A Vaccine for HIV - and Beyond

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a disease which has been the subject of much commentary by religious-minded people since its discovery in 1981, many of whom sought to blame those infected. This was primarily due the discovery of the disease among gay men and injecting drug users, especially through the irregular increase of cases of pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and a previously-rare skin cancer called Kaposi's sarcoma. Tabloid media, displaying the usual sensitivity and accuracy, called this the "Gay Plague". Religious fundamentalist Jerry Fawell, expressing an opinion typical of his ilk, remarked that "AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals, it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals".

Fawell, from the perspective of his own hateful immoral views, was somewhat prescient in the change in direction that the homophobic took in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As increasing numbers of individuals, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, were being infected with HIV through heterosexual intercourse, through birth or breast-milk, they began to distinguish between "innocent" victims of HIV (who deserved support) and the "guilty" who were shunned, if not explicitly.

Mention must also be made of the mental gymnastics that the Roman Catholic Church, the world's single largest Christian denomination, went through in opposing the use of condoms as a means to prevent HIV infection. According to the Church, sex has a special theological meaning, and the use of contraception interferes with God's will and that the use of condoms was a sin. Many has justly argued that this position has condemned millions to death. More recently however, the current Pope has argued that the use of condoms in some situations (specifying sexual relations with male prostitutes) may be "a first step of responsibility" in sexual relations. Perhaps instead it is the Catholic hierarchy acquiring "a first step of responsibility" for the damage they have caused.

Independent of those who are seeking to claim supernatural moral forces are at work, others have responded to this issue as one should - as persons afflicted with a medical disorder. It is with some excitement that recent news that a vaccine has been discovered, based on the cytomegalovirus, a member of the herpes family. It is, of course, not the first time such an announcement has been made.

One thing is certain - once a society rids itself of trying to find supernatural justifications for medical issues and instead turns itself to evidence-based knowledge then positive outcomes in health care are possible and can be achieved when the moral standard is reached of respecting an inherent dignity in all persons. We can look at the examples of poliomyelitis, diphtheria, and smallpox as examples; in each of these cases mass vaccination has has provided an extremely high level of immunity throughout advanced economies and could - if the political will and moral reasoning existed - achieve similar results throughout the rest of the world. We can but imagine what cures will be discovered and can be achieved this century; HIV? Various forms of cancer? Will we reach the promise outlined by Antoine-Nicholas de Condorcet in the famous "Sketch of the Progress of the Human Mind"- that death itself will only occur through the most extraordinary of accidents? Rather than laying blame on those afflicted, this is certainly a more worthy, human, and moral orientation.


lev.lafayette's picture

... Contains a brilliant quote which I must highlight.

"Rev. Jim Wallis points out that the Old and New Testaments contain a total of 31,156 verses - of which over 5,000 deal with alleviating poverty, while not one verse deals directly with abortion or gay marriage. Yet those were the two issues Falwell branded the most important. He paid little attention to other moral issues like the death penalty, war, torture, health care or helping the poor. For Falwell, morality began and ended in his crotch."

The world needs more Christians like Bill Press

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I think it is best to find a place for spiritual belief in all this, instead of saying it needs to go away. For one thing, I feel confident in saying we aren't ever going to get rid of it. For another, man people draw from their faith when practicing compassion. Faith is a tool which can be used for great good.

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ScienceDaily (Sep. 20, 2011) — Researchers have found a way to prevent HIV from damaging the immune system, in a new lab-based study published in the journal Blood. The research, led by scientists at Imperial College London and Johns Hopkins University, could have important implications for the development of HIV vaccines


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The ability of the synthetic compound known as “PD 404,182” to break apart the AIDS-causing virus before it can infect cells was discovered by Zhilei Chen, assistant professor in the university’s Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, and her team of researchers. Their findings appear in the November online edition of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
“This is a virucidal small-molecule compound, meaning that it has the ability to kill a virus; in this case that virus is HIV,” Chen says. “Basically, it acts by breaking the virus open. We found that when HIV comes in contact with this compound, it breaks open and loses its genetic material. In a sense, the virus ‘dissolves,’ and its RNA becomes exposed. Since RNA is pretty unstable, once it is exposed it’s gone very quickly and the virus is rendered non-infectious.”

More at: http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-11-hiv-killing-compound.html

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Evidence That Man Cured of HIV Harbors Viral Remnants Triggers Confusion

Only one person ever has been cured of an HIV infection, and a presentation about the man at a scientific meeting in Sitges, Spain, last week has caused an uproar about the possibility that he's still infected.


And yet..

HIV can get into breast milk, but surprisingly few babies exposed to the virus this way contract it – perhaps because the milk has antiviral properties

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A Canadian-made HIV vaccine has cleared a major hurdle. Scientists announced on Tuesday that initial results from human clinical trials show no adverse effects and significantly boosted immunity.


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Studies with direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) for hepatitis C virus (HCV) monoinfection and HIV coinfection were highlighted at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI). In HCV monoinfected patients, several interferon alfa-sparing, all-oral regimens demonstrated cure rates of greater than 90% with 12 weeks of treatment, including for hard-to-treat patients. Cure rates of 75% were attained in HIV/HCV coinfected patients with the addition of the investigational HCV protease inhibitor (PI) simeprevir to peginterferon alfa and ribavirin. Drug-drug interaction data to inform safe coadminstration of antiretroviral therapy with DAA-based HCV treatment were presented. There was continued emphasis on pathogenesis, management, and prevention of the long-term complications of HIV disease and its therapies, including cardiovascular disease, renal disease, alterations in bone metabolism, and vitamin D deficiency, along with a growing focus on biomarkers to predict development of end-organ disease. Understanding the elevated risk for non-AIDS-defining malignancies in the HIV-infected population and optimal management was a focal point of this year's data. Finally, the conference provided important information on tuberculosis coinfection and cryptococcal meningitis.

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Referrals for and initiation of preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV infection increased dramatically in a large clinical practice setting since 2012. Despite high rates of sexually transmitted infections among PrEP users and reported decreases in condom use in a subset, there were no new HIV infections in this population.


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Scientists have engineered an antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains and can prevent infection in primates.
It is built to attack three critical parts of the virus - making it harder for HIV to resist its effects.

The work is a collaboration between the US National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi.

The International Aids Society said it was an "exciting breakthrough". Human trials will start in 2018 to see if it can prevent or treat infection.

Our bodies struggle to fight HIV because of the virus' incredible ability to mutate and change its appearance.

These varieties of HIV - or strains - in a single patient are comparable to those of influenza during a worldwide flu season.
So the immune system finds itself in a fight against an insurmountable number of strains of HIV.


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On Sunday, April 1, Australia will join only a handful of other countries in the world whose governments have made HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) readily available to populations at risk of HIV infection.

This step forward takes Australia much closer to achieving its pledge, made in 2014, to end new HIV transmissions by 2020.
What is prep and how does it work?

PrEP is the most powerful prevention tool currently available for people at risk of HIV infection. In people with high adherence to PrEP medication, it reduces the risk of acquiring HIV by 99%.


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More than 50 years after it jumped the species barrier and became one of the most devastating viruses to affect mankind, HIV remains a stubborn adversary. Treatment has improved dramatically over the past 20 years, but people who are infected will remain so for the rest of their lives, and must take one pill daily – at one time it was a cocktail of 30.

But now, as another World Aids Day pulls into view, scientists are beginning to ask if the biggest breakthrough – an out-and-out cure for the tens of millions who have contracted the virus – could be in sight.

The excitement lies in research that is having some success in drawing the virus out of a latent stage (in which it can lie undetected for long periods) so that it could be destroyed.

“The last couple of years have been very exciting on this front,” said Satish Pillai, an associate professor in HIV research from the University of California San Francisco. “We’re now attempting find the holy grail of HIV research.”

“In the first instance, we want to identify the signature characteristics, in a reliable and accurate way, of latently infected cells,” Pillai said, speaking of HIV-infected cells that evade current treatments. “The other side is that we’re developing novel strategies to destroy them once we’re able to identify them.”

“We’re entering this new era of finding a functional cure to eradicate the virus,’ he explains.


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End to Aids in sight as huge study finds drugs stop HIV transmission

An end to the Aids epidemic could be in sight after a landmark study found men whose HIV infection was fully suppressed by antiretroviral drugs had no chance of infecting their partner.

The success of the medicine means that if everyone with HIV were fully treated, there would be no further infections.