Science won’t stop until it beats AIDS, says HIV pioneer

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, French virologist and director of the Regulation of Retroviral Infections Division (Unite de Regulation des Infections Retrovirales) at the Institut Pasteur, poses during an interview with Reuters, in Paris, France, October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, French virologist and director of the Regulation of Retroviral Infections Division (Unite de Regulation des Infections Retrovirales) at the Institut Pasteur, poses during an interview with Reuters, in Paris, France, October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Oct 9 More than 30 years after she identified one of the most pernicious viruses to infect humankind, Francoise Barre Sinoussi, who shared a Nobel prize for discovering HIV, is hanging up her lab coat and retiring.

Story via Reuters


She’s disappointed not to have been able to claim ultimate victory in the battle against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes the killer disease AIDS, but also proud that in three decades, the virus has been beaten into check.

While a cure for AIDS may or may not be found in her lifetime, the 68-year-old says, achieving “remission” – where infected patients control HIV in their bodies and, crucially, can come off treatment for years – is definitely within reach.

“I am personally convinced that remission…is achievable. When? I don’t know. But it is feasible,” she told Reuters at her laboratory at Paris’s Pasteur Institute, where she and her mentor Luc Montagnier discovered HIV in 1983.

“We have ‘proof of concept’. We have…the famous Visconti patients, treated very early on. Now it is more than 10 years since they stopped their treatment and they are still doing very well, most of them.”

Sinoussi is referring to a study group of 14 French patients known as the Visconti cohort, who started on antiretroviral treatment within 10 weeks of being infected and stayed on it for an average of three years. A decade after stopping the drugs, the majority have levels of HIV so low they are undetectable.

These and other isolated cases of remission, or so-called “functional cure”, give hope to the 37 million people worldwide who, due to scientific progress, should now be able to live with, not have their lives cut short by, HIV.

In developed countries at least – and in many poorer ones too – an HIV positive diagnosis is no longer an immediate death sentence, since patients can enjoy long, productive lives in decent health by taking antiretroviral drugs to control the virus.

It’s a long way from the early 1980s, when Sinoussi remembers sick, dying HIV-positive patients coming to the doors of the Pasteur and pleading with scientists there for answers.

“They asked us: ‘What we are going to do to cure us’,” she says. At that time, she says, she knew relatively little about HIV, but what she was sure of was that these patients would never live long enough to see a treatment developed, let alone a cure. “It was very, very hard.”

Yet this interaction with real patients, and with their doctors and later their advocates, gave Sinoussi an important insight into what was needed to make her life in science one with meaning and impact — collaboration.

Working across barriers – be they scientific disciplines, cultural, religious and political divides, international borders or gender distinctions, has been and remains Sinoussi’s driving force.

In her earliest days, feeling disengaged while working on her PhD and itching for action in a real-life laboratory, she hustled her way in to working at the male-dominated Pasteur Institute for free with a virologist researching links between cancers and retroviruses in mice.

While viruses are her thing, she has throughout her career worked with, cajoled and learned from immunologists, cancer specialists, experts in diseases of aging, pharmaceutical companies, AIDS patients, campaigners, and even the pope.

“When you work in HIV, it’s not only working in HIV, it’s working far, far beyond,” she said.

Freshly armed with her Nobel award and fired up about a lack of support for proven methods of preventing HIV’s spread, Sinoussi wrote an open letter to then-Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 criticising him for saying that condoms can promote the spread of AIDS.

In what was widely seen as a modification of his stance in response to such criticism, Benedict said in a book a year later that use of condoms could sometimes be justified in certain limited cases as a way to fight AIDS.

Sinoussi says: “HIV has shown the way to go in the field of science. You can’t be isolated in your laboratory. You need to work with others.”

And this, she adds, is the “all together” spirit with which she advises her successors to continue after she’s gone.

Many will be sad to see her leave, but she has faith that her chosen field will deliver for the people who need it.

“Of course, I would love to have stopped and to see we had a vaccine against HIV and another treatment that could induce remission – but that’s life. I encourage the new generation of scientists today to continue our work.

“Science never stops,” she says. “Just because a scientist stops, the science should not stop.”

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The virus that could help stop HIV


We’ve all heard of friendly bacteria, but a friendly virus? Called the pegivirus, catching it doesn’t make you sick. Instead, it can help the immune system to keep HIV infections in check. Discovered in 1995, scientists do not understand how it works, but that could soon change. Researchers at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Centre recently discovered baboons have their own pegivirus strain, offering a new way to study the oddball virus. Their investigation, published in Science Translational Medicine in September, may inspire new ways to tackle HIV.

Story via Cosmos Magazine

The pegivirus is found in about one in every six people, with infections lasting up to a decade before being cleared from the body. It can be transmitted from mother to child, through contact with an infected person’s blood, or sexually. In the US, where the virus is not included in routine blood bank screens, an estimated 1,000 people receive pegivirus-positive blood or blood products each day.

While the pegivirus is genetically related to the hepatitis C virus, it doesn’t cause disease. On the contrary, researchers discovered in 2001 that the pegivirus appeared to protect some HIV-positive patients from developing AIDS. An 11-year study of 362 patients found 56% of HIV-positive people who did not carry pegivirus died. But among those patients infected with the pegivirus, the death rate was only 29%.

How pegivirus thwarts HIV “has really been a bit confusing”, says Stephen Kent, an immunologist at the University of Melbourne. “But if you could mimic that with something that’s more potent – that would be good.”

The pegivirus seems to calm immune activation, although researchers don’t yet know how it does this.

So what’s the pegivirus’ secret? “That’s the million-dollar question,” says Adam Bailey, lead author of the new study. Researchers need to study the pegivirus in an animal before it can be answered – one where the virus behaves much as it does in humans, happily cohabiting with its host without causing disease. Macaques failed the test: after being given human pegivirus they quickly cleared the infection. Maybe it was a matter of finding a money-version of the virus? Primates are known to carry viruses closely related to those we carry. For instance many primate species carry a virus closely related to HIV, called Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV).

So Bailey’s team hunted for a pegivirus that had struck up a long-term relationship with a non-human primate. They found it in 30-year-old samples of baboon blood stashed in a colleague’s freezer. Although that virus was genetically similar to the human strain, when it was injected into macaques it stayed in their blood for up to 200 days without causing harm, long enough for the researchers to study it.

The researchers euthanised some infected monkeys, analysed their tissues for pegivirus RNA, and found most of the virus nestled in the spleen and bone marrow. These are also the tissues where HIV holes up. Pegivirus appeared to be actively replicating only in bone marrow, since removing the spleen of an infected monkey did not change the blood levels of the virus.

The fact that pegivirus and HIV are replicating in the same tissues – though not necessarily in the same cells – offers a further a clue to how pegivirus may thwart HIV, says the study’s senior author, David O’Connor.

When the immune system detects an invading virus, it pumps out more T cells – the infantry of the immune army. Alas that strategy plays right into the enemy’s hands since HIV replicates in and destroys those very cells. More T cells are produced to make up the casualties, giving HIV more cells to exploit. This vicious cycle decimates the immune system.

Cell infected with HIV. HIV attacks T cells, which are crucial in the body’s immune system. The pegivirus helps the body resist HIV.CREDIT: THOMAS DEERINCK / NCMIR / GETTY IMAGES

The researchers found pegivirus seems to slow the recruitment of new T cells from bone marrow. Kent speculates the pegivirus might prompt T cells to make molecules that lock HIV out. For instance the anti-HIV drug Maraviroc acts this way by blocking the CCR5 receptor on T cells.

The Wisconsin team’s next step will be to co-infect macaques with pegivirus and SIV, the monkey form of HIV, to see how the viruses interact. They hope that once they discover how the pegivirus blocks HIV, they’ll be able to mimic the action with a drug.

Today’s antiretroviral drugs are good at keeping HIV at bay – it’s estimated they’ve lowered the number of HIV deaths by two-thirds. But as O’Connor says “there’s a lot of space to help people even further

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New Advice: Start Meds If You Have HIV


Everyone who has HIV should be offered antiretroviral drugs as soon as possible after diagnosis, the World Health Organisation says.

Story via BBC @bbcnews 


This latest policy removes previous limits suggesting patients wait until the disease progresses.  The WHO has also recommended people at risk of HIV be given the drugs to help prevent the infection taking hold.

UNAIDS said these changes could help avert 21 million AIDS-related deaths and 28 million new infections by 2030.

The recommendations increase the number of people with HIV eligible for antiretrovirals from 28m to 37m across the world.

But the challenge globally will be making sure everyone has access to them and the funds are in place to pay for such a huge extension in treatment. Only 15m people currently get the drugs.

What are Anti-Retrovirals?

  • Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a combination of medicines used to treat HIV. It is not a cure, but can control the virus so that patients can live a longer, healthier life and reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others.
  • The drugs prevent HIV from multiplying, which reduces the amount of the virus in the body.
  • Having less HIV in the body gives the immune system a chance to recover and fight off infections and cancers.
  • By reducing the amount of HIV, the medicines also reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.

Mark Dybul, executive director of the Global Fund, a private-public initiative which is one of the biggest funders of HIV research and treatment, said: “The recommendations are critically important to moving us towards the fast-track treatment and prevention goals.

“We must embrace the ambition if we are going to end HIV as a public health threat.”

Michel Sidibe, of UNAIDS, added: “Everybody living with HIV has the right to life-saving treatment. The new guidelines are a very important steps towards ensuring that all people living with HIV have immediate access to antiretroviral treatment.”

The WHO announcement, which is being adopted in the UK, comes after extensive research into the issue.

A US National Institutes of Health study due to run until 2016 was stopped earlyafter an interim analysis found giving treatment straight after diagnosis cut deaths and complications, such as kidney or liver disease, by half.

Meanwhile, a UK study found giving healthy gay men drugs meant one case of HIV could be stopped for every 13 men treated for a year.

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Job Vacancy: Customer Service Administrator

We Are Recruiting!

  • Job Title: Customer Service Administrator
  • Reports to: Well for Living Manager
  • Hours: 30 Per Week (Fixed Term until the end of March 2016 in the first instance)
  • Salary: £15,103 pro rata per annum

LASS are seeking to recruit a Customer Service Administrator (30 Hours Per Fixed term until 31st March in the first instance).

Working with people affected by HIV in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland you will be responsible for providing an efficient, effective and high quality, first point of contact service by phone, email and in person for service users, guests, visitors and all users of the Michael Wood Centre and at external events. 

You will provide a wide variety of tasks including reception & building duties, supporting volunteer engagement and providing a high level of customer service and administration.  

The ideal candidate will have excellent knowledge, understanding and be qualified in customer service or business administration.  The successful candidate should have the ability to prioritise workload effectively to meet deadlines as required and be able to work on their own initiative.

More information is contained in the job description and person specification (below).  To apply, please download, complete and return an application form then email it to Tom Robson ( or call us on 0116 2559995 to request an application pack.  Please note that CV’s can only be accepted with a completed application form.  Incomplete applications will not be short-listed.

  • Closing date: 22ND October 2015
  • Interviews: 27 October 2015

Customer Service Administrator 2015 (Job Description / Person Specification)

W4L CSA Application form (Word)

W4L CSA Application form (Pdf)

First HIV Radio Show Set To Launch In Britain To ‘Challenge Stigma’


It’s estimated that more than 100,000 people are living with HIV in the UK, yet we still shy away from talking about it.  That’s about to change thanks to a new radio show about HIV, which is determined to end stigma.

The show, titled HIV Happy Hour, will run weekly on Radio Reverb, a Brighton-based local station, from 1 October.  The magazine-style programme is the brainchild of author and HIV activist Paul Thorn, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1990.

“The main aim of the show is to challenge some of the negative thinking that many people living with HIV hold about themselves.  There is no reason why anyone living with HIV should be ashamed or feel bad about having the virus. I want this show to be one of the tools to help change that.”

Thorn describes the show as “a programme by and for people with HIV”.

The light-hearted name HIV Happy Hour aims to show that living with HIV doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom – people can be happy living with HIV.

The 60-minute programme will be a lifestyle-based show covering a wide range of topics.  It will be cover health, wealth, happiness, relationships, and lots of tips from experts for getting on with and making the most of the second chance at life afforded to people living with the virus by treatment”.

“There will be some more serious subjects covered also, for example hepatitis co-infection, tuberculosis, and hopefully some surprise celebrity guests also.  More important is that the show is a platform for people living with the virus, they will be playing a major role in output and direction of the show.

A pilot episode of HIV Happy Hour included an interview with the head of a care facility for people with HIV and tips for HIV-positive listeners to set up their own business.  Thorn hopes this wide range of topics will help ‘normalise’ HIV, so people living with it feel more able to speak about their experiences and seek the help they need.

HIV Happy Hour will air on Radio Reverb (97.2FM) every Thursday at 7pm from 1 October.

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LASS Free Training Sessions September

All sessions include group discussions and some include guest speakers. Please book using the LASS training booking form and email to

We have introduced some new sessions into the programme this year, as well as including ones which have been requested and successful in the last few years.

Wednesday 9th September: 13:30 – 16:30
HIV and Hepatitis Basics: Facilitated by Celia Fisher of LASS

  • The aim of the session is to provide up to date information and facts about HIV and Hepatitis – locally and within the global context. This session will provide information about the vulnerable communities, globally and locally, what support is available and how we, as workers and individuals, can support and empower people who are living with HIV or Hepatitis
  • The session will be of interest to people who deliver health & related services, such as housing, job & career advice, community development, substance misuse, those who may work with people living with or affected by Hepatitis on a regular basis. The session will benefit individuals and community workers who would like to get up to date with their knowledge

Monday 14th September: 13:30 – 16:00
HIV & Circumcision – what are the issues? Facilitated by Maryan Anshur of Somali Development Services and Celia Fisher of LASS

  • The aim of this session is to provide information about circumcision – for males and females – and to discuss the issues associated with this in the context of HIV and sexual health.
  • The session will consider prevalence of the practice and explore our own and media perceptions and messages associated with circumcision. There will be time and space for discussion.
  • The session will be of interest to people who deliver sexual health & HIV services, those who work with different communities in various settings including schools and colleges.

Wednesday 14th October 17:30 – 20:00
HIV in the spotlight – TV and film. Facilitated by Rhys Davies (HIVE Films)
Light refreshments will be available from 17:00 – 18:00

  • HIV is portrayed in many different ways in TV soaps, documentaries and on film. We will look at the different portrayals and discuss the different information, perspectives, and messages they provide to the viewing audience.
  • This session will be of benefit to anyone who is interested in film, HIV or an interesting social discussion.

Thursday 22nd October: 10:00 – 12:30
HIV and Sex for Money: Perception & ideology – Facilitated and delivered by New Futures

  • The aim of this session is to discuss how and why some people get involved in prostitution / sex for money, to discuss myths and stereotypes of those concerned and why they may remain in the street and indoor prostitution.
  • The session will explore the impact that taking money / favours for sex can have on a person’s sexual health and also self-esteem and confidence.
  • The session will be of interest to people who deliver sexual health and other related services, work with vulnerable people who may be living in poverty, individuals who would like to know more about this topic.

Thursday 29th October 2015 10am – 1pm
HIV in Leicester and Leicestershire – Services, testing, issues. Facilitated by LASS

  • The aim of this session is to provide a local perspective of HIV – including statistics, local services and clinics, issues and views of local people living with HIV. The session will include a time for questions and answers.
  • The session will be of interest and benefit to people who deliver health, HIV or other support services such as housing, job advice, who may work with people living with or affected by HIV. The session will benefit also individuals who would like to get up to date with their knowledge.

Monday 9th November: 13:30 – 16:00
HIV and Culture: Facilitated by LASS

  • This session will be delivered in collaboration with people from different communities in Leicester. We will explore how culture affects people’s perspective and experiences of HIV. The session will look at ways of providing knowledge and empowerment about HIV with different cultural perspectives and considerations.
  • The session will be of interest to people who work with different communities and groups who are vulnerable toHIV or affected by HIV.

Wednesday 25th November: 17:00 – 20:00
HIV Testing. Facilitated by LASS

  • It’s National HIV Testing week this week. This session offers an opportunity to ‘go behind the scenes’ at LASS’ Rapid HIV testing service. What do we teach in the training to become a tester? Why is the LASS service so different to the clinical testing service?
  • We will have a discussion about the different approaches to HIV testing that are now available – Home testing, Home sampling, Rapid testing and the clinical tests. What are the differences between them and why?
  • We are always looking for ways to improve and evolve our Rapid HIV testing service so this is an opportunity to give us your ideas and suggestions.
  • Confidential Rapid HIV Testing is available as well during this session.
  • The session will be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about HIV testing.

Monday 14th December: 13:30 – 16:30
HIV and Cultural and Faith Based Belief. Facilitated by LASS

  • This session will be delivered in collaboration with people from different faith backgrounds. We will explore how faith and belief can affect people’s understanding of facts and the role that is can play in helping people to live positively. The session will look at ways of providing knowledge and empowerment about HIV in the context of different beliefs and faith influences.
  • The session will be of interest to people whose faith / belief plays an important role in their life also for those with an interest in the role that faith and belief have on people’s lives to help them cope or otherwise with a long term condition like HIV.

Please note that sessions will start promptly and late comers may not be admitted depending on the discretion of the facilitator.

We offer a range of bespoke training for organisations, businesses, work places and community groups. Contact us for details

HIV: Specialist clinical care, a UK national review

A new study on clinical care for for people diagnosed HIV is reporting excellent retention in care among UK adults with HIV, but also the high risk of disease progression among non-attenders.

Story via BioMed Central @biomedcentral 

Regular clinical care is important for the well-being of people with HIV. The study sought to  audit and describe the characteristics of adults with diagnosed HIV infection not reported to be attending for clinical care in the UK.

Public Health England (PHE) provided clinics with lists of patients diagnosed or seen for specialist HIV care in 2010 but not linked to a clinic report or known to have died in 2011. Clinics reviewed case-notes of these individuals and completed questionnaires. A nested case–control analysis was conducted to compare those who had remained in the UK in 2011 while not attending care with individuals who received specialist HIV care in both 2010 and 2011.

Among 74,418 adults living with diagnosed HIV infection in the UK in 2010, 3510 (4.7 %) were not reported as seen for clinical care or died in 2011. Case note reviews and outcomes were available for 2255 (64 %) of these: 456 (20.2 %) remained in the UK and did not attend care; 590 (26.2 %) left UK; 508 (22.6 %) received care in the UK: 73 (3.2 %) died and 628 (27.8 %) had no documented outcome. Individuals remaining in the UK and not attending care were more likely to be treatment naïve than those in care, but duration since HIV diagnosis was not significant. HIV/AIDS related hospitalisations were observed among non-attenders.

Retention in UK specialist HIV care is excellent. The audit indicates that the ‘true’ loss to follow up rate in 2011 was <2.5 % with no evidence of health tourism. Novel interventions to ensure high levels of clinic engagement should be explored to minimise disease progression among non-attenders.

To see the full study, visit:

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