children with cancer worldwide
Every year many families are confronted with the difficult diagnosis that their child has cancer. Researchers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee are familiar with this harsh reality and are on a mission to bring needed resources to families of impoverished children with cancer worldwide.

According to pediatric oncology researchers, 80 percent of the 160,000 children that are diagnosed with cancer worldwide have limited access to quality care and thus have a lower chance of surviving the disease. St. Jude is leading the way people understand and treat childhood cancer and have established an initiative named St. Jude Global to help spread their valuable resources overseas to reach children with cancer worldwide.

About St. Jude Global

“St. Jude Global, a major expansion of the former St. Jude International Outreach Program, is a strategic initiative led by the St. Jude Department of Global Pediatric Medicine.”

The initiative is composed of researchers and healthcare providers who have brought together resources including quality facilities, treatment protocols and research programs to address the needs of children with cancer worldwide, especially those living in developing and third-world countries.

Collaborations have been established in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania, as well as include over 28 countries as current beneficiaries.

Easing the Burden for Families

Over the years, St. Jude’s partnership with international organizations has helped reached vulnerable children in developing and third-world countries and brought progress to the sobering statistic of childhood cancer worldwide. Some of these programs include:

  • Pediatric Oncology East and Mediterranean Group: Formed in 2013, this is a collaboration between physicians, scientists and healthcare professionals from over 50 pediatric cancer centers across the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The initiative aims to “improve pediatric oncology research, training, patient care and advocacy by working in multidisciplinary teams across political and territorial boundaries.”
  • The Asociación de Hemato-Oncología Pediátrica de Centro América: Founded in 2000, “this network provides educational and training opportunities to local health care providers, as well as a framework for collaboration between participating institutions.”
  • National Childhood ALL Study Group in China: Founded in 2005, this study group established the first National Childhood ALL study group after physicians at Beijing Children’s Hospital and Shanghai Children’s Medical Center (SCMC), came together in a joint collaboration with St. Jude to “explore ways to optimize [Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)] treatment in China.”

Progress So Far

As a result of  St. Jude’s global partnerships with international organizations, thousands of children have benefitted from life-saving treatment.

In China, St. Jude’s collaboration with Beijing Children’s Hospital and Shanghai Children’s Medical Center increased the number of treated patients with ALL in mainland China from 10 percent before the year 2000, to over 90 percent as of 2014.

Furthermore, the Asociación de Hemato-Oncología Pediátrica de Centro América (AHOPCA) has been able to successfully fund treatment for thousands of cancer patients since the year 2000. Although there is still progress to be made with the fight against childhood cancer worldwide, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital remains a strong force in the efforts to ensure that no child dies of cancer anywhere.

– Lois Charm

Photo: Flickr

AIDS Today: Where Has the Aid Gone for AIDS?
How dangerous is AIDS today?

While many wealthy nations have found ways to manage HIV, neither it nor AIDS had yet been eradicated.

Since the epidemic began in 1981, over 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus, and upward of 35 million have succumbed to AIDS.

In 2015 alone, 1.1 million people died of AIDS or of an AIDS-related illness. Sub-Saharan Africa houses a majority of the AIDS infected population. One in every 25 adults is infected with the disease.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for nearly 70 percent of the worldwide infected population, while the other 30 percent are dispersed primarily throughout Western and Central Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Despite these substantial numbers, investments in HIV prevention research have decreased. Many donors were met with a slew of competing funding demands. Others no longer see the retrovirus as posing a current threat. Much of the world views HIV and AIDS as medical relics — diseases of a time long gone. Yet every day nearly 5,753 people are infected with HIV. That is about 240 people every hour.

HIV is transmitted from person-to-person through unprotected sexual intercourse, transmission of contaminated blood and from mother to child during birth or through breastfeeding. There is no cure for HIV, but the virus can be treated to almost a complete halt with antiretroviral therapy.

However, marginalized groups of people are not granted access to this therapy. As of December 2015, more than 60 percent of people living with HIV did not have access to antiretroviral therapy.

For the first time since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, scientists believe we are in reach of an entirely AIDS-free generation. Since 2000, the United Nation’s International Children’s Emergency Fund estimates that about 30 million new infections have been averted, eight million lives have been saved and 15 million people who would not otherwise have access are now receiving treatment.

The International AIDS Conference is a biennial meeting held for people working in fields actively related to the prevention of HIV. This year, nearly 18,000 delegates and 1,000 journalists showed up. Many of those in attendance were policymakers, people living with the disease and others committed to putting a stop to the epidemic. This year’s theme was “Access Equity Right Now.” It focused primarily on the ways in which the world can refocus global efforts on HIV/AIDS today and hopefully making treatment readily available to everyone.

But why should we stop there? With access to birth control and prenatal care, better sex education and sterile medical equipment, it is conceivable that we could live in a world that is entirely HIV-free — a world where AIDS really is history.

Kayla Provencher

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

A potential medicine to be used to help skin cancer patients has been proven to also function as an HIV vaccine. This not only eliminates the deadly virus but also makes apparent dormant and hidden parts of the virus that would otherwise remain in a patient’s body until they became active again.

The drug that is used is called PEP005 and has been used primarily for the treatment of cancer patients. This was an ingredient in a treatment used to prevent skin cancer in individuals. However, recent studies have shown the further extent of the drug’s use with HIV-positive patients. Though still in its early stages, the drug has already been approved by the FDA, and researchers say the potential use of the drug in the treatment of HIV patients is incredible. The drug has primarily been significant in treating newborns and very small children who were born with the virus.

This new means of eradicating the virus opens new doors for a number of people that face the epidemic of HIV and AIDS. The previously considered anti-cancer treatment now comes as an additional treatment of the virus. Injection of the PEP005 drug, as well as the use of other treatment options, can work to treat particularly young victims of the life-threatening disease. Studies done at the University of California Davis have shown the potential of the drug. It performs a specific function known as “kick and kill,” in which it activates previously dormant cells of the virus and makes them obvious to doctors. The drug then works to immediately attack and kill the newly active HIV cells. The “kill” aspect obviously is the most important aspect of the drug’s function, especially because it reactivates the deadly virus.

Discoveries like these bring hope to the treatment of such horrible diseases. With the discovery of such a treatment next comes the necessity to find a means to make it accessible to other parts of the world such as Africa, which has the most concentrated number of cases of HIV than any other region of the world. Both HIV and cancer are universal evils we as a global community must combat together. Further research leading to further discoveries will hopefully render the HIV virus something that the global community faced together and eradicated, making it a thing of the past.

Alexandrea Jacinto

Sources: BBC, UC Davis Health System
Photo: Unity Observer

hiv research
Since the first diagnosis back in 1981, the world’s approach to HIV and HIV research has changed drastically. Receiving a diagnosis of the disease that 33.4 million people are currently living with means something very different than what it did 33 years ago.

In 1981, when 26 homosexual men presented with unexplainable tumors and other strange symptoms, researchers and doctors worldwide were at a loss for what to do. As they later identified the disease as HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, it dawned on them that they were dealing with a virus they were wholly unprepared to tackle.

In its early years, the life expectancy that came with an HIV diagnosis was heartbreakingly short and the answers for how to cure the virus were few and far between. According to Dr. Woodrow Myers, a public health official from Indiana, the life expectancy of someone who had HIV in 1987 was 18 months.

Actually diagnosing people who had HIV was an obstacle initially, seeing as it was a minimally understood virus, especially in areas of the world with a lack of information. Progress began when researchers developed a blood test that could be used to identify those who had contracted the virus, allowing researchers to start focusing on improving the lives of those with HIV.

As researchers gained more of a grasp on the virus, they developed the drug AZT, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1987 and was distributed to patients in the U.S. Unfortunately, AZT came with its own nasty cocktail of side effects, some of them life threatening, thus ruling it out as a viable solution.

Soon after, things improved when researchers developed a treatment that had multiple drugs in one pill and had some success in saving lives. These treatments were being administered up to 20 times a day, resulting in more unpleasant side effects; also not an ideal solution.

Fast-forward two decades and research has uncovered treatments that have made an HIV diagnosis less of a death sentence. Myers reports that the life expectancy with an HIV diagnosis is now 22 years, putting it along the lines of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Though there is still no cure for HIV, the treatments are more manageable with a greater variety of options. Some treatments require only five pills a day and often have minor side effects, making managing the virus less intensive.

Justin Goforth, a 47-year-old who has been living with HIV for over 20 years, believes that in today’s world, an HIV diagnosis should not be restrictive in how you live your life, explaining “You can go to your doctor two, three times a year, get some tests done and make sure everything’s on track, and then just live the rest of your life as you would.”

This is not to say, however, that HIV should be less of a priority. Two million people died of HIV in 2008, with 2.7 million new diagnoses, and many more lives have been lost since then. Impoverished areas like Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia suffer greatly because they lack the education and resources to prevent and treat HIV, leading to often uncontrollable proliferation of the virus.

The progress shines through, however, as the number of people in poor countries receiving resources to treat people with HIV having increased 10-fold since 2002, and the standards of living have improved. As sexual education, treatment research and resource distribution improve, an HIV diagnosis becomes more and more manageable.

– Maggie Wagner

Sources:, CNN, Oprah, The Herald News
Photo: Red Hot