Monthly Archives: October 2015

Multiple sclerosis patient walks after taking HIV drugs

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A woman with multiple sclerosis (MS) says her symptoms improved so dramatically she was able to walk again after being prescribed HIV drugs.  Shana Pezaro, 36, from Hove, East Sussex, was given antiretroviral drugs after fearing she may have contracted HIV.  Within days, Miss Pezaro noticed an easing of her MS symptoms.

Story via
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When a doctor saw her walking up stairs after years of using a wheelchair he set up a clinical trial.

Multiple sclerosis is an incurable condition that can lead to sight loss, pain, fatigue and disability. It affects around 100,000 people in the UK.  In MS the coating around the nerve fibres is damaged causing a range of symptoms.  Once diagnosed there is no cure, but treatments can help manage the condition.

Physical symptoms of MS might commonly include vision problems, balance problems and dizziness, fatigue, bladder problems and stiffness and/or spasms.  MS can affect memory and thinking and also can have an impact on emotions.

Miss Pezaro was a dancer and piano teacher before being diagnosed with MS at the age of 28. The condition affected her hands and feet and she used a wheelchair.

About a year ago, Miss Pezaro thought she may have been exposed to HIV and her doctor prescribed emergency antiretroviral drugs.

“Three days after I took the drugs I walked up a flight of stairs,” she said.

“That was an unbelievable, massive change.”

Prof Julian Gold from the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, saw a video of Miss Pezaro climbing the stairs and a clinical trial was set up to look at the impact of single or combination antiretroviral drugs on MS patients.

An earlier study led by Dr Gold conducted with Queen Mary University, London and the University of Oxford showed an association between HIV and MS.

They reported antiretroviral treatment may suppress other viruses such as those which may cause MS.

Dr Gold said: “The next stage of the investigation is to use a very similar combination [of HIV drugs] that Shana took. I think that might be quite optimistic.”

A spokeswoman for the MS Society said: “Our growing understanding tells us that viruses have a role to play in multiple sclerosis and it will be interesting to see the trial results – positive findings mean another step on the road to beating MS.”

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LASS Outcomes 2014/15

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Traditionally, each year we publish our Annual Report.  The report gives insight into our organisation with case studies, interesting statistical information and of course a full copy of our accounts for the year.

For 2014/15, we have highlighted our achievements in our Outcomes Report which goes with our statutory accounts.

For 2014/15, we assisted 293 people living with and affected by HIV. – Their demographic information is found in the report (link below).

During 2014/15 we delivered 59 training sessions / workshops across a range of HIV related topics which were attended by 1176 individuals. Those attending are now more informed about HIV and will have a more in-depth understanding of the condition and its impact on overall health.

They will also be better able and more confident to challenge stigma and discrimination against those living with HIV, and through their greater understanding, be able to support people they work with, friends, neighbours and community members, who live with HIV. From the charts below you can see how we have reached people both in the city, county and beyond via the sessions and workshops we have delivered both here at LASS and out and about across the region.

We provided free condoms to community groups and to individuals. Condom distribution helps to achieve safe sex, prevent HIV transmission and enables discussion about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.  Condoms are distributed in packs of different sizes with lube, information and referral contacts along with our very own  ‘Size-OH-Meters‘ – designed to reduce transmission by encouraging people to use correct size condoms. Last year we gave out over 33,500 condoms of various sizes and over 1000 femidoms.

Our Rapid Testing service continues to go from strength to strength, increasing the number of communities it  reaches and supporting people who choose to test at home.  LASS testers still provide on-going information and advice in relation to testing, and refer many more service users to Sexual Health clinics generally.  More information can be found in the report.

This year we welcomed 32,922 unique visitors to our websites & blogs, almost 4000 more visitors than last year, signifying an almost 14% rise on 2013/14! At the end of March we also had over 1000 people following us on Twitter!  (If you don’t already follow us head over to twitter and say “hi” (@lassleics).

As a result of this increased Internet traffic people are better informed about many aspects of living with HIV, updates in medication and other health and social issues that impact on those living with HIV. We know people use our website to find out about HIV testing, training sessions and events we are delivering and on behalf of the entire team at LASS, thanks for following this blog, or subscribing to our newsletter.

Your copy of the report is here.  Please click to download.

Our accounts for the year can be found here.

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One in six people accessing HIV care are aged 55 or over

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Treatment improvements, ongoing transmission and a steady increase in new diagnoses have contributed to an increase in the number of people living with diagnosed HIV.

According to a new report from Public Health England, there were 85,489 people being seen for HV care across the UK in 2014. “The age of people accessing care for HIV continues to increase, with almost one in six now aged over 55,” it adds. “The aging cohort of people living with HIV emphasises the importance of integrated care pathways to manage co-morbidities and other complications.”

Other data in the report includes:

  • There were 6,151 new diagnoses in 2014, a slight increase from 2013
  • The number of men who have sex with men (MSM) newly diagnosed with HIV is increasing, from 2,860 men in 2010 to 3,360 men diagnosed HIV-positive in 2014
  • New diagnoses acquired through heterosexual sex has declined (from 3,440 in 2010 to 2,490 in 2014), largely due to a reduction in diagnoses among black African men and women (1,801 in 2010 to 1,044 in 2014)
  • Of all people attending for care in 2014, 91% were on antiretrovial therapy (ART), “of whom 95% were virally suppressed and unlikely to be infectious to others
  • 41% of those accessing HIV care are in London.

“A major challenge for the UK remains the timely diagnosis of HIV infection in order to start lifesaving ART and prevent onwards transmission of infection. Two out of five people newly diagnosed with HIV in 2014 had ‘late stage’ HIV, evidenced by a CD4 count below 350, and this remains stubbornly and unacceptably high (56% in 2005),” says the report.

A fifth (21%) of English local authorities had a diagnosed HIV prevalence above 2 per 1,000 in 2014, the threshold for expanded testing into general practice new registrants and hospital admissions. “This included all but one London borough. There is an urgent need to increase HIV testing opportunities and uptake for people living in these areas, in line with national HIV testing guidelines.”

Download your copy of the report here.

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Free Training: HIV in the Spotlight: TV and Film

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  • When: Wednesday 14th October 2015: 5:30-8pm

  • Where: The Michael Wood Centre (LE1 6YF MAP)

  • Light refreshments will be available from 5-6pm

HIV is portrayed in many different ways in the news, 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.

Since HIV first emerged, it’s never really been out of the news.  It is still one of the most pressing health challenges we face in our world.  In the early days, little was known about the virus. There was a great deal of fear about how it was spread and many people died from HIV-related illnesses.  That’s a legacy which AIDS has left behind and in part, fuels ignorance, stigma and prejudice today.

Today, treatment has revolutionised what it means to live with HIV.  Having HIV is no longer a death sentence and if someone is diagnosed early and is treated, they will not go on to develop AIDS.  Instead, they can live a long life, work, exercise, even have children if they choose.

Despite rapid advances in treatment, social attitudes are changing much more slowly. Evidence shows public knowledge of HIV in the UK is declining and there is a worrying lack of understanding about HIV.

The media play an important role in communicating to the public what exactly it means to live with HIV today.  Understanding the advances in knowledge and treatment around HIV is vital to portraying and reporting accurately about HIV.  An accurate view will provide benefits in public health, dispells myths, undermines prejudice, increase understanding and make for a better story line if adopted correctly.  The media should contribute realistically in the way that HIV is addressed around the world.

We know that an accurate depiction of HIV has always been – and still is – a challenge. HIV and its ramifications are complex to portray withinh scrips, fiction and the news.  This session will be of benefit to anyone who is interested in film, HIV or an interesting social discussion.

CALL US: 0116 2559995 or email: training@lass.org.uk to reserve your space!

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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
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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

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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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