Llewellyn King: Virus Hunters Turn to Chilli Peppers

Excerpts from Llewellyn King’s article Virus Hunters Turn to Social Media — and Chili Peppers posted on Huffington Post, The Blog at 07/15/2015 3:33 pm EDT

Why were two of the world’s most eminent scientific researchers sitting down to munch their way through a plate of chili peppers, flavored with Tabasco sauce, setting their mouths on fire?

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Why indeed? They did so recently as a charity fund-raising stunt, like the Ice Bucket Challenge that has raised awareness and more than $220 million in donations to support the fight against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The scientific sleuths did it because they’re involved in critical research into one of the most awful and least understood of the so-called invisible diseases, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

They did it, too, because the government, though the National Institutes of Health, has failed the researchers and those who suffer from this debilitating disease. Out of its $30 billion-plus budget, NIH spends a paltry, insulting $5 million, on ME, which affects 1 million people in the United States. In my view, that’s a national disgrace.

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Is this what we’ve come down to in funding for medical research? The government has money for many expensive things, but not for two of our greatest scientists to do vital work.

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Yet progress is being made on the disease — infinitesimal, but progress nonetheless. Earlier this year, Drs. Lipkin and Hornig published a seminal finding that they’d been able to identify patterns of change in the immune systems of patients. This is a step toward early detection of the disease, and an indication these top virus hunters are closing on their prey.

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Maybe it’ll take generations, but there can be progress if there is research. But research is expensive. So I hope to see you suffering on Facebook or YouTube as you ingest a chili pepper too far.

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