Unlike many research scientists who toil in relative obscurity, Candace Pert has already earned full-fledged icon status. In medical circles, Pert is perhaps best known for her opiate receptor, endorphin and peptide research—detailed in Pert’s bestselling 1997 book, Molecules of Emotion—along with her current role as Scientific Director of RAPID (Receptor Active Peptides Into Drugs) Pharmaceuticals in Washington, DC, which is centered around AIDS research.
"This is an incredibly exciting time in human’s health history...there’s a real shift to appreciating the truth that when it comes to health—your mind really matters."-- Candace Pert
But it was Pert’s cameo in the hit indy movie What the Bleep Do We Know!? in 2004 that brought her worldwide fame and turned her into an cult figure for the New Age and Hollywood sets; her lectures throughout the country are wildly popular among those seeking a scientifically sound yet spiritual path to optimum health and wellbeing. Pert’s latest book, Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d, adds to her already impressive career, and her global status often finds her mentioned in the same breath with self-help gurus such as Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson and Wayne Dyer. Pert's most important work, however, might just be just getting started.
At her core, Pert remains a scientist, and she is doggedly determined to finally bring to market a non-toxic, highly potent HIV drug (called Peptide T) that she helped discover more than twenty years ago. Pert believes Peptide T* has the potential to effective treat, and possibly even cure, HIV.
In the course of a lengthy conversation, Pert touched on a wide range of topics—the mind-body connection, science and spirituality, the role of discrimination on health and wellbeing and her cutting-edge HIV research. Here are some highlights from the conversation:
The body-mind connection is a foundation for much of your work. But can people literally think themselves into better health?
Your thoughts have a profound affect on your health, that’s been proven. What we think and believe about ourselves tends to be predictive. It’s important to realize that the body isn’t static—it’s constantly going through regeneration and repair. The way all these new cells find their place in our body is under the control of what I call the molecules of emotion. In the lab I’ve proven that the molecules of emotion are our feelings and they affect—based upon where they lie anatomically—the way we see the world. But you can’t just logic it all out and think yourself well. I’m big on therapies that bypass the head and go right to our bodies. Bodywork can be very effective in liberating old, harmful memories. As a practical matter, your diet, sleep patterns, how much water your drink, and staying away from substance abuse can have a major impact on our mood and how we feel about ourselves. But at the core of it all is our emotions. There’s no question that 30-year-old memories can be running our lives.
Depression, substance abuse and even smoking are very prevalent in the gay community. What role does discrimination play in our health?
People who are discriminated against, such as the gay community, have it harder. I’m a rat doctor, not a trained psychologist, but over the years I’ve interwoven my own experience with what I know as a scientist. I’ve come to the idea that loving yourself and others and having a divine connection—which is a very controversial idea for some—is the root and source of our creativity, joy and happiness, whether you’re gay or straight.
In your book, you’ve boldly called Peptide T a possible cure for HIV. But what exactly is Peptide T?
Peptide T is an experimental therapeutic treatment for HIV disease, which was actually invented over 20 years ago at the National Institutes of Health by my colleague Mike Ruff and I. It’s shown to be non-toxic and able to reduce the viral burden both in plasma and in cells and has shown no toxicity in combination with various HAART regimens. A vaccine developed from it neutralizes against all strains of the virus and has already been tested by the NIH experts. I’m extremely gratified by the fact that the development of the drug, which has long been delayed by the licensing practices of the NIH, is now moving forward into large scale clinical testing.
What specifically caused such a long delay?
I think Peptide T is very cutting edge stuff—what’s often called a premature discovery. It was made many years ago, before people ever knew what receptors the virus used. Only within the last few years have we realized that the receptor which Peptide T blocks is CCR5, which turns out to be the most important receptor that the virus in humans beings uses to infect cells. So there were misinterpretations of our early data, which often happens when you make a big leap into uncharted territory. We’ve worked a long time on this and we think we’re finally coming down the home stretch. There are sure to be plenty of skeptics out there. What would you say to them? I know in some ways this drug sounds too good to be true, but I’m completely optimistic because the new breakthrough is the scientific data from the NIH, based on its own study. I think the clinicians will be very excited—the new clinical data and published papers are available on The Institute for New Medicine’s website (www.TINM.org). But I’m positive we’ve got something novel and helpful—all we have to do is put our heads together and reach out. It’s gonna happen.
Treatment of HIV/AIDS has come a long way since the 1980s. What’s your take on the medical community’s success rate so far?
It’s been very exciting to see HIV go from being a death sentence to being a chronic manageable disease. But it’s sad, because I’ve been at this for a long time and I have a rolodex of friends who are no longer on the planet. But you have to be positive and realize that this is a disease in its 25th year, and in that time we’ve isolated the virus and developed rational treatments for it. So it’s really a huge success story, how much has been accomplished. But I believe a vaccine will be in trials very soon. Let’s get rid of this disease already.
You’re well known now for combining hard science with spirituality. Where do you think the quest for optimum health is heading in the future?
This is an incredibly exciting time in human’s health history. There are new treatments coming available all the time, and there’s a real shift to appreciating the truth that when it comes to health—your mind really matters. It’s not some ‘airy fairy’ thing and scientists like myself now understand this. The challenge is to expose energy physiology—stuff like guided meditations, affirmations, and music therapy—and take a real look at their potential. One day people will look back at this time and say this is when a real shift occurred. -- Mitch Rustad
*Peptide T 'Buyers Club' Alert --As Peptide T gains media attention, sales of PT are starting to pop up online. Scientists have almost always found that "underground" drugs available through buyers clubs have no biological activity because the peptide is not formulated properly and becomes inactive almost immediately. Peptide T has been found to quickly become inactive and we have determined that lots of underground Peptide T does indeed suffer from this flaw. --Editors
*Original interview published on Jan. 30, 2007