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New York Times Examines How Research Into HIV-Positive Long-Term Nonprogressors Could Lead to AIDS Vaccine

May 3, 2005

The New York Times on Tuesday examined how the study of long-term nonprogressors -- HIV-positive people who do not take antiretroviral drugs but whose disease is not progressing to AIDS -- potentially could help in the development of an AIDS vaccine. According to Dr. Jay Levy, director of the University of California-San Francisco's Laboratory for Tumor and AIDS Virus Research, approximately 5% of HIV-positive people can remain "medicine-free and still healthy" 10 years after becoming infected, the Times reports. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, defines nonprogressors as HIV-positive people not on a treatment regimen who have "so little virus in their blood that it cannot be routinely detected," and he said that only about 0.2% to 0.4% of HIV-positive people fall into this category, according to the Times. Finding long-term nonprogressors to participate in clinical research "is challenging," the Times reports. "The disappointing thing is that there's no consensus about what the long-term nonprogressors do. Different things explain it in different people," Martin Delaney, founder of the HIV information and advocacy organization Project Inform, said.

Vaccine Research
By 1996, when improved treatment options became available and HIV-positive people were living longer, interest in long-term nonprogressors had decreased, according to the Times. However, when it "became apparent that a vaccine was still sorely needed," the interest "re-emerged," according to Dr. Mike McCune, senior investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology, the Times reports. Some vaccine researchers who also study nonprogressors are focusing on the early stages of HIV to determine what types of immune system responses are useful against the virus and when they are most effective. "The main thing long-term nonprogressors teach us, and it keeps coming back again and again and again, is that it's not just the virus, it's the host," McCune said (Pogash, New York Times, 5/3).

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