All posts edited by Madeline Ricchiuto.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Huge Advancements in the Battle Against HIV/AIDS

I'm not sure how many of you have heard but there have been some amazing advancements regarding HIV prevention/treatment this month! This is especially good news and I thought an appropriate thing to blog about considering my past posts on sex education in the US (you can see them here and here).

Early in March, a baby in Mississippi was declared 'functionally cured' of HIV after being treated with a high does of antiretrovirals. This child is considered only the second person in the world to be cured of HIV. The first patient was a man named Timothy Brown, who received a blood marrow transplant (to treat his leukemia). Timothy received marrow from a person who is HIV resistant and thusly his blood cells became HIV resistant as well (the new ones produced by the marrow for those not scientifically inclined).

This new method of 'curing' HIV was at the time only considered to be effective for new borns. However french scientists announced yesterday that 14 patients had been functionally cured as well. The key that seems to emerge in these two instances is the treatment needs to be early. This early and aggressive treatment seems to prevent the virus from getting a foothold in a person's body. A main problem with HIV, as described by doctors, is that even when in remission the virus has 'sleeper cells' which activate when the virus level drop and a person goes off their meds.

This form of treatment, as mentioned above, hinges on the assumption of knowing your status early on. Unfortunately this is not a common occurrence, more often than not individuals do not know they have been infected for some time after infection. According to the World Health Organization, on average,  between 5 and 10 years can pass before symptoms start occurring after infection.

That last bit may seem really sobering and make the advancements less than impressive, however there is still hope! Another study has found that a toxin in bee venom can break down HIV. The toxin is called mellittin, and as I said earlier if produced by bees in their stinger venom.

The study, conducted at Washington University, infuses nano-particles (yes those things exist) and infuses them with the toxin before releasing them into the bloodstream. Before doing this the scientists also add protective bumpers to the nano-particles so that they do not harm cells other than HIV. The way this work is that the HIV virus is smaller than the nan-particle and so slips through the bumper whereas other cells are much larger so that particle just bounces off them.

This toxin has been found to break apart the viral envelope of the HIV virus. This is a theoretically inherent feature of the HIV virus, meaning that this would work indiscriminately against all strains of HIV and that there is no way for the virus to evolve to be immune to this kind of therapy. The scientists of the study hope this can be used in conjunction with HIV medications that already exist to eliminate cases of infection. They also hope that this may be used as a preventative measure in the form of a vaginal cream or other such birth controls.

Maybe the most amazing thing about this technology is that is may not be limited to HIV. It attacks all double layer viral envelopes. This means it could also be useful in treatment and possible curing of diseases like hepatitis B and C.

You can read more about the baby in Mississippi here.
More information on the French patients here and the journal article here.
For more on the bee venom treatment see here and here.

No comments:

Post a Comment