May 15, 2015
This week we hear about a researcher who's looking into a new route for HIV gene therapy. We remain optimistic as GlaxoSmithKline and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announce a partnership to focus on HIV cure research. And we also look at a study finding that African Americans have the highest mortality risk among people living with HIV. To beat HIV, you have to follow the science!
The focus has long been on finding a way to safely modify HIV-positive individuals' genes without a dangerous stem cell transplant, so that they can also have a CCR5 mutation like Timothy Brown, the first person cured of HIV. But one scientist is looking elsewhere: Reuben Harris, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota is studying mixed-status couples to find other avenues toward HIV immunity. One family of genes called APOBEC3, which help defend against viruses, may be very important. In particular, "Harris has found that people with specific variations of the gene APOBEC3H produce stronger and more stable enzymes which can inhibit the replication of HIV," according to the Guardian.
Another study suggests that starting treatment earlier, even during acute HIV infection, may be better in the long run. Researchers in France analyzed data from 327 individuals who were diagnosed and treated during acute HIV infection. They found that the sooner those individuals started treatment, the quicker and lower viral load decreased. The predicted average viral load after five years of treatment was about 40 copies/mL for those who started treatment 15 days after infection compared to about 160 copies/mL for those who started three months after infection.
Untreated HIV can increase CD8+ cell counts, which then stay increased even after 10 years of treatment, according to a new Danish study. In an effort to better understand the clinical significance of abnormal CD8+ cell counts, researchers in Copenhagen analyzed data from 1230 patients who received care during 1995-2012. They found that those with a CD8+ cell count below 500 after one year of treatment had an increased risk of death. Moreover, those with a CD8+ cell count above 1500 after 10 years of treatment had an increased risk of non-AIDS-related mortality.
African Americans had the highest 10-year mortality risk among people living with HIV, according to a U.S. study analyzing data from 10,017 HIV-positive patients on treatment, from 1998 to 2011.
Overall, the 10-year mortality risk was 20.2%. Breaking that risk down into different groups based on race and gender, we see from highest to lowest:
On May 12, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a draft guidance recommending to lift the ban on blood donation for gay and bisexual men. However, part of the draft stipulates that men who have had sex with other men in the past 12 months be deferred (banned) from donating blood for a year after most the recent encounter -- effectively meaning any gay man who has sex regularly will not be allowed to donate blood. Additionally, any woman who has had sex in the past 12 months with a man who has sex with men will also be banned for a year.
Any individual who has tested positive for HIV or who has engaged in commercial sex work or the use of nonprescription injection drugs will continue to be banned indefinitely.
Part of the focus in HIV research has been trying to better understand HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND), which can affect as many as half of people living with HIV, even if they are on treatment and have an undetectable viral load.
A new study from Boston College looked at the role of disease-fighting cells in the brain, in particular macrophages and monocytes, which are associated with inflammation. Studying SIV-infected rhesus monkeys, the researchers uncovered some clues that show the caustic relationship between macrophage and monocyte traffic in the central nervous system, HIV infection and brain lesions associated with neurological damage.
"More than 150 people in the small rural town of Austin, Indiana, have been diagnosed with HIV since December. Although the number of new cases has tapered in the last two weeks, the town, which has a population of just more than 4,200, has only just begun to battle this epidemic, the likes of which rural America has not seen before, but likely will again," writes Diane Janowicz, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Indiana University Health Physicians.
Is there a development this week in HIV research that you think we missed? Send us a tip!
Warren Tong is the senior science editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Warren on Twitter: @WarrenAtTheBody.
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