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Creativity in Biomedical Science: How a Drug Never Expected to Work is a Life-Saver for COVID-19 and People Living with HIV

Medical science has come under a lot of criticism lately for waffling on its understandings of the COVID-19 virus and of how we can best protect ourselves. Why the confusion? The answer this points to one of science’s greatest gifts to humanity: the ability to change our minds and behavior based on new evidence. Unlike many religions, science never provides certainty. What it does provide is surprise, because the world we live in is far stranger and more creative than our limited imaginations can conjure.

This podcast with Christina Gavegnano, assistant professor in the Emory University Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, illustrates this beautifully.

Many of the most important scientific discoveries in history initially had to buck conventional wisdom to change the world. As a young researcher, Dr. Gavegnano realized that patients struggling with human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, might benefit from drugs that blocked a particular immune pathway. The problem was that conventional wisdom at the time held that blocking this pathway could never be safe in patients with severe viral infections. Dr. Gavegnano persevered and eventually proved that not only were Jak inhibitor drugs that blocked this inflammatory immune pathway safe, but they were highly effective. These things might have stood, had the COVID-19 pandemic not come along. But once again, Dr. Gavegnano was able to see the type of novel connections that science gives us. The drugs she initially pioneered for use in HIV have now been given emergency use approval by the FDA for the treatment of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 requiring oxygen. Join us as Dr. Gavegnano gives us a window into the creativity and patience that led to this story of scientific discovery.

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