kill off your existing marrow. Then you get the cells put in intravenously and wait for them to make their way to the bones (Ned, am I close?). While you've got no marrow, though, you're extremely susceptible to infections, anemia, and internal bleeding.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 7:00 AM
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Doesn't it only work on earlyish-stage HIV?

Seems like, given the success of the drugs and the fact that you'd have to go in for a risky and profoundly life-altering procedure many, many years before you were actually likely to become sick, it may not catch on in quite its current form. On the other hand, men get prostate cancer surgery all the time, so who can say.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 7:07 AM
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I wonder how potential donors would find out that they carried the HIV-resistant gene. If I were one of the 1% of white people who carried the mutation, it would become a something of a moral imperative to get over my squeamishness about needles.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 7:32 AM
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52: One of the herd of semi-regular NPR essayists wrote a memoir about marrying a gay man (who was also a heroin addict, as was she). Her sister and sister's husband were heroin addicts too. Both husbands died of AIDS, but, despite not practicing safe sex (yes, she and her husband had sex) neither sister ever sero-converted. The sisters -- according to this memoir, which I read because she went to my hs years before me and knew my brothers -- were of some interest to the medical community because it was thought they might be HIV-resistant. But this was the early 90s and I don't think they could test or anything.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 7:39 AM
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I'd really prefer not to find out by trial and error.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 7:41 AM
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54: Well, you're no fun. Ned, up in comment three, mentions that it is the CCR5 Mutation, for which there is a test. We'll all be lined up and tested soon enough, by our gay mafia overlords, once ManlyPants is in charge.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 7:48 AM
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Oh, bad news: apparently, according to wiki, this type of bone marrow transplant is not only uncomfortable (see 50) but has a 10% or higher treatment-related fatality rate.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 7:55 AM
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50 is correct.

The samples to be engrafted can indeed be frozen. (More info, if links that are the result of Google searches producing Google Books work) The limiting reagent is the HIV patients' willingness to undergo ablation of his existing bone marrow.

This patient had been diagnosed with HIV 10 years previous and was on HAART for the previous four years with no AIDS symptoms aside from the side effects of the HAART.

Then he was diagnosed with leukemia. The chemotherapy, seemingly successful against the leukemia, led to renal failure and thus they stopped giving him AIDS drugs. The virus started multiplying rapidly again and he was put back on HAART, and the virus was controlled again.

Then after 7 months the leukemia returned. As Wikipedia says, "for patients with relapsed AML, the only proven potentially curative therapy is a hematopoietic stem cell transplant". Thus this was an opportunity to try giving him a stem cell transplant with HIV-resistant stem cells! And so the legend was born.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 8:03 AM
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It's good news, but it's sobering to think how much it must suck to have, simultaneously, HIV, leukaemia and kidney failure. The guy's probably got shares in AIG as well.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 8:19 AM
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One person could supply cells for many people.

For the donor, is it the same process as a marrow transplant or more like a regular blood donation?


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 2:21 PM
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It's basically a blood donation [technically apheresis, they take out the blood and return the serum and red cells, keeping the white cells in concentrated form].

But it's more of a commitment because it's preceded by a week of injections of a chemokine which will attract the stem cells out of the bone marrw and into the circulation.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 3:59 PM
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53: You've given me enough to google, but would you mind giving the author or title? That sounds like it could be right at the perfect interesting/trashy spot for what I can handle right now.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 4:07 PM
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61: Oh, sure. The author is M@rion W/n/k and the book is called First Comes Love.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 12-15-10 4:34 PM
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