Tag Archives: cure

Admare Jinga sentenced for ‘HIV cure’ fraud

Jinga, Admare

Admare Jinga, 31, was sentenced at Belfast Magistrates Court on Tuesday

A man who was convicted of an on-line scam selling products that claimed to ‘kill’ the HIV virus has been sentenced to 240 hours community service.

Admare Jinga used his base in Belfast to set up a company that advertised and distributed products overseas, particularly to his native Zimbabwe.

In June, he was found guilty of fraud by false representation.  He had already admitted a second charge of marketing medicines for human use without proper authorisation.

The 31-year-old University of Ulster graduate was sentenced at Belfast Magistrates Court on Tuesday.
Jinga, who now lives in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, Scotland, will carry out his community service over the next 12 months.  During the trial, Belfast Magistrates Court had heard that Jinga established a company called Savec Healthcare Ltd in 2007, when he was living in south Belfast.

Up until 2009 it marketed products as alternative forms of treatment for the HIV infection.  They claimed to be able to kill, prevent or stop Aids, according to the prosecution.

In the witness box Jinga said he became involved with pharmacists, a microbiologist and other Zimbabwean professionals concerned with the impact of HIV in their country.  Jinga claimed that no complaints were ever received from people who used his products.
The case against him was taken by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).  In a statement issued after the sentencing, the MHRA said the case was its first ever prosecution of its kind.

The agency said it took action against Jinga after he was found to be selling a machine and accompanying medicine over the internet that he falsely claimed could cure HIV and Aids.

“There are no known cures for HIV so any claim to this effect is illegal,” the MHRA statement added.

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Are you interested in news and articles about genuine research into developing a cure for HIV? – We have some articles for you to read, take a look at these:

Imagine a world where HIV can’t replicate, then start believing!

HIV capsid

The following article provides fascinating reading on the latest published research on the structure of the HIV virus itself.  Be sure to watch the video and follow up on the references at the end of the article for more information.  Excited? – We are!

There’s no easy answer for HIV; the virus uses our own immune cells to its advantage and mutates readily to shrug off round after round of anti-retrovirals. But thanks to the efforts researchers from the University of Illinois and some heavy-duty number crunching from one of the world’s fastest petaflop supercomputers, we may be able to stop HIV right in its tracks.

The latest line of attack against HIV targets its viral casing (or capsid). Capsids lie between the virus’s spherical outer coat, a .1 micron diameter, lipid-based layer known as the viral envelope, and a bullet-shaped inner coat known as the viral core that contains the strands of HIV RNA. Capsids comprise 2,000 copies of the viral protein, p24, arranged in a lattice structure (a rough insight gleaned only from years of cryo-electron microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, cryo-EM tomography, and X-ray crystallography work). The capsid is responsible for protecting the RNA load, disabling the host’s immune system, and delivering the RNA into new cells. In other words: It’s the evil mastermind.

The lattice protein structure allows the capsid to open and close like a Hoberman Sphere.

As Dr Peijun Zhang, project lead and associate professor in structural biology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine explained to the BBC:

The capsid is critically important for HIV replication, so knowing its structure in detail could lead us to new drugs that can treat or prevent the infection. The capsid has to remain intact to protect the HIV genome and get it into the human cell, but once inside, it has to come apart to release its content so that the virus can replicate. Developing drugs that cause capsid dysfunction by preventing its assembly or disassembly might stop the virus from reproducing.

But until very recently, the precise structure—how the thousands of copies of p24 actually meshed together—remained a mystery. The capsid’s (relatively) large size, non-symmetric shape, protein structure has stumped researchers’ attempts to effectively model it. Earlier research had revealed that the p24 arranged itself in either a pentagon or hexagon shape as part of the capsid structure, but how many of each and how the pieces fit together remained out of reach because science simply didn’t have the computational prowess to model this incredibly complex subatomic structure in atomic-level detail.

This problem required a petaflop-level supercomputer to solve, a class of machine that has only recently become readily available. The team turned to National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and its resident supercomputer, Blue Waters.

The team fed electron microscopy data collected in lab experiments conducted at the University of Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt University into Blue Waters and let the $108 million, 11.5 petaflop machine do its thing: Crunch massive amounts of information with its 49,000 AMD CPUs. Blue Waters can handle one quadrillion floating point operations every second, so stitching together 1,300 proteins into an oblong molecular soccer ball was no sweat.

The team developed a novel shaping algorithm for the project, dubbed molecular dynamic flexible fitting.

“You basically simulate the physical characteristics and behavior of large biological molecules, but you also incorporate the data into the simulation so that the model actually drives itself toward agreement with the data,”

Said Professor Klaus Schulten of the University of Illinois in a press release.

“This is a big structure, one of the biggest structures ever solved,” Schulten continued. “It was very clear that it would require a huge amount of simulation — the largest simulation ever published — involving 64 million atoms.”

The team revealed the complete capsid structure in a Nature report yesterday:

The mature human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) capsid is best described by a ‘fullerene cone’ model, in which hexamers of the capsid protein are linked to form a hexagonal surface lattice that is closed by incorporating 12 capsid-protein pentamers.

In all, the HIV capsid requires 216 protein hexagons and 12 protein pentagons to operate—arranged exactly as the predictive models said they would be. The new discovery reveals a stunningly versatile protein in p24. The protein itself is identical whether it’s shaped into a pentagon or a hexagon, only the attachment sites between p24 proteins varies between shapes. How that works remains a mystery.

“How can a single type of protein form something as varied as this thing? The protein has to be inherently flexible,” said Schulten.

New questions aside, this breakthrough illustrates precisely how the capsid works and how scientists can best attack that function to disrupt the virus’ ability to replicate. By exploiting the capsid’s structure, researchers theoretically could deliver a molecular padlock that prevents the viral core from opening and the virus from spreading. This discovery could lead to an entirely new suite of treatment alternatives and could finally outpace HIV’s ability to rapidly evolve resistance to current enzyme-based medications.

“The big problem with HIV is that it evolves so quickly that any drug you use you get drug resistance which is why we use a multi-drug cocktail,”

Professor Simon Lovell, a structural biologist at the University of Manchester, said.

“This is another target, another thing we can go after to develop a new class of drugs to work alongside the existing class.”

It’s only a matter of time until HIV goes the way of polio. And it’s thanks in no small part to one beast of a computer.

Read on for more information:

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Early HIV drugs ‘functionally cure about one in 10′

HIV Medicine

Rapid treatment after HIV infection may be enough to “functionally cure” about a 10th of those diagnosed early, say researchers in France.

They have been analysing 14 people who stopped therapy, but have since shown no signs of the virus resurging.  It follows reports of a baby girl being effectively cured after very early treatment in the US.  However, most people infected with HIV do not find out until the virus has fully infiltrated the body.

The group of patients, known as the Visconti cohort, all started treatment within 10 weeks of being infected. The patients were caught early as they turned up in hospital with other conditions and HIV was found in their blood.

They stuck to a course of antiretroviral drugs for three years, on average, but then stopped.  The drugs keep the virus only in check, they cannot eradicate it from its hiding places inside the immune system.  Normally, when the drugs stop, the virus bounces back.

Control

This has not happened in the Visconti patients. Some have been able to control HIV levels for a decade.

Dr Asier Saez-Cirion, from the Institute Pasteur in Paris, said: “Most individuals who follow the same treatment will not control the infection, but there are a few of them who will.”  He said 5-15% of patients may be functionally cured, meaning they no longer needed drugs, by attacking the virus soon after infection.

“They still have HIV, it is not eradication of HIV, it is a kind of remission of the infection.”

Their latest study, in the journal PLoS Pathogens, analysed what happened to the immune system of the patients.  Early treatment may limit the number of unassailable HIV hideouts that are formed. However, the researchers said it was “unclear” why only some patients were functionally cured.

Dr Andrew Freedman, a reader in infectious diseases at Cardiff University School of Medicine, said the findings were “certainly interesting”.

“The presumption is that they’ve started treatment very early and the virus hasn’t spread to so many of the long-term reservoirs and that’s why it works.  Whether they’ll control it forever, or whether it’ll be for a number of years and subsequently they will progress and the virus will reappear, we don’t know.”

However, he cautioned that many patients would be diagnosed much later than in this study.

Deborah Jack, the chief executive of the National AIDS Trust said it was “exciting times” in progress towards an HIV cure, but the key was early treatment.

“This just underlines the importance of people being testing and diagnosed early. Currently half of people living with HIV in the UK are diagnosed late – indicating that they are likely to have been infected for five years.”

Analysis

There have been two stories about HIV ‘cures’ in two weeks now – yet the latest developments offer little to the majority of people living with HIV.

In the Mississippi baby case and in the Visconti cohort the infection was caught very early, within weeks, at a vulnerable stage.

This suggests that by hitting the virus hard when it first infects the body, it might be possible to live for years without needing treatment – a functional cure.

However, these patients were the lucky few who were detected in the days and weeks after infection. Most cases are detected years later. For these patients a cure looks, at best, distant.

The hope is that by investigating how patients treated early, and a group of people who are genetically resistant to HIV, can combat the virus – it will give scientists clues for developing cures for everyone else.

Original Article by James Gallagher
Health and science reporter, BBC News

WHEN WAS YOUR LAST HIV TEST?

If all the recent news about the importance of an early HIV diagnosis is persuading you to think about having a HIV test, you should know we offer offer a completely free and confidential rapid HIV test.  This means you will get your test results within a couple of minutes, and it’s a simple simple finger prick test.  (We don’t collect blood and send it off, we do it there with you)!

We use the Insti HIV test produced by BioLytical laboratories. The test is 99.96% accurate from 90 days after  contact for detecting HIV 1 and 2 antibodies.  We also have a mobile testing van which is often out in communities providing mobile rapid HIV tests. Appointments are not necessary, call us (0116 2559995) we’re here to help.

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Baby Cured of HIV – Here’s the real message..

caduceus-and-red

Late Sunday night, the world media started to report about a baby, born with HIV had been cured.  Everybody got talking; scientists, people of faith, doctors, the public, HIV experts, me, you!

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a cure, I honestly didn’t think I’d be writing the phrase ‘HIV Cure’ for at least a few more years yet, but as it were, we were given a flurry of media reports about how this case was set to change the HIV treatment paradigm, prevent babies from being infected, and, to quote the principal author of the study, Dr Deborah Persaud, “transform our current treatment practices in newborns worldwide”.

There are reports that parents and guardians are asking if this means that children who are infected at birth can stop their drugs.  People are very over-optimistic, and have been calling their doctors and specialists raising the question of whether they, or their child could also be cured!

More Data Needed

We need to slow down, and get some perspective.  The news was only announced five days ago.

To quote a famous professor of HIV pharmacology: “We need more data.” We need to take stock, get the facts right, and allow for scrutiny of the case by the scientific community.

There are many questions to be asked of the case. For instance, was the baby truly infected in the first place? From reviewing the data presented at the conference, it certainly seems possible. But how established was this infection? Had it established itself in so-called long-lived memory T cells?

Furthermore, when was the actual point of infection? This is not clear. Could it have been just prior to delivery? If so, it is possible that by serendipity the doctors intervened with drugs just as the virus was trying to become established.

A Cure, or PEP?

It’s imperative, then, that we attempt to understand when exactly this baby was infected. Was it just before birth, or several months before birth? The longer the period of time, the more interesting the case becomes.

However, if the intervention simply aborted the establishment of infection then Dr Persaud’s results are less exciting.

If drugs were introduced very shortly after infection, the treatment may have actually acted as PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) – a strategy already used by HIV doctors to try and avoid establishment of infection

Think of a fire which has just caught alight, but has yet really to take hold. Pouring a bucket of water on it at this point may kill the fire dead. Was there actually a flame, or the presence of detectable virus, in this case? Yes, of course. But this bucket of water may not have worked had you allowed the ‘fire’ to become properly established.

The case being described by many as a ‘cure’ may in fact be like this bucket of water – effective, but only because it was delivered so early.

Taking the fire analogy further, after we have put out the flames we may still see the residues it left behind. It might even reignite at a later point in time. The Mississippi baby has been off anti-retroviral drug treatment [ARVs] for less than a year – there are currently no flames, but we are waiting to see if the embers are truly burned out.

Currently, and beyond this headline case, we have no way to completely put out the fire of HIV once it has caught hold. Our current ARV treatments, then, are the firemen who keep the flames of HIV at bay. As long as they are there, you can begin to rebuild the house – a fact born out by the fact that hundreds of thousands of our patients have been on totally suppressive regimens for up to twenty years.

Currently, it is a truth that, if you stop therapy, the virus inevitably rebounds when you –cease medication usually within two weeks. Admittedly, there are a very few rare cases where the virus may simply smoulder away at very low levels for many years (so-called “post treatment controllers”).

All of these considerations and unanswered questions mean that we have a long way to go yet before we fully understand this case. We must fully explore the baby’s immune make-up. What about the characteristics of the mother’s virus, which was curiously low for someone not on treatment? There are so many questions before we should really call this a cure.

Other than the potential of Dr Persaud’s research to stimulate further investigations, then, what is the best thing that can come of all this media frenzy?

The great hope is that this moment represents the greatest mass HIV awareness campaign since the Don’t Die of Ignorance ‘tombstone’ campaign of the 1980s. Rarely does HIV make such headlines, and we have a real chance to educate people whilst their interest is piqued.

We must tell people that the story of HIV is very different now, and we must take this opportunity to communicate new messages through the media whose attention we currently have – messages which can correct people’s out-dated misconceptions.

  • Let’s talk about testing, and the importance of early diagnosis.
  • Let’s talk about effective drugs, which when prescribed early enough can help a patient live a long and full life.
  • Let’s talk about condoms and prevention.
  • Let’s tackle stigma!

Today there is no reason for any baby to be become HIV positive, if the mother is tested and diagnosed early in pregnancy – and if she and the baby have access to effective treatments which can prevent transmission. Sadly, 590,000 babies every year are still born HIV-positive in the developing world: an unnecessary tragedy.

We can do something about that right now, with the tools we have – If we increase testing and make it more regular and consistent. In the UK, 95% of women take the HIV tests during pregnancy. And with effective treatment the chance of the baby being born positive is less than 0.5%. We should be aiming for the same success all over the world

Above and beyond a media storm about a supposed ‘cure’, there are good news stories we can make happen today.

Is the ‘cure’ story exciting? Yes. Is it scientifically plausible? Yes. Will it stimulate more research? Almost certainly. But it is extremely premature to hail it as a cure that will translate into routine clinical care any time soon. We need much more data.

So if you or your child are HIV-positive, then please… don’t stop taking your tablets. And if you have had unprotected sex, take the test. Condoms, education, testing, and access to treatment are our real weapons against HIV, and we need to learn to use these correctly if we want to make a real impact today.

When was your last HIV test?

We offer offer a completely free and confidential rapid HIV test (results within 60 seconds from a simple finger prick test)!  We use the Insti HIV test produced by BioLytical laboratories. The test is 99.96% accurate from 90 days after  contact for detecting HIV 1 and 2 antibodies.  We also have a mobile testing van which is often out in communities providing mobile rapid HIV tests. Appointments are not necessary, call us (0116 2559995) we’re here to help.

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Another Major HIV Breakthrough

ProfLewin

Yesterday, the world was taken by storm when it was announced that a baby, born with HIV had been cured.  On the same day, it was announced a team from The Alfred hospital have uncovered HIV’s genetic hiding place and found a drug able to wake it up so that it can be destroyed.

The Alfred’s director of infectious diseases, Prof Sharon Lewin, said waking up HIV with doses of a highly toxic cancer drug was a huge step in curing a disease that has already claimed an estimated 30 million lives.

“What we thought would happen happened: the virus woke up, and we could measure it,” Prof Lewin said. “That is a big step.

“There are more possibilities of getting rid of it by making it visible to drugs and visible to the immune system (and) that we now know we can do.  Now the big challenge is working out, once it is visible, what are the ways to get rid of that infected cell.”

Traditional antiviral medications have been able to stop the virus infecting cells, giving patients a greater life expectancy.

But the virus remained “sleeping” in their DNA, unable to be found or treated, so patients had to take expensive medication daily to suppress its effects.

“It jumps in, buries itself into the DNA and sits there lurking. At any time, if the cell becomes active, the virus then becomes active,” Prof Lewin said.

“It is like having the embers of a fire sitting there . . . the minute you take away the anti-HIV drugs, the embers relight the fire and the whole thing gets going again.”

But by using cancer drug, Vorinostat, for two weeks, Prof Lewin had been able to turn on sleeping HIV-infected cells so they could be detected.

Researchers at The Alfred were able to bring the virus to notice in 18 of 20 HIV patients in a trial that concluded in January.

Prof Lewin hopes a new generation of drugs able to kick-start the immune system may now be able to kill the virus.

Prof Lewin and her team — which included collaboration with Monash University, the Burnet Institute, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS — will soon publish their full results.

For David Menadue, who has lived with HIV for almost 30 years, the results bring a new hope.

“Just having the existence of HIV in your body does do damage to your body every day. It puts pressure on your organs, your heart, your kidney, your liver.

“People with HIV would just love to get rid of this and go back to a normalised life. We are never really going to be able to get on top of the virus in developing countries without some sort of magical cure.”

Original Article via Herald Sun

Channel 4 news interviewed Professor Lewin yesterday, click here to see. (Sorry, we can’t embed this video)

Professor Lewin’s news isn’t new, she spoke about this at the 2012 CROI (Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections)  - He she speaks with Matt Sharp about HIV Latency and Eradication using Vorinostat.

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What Can We Do Now to Speed Up HIV Cure Research?

As most of you know, the case of Timothy Brown (aka The Berlin patient), a person who got cured of HIV and leukemia 5 years ago, has jolted a new energy and hope into the search for a HIV cure.  But most people with HIV, policymakers and potential funding sources are not fully aware of this case and what the new movement for a search for a cure are all about. So, Nelson Vergel, writer for The Body.com decided was to travel around the country to interview key players in advancing this field and make a short video that could serve as a catalyst for awareness and change.

This short video, done with a very low budget with the help of his activist friend Greg Fowler, is only part of a longer, more detailed documentary to be finished before World AIDS Day this year, the 30-year anniversary of the first AIDS cases.

Please watch it and forward it to your friends. Please follow the suggestions made in that video and become part of the cure! Everyone can do something now to raise awareness and funds not only for research but also for advocacy and education in this important new and expanding area.

Via TheBody.com

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A Message of Hope for a HIV Cure from Timothy Brown

Timothy Brown revealed himself last year as the "Berlin Patient." His HIV was cured through a bone marrow transplant from a donor born with a genetic mutation resistant to the virus. Courtesy of Timothy Brown

He’s been called the “Berlin Patient” and the man who was cured of HIV.  Today, Timothy Brown is speaking in Houston tonight about the bone marrow transplant from a donor born with resistance to the infection that essentially cured his HIV.

Brown, 45, was diagnosed with HIV in 1995. For more than a decade, he managed the virus with antiretroviral medications while continuing his career as a German-English translator in Berlin.

He was diagnosed with leukaemia in the summer of 2006. Brown was treated with chemotherapy but decided to wait on receiving stem cells from a bone marrow transplant believing it was too dangerous. His oncologist was concerned about the delay, predicting the blood cancer might return. The doctor was right. The leukaemia was back by the end of the year.

Brown underwent a stem cell transplant via bone marrow in February 2007.

“I had a lot of possible donors, but the doctor decided to look for a person that didn’t have the CCR5,” Brown said in a phone interview from San Francisco, where he now resides.

CCR5 is a protein or co-receptor that connects with CD4 cells or primary white blood cells in the immune system. That link is a pathway that allows HIV to cause infection. Without CCR5, a genetic variation, HIV can’t invade the immune system. About 10 percent of Northern Europeans have the mutation.

Brown’s case was documented in a February 2009 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

“They found a donor who carried a well-known set of mutations that makes one resistant to HIV,” said Dr. Thomas Giordano, a longtime HIV specialist and medical director of Houston’s Thomas Street Health Center – the Harris County Hospital District‘s HIV/AIDS treatment facility. “Two things are required: CD4, which everyone has, and CCR5, which almost everyone has. If one of them is absent, HIV can’t get in.”

The leukemia returned again and Brown had a second stem cell transplant in 2008 from the same donor.

So, has Brown really beaten HIV?

“He’s cured,” said Giordano, also an associate professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “I think it’s pretty well accepted that he’s cured. Just like any other chronic illness, you have to reserve a little bit of caution. Could his HIV come back? It’s been theoretically possible, but it’s pretty clear it should have come back by now, but it hasn’t.”

Giordano said the Brown case demonstrates the promise of gene therapy in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but he cautions that Brown is one person in a single experiment.

“A bone marrow transplant, especially from an unrelated donor, is a risky proposition,” Giordano said. “If you have HIV and you are healthy and your viral load is undetectable, your survival is approaching that of someone who does not have HIV. To take the risk of a bone marrow transplant makes no sense at all – unless you have leukemia.”

Even with this advancement, a cure remains “many, many years away,” the doctor added.

“What it has done is quickened the pace of investigation of gene therapies to treat HIV. If you could convert people from having CCR5 to not having CCR5 in some way other than a bone marrow transplant, could you cure people? That’s the avenue that’s being researched now.”

Giordano added that Brown’s case offers hope for people living with HIV/AIDS.

“He is the first person to be cured of HIV. It was an extreme situation and extreme therapy, but it does give you some hope that we can learn enough from him to use a similar genetic approach that would be much safer to slow down, if not cure, the disease or make the need for medication less or something to help people out.”

Brown is speaking from tonight, 23:00 to 02:30 (gmt) (18:00 to 21:30 in Houston) Treebeards, 315 Travis, as part of a limited-seating cure for more information.

Here’s another recent piece about Brown from the Los Angeles Times.

Original Article by Cindy George at Chron.com

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This 90 Percent Successful Vaccine May Be Our Best Chance to Eradicate HIV/AIDS

Dr Esteban

Spanish researchers have completed the first human trial of a new vaccine against HIV. It has been successful in 90% of the HIV-free volunteers during phase I testing. This vaccine brings great hope to eradicate HIV forever.

The team lead by Dr Mariano Esteban, a researcher at the Spanish National Research Council‘s Biotechnology National Centre, has been working on this method since 1999. They are using an attenuated virus called the MVA-B, a variation of the Modified Ankara Vaccinia, which was previously used to eradicate smallpox. The Modified Ankara Vaccinia also forms the base of other vaccines. The B refers to the HIV-B, the most common HIV subtype in Europe.

Dr Esteban’s team inserted the HIV genes Gag, Pol, Nef and Env in MVA’s genetic sequence. In 2008, they tried the resulting HIV nuke on mice and monkeys. It was a complete success.

SUCCESSFUL HUMAN TEST

The first human test results were published in Vaccine and Journal of Virology. In the experiment, scientists injected the vaccine in 24 of 30 HIV-free volunteers. Six volunteers were treated with a placebo vaccine—they didn’t experience any effect. But 90% of the treated subjects developed a very strong immunological response against the HIV virus. 85% kept the immunological reaction for at least one year, which is really good news.

According to their results, there were no significant secondary effects in any of the patients, which was one of the major objectives of to be tested in this clinical trial.

Despite the success, Dr Esteban is cautious:

“The treatment has only been tested on 30 volunteers and, while the vaccine provokes a powerful response in most of the cases, it’s still to soon if the resulting defense would be effective against an actual HIV infection”.

The team will now start another phase I trial, injecting the vaccine in HIV-infected people. The objective of this trial is to test the therapeutical effect of the vaccine in these patients.

According to Dr Esteban, “in principle, the immunological profile of MVA-B satisfies the requirements for a promising vaccine against the HIV, like the creation of antibodies and the activation of key cells in the defense against the virus.” Sadly, it is still far away from commercialization: they need to test this on phase II and III trials, injecting vaccinated volunteers with the actual HIV virus on a larger scale.

Hopefully, one day, this vaccine will nail the HIV nemesis down.

Original Article by Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo

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Special Report: An end to AIDS?

(Reuters) For his doctors, Timothy Ray Brown was a shot in the dark. A HIV-positive American who was cured by a unique type of bone marrow transplant, the man known as “the Berlin patient” has become an icon of what scientists hope could be the next phase of the AIDS pandemic: its end.

Dramatic scientific advances since HIV was first discovered 30 years ago this week mean the virus is no longer a death sentence. Thanks to tests that detect HIV early, new antiretroviral AIDS drugs that can control the virus for decades, and a range of ways to stop it being spread, 33.3 million people around the world are learning to live with HIV.

People like Vuyiseka Dubula, an HIV-positive AIDS activist and mother in Cape Town, South Africa, can expect relatively normal, full lives. “I’m not thinking about death at all,” she says. “I’m taking my treatment and I’m living my life.” 

Listen to Vuyiseka Dubula’s interview on BBC World Service

Nonetheless, on the 30th birthday of HIV, the global scientific community is setting out with renewed vigor to try to kill it. The drive is partly about science, and partly about money. Treating HIV patients with lifelong courses of sophisticated drugs is becoming unaffordable.

Caring for HIV patients in developing countries alone already costs around $13 billion a year and that could treble over the next 20 years.

In tough economic times, the need to find a cure has become even more urgent, says Francoise Barre Sinoussi, who won a Nobel prize for her work in identifying Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). “We have to think about the long term, including a strategy to find a cure,” she says. “We have to keep on searching until we find one.”

The Berlin patient is proof they could. His case has injected new energy into a field where people for years believed talk of a cure was irresponsible.

THE CURE THAT WORKED

Timothy Ray Brown was living in Berlin when besides being HIV-positive, he had a relapse of leukemia. He was dying. In 2007, his doctor, Gero Huetter, made a radical suggestion: a bone marrow transplant using cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation, known as CCR5 delta 32. Scientists had known for a few years that people with this gene mutation had proved resistant to HIV.

“We really didn’t know when we started this project what would happen,” Huetter, an oncologist and haematologist who now works at the University of Heidelberg in southern Germany, told Reuters. The treatment could well have finished Brown off. Instead he remains the only human ever to be cured of AIDS. “He has no replicating virus and he isn’t taking any medication. And he will now probably never have any problems with HIV,” says Huetter. Brown has since moved to San Francisco.

Most experts say it is inconceivable Brown’s treatment could be a way of curing all patients. The procedure was expensive, complex and risky. To do this in others, exact match donors would have to be found in the tiny proportion of people — most of them of northern European descent — who have the mutation that makes them resistant to the virus.

Dr Robert Gallo, of the Institute of Virology at the University of Maryland, puts it bluntly. “It’s not practical and it can kill people,” he said last year.

Sinoussi is more expansive. “It’s clearly unrealistic to think that this medically heavy, extremely costly, barely reproducible approach could be replicated and scaled-up … but from a scientist’s point of view, it has shown at least that a cure is possible,” she says.

The International AIDS Society will this month formally add the aim of finding a cure to its HIV strategy of prevention, treatment and care.

A group of scientist-activists is also launching a global working group to draw up a scientific plan of attack and persuade governments and research institutions to commit more funds. Money is starting to flow. The U.S. National Institutes of Health is asking for proposals for an $8.5 million collaborative research grant to search for a cure, and the Foundation for AIDS Research, or amfAR, has just announced its first round of four grants to research groups “to develop strategies for eradicating HIV infection.”

THE COST OF TREATMENT

Until recently, people in HIV and AIDS circles feared that to direct funds toward the search for a cure risked detracting from the fight to get HIV-positive people treated. Even today, only just over five million of the 12 million or so people who need the drugs actually get them.

HIV first surfaced in 1981, when scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered it was the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). An article in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of that June referred to “five young men, all active homosexuals” from Los Angeles as the first documented cases. “That was the summer of ’81. For the world it was the beginning of the era of HIV/AIDS, even though we didn’t know it was HIV then,” says Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has made AIDS research his life’s work.

In the subsequent three decades, the disease ignorantly branded “the gay plague” has become one of the most vicious pandemics in human history. Transmitted in semen, blood and breast milk, HIV has devastated poorer regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, where the vast majority of HIV-positive people live. As more tests and treatment have become available, the number of new infections has been falling. But for every two with HIV who get a chance to start on AIDS drugs, five more join the “newly infected” list. United Nations data show that despite an array of potential prevention measures — from male circumcision to sophisticated vaginal or anal microbicide gels — more than 7,100 new people catch the virus every day.

Treatment costs per patient can range from around $150 a year in poor countries, where drugs are available as cheap generics, to more than $20,000 a year in the United States.

The overall sums are huge. A recent study as part of a non-governmental campaign called AIDS2031 suggests that low and middle-income countries will need $35 billion a year to properly address the pandemic by 2031. That’s almost three times the current level of around $13 billion a year. Add in the costs of treatment in rich countries and experts estimate the costs of HIV 20 years from now will reach $50 to $60 billion a year.

“It’s clear that we have to look at another possible way of managing of the epidemic beyond just treating everyone forever,” says Sharon Lewin, a leading HIV doctor and researcher from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

In some ways, we have been here before. Early AIDS drugs such as AZT came to market in the late 1980s, but within a decade they were overtaken by powerful cocktail treatments known as HAART, or highly active antiretroviral treatment. HAART had a dramatic effect — rapidly driving the virus out of patients’ blood and prompting some to say a cure was just around the corner.

But then scientists discovered HIV could lie low in pools or reservoirs of latent infection that even powerful drugs could not reach. Talk of a cure all but died out.

“Scientifically we had no means to say we were on the way to finding a cure,” says Bertrand Audoin, executive director of the Geneva-based International AIDS Society. “Scientists … don’t want to make any more false promises. They didn’t want to talk about a cure again because it really wasn’t anywhere on the horizon.”

GENE THERAPY

The ultimate goal would allow patients to stop taking AIDS drugs, knocking a hole in a $12 billion-a-year market dominated by Californian drugmaker Gilead and the likes of Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck.

It’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, but Brown’s case has opened the door to new ideas. “What it proved was that if you make someone’s cells resistant to HIV…then all the last bits of HIV, that hang around for a long time in patients on treatment, did in fact decay and disappear,” says Lewin.

Now scientists working on mimicking the effect of the Berlin patient’s transplant have had some success. One experimental technique uses gene therapy to take out certain cells, make them resistant to HIV and then put them back into patients in the hope they will survive and spread.

At an HIV conference in Boston earlier this year, American researchers presented data on six patients who had large numbers of white blood cells known as CD4 cells removed, manipulated to knock out the existing CCR5 gene, and then replaced.

“It works like scissors and cuts a piece of genetic information out of the DNA, and then closes the gap,” says Huetter. “Then every cell arising from this mother cell has this same mutation.”

Early results showed the mutated cells managed to survive inside the bodies of the patients at low levels, remaining present for more than three months in five. “This was a proof of concept,” says Lewin. Another potential avenue is a small group of patients known as “elite controllers”, who despite being infected with HIV are able to keep it under control simply with their own immune systems. Researchers hope these patients could one day be the clue to developing a successful HIV/AIDS vaccine or functional cure.

Scientists are also exploring ways to “wake up” HIV cells and kill them. As discovered in the late 1990s, HIV has a way of getting deep into the immune system itself — into what are known as resting memory T-cells — and going to sleep there. Hidden away, it effectively avoids drugs and the body’s own immune response.

“Once it goes to sleep in a cell it can stay there forever, which is really the main reason why we can’t cure HIV with current drugs,” says Lewin. Her team in Melbourne and another group in the United States are about to start the first human trials using a drug called SAHA or vorinostat, made by Merck and currently used in cancer treatment, which has shown promise in being able to wake up dormant HIV.

WHAT ABOUT PREVENTION?

As scientists begin to talk up a cure, the old question of whether that’s the right goal has re-emerged. Seth Berkley, a medical epidemiologist and head of the U.S.-based International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) is concerned.

“From a science point of view, it’s a fabulous thing to do. It’s a great target and a lot of science will be learned. But from a public health point of view, the primary thing you need to do is stop the flow of new infections,” says Berkley. “We need a prevention revolution. That is absolutely critical.”

Vuyiseka Dubula agrees. The South African activist finds talk of a cure for HIV distracting, almost disconcerting. “This research might not yield results soon, and even when it does, access to that cure is still going to be a big issue,” she says. “So in the meantime, while we don’t have the answer on whether HIV can be cured or not, we need to save lives.”

Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/01/us-aids-idUSTRE75030I20110601

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Blind Faith: The Impact Religion Can Have On HIV

Source: http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2011/05/17/blind-faith-the-serious-impact-religion-can-have-on-hiv/ By Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma

When people face a traumatic event or experience in life they often seek solace in something they believe in; something that will offer potential solutions and fill the emotional and spiritual vacuum when everything else has failed. As you’d expect, many people living with HIV seek solace in their religious faith, and for some that becomes their whole life’s focus. However, religious faith and HIV continue to have a challenging relationship, to say the very least.

At the beginning of the HIV epidemic back in the Eighties, some faith leaders preached that only ‘sinners’ contracted the virus, advising that the only solution for those living with HIV was to pray hard for forgiveness. While many faith leaders have since realised that HIV is simply a virus that can affect anyone, unfortunately some haven’t. In fact, a few have gone even further, telling those in their congregations who are living with HIV to stop taking their Antiretroviral treatment (ARVs) and instead concentrate on praying because that’s the only way they will experience emotional and physical healing.

Whether praying to be healed from HIV is being preached in select churches, or some church-goers living with HIV are misinterpreting what their faith leaders are telling them, a number of HIV positive people have died as a result of stopping their HIV medication. What remains unclear is how many people are being converted to this way of thinking. Is this a big problem warranting a global intervention, or are we making a mountain out of a molehill? I personally don’t know the definitive answers to these questions, but what I can say is that where prayer and HIV healing are concerned, I have witnessed and have heard of some pretty bizarre behaviour among people living with HIV, particularly within African communities in the UK and in some parts of Africa.

ARV treatments save lives and many of us who are taking them now would not even be here today to tell the tale if we didn’t have access to them. We now have scientific evidence from recent trials to confirm that these drugs not only save lives but can also act as an effective barrier to HIV transmission. This is by no means new information for those living with HIV and or working in the HIV sector, but having sound evidence to back our experiences up is always a bonus.

Despite such compelling evidence, there are always some who, for one reason or another, continue to reject anti-HIV medication. I have had conversations with people who have told me that they’d originally tested HIV positive but miraculously no longer carry the virus as a result of prayer and rejection of ARV treatment. I have also heard of HIV positive people who have actually testified at their places of worship that they have been ‘cured of HIV through prayer’, as well as a small minority of faith leaders who somehow manage to convince their followers that taking ARVs will kill them outright. Some HIV positive people also visit witch doctors, sangomas, and/or traditional healers, and are predictably told that no trace of HIV exists in their blood, encouraging them to abandon their ARVs altogether. In fact, the discussion about witch doctors and HIV deserves a blog of its own!

Overall, I respect the fact that faith is very individual and private, and whatever people want to believe is entirely up to them. However, this can make it very difficult to monitor any negative impacts that religious faith might have on the lives of vulnerable populations targeted by those who wish to exploit them and extort what little money they have. How many people are targeted, I don’t think anyone knows, but I strongly feel that this is a worrying phenomenon that deserves much more attention, and possible interventions, if we are to continue to help save lives.

What I am very clear about is that ARV treatment and prayer should complement each other, not compete against each other. Above all else, the God I have faith in is a generous one and helps those who help themselves by taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them

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