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Tigra Scientifica: Research shows hope in new treatment plans for individuals with HIV

Courtesy of NIAID via Flickr

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infects more than 1.2 million people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
HIV, living in human blood and sexual fluids, weakens the immune system, making it hard to fight off common viruses and bacteria. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) results when the immune system stops working because of the HIV infection.
Over the years, there have been few improvements in the treatment of AIDS, and infected individuals still have to take multiple pills every day. However, recent research has given a glimpse of hope to those who suffer from AIDS.
Beatriz Mothe and colleagues from the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain have teamed up with Tomas Hanke of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom to create vaccines that can help infected people suppress HIV for months or years without antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.
The study, published in Science magazine, included 13 participants who had been taking ARV drugs for several years. Researchers gave them three injections of a vaccine containing HIV genes that coded for highly-conserved structures and enzymes that would harm the virus if altered. By using injection to increase the number of T lymphocytes, white blood cells involved in immune response, infections would be controlled by targeting the conserved proteins.
The virus strongly attacked eight of the individuals after the participants received the injections and stopped taking the ARV drugs, but the other five individuals went up to 28 weeks without needing to restart the drugs. In addition, the number of T cells that specifically target the conserved proteins jumped from 4% to 67% in the participants.
These vaccines are some of the first types of treatment that strengthen the immune system in a significant way to fight HIV, and many hope that this will encourage other scientists to look at taking the same approach in their treatment research.
Although this study shows higher results than the majority of new, experimental treatments for HIV, the study was not completely conclusive, and a larger, more meticulous study is required. But overall, these small but significant strides in HIV treatment offer hope for those who will be living with HIV for the rest of their lives.                                                                                         

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