Tag Archives: HIV virus

Young, British, and Living With HIV

sexeducation

“I remember not getting out of bed other than to use the loo. My friend had to stay with me just to make sure I was eating,” says ​Niyi Maximus Crown, a 25-year-old man who was diagnosed HIV positive in December 2011. “I didn’t even recognize my own thinking voice. I felt like I was going to be single for the rest of my life. The feelings of worthlessness made me angry and I started to hate myself.”

Last week, ​Public Health England (PHE) released its ​latest report on HIV. “In the UK there are 107,800 people living with HIV,” says Eleanor Briggs, Assistant Director of Policy and Campaigns at National AIDS Trust. In London, almost one in eight gay and bisexual men are HIV positive. Based on the stats from PHE, Briggs adds, “We can say about a third of people living with HIV infection, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, were resident in London.”

What’s more frightening is that PHE estimates that 24 percent of the people in the UK with HIV are currently undiagnosed.

Brandon Wardell Is a 22-Year-Old Comic Who’s Already Done an Album with Bob Odenkirk

Early diagnosis of HIV is crucial. Briggs states that a late diagnosis can mean treatment becomes less effective, reducing a person’s lifespan. Medication also helps stop the spread of HIV by lowering the amount of HIV virus in a positive person to undetectable levels so they are ​unlikely to pass it on.

And yet few people are talking honestly about HIV. In terms of everyday knowledge on the gay scene, HIV exists somewhere in limbo between the grim ​tombstone adverts of the 80s, statistics that get bounced around annually from numerous health organizations and the raw realities of chemsex-fuelled bareback sessions. The subject usually makes an appearance in the media once a year when ​World AIDS Day rolls around. A leading HIV consultant ​told the BBC that there’s a “complete lack of awareness” of the risks among many gay men in the UK.

As gay venues up and down the country prepare to mark World Aids Day (on December 1) with fundraising events for various LGBT charities, though, how many people do you know are comfortable with talking openly about being HIV positive? Do you even know anyone that’s openly HIV positive?

The truth is that, as a community, we still drive people who live with HIV into the closet. It’s not surprising that most gay men feel they want to keep their status private. Many struggled during their lives to come out as gay to their friends, families or work colleagues, and they may not even be out in all aspects of their lives. Having to then deal with the stigma that still exists around being HIV positive is akin to having to deal with a second coming out and, once again, another round of judgement and shame.

A few HIV negative people share their thoughts. “If you get HIV from unprotected sex you deserve it,” said one. Many might privately agree with him. But does that mean they deserve to feel forever alienated by society?

Niyi is better known in London’s gay clubs as Maximus Crown. He is one of the only DJs that is publicly out about being HIV positive, which is a big deal. The UK gay scene has very few openly HIV positive DJs, drag queens or promoters. But Niyi didn’t really have the choice of whether he should put his status out there—his best friend at the time decided to go public with it on Facebook for him.

“My best friend stayed with me every day to make sure that I wasn’t alone, didn’t starve or try and kill myself,” Niyi recalls. “Six months later I decided to distance myself from him because I started to notice things about our friendship that I wasn’t OK with. To get back at me he went onto the Facebook event page for a party I was booked to DJ at and posted a series of comments about me being HIV positive.”

The comments included accusations that Niyi had been having unprotected sex while aware he was HIV positive. “When it happened I wasn’t angry, I just wanted to log out of the universe. If I could have closed my eyes and stopped existing I would have, but it forced me to own my status, which in turn made me more comfortable discussing it publicly.”

If you are old enough to remember ​the campaigns of the 80s, then safer sex and the issues around HIV would have been drummed into your consciousness. But with the advent of combination therapy and the dramatic development of antiretroviral drugs that revolutionized care over the last fifteen years, AIDS-related deaths dropped substantially. Between 2001 and 2011, the rate of new infections ​dropped by 20 percent.

As the number of deaths fell, though, so too did government resources that educated people about HIV. Schools barely touched on the subject. To most people, it was seen as a disease that only affected poorer countries. It’s no wonder that the number of infections in young people has risen comparatively steeply compared to other age groups. As the ​United Nations Population Fund say, young people remain at the centre of the HIV epidemic in terms of rates of infection, vulnerability, impact, and potential for change. The young have grown up in a world changed by AIDS, but so many still lack the correct knowledge about how to prevent HIV infection. ​

For many recently infected guys, getting their head around living with HIV is one of the biggest challenges.

James Hanson-McCormick, 24, who was 18 when he was diagnosed with HIV said “I had no idea what HIV was or how it was contracted. I have had six years to think about my status, and not a single day goes by without me thinking about it. It’s so hard. I wish I knew more [then], I wish I had been better educated and that I knew enough to try and prevent it happening.”

It might sound naïve, but James isn’t alone in his experience. ​Luke Alexander is from Oldbury, a small town outside Birmingham, and was diagnosed HIV positive in June 2013. He was 18. “If I was in a sexual relationship with a guy when I was 15 or 16 it was monogamous,” he tells me. “When I hit 18 I treated myself to a fancy phone and discovered these apps and clubs. You’re new to everything and people say ‘download this’ and you find people want to hook up with you. It’s validation. You become quite promiscuous.”

Luke’s candidness took me aback. “I became incredibly egotistical and quite narcissistic,” he admits. “Add drugs and alcohol into the equation and it becomes quite a habit. One thing led to another and I didn’t take any precautions.”

Will Harris, Head of Media for ​Terrence Higgins Trust, says that while research shows that most gay men use condoms most of the time, it only takes one instance of unprotected sex for HIV to be passed on. “Condom use has to be consistent… It’s basic human nature to under-estimate risk, so our community needs to keep finding ways to reinforce the message that ‘He looks fine, it’ll probably be OK’ won’t give you the protection that a condom will.”

Earlier this year, Luke ​made headlines when he went on ITV’s This Morning to discuss his HIV status. “I never heard anything about HIV in school,” he said. “You can become a bit reckless when you come of age, but it’s far worse if you have no basis of knowledge to refer to.”

Like James, Luke’s ​sex and relationship education in school was virtually non-existent. “It lasted a few hours. If people weren’t there, they didn’t receive it. While they stressed the importance of contraception, it was for pregnancy. When I asked about anal sex, they said, ‘We don’t recommend it.’ I felt embarrassed. I just wanted to hear their perspective.”

Harris agrees that the education system has failed in this regard, saying that:

“Young gay men are generally frozen out by the current approach to sex education in schools.”

“The past is the past, though, and you can’t change that,” James reasons. “The great thing now is I’m healthy and happy. I’ve been on meds for five years now and doing so well. My health, in general, is alright.”

But living with HIV isn’t just about monitoring your physical wellbeing. The emotional strain of the constant check-ups and coming to terms with the virus can also present its own psychological strain.”Physically I’m fine,” James says. “I do suffer with depression, but that’s down to several things—not just my HIV. Sometimes it’s difficult juggling lots of meds every day. Often my depression gets bad and tells me I’m worthless and to not take it. But I have faith in medicine that one day there will be a cure.” His biggest wish is more altruistic still: “More knowledge and understanding around HIV and AIDS.”

For many recently infected guys, getting their head around living with HIV is one of the biggest challenges. Stigma is a major issue.

“Robert,” 29, (not his real name), has been HIV positive since 2007. A casual partner sexually assaulted him when he was passed out after a heavy drugs session. Only his closest friends and immediate family are aware of his status. He puts this down to the assumptions that people make about those who are positive. “It’s not the fact that it’s an unattractive quality [to be HIV positive], it’s that people think you had a choice. You hear a lot about bareback parties and people who think that those who have a lot of condom-less casual sex ‘deserve’ to get HIV. I don’t judge anybody but I don’t want to be put in that category. I’m not ashamed of being HIV positive, but it does affect how people perceive you if they don’t know you.”

Robert has told around ten partners about his status when they’ve asked about barebacking. “I don’t have unprotected sex unless we are both aware of our status,” he says. Even so, he says it’s still common for HIV positive guys to be afraid to disclose their status to others in the same position: “I’ve even met positive guys who I’ve been honest with, but they have lied about being positive because they don’t want to say they are.”

It’s upsetting to think that we are forcing so many thousands of gay men into a situation where they feel alienated by their own community. It takes a strong person to rise up against a tide of possible condemnation and be among the first to speak up.

Luke lost friends after going public about his diagnosis. People stopped answering his calls. He believes it was because they were afraid to be associated with somebody that was openly HIV positive. Similarly, when he confided in a friend about his status, she was more concerned that she’d shared his wine glass than how Luke was feeling. (Incidentally, if you labor under similar misconceptions, HIV cannot and ​will not be spread by sharing glasses.)

Sadly, despite it now being considered to be a very manageable long-term health condition, HIV is still widely misunderstood. “You can sit on a park bench and talk for two hours with someone about your diabetes,” Luke says. “But you can’t do that with HIV because you’ll often get a look of fear and shock.”

Niyi eventually reached a point when he had enough of feeling ashamed. “I woke up one day and was like, life isn’t always going to be easy. Self-pity isn’t fierce and it isn’t fun. Doing things and being around people that encouraged me to feel good about myself was such a big help.”

There is one hurdle that remains for him, though, and that’s relationships. He’s been single for seven years. “The thought of being rejected by a guy because of it terrifies me. I feel that it will always hold me back until I am able to get past that final fear.”

James has been luckier in love. He met his boyfriend 18 months ago and they married last August.

Niyi, Luke and James are heroes!  They have decided that it’s time to challenge the stigma that looms around HIV for no other reason than people are not talking about an issue that affects us all. The education system is broken, so they’ve taken it upon themselves to speak out about it. They have taken a situation that could have stripped them completely, that could, if they let it, absolutely define them, but instead have turned it into something powerful.

As his fears subsided, Luke was inspired by another HIV activist and started blogging about his experience. “It got a lot of attention. I wanted to help people understand and it was a feeling of empowerment. The good reactions that followed confirmed it was the right thing to do,” he says. He now also writes monthly about the subject for Gay Times.

Niyi agrees. “There are so many people suffering unnecessarily because they feel that being HIV nullifies everything good about who they are, but it really doesn’t. Everybody deserves to wake up feeling like they are of value and if all I have to do is talk about my situation in order for people to see that, then that’s what I will do. People need to know that someone’s HIV status is not an indication of what kind of person they are.”

Story via Vice

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When HIV is the cure.

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A man who was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of cancer two years ago is now amazingly in remission thanks to a revolutionary treatment that involved receiving an infusion of the HIV virus.

Marshall Jensen of Utah, was one of 30 leukemia patients to undergo a trial treatment at Penn Medicine recently, in which white blood cells are implanted with a harmless form of HIV programmed to target and kill cancer.

Marshall, his wife Amanda and their young son Kezman, had spent two years travelling around the States hoping to find a cure which was diagnosed a year after the couple got married.

They eventually met Dr Carl June at Penn Medicine in Pennsylvania, who has spent 20 years working on a breakthrough experimental treatment using HIV.  Dr June enrolled Marshall onto the trial and the results have been nothing short of miraculous.

As well as Marshall’s fantastic news, of the 30 leukaemia patients who received the treatment – comprised of five adults and 25 children – 23 are still alive and 19 are in remission.

Marshall told local TV news: “We didn’t know how we were going to get out there, what we were going to do, but it worked”

Last Thursday, a healthier Jensen returned to his home town to a surprise homecoming celebration.  The connection between leukemia and HIV was first discovered in 2006, when an HIV-positive man named Timothy Wood was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia.

After receiving a bone marrow transplant from a donor with a rare genetic mutation, Timothy’s cancer went into remission and the HIV disappeared from his system making him the first man to ever be fully cured of the virus.

Since then, Dr June and his team have been working on developing a HIV-based treatment for leukaemia and, this October, published a study showing the therapy’s success on 30 cancer patients.

The patients who received the treatment had billions of T-cells extracted from their body, which were taken to a lab and implanted with deactivated HIV.

The ‘serial killer’ cells are then put back into the body to fight and kill cancer, and remain dormant until the cancer reappears.  While the idea of receiving a dose of HIV may seem scary to some, Dr June says there’s nothing to fear about the stripped-down virus used in the treatment.

He explained: “It’s a disabled virus, but it retains the one essential feature of HIV, which is the ability to insert new genes into cells.”

Seven-year-old Emma Whitehead was the first child to receive the treatment in 2012, and has been cancer-free for two years now.  Dr June and his team are now looking at using the HIV treatment to attack other forms of cancers, and will be starting trials this summer for pancreatic cancer patients.

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HIV DOES NOT EXIST!!

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Did that grab your attention??  We hope so!

Many of our readers are fluent in ‘HIV speak’, our service users, volunteers, partner agencies and the many people who subscribe to our blog and follow us on twitter.  We don’t need to be told that HIV doesn’t exist because we know it does and have first-hand experience of the condition.

You could argue that within our industry, we have blinkers on, we see people infected and affected by HIV on a daily basis, we support people and we advocate.  We assist when people are victim to prejudice and stigma.  We offer emotional support to people when they need it most and we research the condition.

Yet for some people, it’s hard to believe that HIV is a real condition.  Some people believe that the HIV virus and its associated medical paraphernalia is a fabrication by pharmaceutical companies to create expensive drugs and keep people using them.

Others believe that HIV already has a cure, but this is being kept secret in order to keep the drug companies (i.e. Big Pharma) in business.

HIV/AIDS denialism is the belief, contradicted by conclusive medical and scientific evidence HIV does not cause AIDS.  Some denialists reject the existence of HIV, while others accept that HIV exists but say that it is a harmless passenger virus and not the cause of AIDS.  Insofar as denialists acknowledge AIDS as a real syndrome, they attribute it to some combination of sexual behaviour, recreational drugs, malnutrition, poor sanitation, haemophilia, or the effects of the drugs used to treat HIV infection in the first place.

The scientific consensus is that the evidence showing HIV to be the cause of AIDS is conclusive and that AIDS-denialist claims are pseudoscience based on conspiracy theories, faulty reasoning, cherry picking, and misrepresentation of mainly outdated scientific data.  With the rejection of these arguments by the scientific community, AIDS-denialist material is now targeted at less scientifically sophisticated audiences and spread mainly through the Internet.

Despite its lack of scientific acceptance, HIV/AIDS denialism has had a significant political impact, especially in South Africa under the presidency of Thabo Mbeki.  Scientists and physicians have raised alarm at the human cost of HIV/AIDS denialism, which discourages HIV-positive people from using proven treatments.

What do you think about this? – Fancy a chat with the Skeptics?

“Skeptics in the Pub” are a group of people in Leicester who like getting together in a pub to have a few beers and talk about ‘nonsense’.

Each month, they find a speaker – typically a scientist or prominent sceptic who will speak for around 40 minutes.  The subjects of the talks vary, but they will typically be about a common belief that either cannot be justified by the available evidence, or that can actually be demonstrated to be false by the available evidence.

Examples of these subjects are:

  • Alternative Medicine
  • Psychics & Mediums
  • Religious Beliefs
  • Holocaust Denial
  • Pseudoscience
  • Creationism

The talk is followed by an informal discussion by all who attend and their next talk is about “AIDS Denialism” with Myles Power.

In the early days of the AIDS epidemic many bizarre and dangerous ideas were advanced regarding the origin of the disease and its cause. Since the discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) these conspiracy theories, which once filled the void left by the lack of information, have all but vanished. Over the past three decades HIV has been the subject of intense scientific research which has resulted in effective treatments, rapid HIV tests, and promising cures. Yet unbelievably there are a small number of people who are sceptical of the “official story”. Although these people are small in numbers they are extremely well funded and can pose a very real threat to public health.

In this talk Myles discusses some examples of the dangerous assertions in the documentary ‘House of Numbers’ and explains how they have led to the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of people. He will also talk about the failure of the DMCA and how it can be exploited by the proponents of pseudoscience.

The talk is at 7:30pm on Tuesday, 19th August at The Font (52 Gateway Street, Leicester)

So if you fancy the debate, why not pop along it’s sure to be interesting!

 

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Human Genome Tinkering Could Be Our Best Bet to Beat HIV

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The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a crafty little beast, constantly mutating to mask itself from our body’s defenses, but always entering cells through the same molecular door. The design of that cellular door is governed by our DNA, so why not change the lock by modding our genetic code?

In 2006, a minor medical miracle occurred. HIV-positive leukemia patient Timothy Ray Brown—the second Berlin Patient—received a bone marrow transplant that saved his life in more ways than one. The marrow that he received was from a donor with a unique double mutation to a gene on the 3rd chromosome known as CCR5. This gene codes for the surface protein that the HIV virus uses to gain entry into our white blood cells (specifically, CD4+ T-cells); however the double mutation shuts down these sites and provides a natural immunity to HIV. This mutation is exceptionally rare, only occurring in about one percent of Caucasians and nowhere else. It’s been hypothesized that it’s this same natural immunity that allowed a small portion of Europeans to make it through the Black Plague unscathed.

While that was fantastic news for Brown, who nearly a decade later remains off of his retroviral drug regimen and maintains an undetectable level of the virus in his system, it’s not of much use to the rest of us. With both the mutation prevalence and bone marrow compatibility matches in general being so rare, there was no effective means of using transplants as delivery vectors for this beneficial genetic condition. And it’s worth noting that the very process of becoming HIV-free nearly killed Brown. But that’s where Professor Yuet Kan’s team at UCSF comes in.

Kan figured that if integrating this double mutation wouldn’t work on the macro level—that is, replacing a patient’s bone marrow with that of a naturally HIV-immune person’s—maybe it would at the molecular level, thereby allowing researchers to confer the benefits while cutting out the marrow donation. To that end, he and a team of researchers from the University of San Francisco are employing cutting-edge genetic editing techniques to snip out the beneficial length of DNA coding and integrate it with a patient’s own genome.

The technique they’re using is known as CRISPR (Cas9) genome-editing. CRISPRs, (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) are DNA delivery vectors that replace the existing base codes at a specific part of a specific chromosome with new base pair sets. Cas9, on the other hand are the “molecular scissors” that Kan’s team employs to first cut out the offending DNA. It sounds easy, sure—just find the string of DNA you want to replace, then snip it out with Cas9 DNA scissors, and install some new DNA using a CRISPR—however the nuts and bolts of the process are far more technically challenging.

The patient’s own blood cells would be employed as a precursor. Researchers would then have to convert those cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells by modulating a number of genetic switches, thereby instigating their regression to more basic stem cells. After that, the offending CCR5 gene would need to be knocked out and replaced with the better, double-mutated version before the now fortified blood cells were transfused back into the patient. Not only is there no chance of the body rejecting the new cells (they are the patient’s own after all), the technique also neatly sidesteps the whole embryonic stem cell issue.

While the technique is still in its early stages of development and no human trial dates have yet been set, it holds huge promise. Not just for the 35 million people annually infected by HIV, but also sufferers of sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis—two deadly diseases caused by a single protein deformation—could benefit from similar techniques. By figuring out which genes do what on our iPS cells, we could even theoretically grant everyone on Earth immediate immunity to any number of diseases.

Of course, being able to update and augment our genetic code opens up a whole slew of potential concerns, objections, and abuses. Just look at the ire raised over the use of embryonic stem cells in the early 2000s. People were lost their minds because they thought scientific progress was being built on the backs of fetuses. Researchers had to go and invent an entirely new way of making stem cells (the iPS lines) just to get around that one moralized sticking point, so you can bet there will be plenty of chimera, master race, and Island of Dr. Moreaureferences bandied about should we ever begin seriously discussing the prospect of upgrading our genes. And could certainly slow progress in this specific research.

That’s not to say that the hysteria that accompanies seemingly every news cycle these days is completely off base. Like cars, styrofoam, pressure cookers, and thermonuclear bombs, this technology can be used for evil just as easily as it can be for good. And while we’re not nearly as genetically complex as, say, an ear of corn, wrangling the myriad of interactions between our various genes is still an incredibly complex task and one with severe consequences should something go awry—even if we can avoid creating unwanted mutations through stringent testing and development methodology as we do with today’s pharmaceutical development. So why not turn ourselves into the ultimate GMOs? It certainly beats everyone becoming cyborgs.

Article via Gizmodo

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Stem cells edited to produce an HIV-resistant immune system

Bloods

A team of haematologists has engineered a particular white blood cell to be HIV resistant after hacking the genome of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

The technique has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was devised by Yuet Wai Kan of the University of California, former President of the American Society of Haematology, and his peers.

The white blood cell the team had ideally wanted to engineer was CD+4 T, a cell that is responsible for sending signals to other cells in the immune system, and one that is heavily targeted by the HIV virus. When testing for the progress of HIV in a patient, doctors will take a CD4 cell count in a cubic millimetre of blood, with between 500 and 1,500 cells/mm3 being within the normal range. If it drops below around 250, it means HIV has taken hold — the virus ravages these cells and uses them as an entry point.

HIV gains entry by attaching itself to a receptor protein on the CD+4 T cell surface known as CCR5. If this protein could be altered, it could potentially stop HIV entering the immune system, however. A very small number of the population have this alteration naturally and are partially resistant to HIV as a result — they have two copies of a mutation that prevents HIV from hooking on to CCR5 and thus the T cell.

In the past, researchers attempted to replicate the resistance by simply transplanting stem cells from those with the mutation to an individual suffering from HIV. The rarity of this working has been demonstrated by the fact that just one individual, Timothy Ray Brown (AKA the Berlin patient), has been publicly linked to the treatment and known to be HIV free today. The Californian team hoped to go right to the core of the problem instead, and artificially replicate the protective CCR5 mutation.

Kan has been working for years on a precise process for cutting and sewing back together genetic information. His focus throughout much of his career has been sickle cell anaemia, and in recent years this has translated to researching mutations and how these can be removed at the iPSC stage, as they are differentiated into hematopoietic cells. He writes on his university web page: “The future goal to treatment is to take skin cells from patients, differentiate them into iPS cells, correct the mutations by homologous recombination, and differentiate into the hematopoietic cells and re-infuse them into the patients. Since the cells originate from the patients, there would not be immuno-rejection.” No biggie.

This concept has now effectively been translated to the study of HIV and the CD+4 T cell.

Kan and his team used a system known as CRISPR-Cas9 to edit the genes of the iPSCs. It uses Cas9, a protein derived from bacteria, to introduce a double strand break somewhere at the genome, where part of the virus is then incorporated into the genome to act as a warning signal to other cells. An MIT team has already used the technique to correct a human disease-related mutation in mice.

When Kan and his team used the technique they ended up creating HIV resistant white blood cells, but they were not CD+4 T-cells. They are now speculating that rather than aiming to generate this particular white blood cell with inbuilt resistance, future research instead look at creating HIV resistant stem cells that will become all types of white blood cells in the body.

Of course, with this kind of therapy the risk is different and unexpected mutations could occur. In an ideal world, doctors will not want to be giving constant cell transplants, but generating an entirely new type of HIV resistant cells throughout the body carries its own risks and will need stringent evaluation if it comes at all close to being proven.

Speaking to Wired.co.uk, Louis Picker of the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at Oregon Health and Science University seemed cautiously hopeful: “This is an old idea, with an extensive literature, that is being updated in this paper with the use of the new CRISPR technology, which makes it much much easier to modify human genes.

“Given that the so-called Berlin patient was apparently functionally cured by getting a bone marrow transplant from a (rare) CCR5-null mutant donor, the approach would indeed be promising from a scientific standpoint. Keeping in mind that bone marrow transplant is not likely to be an option for treating the vast majority of HIV positive subjects on effective anti-retroviral therapy. CRISPR technology is no question a break-through, but whether this application will have wide impact is difficult to predict at this time.”

The California also used another technique to make the alterations to the genes. This resulted in resistance in CD+4 T-cells, with levels of the virus being reduced. However, further T-cell transplants were shown to be needed to maintain this. This result in itself is quite astounding, but not the cure Kan is working for.

Story via Wired

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