Friday, August 6, 2010

Cure for AIDS on the way

In the news, there are encouraging reports about 2 breakthroughs in the search for a treatment to reverse the trend of the deadly AIDS virus.

The latest is the Anti-AIDS gel – a vaginal gel which has proved capable of blocking the AIDS virus thus cutting by 50% a woman’s chances of getting HIV from a partner. The gel, spiked with the AIDS drug tenofovir, cut the risk of HIV infection by
50 percent after one year of use and 39 percent after 2 1/2 years, compared to a gel that contained no medicine. This was reported by Dr Salim Abdool Karim, the South African researcher who led the study. He lauds it as a great tool to help women whose partners won’t use condoms. “Even partial protection is a huge victory that could be a boon not just in poor countries but for couples anywhere when one partner has HIV and the other doesn’t”. In South Africa, where one in three girls is infected with HIV by age 20, this gel could prevent 1.3 million infections and 826,000 deaths over the next two decades, he calculated.
The results need to be confirmed in another study, and though level of protection is probably not enough to win approval of the microbicide gel in countries like the United States, nonetheless researchers are optimistic it can be improved. To be licensed in the U.S., a gel or cream to prevent HIV infection may need to be at least 80 percent effective, Fauci said. That might be achieved by adding more tenofovir or getting women to use it more consistently.  In the study, women used the gel only 60 percent of the time; those who used it more often had higher rates of protection.
The gel also cut in half the chances of getting HSV-2, the herpes virus that causes genital warts. That's important because other sexually spread diseases raise the risk of catching HIV.

The study was sponsored by the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa, or CAPRISA; Family Health International; CONRAD, an AIDS research effort based at Eastern Virginia Medical School; and the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. It has since been published online by the Journal Science.
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health said, "It's the first time we've ever seen any microbicide give a positive result that scientists agree is true evidence of protection”.
It's the second big advance in less than a year on the prevention front. The first which was reported by Scientists last fall in Washington, was the discovery of antibodies that can protect against a wide range of AIDS viruses. The bodies of some people make these immune system proteins after they are infected with the AIDS virus, when it is too late for them to do much good. Such people are called non-progressors and researchers study their immune systems to find out why they control the virus better than most patients.

The researchers have been looking for parts of the virus that do not mutate so they can design vaccines that will protect against these constantly changing versions.
Dr. Gary Nabel of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and his team found two of the antibodies in the blood of a patient infected with HIV who had not become ill despite the infection.
They said they may be able to use them to design a vaccine against the deadly virus. The experimental vaccine cut the risk of HIV infection by about 30 percent.

"What we are trying to do with a vaccine is get ahead of the virus" said Dr. Gary Nabel of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who led the study. Research is under way to try to improve it.

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