Frequently Asked Questions

What is a White Walker?

In the Game of Thrones universe, there are many “bad guys,” but none as dangerous or more mysterious as the White Walkers. In Game of Thrones, the White Walkers are a group of snow monsters that possess a human being to do their bidding and join their army. Once a character in the show is infected by the White Walkers, they can then continue to infect other characters and make more servants for the White Walkers. In many ways, this mirrors the HIV virus, which infects CD4 cells and recruits them to build more of the virus. Once this new virus is created and released from the CD4 cell, it can infect other CD4 cells and turn them into HIV factories.


What is a CD4 cell?

Blue Wolf with a 4 by the head“Help Is On The Way” when these cells are around to fight the White Walkers and these house words represent this role. One of the most important components of the immune system, these cells play an essential role in helping the body hunt down infections, much like the wolf represented on the House of CD4 sigil. However, as HIV begins to destroy these cells, opportunistic infections take advantage of the body’s weakened defenses and overtake the body.



What is a CD8 cell?

Cells that are a normal part of a healthy immune system, the House of CD8 grows during times of attack by HIV and proliferates throughout the land. After all, their house words are “Fire and Blood.” The rapid rise of these cells can cause more harm than good. Once a person living with HIV gets on medication and HIV is undetectable, these “shock troops” need to stop the battle and return to their castle, but often they stick around looting and plundering. When the CD8s outnumber the CD4s by too much we know bad things happen to people living with HIV (i.e. heart disease, stroke, and COPD), sometimes even when they are taking their medication and HIV is undetectable. It takes time for CD8 T-cells to calm down, even after HIV is fully suppressed.


What is a CD4-Infected QVOA?

Blue 4 Overlayed on a Red XThese are the tortured CD4 cells infected with HIV. As the virus integrates its own DNA into the genes of the CD4 cell, it becomes a factory for HIV, making more of the virus. Much like the servants created by the White Walkers in Game of Thrones, the red “4” inlayed on a cross represents the tormented CD4 cells forced to do the bidding of the virus. QVOA refers to Quantitative Viral Outgrowth Assay, a technical assay used to determine if these cells are truly infectious or not. If you want to learn more about, QVOA, stay tuned. We will be blogging about the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of QVOA and other assays aimed at measuring how much hidden HIV exists even when a person living with HIV is taking medication and has an undetectable viral load in the blood.


What is a CD4-Infected, Not Infectious cell?

4 fists with red virus inlayedNot all CD4 cells fall prey to the White Walkers. While HIV can place its DNA into the genes of the CD4 cell, it does not necessarily mean it will make new virus! Sometimes the cell lives on with the new DNA, much like the character “Coldhands” in Game of Thrones. Coldhands is infected by the White Walkers, but does not become one of their servants. Instead, he lives on with a piece of the White Walkers inside of him. The implications of this are unknown at this time, which mirrors what is known about the cells described by this house! The blue, outstretched hands embedded with the red virus on the House of CD4-Infected, Not-Infectious Cells represent this.


What is the CD4/CD8 Ratio?

The main area of our research! It is also a number that shows the relationship between CD4 and CD8 cells in a person’s immune system. A high CD4/CD8 ratio (more than 1 CD4 cell for every CD8 cells) is a very good indication of a healthy immune system. A lower ratio puts someone at risk for certain diseases like heart disease and stroke. It is currently unknown if a ratio can be “too high” or not but some people naturally have higher ratios than others.

How does the ratio relate to HIV?

As HIV disease advances, it begins to eliminate CD4 cells, which are important to immunity. Even before the CD4 cell count starts to drop, the, CD8 cells begin to increase. Both the CD4 drop and the CD8 increase makes the CD4/CD8 ratio go down. When CD8 cells are too high for too long they cause widespread, chronic inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation can cause serious disease, such as heart disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), stroke, and liver disease. For a short 3 min video that explains this go to our video page

Why was this website made?

Here at the Striker lab we are hoping to reach and educate people interested in learning more about HIV and the research that is being done across the world to combat it! By sharing cutting edge ideas and current HIV topics all in one place, we hope to sway the odds in the fight against HIV and give the tools of information and knowledge to people living with the disease. We seek to build a community of complexity, diversity, strangeness, humor and science. Join us (but the physical lab is small so don’t stay too long).

What’s with the Game of Thrones theme?

The fight against HIV shares a likeness for the popular HBO show and the battle for the main continent of the Game of Thrones universe, Westeros. We like to have a little fun here at the Striker lab and being able to relate our research to something in pop culture gives us a chance to reach many more people! At the same time we are looking to expand to other fantasy/sci fi realms. Any way of pulling in new concepts and thinking into the constant struggle of  between self and nonself is cool with us.

Are you sure you guys know anything about Game of Thrones? Aren’t there suppose to be, you know some dragons?

Don’t worry, we will be adding content every month and you will find out who the dragons are. If you have suggestions for houses that should be added or want to help add analogies or artwork or whatever, please contact us with your ideas. That said, things are different between the show and the books and the point of this website is to educate and encourage people to get their immune system “in balance” and healthy. When you play the Game of T cells, you win or you die!

Do I need to know anything about Game of Thrones to enjoy/learn from this website?

Not at all! Although the theme of this website relies heavily on the popular TV show, we have attempted to make it as user-friendly as possible and explain the main points from the show that non-Game of Thrones watchers may not know. We generally love fantasy and are “expanding the Game of T cells Multiverse”. We hope to include everyone interested in the strange ways the immune system and microbes co-exist, but we are pretty sure humanity is at the center of the multiverse. Yes, we are backwards like that. Soon we will be sending selected research groups “Rings of Power” and we encourage readers of this website to nominate and even self nominate research papers for a potential “Ring of Power” in our world there will likely be far more than 20 “Rings of Power” but whether they are “Gifts” remains to be seen.

You really aren’t that funny, why don’t you drop the corny forced cultural references and just post stuff about immunology. You aren’t even a real immunologist. Real Immunologists don’t have to google what a specific cytokine does. If you can’t recite all the CDs from memory and which ones are on which cells you have no business having an opinion much less hosting a website that pretends to understand immunology!!!

Ok, slow down, little overwhelming imposter syndrome. We believe immunology is boring but important and should be accessible to anyone who might get an infection. Also in a wonderful book called “The ABCs of how we learn” (shout out to Daniel Schwartz, Jessica Tsang and Kristen Blair) in the “A” chapter is all about the power of analogy to enhance learning and even create new understanding. I would like to post a figure from their book and will get to it sometime, but essentially analogies are not just ways to separate high SAT scores from low SAT scores, analogies can provoke new thinking by asking us to think about the relationship between things, and even bad analogies challenge us to point out why they fail.

What if I am offended by the content of this site?

PLEASE let us know if you find any of the content on this website offensive. Our goal is NOT to make light of the situation people living with HIV face. Although we like to have fun here at the Striker lab, we take our research and the health of our patients very seriously, which is why we have created this website. Our intention is to educate and build a community that can help other individuals living with HIV or other immune related difficulties. Please Contact us immediately if you do not feel we are keeping in line with this goal.