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Testing for HIV is now as easy as seeing if you're pregnant.

One prick and 15 minutes can make all the difference, thanks to a new HIV self-testing kit.

Testing for HIV is now as easy as seeing if you're pregnant.

There are a record-breaking 35 million people in the world today living with HIV.

Despite what the movies might have you believe, HIV/AIDS didn't go the way of Hammer pants and suddenly disappear in the early '90s (can you imagine if they had swapped places though?). In fact, the virus now affects more people than ever.

In the United States alone, there are 1.2 million people living with HIV — and 10% to 20% of them don't even know it.


Because we're talking AIDS here, and we need to keep things somber. Photo by UNAIDS.

HIV itself is not a death sentence (but you should still practice safe sex).

It took a while for the public at large to become aware of HIV and AIDS. And even then, many people are still under the impression that HIV means you are steps away from death.

But thanks to new medical advancements, that's not really true. People with HIV can live happy, healthy lives for 50 years or more with the proper treatment and care.

That said, you should still do what you can to stop the virus before it gets into your system (if possible). Which means wrap it before you tap it, or whatever your sex-respective version of that phrase might be.

It also means you should get tested. But here's some good news: HIV testing just got a whole lot easier.

Now STOP SAYING YOU'RE "TOO BIG" FOR THEM, OK? Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba/Getty Images.

Many people are too embarrassed or afraid to get tested for STIs, including HIV.

A show of hands: How many of you have been tested for STIs and/or HIV? It's hard for me to count since I'm communicating with you via words on a screen.

But I bet that less than half of you put your hands up — despite the fact that half of you have or will have contracted an STI at some point in your life.

So why didn't you raise your hand? It turns out, most people don't get tested simply because they're too embarrassed, or because a trip to the doctor is just plain inconvenient.

See? Just a little prick! Ba-dum-tsh! Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Fortunately, a company in the U.K. just created a new HIV test that allows you to test yourself at home.

BioSure's new HIV self-testing kit is shipped directly to your home in a discreet white box and delivers results in just 15 minutes with a 99.7% accuracy rate.

It's the first of its kind to comply with E.U. safety, health, and environmental requirements, and it costs only £29.99, or about $46 (keep in mind that they also regulate haggis over there). Here's how it works:

The test functions much like a pregnancy test: identifying antibodies produced by the virus, rather than looking for the virus itself.

Instead of looking for that sneaky human immunodeficiency virus directly, the kit scans your blood sample for the antibodies produced as a result of the virus' presence.

Prior to this, it was possible to get your hands on a self-sampling kit, but you had to send it to a lab so they could process the results, and the test required you to draw a blood sample that was about 160 times larger than the BioSure (ow).

This looks a lot like the upholstery cleaning kit for my couch. I hope I didn't confuse the two? Image from BioSure.

But remember: You do have to wait three months after possibly contracting the virus for the test to work.

If you use the HIV self-testing kit before three months have passed since (potentially) contracting the virus, your body will not have had the time to produce enough antibodies to yield a positive result.

(If you're concerned about your health and the health of those to whom you could potentially pass the virus, you should probably seek out a medical professional.)

Why is this so awesome? Because an increase in early diagnoses could help prevent the spread of the virus.

The math is simple: When more people know they have a virus, they can all take preventive measures to stop spreading it.

Because it shouldn't be strange to see a happy person here. Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/Getty Images.

That means fewer people will contract HIV. Everybody wins!

This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

Keep Reading Show less

This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."