STD Awareness: The Future of Treatment for HIV/AIDS

This scanning electron micrograph shows HIV particles (colored yellow) infecting a human T cell. Image: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

This scanning electron micrograph shows HIV particles (colored yellow) infecting a human T cell. Image: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

In 2006, an HIV-positive man was diagnosed with leukemia. First he received chemotherapy, and when the cancer returned his doctor recommended a stem-cell transplant with tissues obtained from a bone-marrow donor. After finding an unusually high number of compatible donors, his doctor, Gero Hütter, had a simple idea that would change the course of HIV research. Dr. Hütter knew of a rare genetic mutation that confers immunity to many strains of HIV, including the strain that infected his cancer patient. And new blood cells, including immune cells, are manufactured by bone marrow. What if he could find a bone-marrow donor with this mutation? What effect would it have on the HIV infection?

Five years after his cancer diagnosis, the man, known as the Berlin patient and recently identified as Timothy Ray Brown, is in remission from cancer … and the most sensitive tests have been unable to detect HIV anywhere in his body, despite the discontinuation of antiretroviral drugs. Scientists are a cautious lot, careful not to make grand statements without qualifying them with words like “seem” and “suggest.” But more and more, researchers are starting to say that Brown could be the first case in which a cure for HIV was attained.

Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, has been the focus of intense research since the 1980s, when it was identified as the causative agent of AIDS. Many anti-HIV drugs have been developed since then, though worldwide, less than a third of people who need the drugs have access to them. Those with access, however, have significantly improved health outcomes and longer life expectancy. Continue reading

What Is HIV?

December 1st is World AIDS Day, so we’re focusing on HIV this month in our STI Awareness series.

Let’s break down the name:
H – Human: This virus only infects humans and is only passed from human to human.
I – Immunodeficiency: This virus weakens the immune system by destroying cells that fight disease and infection.
V – Virus: This is a virus. Unlike other viruses, however, this virus does not leave the body. This is the mystery that scientists and doctors are working to solve.

HIV is an immune system virus. It hides for a long time in your cells and attacks the T-cells, aka: CD4 cells. Over time HIV can destroy so many CD4 cells that your body cannot fight infection anymore. When that happens, HIV leads to AIDS. While all of this is very scary, the bright spot is that this is an easily preventable disease. Continue reading