Fighting the Thief of Lives: HIV/AIDS vs the California Stem Cell Agency: Disease-a-Week Challenge Number 13


So little attention is paid to HIV/AIDS nowadays, one might be forgiven for thinking it has been cured. But has it?

One million Americans have

When I asked Dr. Cannon how she had chosen her career, she seemed a little embarrassed, saying she had chosen biology “almost at random” in college. She had done well, earning a degree in microbiology, but after graduation she “did a 180-degree career spin” and went into the music business in Liverpool, home of the Beatles. It shaped her future.

HIV-AIDS was ravaging the entertainment industry; people were dying with no hope from this modern day plague.

Time passed; another 180-degree career spin, and Paula Cannon was back into science again, but this time with a goal — to fight HIV/AIDS.

As Dr. Cannon can talk science in “people-talk,” I asked three key questions:

1. The CIRM grant involves something called a “zinc finger nuclease” (ZFN); what is that, and why is it important to the battle against AIDS?

“A zinc finger nuclease is a sort of genetic scissors. It can snip out bad stuff in the body’s DNA chain. We hope to program ZFNs to snip out CCR5, so it won’t let the AIDS virus in again.”

2. Same question for ribonucleic acid (RNA)–what is it, why does it matter?

“If DNA is like a thousand-page blueprint for a house, RNA might be considered one page–maybe for just one room. RNA may bring very specific and permanent changes in the body’s structure, putting ZFN where you want it to go.”

3. How important was the California stem cell program to her as a scientist?

“The CIRM grant made it possible for me to fight against AIDS within a stem cell team structure; without CIRM, this would not have —> Read More