The latest international news, analysis and features on the HIV epidemic from AVERT. Share your views and expertise with your peers in the comments box below the articles.
People living with HIV with suppressed viral loads may, for the first time, be offered long-acting, injectable antiretroviral treatment, following a clinical investigation by two global pharmaceutical companies.
The first human trial with newly designed synthetic antibodies showed a 300-fold reduction of viral load in trial participants, as reported in the journal, Nature. The antibodies, known as 3BNC117, are designed to block the key viral protein receptor, HIV’s entry point into the blood cells. The designed antibody attaches itself to the proteins on the outside of HIV itself, making it difficult for the virus to connect to blood cells.
Newly developed scanning techniques make it possible to identify where latent HIV is hiding in the body. This new development will create better opportunities to eradicate HIV from the body. Antiretroviral treatment (ART) is able to eradicate HIV from the blood, but as the virus returns when people stop taking treatment, HIV must be hiding somewhere in the body.
An engineered protein has been developed which has successfully blocked all known strains of HIV-1 and HIV-2 in a lab environment, and SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) in monkeys. The protein, named eCD4-Ig, has been described as “the broadest and most potent entry inhibitor described so far”, and could form the basis of a vaccine alternative for HIV – either as a long-term preventative drug, or treatment that works to subdue HIV in the body.
In most countries, the local HIV epidemic is still dominated by the strain of HIV which first entered that specific population. There are several different strains of HIV, organised into types, groups and sub-types; however the global mixing of these different strains has so far been slow. New research in PLOS Computational Biology explains that this slow spread is caused by the first comer advantages, making it very difficult for an invasive strain to enter that same population.
‘Berlin Patient’ Timothy Brown was cured of HIV after he received stem cells from a patient who was naturally immune. Since then, research groups have tried to recreate this natural immunity. Researchers at Harvard Stem Cell Institute have recently published research on how blood cells can be made inaccessible to HIV.
HIV can be hidden in the body for years before quickly replicating itself and attacking the immune system. Researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered a new protein (Ssu72), responsible for the activation of HIV, and believe this can be a new target for HIV treatment. The protein, which participates in the activation of the HIV-1, is part of a switch that wakes up the virus.
A recent study has attempted to further understand why Timothy Ray Brown, also known as the Berlin man, was cured of HIV in 2006 after living with the virus for 11 years. The research has narrowed down critical factors that were involved in eliminating the HIV virus from Brown’s body. Brown remains the only known case of someone who has been cured of HIV and his case has subsequently gained immense interest among researchers striving to find a cure for HIV.
Researchers at Duke University recently announced that they might have found a breakthrough in the development of an HIV vaccine for infants. After reanalysing findings from two historic paediatric HIV vaccine trials performed in the 1990s, evidence was found that it might be possible to develop a vaccine to prevent HIV transmission form mother-to-child during breastfeeding.
The US National Institute of Health (NIH) is beginning a study to ascertain whether an aggressive treatment regime started soon after birth can effectively cure an infant of HIV. The global study is hoping to emulate the case of the ‘Mississippi baby’, who gained notoriety in 2013 after being functionally cured of HIV – a state where a very small amount of the virus is present, but is unable to replicate.