Tag Archives: vaccine

STEM Female Role Model Spotlight: Flossie Wong-Staal

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month!  If you’re not sure what that is, the official site is here.  May is almost over, but I’m squeezing this post in just in time!

Today’s STEM role model is a woman who has made tremendous strides in the fight against AIDS.  She was the first to clone the HIV virus and map its genes, and she helped to make the initial connection between HIV and AIDS.

Yee-ching Wong was born in China in 1947, but her family fled to Hong Kong in 1952 to escape Communism.   Following a basic science-track education taught by British nuns in Hong Kong, where she chose her English name Flossie, she began her higher education at UCLA in 1965.  She chose to follow on with graduate work in molecular biology.

In 1971 she married Steven Staal, and in 1972 she earned her PhD and was named the Woman Graduate of the Year at UCLA.  In 1973 her husband, a medical doctor, began working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD, so Flossie joined him there and got a job at Robert Gallo’s lab in the National Cancer Institute at NIH.

The research Robert Gallo was conducting in that lab focused on viruses that caused cancer in animals, and how those viruses affected cells.  Their work on oncogenes in animals led Flossie to be the first to find oncogenes in humans.  Flossie quickly rose to a leadership position in the lab and flourished, enjoying the research that frequently led to new and exciting discoveries.

In 1983, the NCI lab and the Pasteur Institute in Paris separately isolated and identified the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).  In 1984, Flossie Wong-Staal became the first to clone and map the genes of HIV.  This was key in allowing for development of HIV blood tests.  In 1985, she was divorced but kept her hyphenated name.

In 1990, she accepted a position at UC San Diego to head their new center for AIDS research.  There she pursued multiple avenues to try to combat HIV and AIDS, attempting to find treatments, vaccines, and cures by various methods.  The most promising of these so far is a ribozyme treatment that keeps the virus from reproducing.

A widely respected researcher, Wong-Staal’s publications were once found to be the most-cited by a female researcher in the 1980s.  She was named the top woman researcher of the 1980s by the Institute for Scientific Information, and in 2002 she was named one of the top 50 female scientists by Discover Magazine.

In 2002 she left UCSD to become vice president and Chief Science Officer (CSO) for genomics at Immusol, now renamed to iTherX.  She continues to work to defeat deadly viruses,  and is particularly focused on pursuing treatments for Hepatitis C.

If you’d like to know more about this talented and dedicated researched, check out the links in the resources section below.

Resources:

http://www.usasciencefestival.org/schoolprograms/2014-role-models-in-science-engineering/371-flossie.html

http://alumni.ucla.edu/share/alumni-stories/stories/flossie-wong-staal.aspx

http://www.bookrags.com/biography/flossie-wong-staal-wmi/

http://www.biography-center.com/biographies/10406-Wong_Staal_Flossie.html

http://www.library.ca.gov/calhist/calendar10-5.html

http://www2.edc.org/womensequity/women/wong.htm

http://www.scientistafoundation.com/34/post/2013/08/meet-flossie-wong-staal-pioneer-in-hiv-research.html

http://www.fofweb.com/History/MainPrintPage.asp?iPin=AHBio0017&DataType=AmericanHistory&WinType=Free

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Vaccinate. Don’t be an idiot. That is all.

I will keep this short.  I have to, because otherwise this will degenerate into me ranting and screaming at people for letting kids suffer and even die unnecessarily (so um, yeah, if you’re a staunch anti-vax person, you can go ahead and assume I’m about to read you the riot act here).

Vaccinations save lives.  Vaccines are developed solely for fighting against the nastiest diseases that kill the most people in the most horrific ways.  There are an increasing number of outbreaks of horrible things we thought we had eradicated through the wonders of modern science – whooping cough, measles, polio.  Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that exists showing that, 1) the idiot who said vaccines cause autism was an idiotic nut-job, a fraud, and completely, totally wrong; and, 2) vaccines save lives; some supposedly smart people have stopped vaccinating their kids.  And they are for some strange reason feeling very self-righteous about that decision.

The most frightening part of this is that people are doing this primarily in urban centers or in concentrations of like-minded people (megachurches, religious sub-communities, big cities like New York and San Francisco), which makes the diseases even more likely to spread quickly and the herd immunity to suffer even more.  We need that herd immunity.  It helps protect even those who can’t be vaccinated due to autoimmune problems or cancer treatment or allergies or being just plain too young (newborns).  It helps protect those who have forgotten to get their boosters.  It keeps things from spreading and turning into epidemics and even pandemics.

This is where STEM education becomes even more important – because anyone who remotely paid attention in middle school science should be able to grasp the science behind why vaccines work, why they are critical, and why the celebrities refusing to vaccinate their kids are not only stupid, but reckless.

Seriously, vaccinate your kids.  Do your own research and decide for yourself, but do it with the evidence of peer-reviewed, credible studies, not through some glossy tabloid magazine or because a chipper talk show host told you so.  And make sure you and your kids get a decent science education (and all your vaccinations!) so we don’t continue to perpetuate this madness and these senseless, deadly, totally preventable outbreaks.

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