Wednesday, April 17, 2024

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Pioneer turns sights to hepatitis C


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Today the NATION continues its Black History Month series on the lives of people of colour who have made their mark on the local, regional and global stage with a look at the life of physician and researcher Dr Wayne L. Greaves.

WAYNE LAMAR GREAVES, originally from Church Hill, St Lucy, was always interested in science and why things worked the way they did. As a student at Harrison College he was fond of catching frogs and dissecting them in biology class.

His father, late director of Greaves Funeral Home, supported and encouraged him to seek a career in medicine. As a boy, in the 1950s and 1960s, he recalled the long wait times for patients at the QEH’s casualty department and the limited medical services in Barbados.

This was a key factor that led him to pursue a career in medicine. He wanted to help make things better for people who were ill and needed a doctor; people who were poor and suffering.

Pursue studies

The former Harrisonian left Barbados to pursue his studies at Mc Gill University in Montreal, Canada. There, he completed his undergraduate studies graduating with first-class honours. He then entered the faculty of medicine graduating with the MDCM and moved to the United States where he spent two years at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

There, he completed a fellowship in infectious diseases before moving to Atlanta, Georgia, spending three years at the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) as a visiting scientist tracking vaccine preventable diseases and sexually transmitted diseases.

“Then along came HIV/AIDS,” said Greaves. “It was a new disease that was unknown and puzzling to scientists.”

This coincided with his move to Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, DC where he spent the next decade as a consultant in infectious diseases caring for AIDS patients, conducting HIV/AIDS research and serving as the first head of the university’s AIDS Clinical Trials Unit.

“Much has changed since then,” he said.

“In those days, there was only one pill available and patients would set their alarm clocks to be sure they took their pill exactly every four hours. Unfortunately, the effect of the pills lasted only about six months. Today we have powerful drugs and cocktails combined in a single pill taken once a day and patients live for decades and more.

“In those early days, there was also considerable denial that AIDS was a problem affecting the African American community. It was seen as a gay, white man’s disease and wasn’t talked about. Discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS was rampant, even vitriolic at times.”

bloc-black-history-month-2017While at Howard University, Greaves developed AIDS outreach and treatment programmes as well as training programmes for medical professionals working with HIV/AIDS not only in the US but in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa.

He has served with distinction on several US government advisory panels and committees including the US Food and Drug Administration, Antiviral Advisory Committee and various review committees of the National Institutes of Health.

In 1997, he joined Schering-Plough Corporation’s Research Institute in Kenilworth, New Jersey. In his capacity, he directed research at facilities in the United States and abroad and interacted with affiliated laboratories around the world, pursuing new and innovative treatments for the HIV virus.

In 2006, while serving as senior director of clinical research at Schering-Plough, he was honoured with the President’s Award for his contribution to AIDS research.

He was described by the task force on AIDS as an “internationally renowned clinical scholar/researcher” and was cited for his work in the United States’ Africa American community.

He was the first researcher to publicly warn that Blacks were suffering a disproportionately heavy burden from AIDS and urged federal officials to do more to reach African Americans with information and services.

Greaves, has now moved on from HIV/AIDS to another exciting and challenging are of research. He is now a distinguished scientist with Merck Research Laboratories in Rahway, New Jersey.

His focus is on the hepatitis C virus which affects 170 million people worldwide and is a major cause of cirrhosis of the liver and cancer of the liver.

Until recently, the only treatment involved daily or weekly injections of interferon along with a pill for six to 12 months but only 30 to 40 per cent of patients would respond.

Newer drugs, including the two-drug combination pill he is helping develop, can cure 90 per cent of hepatitis C patients as a single pill, taken once a day for 12 weeks; and research is continuing to try to shorten the treatment even further – perhaps six or eight weeks.

“The pace of research and progress in the hepatitis C field has been absolutely breathtaking,” Greaves said, “and unlike the case for HIV, we can actually cure patients with hepatitis C.”


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