Science

Continuing steps towards finding HIV cure

Peter Gray

The struggle to find a cure or vaccine for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is one of the highest profile campaigns of all time, having captured the public’s imagination for the last 25 years, but a recent medical conference suggested progress is being made in finding a cure for the virus.

Disappointingly however in this quarter-decade  no cure has yet been discovered. Recently, a gathering of scientists met in Seattle to discuss progress over the last year in HIV research and in what direction treatment is likely to progress. One of the main problems with trying to treat HIV is the high mutation rate, preventing effective cures being found. Getting around this significant barrier has been one of the focuses of HIV research this past year.

Despite, unfortunately, no miracle cure success this year, there have been significant advances in new treatments, some of them pretty extreme. One idea currently in second phase medical trials involves removing the “master” cells of the immune system of the body and then altering them so that the HIV cannot infect these cells. Then by transplanting these cells back into the body and allowing them to make copies of themselves should, in theory, prevent HIV infection. However the expense and scientific complexity of this method will probably see it only instigated in first world countries.

A recent paper published by scientists in Atlanta have published interesting results in trials showing that a combination of two vaccines administered over six months resulted in significant reduction in infection rates of HIV in about 80% of the tested population. Researchers have also been looking at cheap and effective ways of diagnosing HIV – a cheap alternative may be found in a special paper that unfolds itself when in contact with specific proteins  resulting in quick, efficient, and most importantly cheap, diagnosis of HIV (and it can be tailored to other diseases including Malaria). However both these treatments are in the early stages of clinical trials meaning the battle with HIV/AIDS is far from over.

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