HIV continues to spread across the United States and across the world. As of 2011, it was estimated that 34 million people around the world were living with HIV/AIDS. Over 1.2 million of those in the United States. [Avert.org] Each year, in the US, approximately 50,000 new cases are diagnosed. [Aids.gov]
Scientists continue to look for ways to prevent the spread of HIV. Although there have been great advances in the treatment of AIDS, where it no longer is an inevitable death sentence but a chronic disease, a vaccination has remained elusive. A recent study, however, shows promise in discovering a way to both prevent the spread and treat those already diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
In a recent study, published in Nature, researchers at The Scripps Research Institute created a genetically modified protein that neutralize the virus. The HIV virus attaches to two receptors on white blood cells and then invades the cells. The created protein mimics these two receptors so the virus attaches to the protein instead of the immune cells and then is unable to continue replicating.
The protein was injected into monkeys by attaching it to a innocuous virus. During the study, which lasted 40 weeks, the viruses continued to produce the protein. The monkeys were then infected with HIV, but none of the monkeys that received the protein developed the HIV virus. The protein was also tested in cell cultures and mice with humanized immune systems and was successful in all of these settings, showing much stronger protection against HIV than the natural anti-HIV antibodies in the human immune system.
Mischel Farzan, the lead author of the study, believes that this could lead to lasting protection against HIV, acting as a type of vaccine against the disease. Further testing, however, is expected to last several years.
There is other research going on to help fight HIV. According to an article, "Stopping HIV with an Artificial Protein," in Science Magazine, researches at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA have been working on natural antibody therapies to fight the HIV virus for several years. They are both moving into the early phase of human trials. Both lead researchers, Philip Johnson at Children’s Hospital and David Baltimore at the California Institute of Technology are impressed with the new research but say it remains to be seen how all of this works in human testing. Both of these research projects are based on human antibodies but it isn’t clear whether they will be strong enough to eliminate the HIV virus.
The next several years should bring about some exciting developments in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.