Dr. Suzanne Crowe: Still working to stop AIDS

Dr.-Suzanne-Crowe By Anne T. Sulton, Ph.D., J.D.
J.A. Senior International Correspondent
Melbourne, Australia: Here we are on the other side of the planet and below the Equator. At this 20th International AIDS Conference, thousands of people are running from session to session to gather as much information as possible about how they can help in the effort to eradicate the deadly scourge of
the interna- tional AIDS/HIV epidemic.

There is a sense of profound sadness engulfing this sprawling convention center located on the river’s bank in the center of this beautiful city. Tall boards with thousands of red ribbons attached are near the conference room set aside for journalists. Each ribbon is a tangible expression of the excruciating pain felt by conferees upon learning that Malaysian.

Airlines Flight 17 was blown out of the sky – at least six of the hundreds killed were flying to the Conference. We knew the fighting in Ukraine was preventing retrieval of the bodies. We were hearing stories of looting at the crash site.

Despite their grief, conferees continued their important work – they understand the urgency of their mission. They simply do not have time to pause for a moment to mourn the loss of their colleagues – people having dedicated their talents and skills to helping mankind.

Emerging from the crowded hallways was my early-afternoon appointment. She too was running from session to session. And she too had sadness in her eyes.

Arriving a bit late was Dr. Suzanne Crowe. I did not mind the wait – she is one of the world’s leading researchers in the AIDS/HIV field and I was pleased she took the time to meet with me.

The purpose of our meeting was to conduct a follow-up interview to determine what progress had been made to move a product from concept to marketplace. During the 2010 International AIDS conference
held in Washington, DC, I interviewed her about the revolutionary Visitect CD4 test that she and David Anderson developed while working at the Burnet Institute in Melbourne. At that time, they had spent
seven years developing this crucially important device.

Essentially, a CD4 cell is a type of cell that helps fight infection. A low CD4 count is not good. There are tests to determine CD4 counts. Usually, a blood sample is drawn by sticking a needle in a vein, and it could take several days or more than a week to get the results.

A CD4 test is very important. It gives health care providers information about the strength of a patient’s immune system so that health care providers can determine the appropriate course of treatment for those suffering from AIDS/HIV.

Visitect CD4 is an easy-touse point-of-care disposable device that takes a finger-prick blood sample and produces a visual result in less than an hour. Consequently, it dramatically increases the likelihood that people needing antiretroviral therapy will receive it because they would have access to an affordable and lightweight CD4 test.

The device is about the size of a thumb-sized USB flash drive. Hundreds could be placed in a small backpack and carried into remote rural areas.

Dr. Crowe reports progress is being made. A manufacturer has been identified. She is engaged with this company to work out the technical details.

Yes, she now is nine years out from the time her work initially began on this project. However, Dr. Crowe is hopeful the product will be in the field and used to save lives before the 2016 International AIDS conference that will be held in South Africa.

Among the issues we discussed are the substantial costs associated with moving from idea to reality a product of this nature – one that can replace a large expensive blood testing device often available only in
an urban area. Dr. Crowe acknowledged that it costs millions of dollars. Given the promise of her work on this device, it appears this money is being well spent.

I sincerely wish her well, and look forward to our follow-up interview in 2016.