Sep 24, 2009 | 14
In an early-morning announcement today, researchers reported that an experimental HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) vaccine effectively reduced the number of people who contracted the virus by nearly a third.
Tested in a U.S.-sponsored trial that involved more than 16,000 volunteers in Thailand, the vaccine was administered in six injected doses starting in 2006 to half of the group, and the other half received a placebo. Seventy-four people in the placebo group had contracted HIV by the end of the trial, whereas only 51 of the vaccinated group tested positive.* The injections consisted of two vaccines that had proven unsuccessful on their own: Sanofi-Aventis SA's ALVAC and VaxGen Inc.'s AIDSVAX.
The results came as a surprise to HIV-vaccine skeptics in the AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) research field, whose numbers have increased after years of failed vaccine trials. "It's safe to say that the scientific community is caught off-guard," Mitchell Warren, director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, told Bloomberg News. Before the announcement, Marie-Paule Kieny, director of the World Health Organization's Initiative for Vaccine Research, told the news service: "I don't think that there is a lot of expectation that the efficacy of this vaccine will be very high." A 2007 clinical trial of a vaccine made by Merck was stopped when researchers found that, in fact, more people who received the active vaccine (49) than the placebo (33) had contracted HIV.
Aug 5, 2009 | 1
It might not be super high-res, but researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have described the first full structure of the HIV-1 genome.
The paper, published online today in Nature, maps out the virus' genome down to a one-nucleotide resolution with the help of a technique call SHAPE—selective 2'-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension—to paint the full, previously unknown picture of the virus (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group).
"The technique is thus akin to zooming out on a map and getting a broader view of the landscape at the expense of fine details," writes Hashim Al-Hashimi, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, in the accompanying views piece.
Like viruses such as the common cold and hepatitis C, HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus) is made up of single-stranded RNA that folds into a convoluted architecture. Previous studies have focused on various parts of HIV, but the new research presents the bird's-eye-view of the full genome. "The study … is a considerable achievement, showing the feasibility of obtaining 'aerial' views of large genomic RNA structures that reveal their architecture and possible functions," Al-Hashimi writes.
Aug 4, 2009 | 3
Chimps are not the only animals that can harbor and introduce HIV into human populations, according to a new report. A 62-year-old woman, who recently arrived in Paris after living in Cameroon, is thought to be the first human to carry a strain of HIV originating in a gorilla.
The woman most likely got the virus from another person, since she claims not to have made contact with gorillas or meat from wild animals. This suggests she is not an isolated case. In fact, the authors note in Nature Medicine that the virus “could be circulating unnoticed in Cameroon or elsewhere.” [Scientific American is part of the Nature Publishing Group.]
“This demonstrates that HIV evolution is an ongoing process,” co-researcher David Robertson of the University of Manchester told BBC News. “The virus jumps from species to species, from primate to primate, and that includes us.”
Jun 22, 2009 | 12
The human brain benefits from taking breaks, but a computer can go strong all day. So why not enlist its power in cutting-edge research while you are away reenergizing over coffee or lunch?
A new program is recruiting computers’ idle time in the fight against diseases like HIV infection and Alzheimer’s. Developed by a team at the University of Delaware, with funding from the National Science Foundation, Docking@Home joins a growing list of projects—from listening for space aliens to modeling climate change—that are tapping into the open-source system called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing).
“Even without large resources of supercomputers, we can do meaningful research with the help of volunteers across the Internet,” says Michela Taufer, an assistant professor of computer and information sciences at the University of Delaware. She is leading the project that aims to ramp up resources in the race for cures.
May 11, 2009 | 3
As the world frets about the swine flu virus, the scientists credited with discovering HIV urged governments and international organizations to redouble their commitment to the battle against AIDS.
Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier, whose roles in identifying the viral cause of AIDS have been disputed over the years, came together Friday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their discovery with a global call to action.
Acknowledging the public’s preoccupation with the unfolding H1N1 pandemic, Gallo said, "Don't forget we have a known problem…a known deadly epidemic." Some 175,000 people die from AIDS every month—about the same number of lives claimed by the 2004 Asian tsunami, he told the audience gathered at the National Press Club in Washington.
Apr 16, 2009
Pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Pfizer said today that they're creating a company dedicated to developing HIV medications. The unusual arrangement will give London-based GSK 85 percent equity and New York's Pfizer the remainder.
The companies said in a statement that the merger would "be more sustainable and broader in scope than either company's individually," giving the new partnership 19 percent of the HIV drug market through a combined portfolio of 11 already-available meds and six candidates in development. The idea is that the $2.4 billion in sales generated from the marketed drugs will keep the development pipeline moving, the companies said.
Apr 7, 2009 | 2
The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has saved at least a million lives in sub-Saharan Africa but does not appear to have curbed the epidemic, a new study suggests.
"PEPFAR has been on the whole an extremely successful program," says study co-author Eran Bendavid, an infectious disease and health policy researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. But, he says it's unclear how successful it was at preventing new cases of HIV.
In May 2003, President George W. Bush signed legislation authorizing PEPFAR, a commitment by the U.S. to spend $15 billion over five years to prevent HIV/AIDS and treat victims in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean -- "the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in history," according to the program's official Web site.
Apr 7, 2009 | 1
At least one patient who may have undergone a colon cancer screen with contaminated equipment at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facility has tested positive for HIV.
The patient, whom the VA hasn’t identified, is among the more than 10,000 vets who are being urged to get tested for the AIDS-causing virus as well as for hepatitis B and C, after the VA determined they may have been among those who received colonoscopies with improperly cleaned endoscopes. Eleven others have tested positive for hep C, and five more for hep B, the VA said in a press release.
Apr 7, 2009 | 1
Teens in South Africa have found a new use for efavirenz (brand name Stocrin in South Africa and Sustiva in the U.S.), an antiretroviral drug that prevents HIV from making copies of itself in the body. Instead of using efavirenz as it was intended – to keep the AIDS virus at bay – kids are crushing the pills and smoking the powder to get high, ABC News reports.
When taken as prescribed, efavirenz can cause side effects, including drowsiness and vivid, colorful dreams, but when smoked, it induces hallucinations and is highly addictive. "Once you've first started, there's no turning back," a 17-year-old addict told ABC News.
Mar 25, 2009 | 33
Circumcision is often touted for its potential health benefits: reduced risk of urinary tract infections for baby boys, and lower rates of HIV in teens and men. Now a new study shows that it may also cut a man's chances of contracting two more common, incurable sexually transmitted diseases.
Two randomized, controlled trials in Uganda involving 5,534 men found that those who underwent circumcision as adults were 25 percent less likely to become infected with herpes and more than 30 percent less likely to catch human papillomavirus (HPV) than their uncircumcised peers. (Eight percent of circumcised men and 10 percent of uncircumcised men in the study caught herpes; 18 percent of circumcised men and 28 percent of uncircumcised men contracted HPV.) The research published today in the New England Journal of Medicine didn't, however, find that getting circumcised reduced the risk of contracting syphilis. Previous research has shown that circumcision reduces a man's risk of acquiring HIV by as much as 60 percent.
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