Patient Zero – Prologue
October 3, 2015 § 1 Comment
“So what does an immunologist turned successful business man want with a humble epidemiologist anyway?” asked Rohan as his old friend from medical school sat down in his office.
“Not a humble epidemiologist,” replied Robert, “the best.”
“I looked at the models of disease spread you wanted me to run…I’m afraid I’m going to need a bit more information to be of any help, even to a good friend like you.”
“I thought you might, well I am prepared to explain everything. But, first, I need you to sign a form swearing to absolute secrecy.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me Robert, what is this you are going to be telling me…alright…fine whatever it is I’ll keep my mouth shut about it. Now please go on.”
“Thank you, you’ll understand soon, but everything I’m going to tell you is strictly classified.”
“You’ve been working with the government then?”
“Yes, I’ll explain. You remember what my research this past ten years has been on?”
“Yes of course,” replied Rohan. “You’ve been working on new ways of treating cancer, immunotherapy. Great possibilities there from what I’ve heard. But I heard…I heard you wanted to take it further than cancer.”
“That’s right. I published a paper on the possibilities of enhanced immune response for fighting of all sorts of diseases. The government got in touch with me about it, about five years ago. They wanted me to begin work to develop the possibility of using genetically altered immune cells to treat battle wounds in soldiers: to develop a way for soldiers hurt in battle to have their immune systems prevent any possibility of infection. Projections suggested they would reduce troop casualties by as much as 50%, and with war on the horizon, they backed me with all the money and equipment I could need.”
“That’s amazing,” Rohan said. “I don’t understand how you could do that though. With immune therapy for cancer it’s a matter of genetically modifying a person’s immune cells to be more active…but that takes lab work and time, how could that possibly help someone dying on the battle field?”
“I developed a new way to do it. Normally, we use a lentivirus to infect the immune cells of patients with our vector for activation, essentially an altered and inactive form of the HIV virus that requires careful conditions to work. I developed a new transfection agent, with the inactivated HIV virus and another. It performs the transfection in vivo.”
“That’s incredible,” stammered Rohan, sitting on the edge of his seat now. “What did you use to accomplish that?”
“I needed something highly infectious to act that fast, and to have it spread to the whole body it needed a neurologically infections element. It is a lyssavirus, inactivated like the HIV of course.”
“A lyssavirus…like…rabis?” Rohan gaped.
“Yes, exactly. And it worked; animal tests showed infection rates dropped by nearly 90% upon treatment. Because it was classified, it skipped right through normal approval processes. Within five years we began testing on human subjects.”
“Wow. Amazing. You’ll win the Nobel Prize for this! But I don’t understand…how does this relate to the models you sent me to run. They don’t make any sense; the rates of spread are insane, far higher than a disease could possibly reach. The new infection rate is astronomical. When I ran it, it was like people were trying to infect others, it has no real application.”
“Oh but it does Rohan. It does. When we use viruses for immuno, we inactivate their disease potential and make sure they can’t recombine to form an active strain. I did the same with the lyssavirus….but when we went to human subjects, something happened to the transfection agent. It may have been that the complexity of the nervous system in humans gave more opportunities for recombination…I don’t know.”
“They formed an active virus?!” exclaimed Rohan.
“Yes…well not exactly,” replied Robert. “It wasn’t active HIV or active rabbis. It formed…something new. Something more aggressive…especially to the central nervous system. It was as if the HIV made the virus less destructive to the body…longer lasting…but the rabbis…it made the subjects very aggressive, delusional. The vector was so prolific too, every part of them was teeming with the virus. We had to restrain them, a few patients we couldn’t…the virus spread to a few staff before we could get a handle on it.”
“I don’t understand,” said Rohan. “Those models, the patients…they attacked others and spread the virus. That’s like nothing I’ve ever heard of.”
“And exactly why I came to you. We need to understand this, because…I’m afraid… the government ….with the war coming….they want to weaponize it. What’s more…we may not have contained all of the subjects.”