• PODCASTS & SUMMARIES FROM CROI 2007
The huge 14th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI 2007) has concluded in Los Angeles, but The Body's wide-ranging coverage of this important meeting is just getting started! From expert summaries to podcast interviews, our team will go beyond the research to bring you insightful analyses of conference highlights. Here's just a taste of what you can already find within our CROI 2007 coverage:
- DRUGS IN DEVELOPMENT: Dr. Edwin DeJesus reviews the latest research on MK-0518 (raltegravir). Twenty-four week data from an ongoing study show that this HIV integrase inhibitor provides an extremely potent, new treatment option for HIVers with multidrug resistance. (We've also got podcasts of a press conference and an interview with researchers studying this drug.)
- FIGHTING FAT GAIN: Dr. Steven Grinspoon discusses the effects of a growth-hormone drug, TH9507, on abdominal fat accumulation in HIV-positive people. A large study showed that this drug reduced visceral fat by 20% over six months, without causing the side effects typically associated with human growth hormone. (Read or listen to the 3-minute interview or 12-minute press conference.)
- STOPPING HIV IN THE UNITED STATES: Dr. Harold Jaffe provides a thoughtful examination of the current state of the U.S. epidemic, and discusses the role that doctors, advocates, HIVers and the federal government play in fighting the ever-rising tide of HIV infection. (Download the 13.5-minute interview.)
- U.S. HIV ACTIVISM: HIV advocate Julie Davids talks about HIV prevention activism in the United States, and responds to Dr. Jaffe's contention that U.S. activism lacks the leadership and focus it had back in the 1990s. (Download the 10-minute interview.)
For a complete rundown of The Body's CROI 2007 coverage, click here for an index of articles, or click here for a full list of downloadable podcast interviews and press conferences. Much more coverage will arrive over the days to come, so check back often for the latest!
• HIV/STD TRANSMISSION
Male Circumcision Reduces Men's HIV Infection Risk by 65%, Not 50%, Data Re-Evaluation Says
Circumcision may provide even better protection against HIV infection than previously thought. Re-evaluation of the data from two headline-grabbing, U.S.-funded clinical trials in Kenya and Uganda reveals that male circumcision could reduce a man's risk of HIV infection through heterosexual sex by 65%, according to researchers. In December 2006, the two trials were stopped early and the nearly 8,000 participants were all offered circumcisions when it became apparent that the procedure reduced participants' risk of HIV infection by what, at the time, was deemed to be approximately 50%.
Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Lacks Scientific Support, Study Says
More than $1 billion in U.S. government funding has gone into state-run, abstinence-only programs in the past 10 years, although there is little scientific evidence to support those programs. Nonetheless, between 1995 and 2002, U.S. teens in sex-ed classes were more likely to be taught how to say no to sex than they were to be taught about birth control methods, according to a recent study from the Guttmacher Institute. Researchers found that abstinence was promoted "in the absence of any substantial scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of the approach." The primary reason? States rely heavily on federal abstinence funding, which restricts information about birth control. Only three states -- California, Maine and Pennsylvania -- decline the federal funding, which frees them (albeit expensively) to go their own way on sex education.
To read the Guttmacher Institute's full report, "Changes in Formal Sex Education: 1995-2002," click here.
Gates Foundation, Canadian Government Announce Joint HIV Vaccine Initiative
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Canadian government have announced a $139 million initiative to establish an HIV vaccine research institute. At a press conference last week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- who was conspicuously absent from the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto last August -- stood with Bill Gates to introduce the plan. The Canadian government will provide about $111 million over five years, and the Gates Foundation will provide $28 million. The initiative aims to develop a working HIV vaccine within 10 years and will build the first research facility in the world with the production capacity to manufacture experimental vaccines for clinical trials.
Vancouver Needle-Exchange Program Doesn't Increase Drug Users' HIV Risk, Study Finds
Injection drug users (IDUs) who regularly use needle-exchange programs are not more likely to become HIV positive, according to a Canadian study. The results contrast with an earlier study conducted in Vancouver, Canada, which found that IDUs who frequently used a needle-exchange program were more likely to get HIV than people who used the program only occasionally. The new study found that the higher HIV rates were due to the fact that many frequenters of the needle-exchange program were more likely to have other HIV risk factors -- such as heroin or cocaine use, lack of stable housing or sex work -- and that the needle-exchange program itself did nothing to increase that risk.
Could a Diaphragm Be the Next Big Thing in HIV Prevention?
What are the odds that a contraceptive device that's been around since the early 1900s will become the next big thing in HIV prevention? Well, researchers at the Women's Global Health Imperative program at the University of California-San Francisco's Medical Center think it's a possibility. They're conducting a large-scale clinical trial in Africa to determine whether a new diaphragm, called SILCS, could be effective in preventing HIV transmission. And SILCS isn't your mother's diaphragm: Unlike its counterparts, SILCS is "one-size fits most," so women won't have to undergo a pelvic exam to be fitted for one. Therefore, favorable results from the study could bring the world one step closer to giving women greater power to protect themselves from HIV without their partners' consent.
Jesse Jackson Takes HIV Test at U.S. Jail, Urges Prisoners to Do Same
The inmates at Chicago's Cook County Jail got an unusual visitor last weekend: Rev. Jesse Jackson. The jail was one of many stops Jackson has made this month to discuss the importance of HIV prevention and testing. The civil rights leader told the inmates, "You can help us attack a killer disease before a killer disease kills us all." Not above taking his own advice, Jackson took an HIV test in front of the inmates and then watched as dozens of them lined up to take their own rapid-result HIV test. Current Illinois state law requires that inmates be offered HIV testing when they arrive at, or leave, state prisons. Other states -- and even the U.S. federal government -- have begun considering measures that would mandate HIV testing for all inmates.
• HIV IN THE NEWS
Advocacy Group Sues U.S. Agencies Over Medical Marijuana Statements
U.S. government agencies are lying about medical marijuana -- at least, that's what the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) said in a lawsuit it filed against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to ASA, the DHHS and FDA have publicly released "false and misleading statements" denying the benefits of medical marijuana. ASA cited several studies that found marijuana benefits HIVers with peripheral neuropathy, AIDS wasting, muscle spasms or chronic pain. The lawsuit was filed following a study published in the Feb. 13 issue of the journal Neurology, in which the use of medical marijuana was found to reduce peripheral neuropathy pain by as much as 34 percent over five days.
• HIV TREATMENT & COMPLICATIONS
Traditional "AIDS-Related" Causes of Death No Longer Most Common Among HIVers, Study Finds
There is no doubt that modern HIV treatment has profoundly changed what it means to be living with HIV, transforming it from a terminal illness into a chronic one. To drive this point home, new research from Johns Hopkins University reveals that, among HIVers on treatment with a CD4 count over 200, the risk of dying from a non-AIDS-related cause now exceeds the risk of dying from an AIDS-related cause. The news is mixed, though; while the overall risk of AIDS-related deaths dropped by half from 1998 to 2003, the overall risk non-AIDS-related deaths doubled from 1997 to 2003. The researchers urged health care professionals to pay more attention to "conditions that have not traditionally been considered to be HIV related." (Web highlight from the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes)
Herpes Treatment Can Control Herpes and HIV Viral Load, Study Finds
Treatment with the herpes drug Valtrex (valacyclovir) not only reduces the viral load of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), but also reduces HIV viral load in women coinfected with HIV and HSV-2, according to new study results. Although its HIV-fighting ability was modest, the suppressive effects of Valtrex on HIV viral load appeared to increase with time, and were enough to suggest the drug may help slow HIV disease progression. However, more studies are needed to confirm these results. (Web highlight from aidsmap.com)
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• HIV OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES
Forget the Formula: Babies More Likely to Survive if Breastfed, Study Finds
Babies born in developing countries stand a better chance of surviving if their HIV-positive mothers breastfeed them instead of feeding them formula, according to a presentation by Dr. Hoosen Coovadia at the 14th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Los Angeles. Given the lack of clean water and the prevalence of diseases in developing countries, the protective nutrients in mothers' breast milk are critical for building infants' immune systems so they can survive their younger years, Coovadia said. In fact, he said, the benefit of breastfeeding far outweighs the risk of HIV transmission. Coovadia, a pediatrician at South Africa's University of KwaZulu-Natal, noted that advising HIV-infected mothers to breastfeed would result in 300,000 children acquiring the virus, but he said that five times as many children -- 1.5 million -- would be saved from succumbing to other diseases. (Web highlight from Reuters)
And the Oscar Goes To ...
The Blood of Yingzhou District, a film about Chinese AIDS orphans, won the Oscar for best documentary short film at the 2007 Academy Awards. The film focuses on Anhui province, where the traditional Chinese obligation to care for extended family is colliding with a fear of HIV -- and, as a result, children whose parents have died because of HIV are being left behind. The film's victory turns the spotlight on a worsening situation that many activists worried was being ignored: Chinese officials estimate there are currently 76,000 AIDS orphans in the country, a number that is expected to grow to 260,000 by 2010. "I think the award really raises awareness about AIDS in China and especially the plight of AIDS orphans," commented an activist close to the documentarians. "When we talk about AIDS orphans people really usually think of Africa, but in China this is still a very serious issue." (Web highlight from Reuters)
HPV Vaccine: In London, Men Demand -- And Get -- Equal Treatment
Since it was approved last year, the buzz has grown louder over the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which can protect women from the four strains of HPV that together cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers. But as the world debates whether HPV vaccination should be mandatory for young women and girls, another question looms: What about men? After all, HPV can cause anal cancer, and may also be a cause of penile cancer. That's why dozens of gay men in London have requested -- and received -- the vaccine, in spite of the fact that the United Kingdom's government hasn't approved it for men to use. The Freedomhealth clinic in London started offering HPV vaccination to gay men in January and now vaccinates about 10 people a week, even though some experts have called for more research before offering the vaccine to men. (Web highlight from The Advocate)
After Questioning Gambian President's "HIV Cure," UN Rep Is Ordered to Leave
After openly questioning the Gambian president's claim that he can cure HIV with an herbal remedy, United Nations (UN) representative Fadzai Gwaradzimba has been asked to leave the country. Since January, President Yahya Jammeh has been telling anyone who will listen that he can cure a person's HIV infection, provided the person is not taking HIV meds. Gwaradzimba pointed out that there's no scientific proof to support President Jammeh's claims -- and that the president's incessant publicity of the "cure" is also dangerous for the health of Gambian citizens. Gwaradzimba said that his claim could encourage high-risk sexual behavior because people might "wrongly believe there is a cure" if they were to become HIV positive.