HIV cure research
Thirty-seven million people throughout the world currently suffer from HIV. Researchers stationed in Chapel Hill’s University of North Carolina (UNC) hope to change this fact through the use of a $23 million grant awarded to researchers at the university’s Collaboratory of AIDS Researchers for Eradication (CARE) by the National Institutes of Health for their HIV cure research.

This award came after a rigorous application process, and supports the continuation of their ground-breaking work towards completely eradicating HIV through HIV cure research.

Curing HIV has eluded scientists for years due to the disease’s latent, but viral behavior. The sexually transmitted disease buries itself deep within the body and lies dormant for years, making it challenging to detect or diagnose in its early stages. And although treatments have been able to transform HIV into a benign chronic health condition, the virus still remains in the bloodstream.

CARE hopes to completely eliminate HIV from the body through a revolutionary method known as “kick and kill.” The strategy is a relatively recent development created by a small Norwegian biotechnology firm. The strategy is to not simply transform the AIDS-causing virus, but to completely extract and destroy the infected cells within the bloodstream, thus expelling HIV-laden cells from the body.

This method became quickly adapted by researchers at UNC. The $23 million grant serves as a refund for CARE, which was first funded in 2001 through its Martin Delaney Collaborations for HIV Cure Research program, the first funding effort to zero-in on curing HIV.

Professor of medicine at UNC and Principal Investigator of CARE, Dr. David Margolis commented, “I think we were refunded for several reasons. As we seek to both do discovery science and progress new therapies, our long-standing collaboration with Merck was extremely productive.”

Dr. Margolis is also optimistic in the strong alliances and partnerships CARE formed between other medical and research institutions such as GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), MacroGenics, Duke Human Vaccine Institute and Yerkes National Primate Researche Center stationed in Emory. Dr. Margolis states “these (partnerships) give us new tools to study viral persistence and clearance.”

Prospects for finding a cure to HIV remain bright, but while finding a cure is high on CARE’s radar, HIV prevention, education and treatment are also valuable and necessary to creating a HIV-free world.

Jenna Salisbury

Photo: Flickr

UNLV’s New Research on HIVResearchers from the University of Nevada Las Vegas have begun working on new research on HIV, human immunodeficiency virus, by finding ways to stop the virus from infecting human cells.

UNLV has already earned several financial grants for the research, including one from the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers are looking at genetic codes called minimotifs that direct cellular function. Their goal is to understand how the codes can help cells fight off HIV by blocking the virus from interacting with the cells.

“We chose HIV as our model system because we know viruses depend solely on cells to live,” said Kiran Mathew, a researcher at UNLV, in an interview with the Las Vegas Review Journal. “It’s a great model system we can use to test out the effects of (the codes) in the cell.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1.2 million Americans were infected with HIV as of 2012, with roughly 50,000 new cases each year.

By the end of 2014, close to 37 million people were living with HIV/AIDS worldwide and about 15 million people living with HIV were receiving antiretroviral therapy. The World Health Organization cites sub-Saharan Africa as the most affected region by HIV/AIDS globally with 26 million people infected in 2014. The region also accounts for almost 70 percent of the global total of new HIV infections.

There is currently no cure for HIV. The Food and Drug Administration has approved more than 25 antiretroviral drugs to help fight infections and improve quality of life for patients. With successful treatment, HIV infection can become a chronic, manageable disease. But therapy must be life long and there are limitations to diagnosis, treatment and care in geographical areas that are most heavily affected.

The promising new research coming out of UNLV might help develop new HIV drugs, code for other diseases and make personalized drugs specific for a patient’s genetic makeup. But first the findings must be published and patented before pharmaceutical companies could begin the process of bringing it to market where patients can benefit.

Megan Ivy

Sources: Review Journal, CDC, WHO
Photo: Flickr

The world has experienced the triumphs and falls of countless deadly diseases. People have successfully overcome the likes of smallpox, malaria, measles, yellow fever, polio and many more, the cures once and for all eradicating these nemeses from further damaging the population.

Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases defined a cure as a “permanent remission of disease following cessation of treatment.”

In recent years, the disease under the most scrupulous watch for a cure is HIV/AIDS. There are currently 30 HIV antiretrovirals and 11 prevention strategies developed to rid the world of HIV/AIDS. There is one crucial struggle researchers are having: it is unknown how long the virus needs to be in remission after stopping treatment before the person can be considered “cured.”

A recent experiment was completed this summer testing the drug Romidepsin. After a three-week trial, the drug had successfully awakened HIV diseased cells from their latent state, but it unfortunately could not at all decrease the “viral reservoir.”

According to The Body Pro, there are four strategies that have been devised to rid the body of this reservoir. These include gene therapy, stem cell transplants, direct immunotoxic therapy and what was done in the above experiment: attempting to activate latent cells. Conquering this reservoir is vital in completely ending HIV/AIDS.

Despite these experiments, other improvements are constantly being made to the medicine already available. According to an article published on September 16 in AIDS MEDS, a new combination pill of the drug Tenofovir has been formulated to lessen the toxicity in the patient’s body.

This combo pill will deliver more of the medicine to the actual cells that need it, thus leaving less of the drug in the blood stream. Ultimately this will put significantly less strain on bones and kidneys. The efficiency of a drug like this is a small step toward reaching a much loftier goal.

In comparison to 2013, the numbers of incidence and mortality in 2014 have decreased by 35 percent. Ridding the world of the dangers of HIV/AIDS is a process that will continue for years to come, but these small advances give researchers and doctors the hope they need to continue in their search.

– Kathleen Lee

Sources: The Body Pro, AIDS Action Committee, AIDS Meds 1, AIDS Meds 2
Photo: NPR

Researchers at Philadelphia’s Temple University made medical history this week when they announced they were able to successfully remove HIV from human cells. Converting infected cells into uninfected cells, this breakthrough is revolutionary, as the current therapy simply suppresses the virus, as opposed to eliminating it.

More than 35 million people are HIV-positive today, two-thirds of whom are living in Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than one in six people are infected. HIV, a virus which attacks the immune system, destroys  T-cells and CD4 cells, which are necessary for the body to fight infection and disease.

Once the virus kills enough of these cells, the body will become unable to attack against intruders — the final stage of the HIV virus, or AIDS.

While modern antiretroviral medication works to prevent the virus from reaching AIDS-status, there are still no known cures for the disease. Even though the current treatment has reduced the death rate of HIV by about 80 percent, drug use to combat the disease is incredibly expensive, as therapy can cost several thousand dollars per month.

Due to financial burden, the World Health Organization estimates about 19 million HIV-positive people still lack proper access to this medicine. And it still doesn’t eliminate the disease entirely; once the body is infected with HIV, it is there for life.

Now, however, we may see a change.

“We have a cure for HIV elimination,” said Dr. Kamel Khalili, head of the research team at Temple’s Center for Neurovirology. “It’s very exciting.”

Still, the team must figure out how to take the procedure from slides in the lab to animals and, eventually, humans.

Until then, the future of the virus still remains ominous. According to a recent study found by the CDC, the incidence of HIV-infection in young gay and bisexual men in America has doubled since 2002.

While new preventives — such as the new VivaGel condom, which is supposed to “inactivate” up to 99.9 percent of HIV — have hit the market, no recent findings have been quite as promising as Temple University’s.

“This is one important step on the path toward a permanent cure for AIDS,” Khalili said. “It’s an exciting discovery, but it’s not yet ready to go into the clinic. It’s a proof of concept that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Nick Magnanti

Sources: New Now Next, DW, Huffington Post,, The Grio, CBS Philly
Photo: Fox News

hiv/aids cure
Despite the death of leading AIDS researchers on flight MH17, there is reason for hope in the field of AIDS research. Progress has been made in the search for the HIV/AIDS cure. Researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark performed an experiment in which they gave six HIV-infected people an old cancer drug called romidepsin.

Romidepsin is a last-resort treatment for certain types of skin cancers and lymphomas. It works by blocking enzymes created by cancer cells, thus preventing them from multiplying and encouraging healthy cell growth. Side effects of romidepsin include irregular hearing rhythm, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and anemia.

The drug could possibly be used in AIDS treatment because the HIV virus settles deep within hidden “reservoirs” in cells where it lies dormant, making it impossible for current HIV medications to reach it. When romidepsin was administered to people with HIV/AIDS, the drug was successful in bringing the dormant virus out of hiding. The hope is that when the sleeping virus is unearthed, the body’s immune system will be able to fight against and eliminate it. Currently, there are medications available to keep AIDS in check, but if a patient stops taking his or her medication, the virus emerges from these reservoirs and wreaks havoc on the body unless treatment is started again.

In Oslo, the biotechnical company Bionor Pharma has been studying romidepsin along with another drug known as vacc-4x, which is administered after romidepsin has been used. The vacc-4x is supposed to aid the immune system in killing the virus. This process has been named the “kick-and-kill” method.

Bionor Pharma has announced that they have completed the pilot study for the kick-and-kill method and are ready to move on to the second part of the study. The second stage will involve treating HIV-infected patients with romidepsin and vacc-4x for three weeks. After three weeks, all HIV treatment will cease and the patients will be monitored to see if the virus rebounds.

While AIDS can be a manageable disease for people with access to quality health care, it affects 35 million people worldwide and only 13.9 million are receiving treatment. Most people affected by AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in five people have HIV/AIDS. If people infected with the HIV virus leave it untreated, it will develop into AIDS, and because treatment is daily and expensive, most people in Sub-Saharan Africa cannot afford it. Many advancements have been made to treat HIV/AIDS since the 1990s, but just as important as finding a cure is making sure all those infected have access to it.

Taylor Lovett

Sources: American Cancer Society, Avert, Boston Globe
Photo: iFarmaci

Could there be a cure for HIV? According to Russian researchers, the Chaga mushroom can “cure the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV.” The Chaga mushroom is a small mushroom usually found in birch and other hardwood trees. It contains betulinic acid, which is considered a toxic substance to cancerous cells. It also has antiviral properties that are essential in the search for an HIV/AIDS cure.

The Chaga mushroom (or Inonutus obliquis) can be found in several regions around the world, most commonly Siberia and other regions in Eurasia. The Chaga mushroom is often characterized by its porous, dark appearance: often black-blue or purple. According to researchers, “strains of these mushrooms demonstrated low toxicity and strong antiviral effects against influenza, smallpox and HIV.” In addition, Siberian researchers at the Vector Institute have compared the Chaga mushroom to a variety of fungi growing in Siberia: 82 strains of 33 fungi and have determined that the Chaga mushroom has the strongest antiviral capacity.

Moreover, the Chaga mushroom usually grows in cool regions such as Russia, Korea, as well as other Eastern and Western European states. Scientists have found that the Chaga mushroom also grows in select parts of the United States and Canada.

The antiviral mushroom has been a constant subject in Russian folk medicine. The folk remedies use the mushroom to cure diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.

Despite its positive appeal as a potential cure for cancer and HIV/AIDS, the mushroom has not undergone official testing. However, it presents newfound hope for researchers and people diagnosed with these diseases. Research plans to investigate the mushroom’s potential benefits will be held sometime in 2015.

– Stephanie Olaya

Sources: Medical Daily, International Business Times
Photo: Wikipedia

What Would an HIV Cure Mean for the World's Poor?On March 3rd, doctors announced that they had “functionally cured” a Mississippi child born with HIV of the virus. A functional cure means that a patient has tested negative for the virus. In this case, the child no longer needs HIV medication and is very unlikely to pass the virus on to others.

Doctors have already achieved a 98-99% success rate in the US in preventing the passage of HIV from pregnant mothers to their newborn children. This is accomplished through aggressive retroviral drug treatment during pregnancy and continued treatment of the newborn after birth.

In the United States, about 0.3% of the population, or 1.1 million people, is living with HIV/AIDS. In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 5% of the population is living with HIV/AIDS. That’s 22.5 million people: the combined population of Iowa and New York states.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the virus is particularly widespread among women and children. There, 387,500 children under the age of 14 were receiving anti-HIV drug treatment in 2010. The number of children who needed treatment but weren’t receiving it was estimated to be about 2 million. While African HIV infection rates have been dropping over the last decade as a result of better health care and education, the virus remains an epidemic.

What would an HIV cure mean for the world’s poor? Being able to cure babies and children of the virus, as well as stopping the spread of HIV from mothers to children, would eliminate the majority of new cases in sub-Saharan Africa. Curing newborns of HIV worldwide would mean a significant decrease in infant and child mortality, and healthier and easier lives for families. It would also eliminate the need for a lifetime of costly anti-viral drugs for those children cured.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: Guardian, Avert, CDC