Recent AIDS Breakthroughs
By Sarina Dorie
Just days ago The Journal of New England Medicine announced that scientists were able to genetically modify white blood cells in 12 HIV patients so that the body was able to fight the virus.
Scientists removed white blood cells from each patient, modified the protein that the virus attacks and makes it susceptible to AIDs, and returned the white blood cells to the patients by blood transfusion. The hope was that the virus wouldn’t be able to attack the cells as it usually would. Even after stopping antiviral medications, the cells continued to live longer—up to a year. This doesn’t mean the patients reverted back to being HIV negative; the virus was still present, but the body was able to fight it better. Further studies are being planned to modify higher numbers of blood cells to discover the affects.
Also days ago, on March 5th, United States scientists revealed they were able to use a regime of drugs on an infant that they had confirmed was HIV positive, effectively sending the virus into remission. A year later, the baby has no signs of the autoimmune disease. Scientists are cautious to use the word remission and instead say the virus is undetectable.
There are previous cases of infants believed to be HIV positive upon birth, but without confirmation of this since they weren’t tested, who received drugs and continue to be HIV free. Canadian scientists funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research and the International AIDS Society have found similar results in five Canadian babies. They have additional research they plan to report later this month at a Canadian AIDS meeting.
Egypt on the bandwagon?
The Egyptian military reports cures for hepatitis and AIDs but no one is paying them much mind at the moment.
This recent news has brought hope to those who have assumed testing positive was a death sentence, while critics feel these isolated studies on newborns bring false hope to those currently with the disease. To get a better understanding of current treatment options and what these breakthroughs mean, let’s start with the basics. . . .
What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The range of symptoms, diseases and effects it has on the body as a result of a reduced immune system is AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Some people go for years without symptoms or even knowing they have HIV. Current antivirals work to slow down the disease from impairing the immune system. Once one acquires HIV, they are considered “positive” for the disease. Once positive, if the individual develops opportunistic infections that take advantage of the impaired immune system, or white blood cells drop below a certain level, one “has AIDS.”
In order to address the virus at different stages of development, as well as take into account mutations that might be resistant to one drug, HIV patients are often put on a cocktail of antiretrovirals or Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy. Because HIV patients are at risk for opportunistic infections, doctors may prescribe additional medications, and they may prescribe medications to alleviate the symptoms created by the medications.
When the immune system attacks itself, it is important to be as healthy as possible to prevent getting sick. For some, this means eating healthy, exercising, and taking vitamins and supplements in addition to the regime of prescribed medications. Mental health and outlook are just as important as physical health since this impacts the immune system. It is important to have a support network and talk with other individuals who are going through similar circumstances. One such community is Positivesingles.com. They offer free services such as networking with other STD positive individuals, forums, blogs, events, live counselors and other free services, as well as paid services such as their dating website.
What the recent HIV research means in the here and now. . . .
It is too early to know whether such treatments will lead to eliminating the disease, an increased lifespan or alternatives to antivirals. These recent studies bring hope to those who suffer from HIV, but it will be years before this research can benefit those with HIV right now. With the focus on HIV, it makes one wonder about other possibilities. Will we be able to eliminate other viruses like herpes and hepatitis? Are scientists going to use this research for other diseases or only focus on HIV?
For those who currently test positive for STDs such as HIV, herpes or hepatitis, the wait must be unbearable.