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Scientists Hope an AIDS Vaccine Hides in Llamas

Llama
(sklmsta - wikimedia commons)

BY SIMEON TEGEL / GlobalPost

The cute Andean animal’s antibodies are nearly 100 percent effective in stopping the deadly virus from spreading, researchers say.

LIMA, Peru — Fluffy, photogenic and super hardy at altitude, llamas have it all. They’re ideal for schlepping backpackers’ luggage over the high Andes or as a picturesque companion for that once-in-a-lifetime Machu Picchu selfie.

But now they may have an addition to their list of undoubted qualities: Llamas appear to be immune to AIDS and HIV.

The discovery, experts say, just might lead to a vaccine against the deadly virus or a treatment for those already infected. That’s according to new research by a team of experts from around the world, including University College London, Harvard Medical School and Argentina’s Center of Animal Virology.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

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AGGRESSIVE STRAIN OF HIV THAT CAUSES ACCELERATED AIDS DEVELOPMENT RESURFACES IN CUBA

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A number of Cuban patients have tested positive for a new, highly aggressive strain of HIV that seemingly develops into full blown AIDS much faster than most other strains. There is no set timeline for if and when an HIV-positive person will develop AIDS, it can take anywhere from 5 to 10 years according Anne-Mieke Vandamme, a molecular virologist who was contact by Cuban public health officials. These patients, Vandamme explained to Voice of America, were developing AIDS within 2 to 3 years.

"So this group of patients that progressed very fast, they were all recently infected," Vandamme explained to Voice of America. "And we know that because they had been HIV-negative tested one or a maximum two years before."

When we talk about HIV (a virus) and AIDS (a syndrome,) we tend to lump the two in together as a single ailment, and fail to differentiate between the multiple strains of HIV that function differently from one another.

AIDS, which is a persistent compromise of the immune system, typically develops in HIV-positive people who don’t have proper access to antiretroviral drugs that effectively stop the virus from being able to infect new cells. It can also result from a positive person merely having an already weak immune system.

Accoring to Vandamme, none of the six patients were being treated for HIV, but their immune systems were fully intact. The speed with which their AIDS progressed was linked to the very virus itself, a mutated variant that is being called CRF19.

"Here we had a variant of HIV that we found only in the group that was progressing fast. Not in the other two groups. We focused in on this variant [trying] to find out what was different. And we saw it was a recombinant of three different subtypes."

The new strain bears similarity to a number of Group M-class HIV strains that are found throughout Africa and Europe. This isn’t the first time that CRF19 has surfaced, Vandamme explained, but in the past it proved difficult to find people infected with that specific virus. Though the CRF19’s rising prevalence in Cuba is worrisome, it could also give researchers a better shot at understanding and treating the strain.


Scientists Discover Potent Agent That Could Lead To An HIV Vaccine

HIV and T-Cell

A drug candidate has been created by scientists at the Jupiter, Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute that could pave the way for an HIV vaccine, Science Daily reports. In their studies, the drug candidate blocked every strain of HIV-1, HIV-2, and SIV that has been isolated from humans or rhesus macaques, including the hardest-to-stop variants. What's more is that the drug blocks much higher concentrations of the virus than would be encountered in normal human-to-human transmission and is effective for up to eight months after injection. In short, the way the vaccine would work is that it binds to two sites on the surface of the virus simultaneously, preventing entry of HIV into the host cell.

Said TSRI Research Associate Matthew Gardner, the first author of the study with Lisa M. Kattenhorn of Harvard Medical School:

When antibodies try to mimic the receptor, they touch a lot of other parts of the viral envelope that HIV can change with ease. We've developed a direct mimic of the receptors without providing many avenues that the virus can use to escape, so we catch every virus thus far.

(Photo credit: NIH)


Experimental Smartphone Peripheral Could Be The Future of HIV Screening

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A $34 smart phone dongle being developed by Columbia University could become the future of rapid HIV screening in clinics and the privacy of peoples’ homes. The proposed smartphone peripheral would operate similar to the way that most blood glucose testers currently function. Unlike most blood testers the testing dongle wouldn’t need its own power source, but would instead draw energy from a smartphone, tablet, or PC via a headphone jack. With a single drop of blood the device, detailed in Science Translational Medicine, would be able to effectively screen for HIV and two different types of syphilis antibodies.

The dongle is currently being tested in small trials in certain parts of Rwanda, and its early results have been promising, though flawed. Of the 96 patients participating in the technology’s limited trials, a number have been falsely identified as testing positive for antibodies that they didn’t have. Still though, further refinement and widespread deployment of future versions of the dongle could change the way that people participate in maintaining the public’s health.

Check out video of the dongle prototype AFTER THE JUMP...

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Black HIV-Related Deaths Remain High As Overall Death Rates Drop

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Death rates for those living with HIV have dropped across the board according to a new report from the the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately black people are still bearing the brunt of the disease with significantly higher death rates as compared to their white and Hispanic counterparts.

The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that between 2008 and 2012 black HIV infection rates dropped by 28 percent, but nearly 50% of the people who died of HIV-related complications in 2012 were black. The report does not spin off specific causes of death, but rather takes a look at HIV-positive individuals dealing with a wide range of physical ailments such a compromised immune systems and drug use.

"Efforts are needed to increase entry into and retention care of black persons living with diagnosed HIV," the report reads. "Focusing prevention and care efforts on minority populations with a disproportionate HIV burden could lead to further reduction, if not elimination, of health disparities."


Rand Paul Was A Longtime Member Of AIDS-Denialist Medical Group

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Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is a legitimate medical doctor, specifically an ophthalmologist. He is, however, not an epidemiologist, which would explain in part why he's made an utter fool of himself in the discussion of vaccines. What explains it further is that Paul was once a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group founded in the 40's to "fight socialized medicine and to fight the government takeover of medicine," as The New Civil Rights Movement points out.

The group, which is still in existence, got an early start on the anti-vaccination movement and said in a 2007 press release that it "promised to do everything it can to support parents who refuse to immunize their children" because they too believed that vaccines cause autism. Also among the group's beliefs: HIV doesn't cause AIDS.

An advisor to Paul, Doug Stafford, tried to spin some damage control to BuzzFeed, telling them "he didn’t know if Paul was still a member of the group but that he joined because it was a group of pro-life doctors. He said Paul does not endorse all the group’s views."

Stafford neglected to say which views, precisely, the Senator does not endorse.


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