New science research at Stanford University and the University of Texas suggests that doctors may soon be able to treat HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) without the use of drugs. Gene research like this could be the future of modern medicine.
HIV is the disease that eventually turns into AIDS. HIV can only infect humans, and it attacks a person’s T-cells (which make up a key part of your immune system). It uses the T-cells to make copies of itself, and when it destroys too many of your cells the disease progresses to AIDS. HIV is different than a cold or flu virus, because unlike the cold and flu which can be cleared out by your immune system, HIV cannot.
Scientists believe that HIV came from chimpanzees in West Africa. The chimps had the same disease, but called SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus) and when humans hunted the chimps for meat they came in contact with their infected blood. This led the disease to cross to humans, and become the modern HIV we know today.
The scientists working on this study removed a gene involved in HIV and inserted three genes that resist the disease. This process is called “targeted stacking.” This method combines two different methods of treating HIV: using a zinc protein to deactivate the HIV gene and also adding blockers to fight off the virus.
“It’s like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. We’re fusing two approaches,” said Dr. Matthew Porteus who is working on the study.
This research expands on previous studies done at Sangamo BioSciences Inc. These labs have done human trials where they remove the HIV gene, but don’t add any blockers. Philip Gregory, Sangamo’s vice president said that the trials are going well, and they should know by the end of the year how successful this process is at treating HIV.
HIV is currently treated with a cocktail of different classes of drugs, all taken at the same time to maximize their efficiency. These daily medications can be incredibly expensive, and researchers believe their gene work could be a cost-effective alternative.
HIV is a huge problem across the globe, but education about it is often lacking. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that in 2010 the number of African-American women with HIV decreased, which is hopeful. But the HIV rate in homosexual men (the group that is most affected by the disease) increased, and they accounted for 63 percent of all new infections in 2010.
More young people ages 14-24 are also becoming infected. Their rates climbed in 2010, and CDC officials believe this is due to a lack of education and protection.
Knowledge is power, my friends, and just as these scientists aim to someday better treat HIV, the best solution would be to never contract the disease at all. For more information about HIV and AIDS, visit the CDC website.