Monthly Archives: March 2017

Discovery of an HIV reservoir marker: New avenue toward eliminating the virus

Scientists found a protein that flags up immune cells harbouring hidden pools of the AIDS-causing virus – one of the reasons a cure has remained elusive.  While current drugs can keep HIV at bay, a few cells remain infected, so HIV cannot be cured.

Roughly one in a million CD4 T cells in an individual receiving antiretroviral therapy is latently infected.  In lab experiments on the blood samples of 12 HIV patients his researchers analysed immune cells called CD4 T that produced a green fluorescent protein when they were infected.

This pinpointed the CD32a lymphocytes – white blood cells that protect the body from infection – that were only expressed on the surface of dormant HIV cells.

Virologist Dr Monsef Benkirane, of Montpellier University in France, said: ‘The persistence of the HIV reservoir in infected individuals is a major obstacle to the development of a cure for HIV-1.”

‘Our discovery that CD32a lymphocytes represent the elusive HIV-1 reservoir may lead to insights that will facilitate the specific targeting and elimination of this reservoir.’

Professor Douglas Richman, of the Centre for AIDS Research at California University in San Diego who reviewed the study for the journal, said: ‘This highly selective marker for latently infected CD4 T cells could at last allow researchers to investigate the mysterious mechanisms of latency – without needing to find the one cell of interest in a million..

‘The marker might also be helpful in analysing the success of candidate drugs that aim to target this reservoir.’

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Prince Harry to Visit LASS & Other Leicester Projects

Prince Harry will travel to Leicester on Tuesday 21st March to visit three local projects; Yes You Can, Leicestershire Aids Support Service (LASS) and the Pink Lizard. His Royal Highness will see how the Yes You Can and Pink Lizard programmes engage with and empower young people from the local communities, and how LASS, which this year is celebrating its 30th birthday, provides vital support to those who are living with or affected by HIV.

Prince Harry will firstly visit the Yes You Can project at Hamilton Community College. The 20 week personal development programme, which is delivered by Kainé Management and operates within seven secondary schools around Leicestershire, uses peer mentors between the ages of 16 and 25 to inspire and meet the needs of Year 8 pupils who are underperforming by overcoming barriers to learning, raising aspirations, and helping to close attainment gaps for at risk groups. The project also has a strand – the ‘I Have A Dream’ programme – which empowers primary school children to be resilient in achieving their dreams as they transition to secondary school. Prince Harry will meet mentors and children from the two programmes at Hamilton College, and hear more about how the project has helped the young people to turn their lives around and reach their goals.

His Royal Highness will then travel to LASS, the HIV charity for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. LASS provides information, advice, support and advocacy services  for people who are living with or affected by HIV, and also raises HIV awareness through training and workshops. The charity, which Diana, Princess of Wales, visited in 1991, also works in partnership with other local agencies to challenge the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV. On arrival Prince Harry will join a discussion with LASS service users affected by HIV, and attend a training session with the charity’s partner organisations to examine how they can support people affected by HIV to lead happy, healthy lives. His Royal Highness will then meet service users and volunteers over lunch in the LASS canteen, before unveiling a commemorative plaque to mark the charity’s 30th birthday.

Prince Harry will lastly visit the Pink Lizard, a youth and community organisation based in the Saffron Lane estate in Leicester. The organisation’s main aim is to support young people living in deprived communities by developing and delivering learning opportunities which are uplifting, interesting and fun. It uses sport to build confidence, tackle negative behaviour patterns, and help get young people back into education, training or employment. Pink Lizard has been supported by the sport for development charity Sported for a number of years, as part of the membership organisation’s ongoing commitment to strengthen grassroots community groups across the UK.  Prince Harry will meet a number of young people from the local community taking part in a sports training session at the Southfields Drive Sports Centre, and will hear how Pink Lizard’s programmes and services have helped these young people to develop essential skills for career progression.

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Has your HIV status affected your access to financial products?

As you may already know, NAT have been conducting a survey with people living with HIV to find out their experiences of accessing financial products and services. This survey is part of a project on how HIV status impacts on access to financial services, and will inform the content of a briefing which they will be publishing in the summer.  The results will be a vital basis for future work to maximise access for people with HIV to financial services and products.

The survey is due to close at midday on Friday 10th March, you can access it here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/NATfinancesurvey

 Please note that the survey is for people living with HIV in the UK only.

Have you ever wondered what HIV sounds like?

sounds-of-hiv

The majority of us enjoy music to some degree or another, pop, classical, rock R&B but have you ever wondered what HIV would sound like?

There is a range of sound and music, which lies beyond the range of human hearing. “Sounds of HIV” is a musical translation of the genetic code of HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. In this album, segments of the virus are assigned musical pitches that correspond to the segment’s scientific properties. In this way, the sounds reflect an accurate, musical nature of the virus. When listening from beginning to end, the listener hears the entire genome of HIV.”

You may think that expressing nucleotides of the genome of a virus as pitches of the melodic scale as a promotional stunt, why would you draw a connection between adenosine and A, between cytosine and C and so on?

University of Georgia graduate student Alexandra Pajak’s instrumental sequence ensemble which draws inspiration from the physical properties of HIV itself!

“Sounds of HIV,” is a 17-track, 52-minute long musical adaptation of HIV’s genetic code. Pajak assigned pitches to the four basic nucleotides in DNA — A for Adenine, C for Cytosine, G for Guanine and D for Thymine — but the score contains much more than these for notes

Applying scientific rigour to music is nothing new and has been done in the past with math so why not with biochemistry? Alexandra Pajak, native of Athens, Georgia studied both composition and sciences and her work reveals a fascination with both subjects. Then there is a general sense of unease, creeping in. This undeniably beautiful music expresses HIV, a virus responsible for the destruction of much beauty and art. On one hand, it’s tempting to assume that nature’s creations achieve a high level of symmetry and beauty and a virus should not be exempt from that principle.

On the other hand, what terrible beauty is there to be found should we glimpse inside the genome of the plague, syphilis, smallpox or even flu? These ruminations tend to accompany listening to this oddly-concordant composition, performed with aplomb by the Sequence Ensemble.

In a way, the strange and disturbing recording reveals itself beautiful yet disturbing as the sounds reflect the true nature of the virus. When listening from beginning to end, the listener hears the entire genome of HIV.”

Unfortunately, we’re unable to stream the full album however here’s the links to it on Google Music or Spotify, if you’re more old school, here’s the CD on Amazon.

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President Trump’s next target: People living with HIV

trump-ribbon

A month into Donald Trump’s presidency, and the ways in which Trumpism is a threat to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender existence are almost too many to count. However, those most vulnerable to HIV will be hit the hardest.

The threat of actually losing health insurance due to the president’s promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act is making millions of Americans so terrified, even his own voters are increasingly warming up to Obamacare.

But the ACA’s death is still a real possibility, and it would take a particular toll on queer Americans. According to a Yahoo investigation: “Before the ACA was passed, only about 13% of people with HIV had private health insurance and 24% had no coverage at all.” Indeed, the ACA has been a lifesaver for many people living with HIV: its subsidies for private insurance and its robust expansion of Medicaid in many states have greatly increased their access to medical treatment. If you doubt the scale of the continuing epidemiological emergency, consider that only about half of African Americans with HIV have access to continuous medical treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

One way the ACA has addressed the crises is by funding the prevention efforts of Aids service organizations. Beyond people living with HIV, this work is helping to keep the transmission of the virus from further harming the most vulnerable communities, such as transgender women of color, or the one in two black gay men the CDC predicts may become HIV-positive in his lifetime unless radical action is taken.

But if “silence equals death”, as the Act Up slogan says, then loud protest is needed to keep people living with HIV from losing access to medication.

Creating swaths of uninsured people living with HIV who will likely lose access to viral suppressing medication (which makes HIV almost impossible to transmit) will also increase the likelihood of transmission to others. We know that when people in prison who are HIV-positive are released with little medication, they often stop taking it altogether when they run out; their viral load then becomes very high and, research has shown, their sex partners are more susceptible to becoming HIV-positive. (And if Republicans failed to keep the Obamacare provisions which allow people with pre-existing conditions to buy insurance without discrimination, it would be even worse.)

Remember: when then Indiana governor Mike Pence presided over one of the worst HIV outbreaks in the history of the country in 2015, he first turned to prayer before then turning to Obamacare to ameliorate the outbreak (the latter worked).

But as vice-president, Politico reported this week: “Pence is helping to lead the Republican effort to dismantle the program that helped him halt the deadly outbreak in an impoverished swathe of Indiana.” Pence wants to end what he knows worked. His horrific HIV record, steeped in heterosexism, racism and Christian supremacy, is going to hurt people living with HIV, queer people, ethnic minorities and the poor the most.

Advocates of science were alarmed when the Environmental Protection Agency was told it could no longer talk to the public because, among other reasons, the EPA protects the public from environmental harm by giving information and guidance. Similarly, LGBT Americans should be very worried that the Trump administration seems to be dialing back on providing information on HIV/Aids and LGBT health to the public. The website for the White House office of Aids policy is now blank, and the office’s future is unclear. A CDC summit in the works to address LGBT youth health (meant to address pressing issues a CDC report exposed such as how “young gay and bisexual males have disproportionately high rates of HIV, syphilis, and other sexually transmitted diseases”) was infinitely postponed after Trump was elected.

In funding prevention programs, the ACA still remains an important channel of government information about HIV/Aids. But if it disappears, the loss may beespecially harmful in states which only teach “abstinence only” sex education.

As an LGBT community (and this applies to our supporters too), we cannot be focused simply on the Trump administration’s conservative stance on our civil rights. We must be vigilant about how HIV/Aids stands to harm the most vulnerable among us first, do all we can to protect the 1.2 million people in the US already living with HIV, and insist that the government keep the epidemic from getting even worse.

Article via US Politics @ The Guardian

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Sex and Relationship Education in Schools

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Until now, sex education has been compulsory only in council-run schools, however sex and relationships education is to be made compulsory in all schools in England, the government has announced.

Children will also be taught, at an appropriate age, about sex. But parents will still have the right to withdraw their children from these classes.

Since academies and free schools are not under local authority control, they do not have to follow the national curriculum and have not been obliged to teach sex and relationships education (SRE).  In practice, the vast majority do teach the subject – the government’s announcement will mean all schools across the system will be bound by the same obligation.

Age-appropriate lessons will have particular emphasis on what constitutes healthy relationships, as well as the dangers of sexting, online pornography and sexual harassment.

In a written statement, Ms Greening said: “The statutory guidance for SRE was introduced in 2000 and is becoming increasingly outdated.  “It fails to address risks to children that have grown in prevalence over the last 17 years, including cyberbullying, ‘sexting’ and staying safe online.

‘Sensitive approach’

“Parents will continue to have a right to withdraw their children from sex education.  Schools will have flexibility over how they deliver these subjects, so they can develop an integrated approach that is sensitive to the needs of the local community; and, as now, faith schools will continue to be able to teach in accordance with the tenets of their faith.”

The news was welcomed by Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, who said age-appropriate SRE would prepare young people for the challenges they faced.

“It is so important for young people to be taught about appropriate relationships, and the duties set out today bring that one step closer.”

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, urged the government to give schools the freedom to be innovative and flexible in the way they approached the subject.

“We do not believe it is necessary for the government to provide standardised frameworks or programmes of study, and we would urge ministers against being too prescriptive,” he said.

The Right Reverend Stephen Conway, the Church of England’s lead bishop on education, said he supported age-appropriate SRE.

“In an age when even primary school children are becoming exposed to online pornography – often by accident – and when practices such as sexting are becoming commonplace at a younger and younger age, we cannot simply advocate an approach like the three monkeys covering their eyes, ears and mouths, vowing to see, hear or speak no evil.

“If we want children to build resilience it is important to start young, teaching them about strong and healthy relationships.”

‘A tragedy’

But the Safe at School Campaign described the announcement as a “tragedy”.

National co-ordinator Antonia Tully said: “Parents will be absolutely powerless to protect their children from presentations of sexual activity, which we know is part of many sex education teaching resources for primary school children.

“The state simply cannot safeguard children in the same way that parents can. This proposal is sending a huge message to parents that they are unfit to teach their own children about sex.”

Ms Greening’s announcement follows a widespread campaign by charities, MPs and local authorities, calling for (SRE) to be made a statutory for all schools.  At the end of last year, the chairmen and women of five different Commons select committees called on Ms Greening to make SRE a statutory subject.

Their call came after a report from the Women and Equalities Committee showed that sexual bullying was a significant problem in schools.

Last month, the Local Government Association said the lack of sex and relationships education in some of England’s secondary schools was creating a “ticking sexual health time bomb”.

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