Dr. Anthony Fauci – an interview by Drs. Vincent Racaniello and Rich Condit, virologists
Columbia University Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Figurski
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
(Disclaimer: The World Health Organization <WHO> has officially named the new coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes as COVID-19. Because the majority of people, including much of the press, commonly refer to the virus as “COVID-19,” to avoid confusion I use COVID-19 as the name of the virus in these posts.)
If you believe in science and facts, this 36-minute podcast will be a treat and essential listening. It was recorded on July 16, 2020, and posted on July 17. (Note: The link is for the page that has all the TWiV podcasts. Make sure you are listening to #641.)
Dr. Vincent Racaniello, a virologist, was my colleague in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Columbia University. He does a podcast on viruses called TWiV (This Week in Virology).
Vincent, Rich Condit (a retired virologist from the University of Florida), and Dr. Fauci (Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) discuss COVID-19 and the pandemic. Among the topics discussed are the paths of infection, symptoms, testing, re-opening schools, fatality rate, immunity, and vaccines.
Normally, the TWiV scientists make their discussion understandable to non-scientists. But, these three scientists were working against a time-constraint, and they sometimes used terms that some of you may not be familiar with. To help you, I’ve made a glossary. The order of the terms in the list is based on the time in the podcast when the term is first used (noted in parentheses).
Dr. Fauci was also interviewed for 64 minutes in 2013 by Vincent and Rich (TWiV #219).
Glossary provided by Dr. Figurski for easier listening.
PCR-able (2:52) – based on the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, which is a very sensitive test for the RNA chromosome (or a chromosomal RNA fragment) of the virus
fomite (3:11) – an infectious object or material
viral load (4:05) – the number of viruses
cycle threshold (4:27) – the PCR test is based on a number of amplification cycles to see a signal; the number of amplification cycles needed is related to the number viruses present; the higher the number of cycles needed, the lower the number of viruses present
nucleotides (5:05) – the building blocks for the viral RNA; the RNA chromosome of COVID-19 is made up of about 30,000 nucleotides
BSL-3 lab (5:12) – a bio-safety level 3 lab has containment and safety precautions that allow scientists to work with microbes thought to be dangerous
antigen (11:47) – a substance that stimulates the production of antibodies to itself; infection with COVID-19 leads to the body’s production of anti-COVID-19 antibodies; in the COVID-19 test discussed here, viral antigens (probably viral proteins) are used to bind to anti-COVID-19 antibodies to detect them; the presence of anti-COVID-19 antibodies is an indication that a person is now infected with COVID-19 or was infected in the past
systemic infection (13:21) – infection of other organs – not just infection of the lungs
systemic sequelae (13:23) – symptoms of infection in other organs
viremia (13:32) – the presence of virus in the blood; because the blood goes to all organs, a viremia allows the virus to reach other organs and can lead to a systemic infection
endothelium (14:22) – the layer of cells that lines organs and vessels
SARS (15:18) – the first SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) pandemic of 2003 – also caused by a coronavirus
MERS (15:21) – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – another earlier and limited pandemic caused by a coronavirus
sero-prevalence (16:04) – the fraction of people in a population who are positive for antibodies to COVID-19; antibody positivity is an indication that a person is now infected with COVID-19 or was infected in the past
herd immunity (16:28) – immunity of the population by infection or by a vaccine; when people are infected (and recover if they have symptoms), they become immune; if enough people are immune, “herd immunity” has been achieved without a vaccine; the virus has few people to infect productively, and its spread slows to almost nothing; estimates are that 70-80% of the population must become immune to protect the population
Moderna vaccine (20:55) – the company Moderna teamed up with Dr. Fauci’s group and seems to be having some good success so far in phase I and phase II clinical trials (of three phases, see below); instead of the standard method of using a viral protein or several viral proteins to stimulate the production of neutralizing antibodies (see below), the Moderna vaccine uses a brand new technology based on the mRNA (see below) for the antibody, a method that has never before been used to produce a vaccine
clinical trials – clinical development of a vaccine is a three-phase process. During Phase I, small groups of people receive the trial vaccine. In Phase II, the clinical study is expanded and the vaccine is given to people who have characteristics (such as age and physical health) similar to those for whom the new vaccine is intended. In Phase III, the vaccine is given to thousands of people and tested for efficacy and safety. (From the CDC)
mRNA (20:57) – messenger RNA; in cells, the genetic code for the production of proteins resides in the chromosomes, which are made of the nucleic acid DNA; that code is read and translated into the proteins (the machines of the cell) by the cell’s protein factories – the ribosomes; because the ribosomes need to get the code from the DNA, the messenger RNA (mRNA) comes into play; (RNA is a nucleic acid very closely related to DNA); a protein-machine copies the DNA’s code into mRNA, which then brings the code to the protein factory, where it is read and the protein is made
neutralizing antibody (21:09) – an antibody that blocks infection by the virus; for COVID-19, an antibody that inactivates the spike protein of the virus (see below) is a neutralizing antibody
convalescent serum (21:17) – serum from the blood of patients who have recovered from COVID-19; the serum contains the antibodies
spike protein (21:51) – a protein of COVID-19; important because it’s needed for the virus to bind tightly to the ACE2 (22:19) (angiotensin converting enzyme 2) protein that’s on the surface of lung cells; the binding is needed for the virus to gain entry to the cell and start the infection; a target for some vaccines; antibodies that inactivate the spike protein are called “neutralizing antibodies”
hemagglutinin, neuraminidase (22:39) – surface proteins of influenza virus needed for infection and for the release of progeny virus, respectively; antibodies to these proteins (usually to hemagglutinin) are the basis of the vaccine for influenza virus
monoclonal antibody (27:29) – the body’s collection of antibodies is produced by a population of B cells; each B cell produces one specific antibody; if a B cell can be cloned and cultured away from the population of B cells, then that culture will produce only that one specific antibody (for example, an anti-spike protein antibody), also called a “monoclonal antibody”
pathogen (28:17) – infectious agent (virus, bacterium, or parasite) that causes disease
NIAID (31:40) – National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH); the NIAID is headed by Dr. Fauci
Stay Safe and Healthy!
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