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Genetic Linkage

Eman’s Emails from Liberia: Through September

Emmanuel Gokpolu with his son, little Larry
Emmanuel Gokpolu, who lives in Liberia, calls me Mom, although he has a wonderful real mother. In Africa, family isn’t only about DNA.

Eman contacted me in 2007, after using my human genetics textbook in college. My husband Larry and I had been putting him through medical school in Monrovia -- until Ebola happened. Now the funds go for gloves, long sleeve shirts, detergents, food and medicine, to keep Eman and his family, including his almost-one-year-old son, Larry, safe.

This week Eman asked me to share his emails, which began arriving before many people here had heard of Ebola virus disease, or cared much about it if they had. The disease seemed, and was, half a world away.

The world is a small place. Read More 
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How Ebola Kills

Emmanuel Gokpolu is my African "son," living in the midst of the Ebola crisis in Monrovia, Liberia.
(An updated version of this post appears at my Public Library of Science blog DNA Science.)


“That’s not Ebola!” I said to the vendor standing beside a display of boxer shorts festooned with pathogens, at a National Association of Biology Teachers conference a few years ago.

“No, that’s Ebola. Read the tag.”

“The tag’s wrong. It’s influenza. See the spokes on the surface? Ebola looks like a long soup ladle.”

He didn’t believe me, but the website was corrected a few months later. I still have my faux Ebola shorts somewhere.

JUST 7 GENES
The stark seeming-simplicity of the Ebola virus flashes across my mind whenever I get email from Emmanuel, a medical student in Liberia. My husband and I have been supporting his education since he contacted me in 2007 after reading Human Genetics: Concepts and Applications, my textbook very soon to be published in its 11th edition. The story of our relationship, today between two families, is here, but since then Eman has become a father, naming his son after my husband Larry.

Eman is our son in the African sense, not based on DNA. Escalating panic pervades his emails of the past few days. Right now he has a high fever, headache, and diarrhea, but says it is "only typhoid, not to worry."

The electronic communication with our Liberian friend is odd in the face of the crumbling infrastructure, the abandoned hospitals and schools. He taps on a phone, too terrified to enter an Internet cafe. And I’m mortified that the NBC nightly news placed a lengthy NASCAR crash report before an Ebola update. Eman wants to know why the US didn’t pay attention until the arrival here of two white, American patients. So do I.  Read More 
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The Irony of HIV Gene Therapy

HIV on a human lymphocyte.
Buried somewhere beneath the long-awaited announcement of the birth of Jessica Simpson’s baby on May 2 was encouraging news about HIV infection: gene therapy appears to be safe.

Anti-retroviral drugs (ARTs) have been remarkably successful, but they require daily doses and have adverse effects. Gene transfer is an alternative approach that gives selected cells the genes to manufacture proteins necessary to counter a particular disease. Gene transfer (which technically becomes gene therapy once it works) to treat an enzyme deficiency, for example, provides genetic instructions for the missing enzyme. To treat an infection or cancer, gene therapy bolsters immune system cells.
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