Hi Reddit! I'm Dr. Ellen Vitetta, biomedical scientist and professor of immunology. I design vaccines. AMA!
Apr 14th 2014 by DrEllenV • 48 Questions • 337 Points
Hi Reddit, My name is Dr. Ellen Vitetta. I’m a biomedical scientist and professor of Immunology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. I’m a past president of the American Association of Immunologists, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and I was elected to the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. I teach and mentor both medical and graduate students, and one of my former graduate students received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2004. I’m very interested in women in science/medicine, the current state of federal science funding, and in novel ways of communicating the importance and excitement of research and science in general. In recent years I have been concerned with ethics in scientific endeavors and in reproducibly of scientific studies. My current work involves the targeted therapy of cancer and the development of vaccines (e.g. my lab developed the ricin vaccine and tested it in humans). I’d be happy to talk about women in science, scientific ethics, the importance of increasing federal funding for scientific research, immunology, and vaccines, but Ask Me Anything!
SIGNING OFF;12:15AM APRIL 15, 2014. PLEASE CONTINUE TO SUPPORT SCIENCE AND DON'T FORGET TO COMPLY WITH THE VACCINE GUIDELINES. BYE ALL!
How close do you think we are using immunotherapy to effectively treat cancer? Thanks!
We're already doing it! and there are 100's more immunotherapies in clinical trials. The challenge is not treatment but cure, of course. And that is going to involve better methods for early detection.
What makes viruses so much more difficult to find a vaccine for?
Their high rate of mutation and rapid spread through our highly geographically-mobile society. Also, isolating the causative virus to MAKE a vaccine in the first place can take time, while the virus continues to mutate.
Yes, you did. How do these antivirals work? And do they have antiviral concoctions for other viral infections as well?
They target different pathways in the cell necessary for viral replication and production. By using mixtures of these agents you avoid the problem of a single mutation in one pathway getting around the drug, because there is a backup inhibitor in another pathway. This is why we call HIV drug-regimens "cocktails." Cocktails are finding their way into treating other viral infections as well. My guess is that just like mixed chemotherapies for cancer, we will soon be using cocktails for all chronic viral infections.
In your career and field, what kind of progressions would you like to see by the end of your career?
Two things. First, I would like to see more interactions between basic and clinical scientists and far less time-sucking compliance. By the end of my career, I would like to see many things, but the first that comes to mind is to promote science more--locally, nationally, and internationally. We are wasting too many hours and too many dollars on administration, compliance, politics, and egos, and not spending enough time solving problems.
No. My interest in vaccines is a fairly recent one, based on connecting the many dots of immunology into a bigger picture. The more you see the big picture, the more you realize what we are missing in terms of developing effective new vaccines (broad immunogenicity, relationship between auto- and useful-immunity, etc). As I realized this in my own field, I decided to get involved in this very translational type of research. It's terribly tedious and complicated but it's exciting and has a HUGE payoff if you get it right. I'm trying!
Dr. Ellen Vitetta, SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THIS SYSTEM! Do you think many scientists could be persuaded to join an institution with less prestige but more opportunities to do science rather than management?
Yes it is. In my view (and just about everybody's) we need MORE Federal funding, a serious paperwork reduction act, fewer compliance courses and more scientists than administrators. When I entered this profession, administrators worked for scientists... Now it's the reverse. We scientists are terrified of litigation... And lawyers are getting rich.
I really don't think that the institution matters. There are just too many government agencies making too many rules. Ther are too many expensive and time- sucking lawsuits. We need to infuse some common sense into our government and into our science policy. Scientists have little time to THINK and be creative these days. Personally... I think that the tail is wagging the dog. Our government works for US , not the reverse. If you agree with me, contact your reps in Congress. Our constitution starts with "We the people"...
many hospitals have mandatory flu vaccination policies to protect patients. what do you think about health care workers who refuse vaccination because it conflicts with their religious beliefs? from 1-10 how stupid do you think that is?
I think if it conflicts with their religious beliefs, that is their belief and should be respected, but they should find another profession which does not conflict with their religious beliefs. Remember that if they get the flu they will spread it through an entire hospital population of already sick patients. A key feature of religious freedom and tolerance is not to force the consequences of your religious beliefs on others.
How would a vaccine for a Biosafety level 4 pathogen go through human trials?
I don't know a lot about vaccines or whatever, but would that just not happen?
The FDA requires safety testing of the vaccine in humans, and efficacy testing in 2 species prior to approval. It is not necessary for one of those species to be human for the challenge tests when it comes to the types of pathogens and toxins you are talking about.
In the aspect of my work that involves clinical trials in humans, I work closely with them. In my basic science research, rarely.
How close is the medical community to actually finding a cure to cancer
There are many, many types of cancers, and so the challenges with treating them are also diverse. There are several cancers that we can already cure, and many that we can treat effectively to prolong life. However, until we understand all the causes of different cancers and can detect all of them very early, it remains a difficult problem. THIS IS WHY WE NEED TO INVEST IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH!
I've always wondered about this. How many antigens and T cells and APCs are present in our body? How is it that our body creates a sense of self antigen or how does it determine what to create a response against and what not to? There are so many things coming inside our bodies, do we really have that robust of a response?
The answer to your question of self-tolerance is LONG and complex and requires knowing quite a bit of immunology. The short answer is that our cells are educated NOT to attack self tissues since APCs present a universe of self antigens. There are also suppressor cells that prevent these responses in "uneducated" cells. Recently it has become appreciated that cells of the innate immune system have receptors for conserved structures on pathogens. Once these cells recognize these structures, inflammation occurs. Inflammation= danger. The immune system then wakes up and goes on the warpath. As you know, when this whole system gets messed up, autoimmunity occurs. That's a very oversimplified answer, but the best I can do in 3 minutes.!! You might want to read about self-tolerance...its really fascinating.
I have heard that, since they have found a way of treating HIV, they have considered giving it to cancer patients so the HIV kills the cancerous cells and doctors can then treat the HIV. Is this true?
Its a work in progress using HIV as a "vector". Thats all I know about it. I seriously doubt that anyone is giving an infectious virus!!