October 30, 2020

The Editor speaks: AIDS


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colin headOn Tuesday we made the world aware of AIDS. Here in the we joined the rest of the world in marking World AIDS Day, which has the theme this year ‘On the Fast-Track to end AIDS by 2030’. See iNews Cayman story published November 30 2015 “World AIDS Day December 1, 2015” at: https://www.ieyenews.com/wordpress/world-aids-day-december-1-2015/

Currently, some 36.9 million people around the world live with /AIDS; 17.1 million people don’t know they are infected with the virus and need to be reached with HIV testing services; and around 22 million do not have access to HIV treatment, including 1.8 million children.

The fight against AIDS has been ongoing for over 30 years and still there is no cure. Why? Because no one has been able to remove HIV from the body.

The very best, if you can afford it, is treatment that can control HIV and enable people to “live a long and healthy life”. : http://www.avert.org/about-hiv-aids/cure

There have been so called “HIV Cures” that have made headline news.

The following are excerpts from PBS NOVA NEXT “Why There’s No HIV Cure Yet
By Alison Hill”

In March 2013, doctors from Mississippi reported that the disease had vanished in a toddler who was infected at birth. Four months later, researchers in Boston reported a similar finding in two previously HIV-positive men. All three were no longer required to take any drug treatments. The media heralded the breakthrough, and there was anxious optimism among HIV researchers. Millions of dollars of grant funds were earmarked to bring this work to more patients.

But in December 2013, the optimism evaporated. HIV had returned in both of the Boston men. Then, just this summer, researchers announced the same grim results for the child from Mississippi.

The progression from HIV infection to AIDS and eventual death occurs in over 99% of untreated cases—making it more deadly than Ebola or the plague.

HIV disrupts the body’s natural disease-fighting mechanisms, which makes it particularly deadly and complicates efforts to develop a vaccine against it. Like all viruses, HIV gets inside individual cells in the body and highjacks their machinery to make thousands of copies of itself. HIV replication is especially hard for the body to control because the white blood cells it infects, and eventually kills, are a critical part of the immune system. Additionally, when HIV copies its genes, it does so sloppily. This causes it to quickly mutate into many different strains. As a result, the virus easily outwits the body’s immune defenses, eventually throwing the immune system into disarray. That gives other obscure or otherwise innocuous infections a chance to flourish in the body—a defining feature of AIDS.

The secret to why HIV is so hard to cure lies in a quirk of the type of cell it infects. Our immune system is designed to store information about infections we have had in the past; this property is called “immunologic memory.” That’s why you’re unlikely to be infected with chickenpox a second time or catch a disease you were vaccinated against. When an infection grows in the body, the white blood cells that are best able to fight it multiply repeatedly, perfecting their infection-fighting properties with each new generation. After the infection is cleared, most of these cells will die off, since they are no longer needed. However, to speed the counter-attack if the same infection returns, some white blood cells will transition to a hibernation state. They don’t do much in this state but can live for an extremely long time, thereby storing the “memory” of past infections. If provoked by a recurrence, these dormant cells will reactivate quickly.

This near-immortal, sleep-like state allows HIV to persist in white blood cells in a patient’s body for decades. White blood cells infected with HIV will occasionally transition to the dormant state before the virus kills them. In the process, the virus also goes temporarily inactive. By the time drugs are started, a typical infected person contains millions of these cells with this “latent” HIV in them. Drug cocktails can prevent the virus from replicating, but they do nothing to the latent virus. Every day, some of the dormant white blood cells wake up. If drug treatment is halted, the latent virus particles can restart the infection.

Despite our grim track record with the disease, HIV is probably not incurable. Although we don’t have a cure yet, we’ve learned many lessons along the way. Most importantly, we should be extremely careful about using the word “cure,” because for now, we’ll never know if a person is cured until they’re not cured.

Clearing out latent virus may still be a feasible approach to a cure, but the purge will have to be extremely thorough. We need drugs that can carefully reactivate or remove latent HIV, leaving minimal surviving virus while avoiding the problems that befell earlier tests that reactivated the entire immune system. Scientists have proposed multiple, cutting-edge techniques to engineer “smart” drugs for this purpose, but we don’t yet know how to deliver this type of treatment safely or effectively.

As a result, most investigations focus on traditional types of drugs. Researchers have developed ways to rapidly scan huge repositories of existing medicines for their ability to target latent HIV. These methods have already identified compounds that were previously used to treat alcoholism, cancer, and epilepsy, and researchers are repurposing them to be tested in HIV-infected patients.
The less latent virus that remains, the less chance there is that the virus will win the game of chance.

Mathematicians are also helping HIV researchers evaluate new treatments.

Many researchers are working to augment the body’s ability to control the infection, providing a functional cure rather than a sterilizing one. Studies are underway to render anyone’s immune cells resistant to HIV, mimicking the CCR5 mutation that gives some people natural resistance. Vaccines that could be given after infection, to boost the immune response or protect the body from the virus’s ill effects, are also in development.

In the meantime, treating all HIV-infected individuals—which has the added benefit of preventing new transmissions—remains the best way to control the epidemic and reduce mortality. But the promise of “universal treatment” has also not materialized. Currently, even in the U.S., only 25% of HIV-positive people have their viral levels adequately suppressed by treatment. Worldwide, for every two individuals starting treatment, three are newly infected. While there’s no doubt that we’ve made tremendous progress in fighting the virus, we have a long way to go before the word “cure” is not taboo when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

To read the whole article go to: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/missing-hiv-cure/

So have we set our sights and expectations to find a cure for aids in 15 years time too high?

The world is at last seemingly halting the rise in AIDS. is reporting that 15 million people are accessing lifesaving treatment and new HIV infections have been reduced by 35% since the year 2000 with AIDS related deaths also seeing a reduction as much as 42% since the peak of 2004. The world is halting and reversing the spread of HIV according to the UNAIDS report and has been forced into decline.

There is hope but one’s lifestyle should also play its part. Unprotected sex is like a time bomb. Don’t start the clock ticking.

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