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Marvels, Milestones and Mom: The Ups and Downs in a Year of Functional-HIV-Cure Research

December 6, 2010

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While I was flying home from Toronto, the International HIV Controllers Study (Ragon Institute) released its long-awaited Genome-Wide Association Scan (GWAS) results on 1,000 HIV controllers and 2,648 HIV progressors in the prestigious journal, Science. This important paper is the culmination of many years of dedicated investigation and dogged determination on Drs. Bruce Walker and Florencia Pereyra's part, not to mention the collaborative efforts between hundreds of institutions and medical providers they worked hard to coordinate around the world. Their findings provide a major piece of the puzzle in the search for an explanation of how we 'controllers' do what we do -- natural suppression of HIV infection without the aid of antiretrovirals (ART) -- insofar as genetics are concerned, and have been summarized by far better writers than myself these past couple of weeks.

Out of all of the articles I've read, however, one of the best descriptions appeared in a tiny article published by MyHealthNews Daily on November 8, composed by a woman by the name of Amanda Chan.

Why did I like this article? Ms. Chan captured the essence of the matter in layperson's terms -- easy to understand and hardly any 'med-speak' (scientific jargon) -- that really helped me to get on the 'page', and she held a terrific interview with Dr. Pereyra, too. Here's some of the text of the article, but I'll hope you'll read the full version when you have some time:

"Scientists have discovered tiny variations in human cells that make it possible for some HIV-positive people to lead healthy lives without taking medication."

"Variations in a protein called HLA-B may make a big difference in the body's ability to fight an HIV infection, said study researcher Dr. Florencia Pereyra, an investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. Variations in HLA-B determine whether a person is an HIV controller, meaning he or she will stay healthy despite being infected, or whether the infected person will need medication to stave off the development of full-blown AIDS."

"HLA-B works by derailing HIV once it gets inside cells. When HIV enters the cell, "it builds a factory where more viruses are produced," Pereyra told MyHealthNewsDaily."

"The HLA-B protein grabs a piece of the virus and displays it on the cell surface -- akin to posting a sign in a factory window, Pereyra said - to alert the immune system the cell has been infected. Then, the body's antibodies can destroy the cell and the virus, she said."

"The finding is the first step in developing a vaccine that could mimic the natural immune response of a cell, Pereyra said, and it opens the door for new investigations to nail down how the mechanism can work so effectively."

I have much to be thankful for and look forward to more astonishing discoveries in the coming year. For now, I wish you a Happy Holiday season and a spectacular New Year!

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly stated that the Central West Opening Doors Conference is sponsored by the AIDS Committee of Guelph. The conference is actually sponsored by the AIDS Bureau of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

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Loreen Willenberg, a resident of California, has survived HIV infection since 1992. She is part of a tiny group of people with HIV that scientists call "elite controllers." What is an elite controller? It's someone with HIV who has never had a detectable viral load, although they have never taken HIV meds. She also has an astonishingly high CD4 count and has never experienced any adverse health effects from HIV. Loreen considers it her responsibility as an elite controller to help other people with HIV, which is why she's currently participating in three clinical studies in which researchers are trying to understand how people like Loreen actually control the virus. In fact, she's created a new organization for people like her called the Zephyr Foundation.

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This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
HIV/AIDS Year in Review: Looking Back on 2010 (and Ahead to 2011)
More Research on HIV Long-Term Nonprogressors


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