Tuesday, July 24, 2007
quote of the week
"rectally challenged monkeys"
This is what happens when you listen to a recognised authority on microbicides, the gels and toothpaste-like substances designed to prevent HIV/AIDS from crossing the lining of the vagina or the rectum (and if a virus does sneak through, to make the environment inside that part of the body so hostile that it has as little chance as possible of making it into the safe haven of a immune cell).
Authorities like Dr Ian McGowan, a Brit from University of Liverpool who is co-principal investigator of the Microbicide Trials Network (MTN) at the University of Pittsburgh in the USA.
Professor McGowan's big issue is making sure that microbicides designed to empower women are safe for use in other body cavities, not just the vagina. And this is not just something of interest to men who have sex with men. McGowan showed research (large sample sizes, too) indicating that up to 40 per cent of heterosexual women in both Africa and the western world had had anal sex on a fairly regular basis.
"You can be sure that the day after a vaginal microbicide comes out, it's going to be used in the rectum," he predicted.
But how do you make sure that microbicides are safe in both the vagina and the rectum, which has a much thinner protective lining and so may be more vulnerable? That's where the rectally challenged monkeys come in.
McGowan tests things in the lab. Once he's got the go-ahead from ethics committees, before testing on humans, he's legally obliged to test them on animals. So he gives monkeys microbicides up their bum, basically. And then he tries to give them HIV, and see if it infects them or not. That's called challenging, because you want to see if the monkey can fight off the virus or not. And of course if it's in the rectum - voila! a rectally challenged monkey.