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HIV Pioneer Mark Wainberg, PhD, Dies Unexpectedly

Dr. Mark Wainberg, a Montreal-based trailblazer in HIV/AIDS research and an internationally renowned scientist, died Tuesday after swimming in rough water in Bal Harbour, Fla. He was 71.  Bal Harbour police confirmed Wainberg’s death yesterday.

Acting police chief Miguel De La Rosa said authorities had posted a warning on the beach Tuesday about high surf and high current conditions.  De La Rosa said Wainberg’s family was with him and his son had tried to rescue him.

“The son swam out to where he had seen his dad, was able to locate him and began to swim back to shore with him,” said De La Rosa. “Other beach-goers went into the water and assisted him in bringing him onto the shore.”

By the time officers arrived, Wainberg was already on the shore, said De La Rosa. He was transported to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Groundbreaking researcher

A leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Wainberg was, at the time of his death, lead investigator at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research at the Jewish General Hospital and director of the McGill University Aids Centre.

He was also a professor in the departments of microbiology and immunology, medicine and pediatrics at McGill.

The HIV/AIDS research pioneer has been recognized for his part in the discovery in 1989 of the anti-viral drug 3TC, or Lamivudine, which is used in combination with other medications to treat the infections caused by HIV.

“There were many discoveries related to Dr. Wainberg, but not only discoveries, he was a leader — an international leader,” said Dr. Réjean Thomas, the co-founder and CEO of Clinique Médicale L’Actuel, a clinic that tests and treats sexually transmitted infections and diseases, who worked with Wainberg for more than 30 years.

Dr. Cécile Tremblay, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Montreal and researcher at the CHUM Research Centre, said Wainberg was her mentor from the time she was a medical student 25 years ago.

“Before I started my med school, as my career revolved around HIV research, I was collaborating closely with him. He was a leader in our field and he was a mentor. His loss is very significant for me,” she told CBC.  “He was a pioneer in the fight against HIV.”

Wainberg is known for his contribution to the field of HIV drug resistance, helping to identify many of the mutations in the HIV genome responsible for drug resistance.

“[He] was instrumental in shaping how we use these drugs nowadays, so that they have become so much more efficient than what they were in the past,” she said.

“Patients are better off because of the work he has done in his career.”

The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame also recognized Wainberg for his accomplishments in improving the lives of people living with HIV.

“This once baffling and almost uniformly fatal disease is now treatable, survivable, and increasingly controlled in much of the world. One of the people significantly involved in this tremendous human achievement is Dr. Mark Wainberg,” the Hall of Fame’s website says.

Wainberg devoted his life’s work to AIDS research and HIV/AIDS awareness, serving as president of the International AIDS Society from 1998 to 2000.

He helped organize the 13th International Congress on AIDS in South Africa, in 2000.

“He was the first president to decide to hold an international conference in Durban, South Africa, in a region where the epidemic was devastating,” Tremblay said. “He was very proud of that because it shifted the focus to try to control the epidemic across the world and bring the science to the developing countries. He was a pioneer on that level as well.”

Wainberg was also a recipient of the National Order of Quebec and the Order of Canada.

Our thoughts go out to Mark’s family and friends at this difficult time, RIP Mark we thank you for your work.

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Scientists Have Found A Way To Make Cells Resistant To HIV

TSRI Senior Staff Scientist Jia Xie was first author of the new study. (Photo by Madeline McCurry-Schmidt.)

In a remarkable step forward in the potential treatment of HIV, scientists in California have successfully created a cell population that is resistant to the disease.

The new approach, described as a form of “cellular vaccination” aims to offer long-term protection for patients by tethering HIV-fighting antibodies to their immune cells.

Jia Xie, senior staff scientist, said: “The ultimate goal will be the control of HIV in patients with AIDS without the need for other medications,” as even with antiretroviral drug treatments, people with HIV still suffer much higher incidences of cancer and other deadly diseases.

Here, cells protected from rhinovirus by membrane-tethered, receptor-blocking antibodies survive well and form colonies. Credit: Jia Xie, Lerner Lab

Joseph Alvarnas who was involved in the study, said: “HIV is treatable but not curable – this remains a disease that causes a lot of suffering. That makes the case for why these technologies are so important.”

The new technique is superior to therapies where antibodies float freely in the bloodstream at a relatively low concentration, as the antibodies hang on to the cell’s surface blocking HIV from accessing a crucial receptor and spreading infection.

Known as the ‘neighbour effect’ the team showed that resistant cells could quickly replace diseased cells, potentially curing a person of HIV through gradual displacement.

Xie said: “You don’t need to have so many molecules on one cell to be effective.”

In essence, the researchers had forced the cells to compete in Darwinian ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ selection in a lab dish. Cells without antibody protection died off, leaving protected cells to survive and multiply, passing on the protective gene to new cells.

To infect a person, all strains of HIV need to bind with a cell surface receptor called CD4, so the team at the Scripps Research Institute and City of Hope research centre near Los Angeles, tested antibodies that could potentially protect this receptor on the very immune cells normally killed by HIV.

The antibodies recognized the CD4 binding site, blocking HIV from getting to the receptor.

The next step in this research is to try engineering antibodies to protect a different receptor on the cell surface, according to Xie.

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Photographer Wolfgang Tillmans Opens Up About Living HIV Positive

In an interview with SHOWStudio’s Lou Stoppard for their ongoing “In Camera” series, queer artist/activist Wolfgang Tillmans spoke candidly about the impact HIV has had on his personal and professional life. “I found out, I myself am HIV positive, but I never made that an active subject in my work, “he said. “People are so scared of aids, they think that everything in the world is foreshadowing this.”

Story via OUT.com

Tillmans continued, opening up about his boyfriend Jochen Klein, a German painter who died from AIDS-related complications in 1997. “HIV impacted my life from the first day of experiencing having sex,” Tillmans said. “Of course, it affected me when my boyfriend, my love of my life suddenly died of it. At the time therapy was possible, but he found out too late.”

The artist remembered having sleepless nights at 16, when he was worried he’d die soon after having sex with a man. “I had a swollen gland, but of course I was just being a hypochondriac,” he said—a mindset fueled by a toxic climate that heavily stigmatized HIV positive people. “AIDS has always been in my life,” he added. “I’m aware of the fragility of life.”

Referencing a 1992 AIDS-focused issue of i-D, Tillmans specifically called out a double page spread by Simon Foxton that said, “We haven’t stopped dancing yet.” In those days “people were just dying,” Tillmans said. “Of course people were clubbing, as well. I’m more than grateful that science and chemistry have allowed medication to exist.”

Though Tillmans says he doesn’t believe all artists need to be creating political work, he has in the past created imagery that speaks directly to his own queer experience living with HIV. “Not every photograph is a comfortable one and I find photography embarrassing because you’re revealing your interests,” he said. “To overcome that embarrassment you have to feel a certain sense of urgency, like you need this picture, and you want to talk about it and that is important.”

Tillmans’ 2014 photograph, “17 Years’ Supply,” depicts a giant cardboard box filled with bottles of HIV drugs—some marked with Tillmans’ own name. His work, as a whole, has also largely spoken to the LGBTQ experience: 2014’s “Arms and Legs” is an erotic close-up of a male hand slipped underneath another man’s red athletic shorts; 2012’s “Juan Pablo & Karl, Chingaza” features two men smoking and laying together on a bed of grass.

Watch Wolfgang Tillman’s full SHOWstudio interview, below.

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Scotland first in UK to approve anti-HIV drug

Today the Scottish Medicines Consortium announced that PrEP is now approved for prescription on the NHS in Scotland, making it the first of the UK countries to make PrEP available on the NHS.

(Story via HIVScotland)

Availability and prescribing details are currently being confirmed by health boards but we understand patients should be able to access NHS funded PrEP within the next month in Scotland.

HIV Scotland believes this is a fantastic outcome towards reducing HIV transmissions, and shows what progress can be made when professionals and the community are able to join together to learn from each other and find solutions. Hundreds of community members across Scotland got in touch with us and other charities, attending information events, contributing to consultations and decision making groups, appealing to clinics. This outcome was only made possible by these collaborations.

We are promoting a live Twitter videocast tonight (10 April) between 9PM and 10PM – where a panel from HIV Scotland, Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, and Waverley Care will answer initial questions from the community.

HIV Scotland will continue to offer our support to decision makers and service providers to make sure that PrEP and related HIV prevention services are ready.

We are making up-to-date information available on our website, and we will host an additional live twitter videocast for community to hear from a panel of doctors, nurses and other experts in April or May 2017 (specific date to be decided so stay tuned) by which time we expect implementation details to have been decided.

From our conversations with community over the past six months it is clear to us that there is a growing demand for access to PrEP in Scotland, and also a large amount of uncertaintly. If you consider that almost everyone knows fundamentally what a condom is and how it works, but few people as yet understand the basics of PrEP. This has implications not only for the people who are interested in taking or already use PrEP, but also for their sexual partners. In addition to this we need to ensure that service providers are confident in their own knowledge.

To address this we have partnered with the University of Edinburgh to develop very basic PrEP information resources, using the HIV Literacy work developed by Dr Ingrid Young, and will continue to support work through the SHBBV Executive Leads, NHS Education Scotland, and SHIVAG to make PrEP information available to professionals.

In the meantime if you have any questions at all please get in touch with Kelsey Smith.

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Generation HIV: the young Britons born HIV positive

Today is National Youth HIV AIDS Awareness Day (#NYHAAD)

National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day is a day to educate the public about the impact of HIV and AIDS on young people as well as highlight the amazing work young people are doing across the country to fight the HIV & AIDS epidemic.

Take a look at this video which tells the story of a group of young people.  They were born in the 90s, when mother-to-child transmission couldn’t be prevented, but HIV positive babies could survive. No other generation will ever live with HIV in the same way.

They tell Jenny Kleeman, a documentary film-maker and journalist who is best known for her work on Channel 4’s foreign affairs series Unreported World that their greatest threat is not HIV – but stigma.

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(Scotland): Decision due on ‘game-changer’ Prep HIV drug

Medical chiefs in Scotland are due to announce whether a “game-changing” drug which can prevent HIV infection will be made available on the NHS.

(Story via BBC)

Research suggests a daily dose of a drug known as Prep can protect people at risk of contracting the virus.

HIV Scotland said it was “very hopeful” the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) would approve the medication.

It means Scotland would become the first place in the UK to make it available on the NHS.

Campaigners estimate that up to 1,900 people north of the border could benefit from the drug, which has the brand name Truvada.

The anti-retroviral drug is currently licensed for use in Scotland, where it is used by people already diagnosed with HIV.

However, the SMC’s decision relates to its use on a preventative basis by people who do not have the virus.

What does Prep do?

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or Prep for short) is a small, blue pill.

The pill works by protecting cells in the body and disabling the virus to stop it multiplying – should it enter the body.

Taking it once a day has been found to reduce the risk of HIV infection by 86%.

It is currently used in the US, Canada, Australia and France to help protect gay men at the highest risk of contracting HIV.


There is a growing demand for the treatment in Scotland, according to HIV Scotland’s chief executive George Valiotis.

He estimates that “a couple of dozen” Scots are using variants of the drug after buying generic versions online.

The Scottish government wrote to Gilead, the manufacturer of Truvada, to urge them to make an application to the SMC last year.

It followed a series of legal battles in England over whether the NHS or local authorities should pay for the medication.

The Court of Appeal eventually ruled that NHS England had the power to fund the drug,

The decision did not mean that NHS England had to fund Prep but in December it announced plans for a large scale clinical trial of the drug, expected to involve 10,000 participants over three years.


‘Why I buy Prep online’

Gordon Garioch is one of around “a couple of dozen” people in Scotland thought to be taking Prep regularly.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland that he was initially prescribed the drug by a private clinic but it was too expensive.

He now spends around £50 a month on a generic form of the drug he purchases from an online pharmacy.

“It gives me reassurance,” he said. “I’ve always been careful.

“My friends have always been careful but for some reason they became positive. So I take this extra reassurance for me to prevent myself becoming positive.”

Asked what the benefits of the decision would be, he replied: “To me personally, obviously it would be the cost.

“But it’s a generation thing as well, to prevent HIV for future generations for people who are not as lucky as myself who can pay for it.”


Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Valiotis, of HIV Scotland, said: “Prep makes good sense. We know that it works. We know that it stops people from getting HIV, and we know that it’s cost-effective.

“And because it’s cost-effective, what that means is that it makes more money available in the long-term on the NHS to treat lots of other things as well.”

Asked if he thought the SMC would approve the drug, he said: “I’m feeling pretty hopeful because the cost-effectiveness is clear, as is the clinical-effectiveness.

“We know this works. I would be surprised if it’s a no but it’s too hard to guess.”

HIV Scotland believes the use of Prep has played a part in reducing the number of HIV infections in Scotland.

The latest figures from Health Protection Scotland show 285 new cases of HIV were reported in 2016, down from an annual average of 359 over the last five years.

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The number of new HIV diagnoses in Midlands soared five times in the last two decades

It’s easy to get tested for HIV, speak with your GP, visit LASS, find your local HIV centre or even do a test at home!

The number of new HIV diagnoses in Midlands and the East of England soared five times in the last two decade.  Cases have risen from 238 in 1997 to 1,181 in 2015.

Story via Grimsby Telegraph

The increase started after a relatively stable period between 1986 and 1996, when the number of new HIV diagnoses fluctuated between 190 and 204.

Much of the increase occurred between 1997 and 2004 when the number of people newly diagnosed with HIV went from 238 to 1,552, the peak in the 30-year period.  The highest number of deaths was in 1994, when 149 people died as a result of HIV/AIDS, the vast majority of whom were male.

While HIV is now commonly seen as a treatable disease due to advances in retroviral drugs, there were still 97 deaths in 2015.  The majority of new HIV diagnoses occurs in people aged 35-49. There were 19,018 from 2000 to 2015 and more than a half, or 10,627, were men.

In recent years, sex between men has once again became the main source of probable transmission of HIV.

Since 2000, there have actually been more diagnoses caused by heterosexual sex – 12,230- than by men having sex with men (4,940 cases).  In 2015, there were 402 such cases compared to 516 diagnoses linked to heterosexual sex.

A further 33 cases were caused by drug use, 21 were mother-to-child transmissions, and 12 were caused by blood transfusions and products.

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