By Kambiz Shekdar, Ph.D.
There are two Dollys who have made impactful contributions in the annals of science and medicine, one is a sheep and the other is a country music star. Dolly the sheep was the first large animal that was successfully cloned. Dolly Parton the country music star made a $1 million donation to science that accelerated the development of one of the world’s leading COVID-19 vaccines. With a view to World AIDS Day on December 1st, let’s examine how both Dollys are impacting science, including moving toward a cure for HIV/AIDS.
Dolly Parton met Dr. Naji Abumrad of Vanderbilt University Medical Center after she was injured in a car crash. That’s when she learned about Vanderbilt’s work and, importantly, took the step of supporting it. Active support is the ingredient in making change. Despite the resources of the entire world, the might of all our nations and their governments, and all the capital of the largest pharmaceutical companies, it was this helping hand from Dolly that is making all the difference for Vanderbilt today.
According to Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, there are more than 115 vaccine candidates under development to address COVID-19, including many innovative approaches. The approach pioneered by Moderna is one of those currently leading the pack. As reported by The Washington Post, November 18, 2020, Dr. Abumrad had this to say about Dolly Parton’s role in the early life of the vaccine: “Without a doubt in my mind, her funding made the research toward the vaccine go ten times faster than it would be without it.” Sometimes, people don’t realize how much their contributions can make a difference, Dolly’s generosity is a shining example of how much change one individual can make.
What about Dolly the sheep? She was a cloned animal created by a team of researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland from a single cell from the mammary glands of an adult sheep. Her birth provided perhaps the very first realization that virtually any cell of an adult animal has vast regenerative potential. Many additional advances in the field of stem cell science have since greatly expanded our knowledge of the regenerative and curative potential of cells. Indeed, we have even seen that stem cells obtained from rare individuals born with a genetic composition that makes them naturally resistant to HIV-infection may be used to give rise to entirely new and naturally HIV-resistant immune systems for use to cure HIV/AIDS. Researchers are now working to harness the same natural biological resistance to HIV-infection as the basis to create cell therapy cures for all those in need worldwide. When she strutted onto Scotland’s rolling hills, Dolly the sheep helped curative science and medicine take its first steps.
Can good naturedness be cloned? Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds, thus sprach Zarathustra. A cure for AIDS will require walking in both Dollys’ footsteps. As December 1st is World AIDS Day, my organization Research Foundation to Cure AIDS is launching a video series on Instagram where people living with HIV/AIDS, scientists, and others talk about their feelings, thoughts and questions regarding a possible cure. We hope you can tune in @RFTcureaids and share your own perspective too.
Rockefeller University alumnus and biotech inventor Kambiz Shekdar, Ph.D., is the founder and president of Research Foundation to Cure AIDS. Contact Kambiz at firstname.lastname@example.org.