B.S. Biochemical Sciences -Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts
M.D./Ph.D.-Medicine/Immunology-Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri
Publisher: Self-published through ScienceThrillers Media
Thriller Sub-genre: Medical
The Simon Review
The basis of my blog is to review thriller book series and any new additions as they come along, but I am going to break my rule this time for Dr. Amy Rogers who also has a book review blog similar to mine called ScienceThrillers. Dr. Rogers is also a budding writer and she has asked me to review her latest novel, Reversion. This review is my own personal opinion and Dr. Rogers hasn’t threatened to steal my first born grandchild nor has she paid me to give her a good review.
My day job is managing and working in a laboratory, which means I have to endure countless government as well as institutional oversights for the day to day operations of the laboratory. First there are visits from EH&S, Environmental Health and Safety, who come around occasionally and check out to see if I have updated my SOPs, Standard Operating Procedures, a detailed description of what I do in the laboratory and MSDS, Material Safety Data Sheets, which are documents that describe in excruciating detail every chemical in the laboratory. Once these documents are produced, nobody ever looks at them again, but they are there just in case. If one works with radioactivity, they get to deal with the RSC, Radiation Safety Committee, or if they work with human subjects they get to work with the IRB, Institutional Review Board, or with animals the IACUC, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. I don’t even want to begin on the amount of regulation and oversight that is necessary if a drug trial is involved especially if it involves a live virus. Anytime that one gets the opportunity to work with one of these committees, it will surely mean countless piles of paper work and weeks, months and even years of delays before any research can even begin.
So you may ask, why am I boring you with a bunch of acronyms and what does this have to do with a review on Amy Rogers’ medical thriller, Reversion? Plenty, because the main protagonist, Dr. Tessa Price, has made a pact with the devil in order to circumvent all the hoopla that goes on when a researcher wants to test their drug on real live people. Price has designed a drug based on gene therapy using the rabies virus as a vector to deliver the genetic material to the specific tissue to where it would be most effective and in this case nervous tissue. If she were to test this drug here in the US of A, it could take months if not years and countless mounds of paperwork and meetings at a huge cost before a human trial could be launched. Tessa Price avoids all of this by setting up her drug trial at a hospital in Mexico that accepts medical tourist. Mexico’s regulation on clinical trials and research testing are one of the most lenient in the world and Amy Rogers gives us a glimpse on a grand scale to why this may be a problem.
The devil that Tessa Price made a pact with is Dr. Manuel Vargas, who makes a comfortable living by hosting patients from around the world in his hospital, the Palacio, which is more like a posh resort than a hospital. Vargas has also made a pact with a devil that is even more evil then himself, which is Luis Angel de la Rosa, the leader of a drug cartel known as the Sinaloa. Vargas has been buying pain medication for his patients illegally through the Sinaloa and it is payback time, and the cost is a kidney transplant for de la Rosa. Once de la Rosa enters the hospital all things go to hell, so to speak, as a rival drug cartel, the Zetas, decide it is time to declare war on the Sinaloa. If that wasn’t bad enough, Vargas also conducts animal trials at his hospital which includes the use of chimpanzees in a facility that was not designed for primates especially chimpanzees. As a result of the poor conditions of the facility and the inadequate care of all the animals, an epidemic of what seems to be a rabies-like disease takes place among all of the animals in the facility, including the chimpanzees. Once the war between the drug cartels begin, the animals escape and as one would expect, the results are total mayhem.
As for our protagonist, Tessa Price, I have mixed feelings. A certain part of me sympathizes with her need to bypass regulations to test her drug but another part of me felt that her arrogance pushed forth her agenda that resulted in tremendous suffering for a number of people. The shining light of the story is Dr. Sameer Desai, a physician working with Price, who also has romantic feelings for her. His total selflessness and his need to do what is right is nothing less than inspiring.
Now I am one of the first to complain about the rigorous regulatory oversight that goes with the territory of research and medicine, but after reading Amy Rogers’ Reversion, I might bite my tongue the next time I open my mouth to complain. Reversion is a fun medical thriller that not only gives you a great ride but also provides food for thought on the trials and tribulations of doing clinical trials in third world countries. It also raises awareness over the use of viruses in drug therapy especially viruses that may be pathogenic if they revert to a more lethal form, such as the rabies virus.
What about the science? Amy Rogers has both a MD as well as a PhD in immunology, which makes her very qualified in all aspects of the science in her novel. But don’t let that intimidate you; she is also very good in presenting the science in way that anybody can understand and in a non-patronizing way.
The Tessa Price Technical Word in Review: Batten disease- Is a genetically inherited disorder that shows signs of disease between 5 to 8 years of age. The children experience loss of vision, seizures, clumsiness, and involuntary coordination of muscle movement which eventually leads to death usually in their late teens to early twenties. There are several variations of the disease and eight mutations are known to be contributors to the different variations, but all variations have the outcome of producing a buildup of lipofuscin. Lipofuscin are yellow-brown granules found in a variety of cells and are believed to be ‘waste’ products made up of primarily oxidized unsaturated fatty acids which may be a result of damage to the cell’s membrane, mitochondria, or lysozymes. Lipofuscin accumulation increases as an organism ages but in Batten disease the accumulation is well above normal which is most likely caused by a breakdown in the mechanism of lipofuscin formation or removal.
Researchers at Weill Medical College of Cornell University are presently conducting clinical trials on the safety of using gene vector transfer therapy for Batten disease. Unlike Tessa Price’s use of the rabies virus as the vector, Cornell researchers are instead using an adeno-associated virus. Adeno-associated viruses are very small viruses that do not cause disease and only cause a very mild immune response which makes it a very good candidate as a vector for gene transfer.
For six months, the colleagues she’d trained had been treating the boy with the therapeutic virus she designed. For six months they scrutinized him for any sign of improvement. Until a few weeks ago, all they could say was Gunnar hadn’t gotten any worse. Which was a victory of sorts for a child with Batten disease. The relentless genetic killer tore the patient ever downward. Stability was a blessing. -Reversion
Fifty thousand US dollars, sealed in watertight stacks of $100 bills, was a peculiar baggage for a hike in the foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur.
Dr. Tessa Price: Researcher scientist working on a drug for Batten disease, a medical school dropout that has a PhD
Gunnar: Seven year old boy that has Batten disease and is being treated with Dr. Price’s drug.
Lyle Simmons: A medical tourist visiting the Palacio to receive treatment
Isabella Branco: Simmons girlfriend
Dr. Manuel Vargas: Head of the Palacio, a resort-like hospital that caters to medical tourist
Cristo Castillo: Vargas’ technologist
Dr. Sameer Desai: A physician at the Palacio who is overseeing Gunnar’s treatment
Near Acapulco and other parts of Mexico
Rabies kills. Can it also cure?
Tessa Price, PhD, knows what it’s like to lose a child to a genetic disease. To spare another mother this pain, she invents a radical new gene therapy that might save the life of seven-year-old Gunnar Sigrunsson. Unable to get regulatory approval to treat Gunnar in the US, she takes her clinical trial to the Palacio Centro Medico, a resort-like hospital on a Mexican peninsula where rich medical tourists get experimental treatments that aren’t available anywhere else.
When the hospital is taken over by a brutal drug cartel, Tessa hides with a remarkable trio of Palacio clients—rich Texan Lyle Simmons, his much-younger Brazilian girlfriend, and his protection dog, a German shepherd named Dixie, only to learn that the gangsters aren’t the only deadly threat they face. A rabies-like infection that began in the Palacio’s research chimpanzees has spread to humans. Tessa investigates and finds a shocking connection to her gene therapy experiment. In the wake of this discovery, Tessa must weigh the value of one human life against another—including her own.
Looking for other reviews of Reversion? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.65 out of 5 stars based on 31 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: 5.00 out of 5 stars based on 7 ratings
GoodReads Rating: 4.27 out of 5 stars based on 82 ratings
Library Thing Rating: 4.50 out of 5 stars based on 2 ratings
Total Score 4.41 (updated 8/16/17)