Researchers to Study HIV-Positive "Elite," "Viremic Controllers"
August 17, 2006
Researchers on Wednesday at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto announced plans to conduct a collaborative study on HIV-positive "elite controllers" and "viremic controllers," the Washington Post reports (Brown, Washington Post, 8/17). Elite controllers are HIV-positive people whose immune systems for long periods of time have been able to keep the virus at undetectable levels without using antiretroviral drugs. Viremic controllers are HIV-positive people whose immune systems have kept the virus at barely detectable levels without antiretrovirals. Researchers believe it is unlikely that elite or viremic controllers can transmit the virus (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/6). Bruce Walker, director of Partners AIDS Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues already have enrolled 200 elite controllers in a study, and the researchers in the next six months plan to enroll 1,000 more elite and 1,000 viremic controllers, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports (Abraham, Globe and Mail, 8/17). The researchers plan to compare genetic sequences of the elite participants with other HIV-positive people, as well as HIV-negative people, to determine whether there are genetic variations that can explain why elite and viremic controllers can suppress the virus (Fox, Reuters AlertNet, 8/16). Researchers need to enroll at least 1,000 elite controllers, so that their genetic findings can have significance, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/17). "We're looking at people whose bodies durably live with HIV without it causing a problem," Walker said (Chase, Wall Street Journal, 8/17). "If we could discover how these individuals can coexist with this virus without damage to their immune system and could find a way to replicate that ability in others, we would have a recipe for halting the HIV epidemic," Walker said, adding, "There is a reasonable chance we will come up with something very important with this" (Globe and Mail, 8/17). He also said that while researchers are "excited about the possibilities," they "realize this might not lead to any breakthroughs" (Wall Street Journal, 8/17). Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Wednesday said that it is too early for optimism but that the research could be promising. "I believe we should get out and study elite controllers, but we should be conservative in what we expect from this research," Fauci said, adding, "This is still a very problematic and enigmatic virus." The study was funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Mark and Lisa Schwartz Foundation (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/17).
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This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.