Tag Archives: Immune Disorders

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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Human Genome Tinkering Could Be Our Best Bet to Beat HIV

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The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a crafty little beast, constantly mutating to mask itself from our body’s defenses, but always entering cells through the same molecular door. The design of that cellular door is governed by our DNA, so why not change the lock by modding our genetic code?

In 2006, a minor medical miracle occurred. HIV-positive leukemia patient Timothy Ray Brown—the second Berlin Patient—received a bone marrow transplant that saved his life in more ways than one. The marrow that he received was from a donor with a unique double mutation to a gene on the 3rd chromosome known as CCR5. This gene codes for the surface protein that the HIV virus uses to gain entry into our white blood cells (specifically, CD4+ T-cells); however the double mutation shuts down these sites and provides a natural immunity to HIV. This mutation is exceptionally rare, only occurring in about one percent of Caucasians and nowhere else. It’s been hypothesized that it’s this same natural immunity that allowed a small portion of Europeans to make it through the Black Plague unscathed.

While that was fantastic news for Brown, who nearly a decade later remains off of his retroviral drug regimen and maintains an undetectable level of the virus in his system, it’s not of much use to the rest of us. With both the mutation prevalence and bone marrow compatibility matches in general being so rare, there was no effective means of using transplants as delivery vectors for this beneficial genetic condition. And it’s worth noting that the very process of becoming HIV-free nearly killed Brown. But that’s where Professor Yuet Kan’s team at UCSF comes in.

Kan figured that if integrating this double mutation wouldn’t work on the macro level—that is, replacing a patient’s bone marrow with that of a naturally HIV-immune person’s—maybe it would at the molecular level, thereby allowing researchers to confer the benefits while cutting out the marrow donation. To that end, he and a team of researchers from the University of San Francisco are employing cutting-edge genetic editing techniques to snip out the beneficial length of DNA coding and integrate it with a patient’s own genome.

The technique they’re using is known as CRISPR (Cas9) genome-editing. CRISPRs, (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) are DNA delivery vectors that replace the existing base codes at a specific part of a specific chromosome with new base pair sets. Cas9, on the other hand are the “molecular scissors” that Kan’s team employs to first cut out the offending DNA. It sounds easy, sure—just find the string of DNA you want to replace, then snip it out with Cas9 DNA scissors, and install some new DNA using a CRISPR—however the nuts and bolts of the process are far more technically challenging.

The patient’s own blood cells would be employed as a precursor. Researchers would then have to convert those cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells by modulating a number of genetic switches, thereby instigating their regression to more basic stem cells. After that, the offending CCR5 gene would need to be knocked out and replaced with the better, double-mutated version before the now fortified blood cells were transfused back into the patient. Not only is there no chance of the body rejecting the new cells (they are the patient’s own after all), the technique also neatly sidesteps the whole embryonic stem cell issue.

While the technique is still in its early stages of development and no human trial dates have yet been set, it holds huge promise. Not just for the 35 million people annually infected by HIV, but also sufferers of sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis—two deadly diseases caused by a single protein deformation—could benefit from similar techniques. By figuring out which genes do what on our iPS cells, we could even theoretically grant everyone on Earth immediate immunity to any number of diseases.

Of course, being able to update and augment our genetic code opens up a whole slew of potential concerns, objections, and abuses. Just look at the ire raised over the use of embryonic stem cells in the early 2000s. People were lost their minds because they thought scientific progress was being built on the backs of fetuses. Researchers had to go and invent an entirely new way of making stem cells (the iPS lines) just to get around that one moralized sticking point, so you can bet there will be plenty of chimera, master race, and Island of Dr. Moreaureferences bandied about should we ever begin seriously discussing the prospect of upgrading our genes. And could certainly slow progress in this specific research.

That’s not to say that the hysteria that accompanies seemingly every news cycle these days is completely off base. Like cars, styrofoam, pressure cookers, and thermonuclear bombs, this technology can be used for evil just as easily as it can be for good. And while we’re not nearly as genetically complex as, say, an ear of corn, wrangling the myriad of interactions between our various genes is still an incredibly complex task and one with severe consequences should something go awry—even if we can avoid creating unwanted mutations through stringent testing and development methodology as we do with today’s pharmaceutical development. So why not turn ourselves into the ultimate GMOs? It certainly beats everyone becoming cyborgs.

Article via Gizmodo

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Missed, HIV Testing Week? – Don’t worry we do it all year round :-)

We are pleased publish our advert to promote HIV testing, this advert speaks with 15 languages internationally.

Our message is clear, it is better to know your own HIV status and you can get a HIV test at LASS, and have the result within a minute!

Our team of volunteers have specialist training to provide a free and confidential test, we also have a fantastic support team to provide after-care and further information if required.  We also have established network links so we can refer to more specialist agencies so you can be sure to get expert advice for your needs.

We hope you like our advert and hope that you’ll feel comfortable to contact us if you would like a free and confidential test. (0116 2559995)

HIV Testing Training

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Celia Fisher delivering HIV Training at The Michael Wood Centre

At the moment around 100,000 people in Britain are living with HIV, and it is estimated that as many as one in four of them don’t know they are infected. It’s hoped that making HIV tests much more accessible will encourage many people to take control over their own health.

HIV Testing has been available for just under 30 years, presently it’s available from GU clinics and registered testing centres such as LASS and from April next year, home testing for HIV will become legal in the UK.

To slow down the spread of HIV and help people to access treatment, LASS invests in rapid testing services in community settings. There is particularly low uptake in some African communities, so LASS trains volunteers from these communities to carry out testing and provide information.

They provide testing at a range of events and venues including African football tournaments to reach people who otherwise wouldn’t be tested. We also provides services for people with HIV who maybe coping with other issues like poor mental health.  We also provide healthy living training.

Would you like to become a community HIV tester with LASS? We are running the training sessions for this at LASS on Thursday 26th & Friday 27th September – from 9.30 to 4.30 each day at The Michael Wood Centre.

This course is available to LASS volunteers only.

The course covers theory and practice about HIV transmission, Basic HIV knowledge, treatment and benefits of testing, Pre-test “discussion” and information, Sharing test results, Inclusive practices and consideration of different communities and cultures, Role play scenarios, Procedures to use testing kits and Working with different clients.   Following the training, you will need to complete a written test.

To enrol on the course, please contact us on 0116 2559995 or email Celia or Eric for more information.

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FREE Training: HIV & Culture

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Delivered in collaboration with people from a wide range of communities and cultures in Leicester, we will explore how culture affects perspectives and experiences of HIV.

  • Date & Time: Thursday, 13th December between 13:00-16:30 hrs.
  • Venue: The Michael Wood Centre, 53 Regent Road, Leicester, LE1 6YF.

The session will also look at ways of providing knowledge and empowerment about HIV to people with different cultural needs.”

Spaces are very limited, (only 10 available).  If you would like to attend, please contact us on 0116 2559995 and speak to our team who are happy to help.

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From today, HIV treatment is free for all who need it!

Lord Fowler

In March of this year we shared the the news that Asylum Seekers and other non-British citizens were to be given free HIV treatment after the government indicated it was willing to accept an amendment from Lord Fowler to the health bill.

That removal of charges for undocumented migrants and non-UK citizens accessing HIV treatment and care in England comes into effect today. From now on, HIV treatment will be provided free of charge to all who need it, regardless of citizenship or immigration status.

The move was first announced in February and the relevant legislation passed in June. Health ministers have justified the change on the grounds of public health, pointing to the impact that HIV treatment has on onward transmission.

Although it was initially proposed that free HIV treatment should only be available to people who have been living in the UK for more than six months, this requirement has not been retained in the legislation.

While treatment in HIV clinics will always be free of charge, migrants living with HIV who need hospital treatment for another health condition, such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, or who require antenatal care, may still be subject to charging regulations.

Moreover, the rules have only changed in England. In Scotland and Wales, although charges for HIV treatment have not been levied or actively pursued in recent years, the legislation still states that HIV treatment may be chargeable. In Northern Ireland, the legislation still states that HIV treatment may be chargeable, and these regulations have sometimes been rigorously enforced.

The National AIDS Trust (NAT) has called for a formal change in the law in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to ensure that free universal access to HIV treatment is guaranteed across the UK.

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Education for awareness of and attitudes to HIV

Positive? (www.learningpositive.com) is a HIV information service website and the end work of the commitment and hard work of many UK Stakeholders, Partners and key players who in many different ways gave of their time, skills and expertise to help put together this innovative teaching and learning resource.

This highly accessible teaching and learning tool will challenge you, engage you, and empower you. By working through the different sections of the website, on your own, with friends or under the direction of your teacher, you will deepen your understanding of the facts about HIV whilst increasing your awareness of its social impact.

The interactive website is a tool to teach young people about HIV, how it affects people in the UK, how to prevent it spreading and how to reduce the discrimination experienced by those living with HIV. It also provides insights into the global dimension of the epidemic and introduces a series of interactive activities to raise awareness among the new generation and encourage positive, campaigning action to be taken.

As well as learning about HIV for yourself, you will also use your knowledge and understanding to develop an original campaign to advocate for people with HIV. As you work through the various activities, remember to think about which information would work well in raising awareness about key issues related to HIV.

The site helps to educate issues such as prejudice and stigma, discrimination, criminalisation and human rights and many more.  Check it out, it’s very useful for yourself and to pass to others.

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