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This Week in HIV Research: Researchers Exonerate Long-Alleged 'Patient Zero,' and Triggering bNAb Production Shows Promise

October 28, 2016

This week, a study uses genetic testing to clear the name of Gaëtan Dugas, who was wrongly identified as "Patient Zero" over 30 years ago, and continually blamed for being the first person in the U.S. with HIV. Meanwhile, a handful of studies were able to induce the production of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) in humanized mice. And the VACS index score may predict neurocognitive impairment risk, according to another study. To beat HIV, you have to follow the science!


Researchers Exonerate Long-Alleged "Patient Zero"

For over 30 years, Canadian airline steward Gaëtan Dugas was mistakenly known as "Patient Zero" of HIV in the U.S. Despite evidence against this, the myth would persist. This week, researchers were finally able to definitively clear Dugas' name by conducting genetic analyses to show that HIV arrived in New York City from the Caribbean sometime around 1970, long before Dugas was identified, according to a study published in Nature.

A reading error may have started this myth. According to Nature, as scientists were investigating cases of AIDS in Los Angeles in 1982, they spoke to Dugas and marked him in case notes as "Patient O," which stood for "Outside of California," because he did not live in the state. However, the label was mistakenly read as "Patient Zero" and the misconception stuck. Dugas died in 1984.

Related: This Week in HIV Research: Sustained SIV Remission Study Paves Way for Human Trials


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Mouse Models Show Promise for Triggering bNAb Production

Several studies in humanized mice that were co-sponsored by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and published in Science, Cell and Immunity trained the animals' bodies to produce their own broadly-neutralizing antibodies.

Some people living with HIV naturally produce bNAbs, which neutralize their mutating virus. One avenue in current HIV vaccine research attempts to replicate this process by using engineered proteins to prompt the production of these antibodies. The animal studies used prime shots to activate bNAb precursor cells and booster shots to trigger a series of mutations that turned the precursor cells into different classes of bNAbs.

Scientists generally agree that more than one type of bNAb will be necessary for developing an effective HIV vaccine. Based on this and other research, IAVI is planning to conduct a phase-1 clinical trial to test the ability of a specific prime shot and certain boosters to produce bNAbs in humans.


VACS Index Predicts Risk for Neurocognitive Impairment

An increase in the Veterans Aging Cohort Study (VACS) index score was associated with a decline in neurocognitive performance, a study reported in Clinical Infectious Diseases found.

The VACS index is a composite of a person's age, HIV biomarkers, and markers for anemia, hepatitis C, and renal and liver function, and is used to quantify disease severity in people living with HIV. Those who scored in the top 25% of VACS scores among the 655 study participants were significantly more likely to show a global neurocognitive decline than those with lower VACS scores. Among participants not taking antiretrovirals, an increase in the VACS score was associated with a decline in memory function, even at lower scores. However, no such association was found among those on antiretroviral therapy.

"These findings support the VACS Index as a simple tool for identifying HIV-infected patients who are at high risk for NCI [neurocognitive impairment]," the study authors concluded.

Warren Tong is the senior science editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com. Follow Warren on Twitter: @WarrenAtTheBody.

Barbara Jungwirth is a freelance writer and translator based in New York. Follow Barbara on Twitter: @reliabletran.


Copyright © 2016 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.


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