UK sci­en­tists work­ing to find a cure for HIV

Jamaica Gleaner - - HEALTH -

IIIII­some­times be di­ag­nosed with an ul­tra­sound test. Ba­bies with mi­cro­cephaly can have a range of prob­lems, in­clud­ing: • Seizures/fits • Devel­op­men­tal de­lay • In­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity • Prob­lems with move­ment

and bal­ance • Feed­ing prob­lems • Hear­ing loss • Vi­sions prob­lems • Se­vere mi­cro­cephaly can be life-threat­en­ing Mi­cro­cephaly is a life­long con­di­tion, with no known cure or stan­dard treat­ment Mi­cro­cephaly can range from mild to se­vere Ba­bies who de­velop mi­cro­cephaly may not live to full term, may be born pre­ma­turely, may be still­born or may sur­vive but with life­long dis­abil­ity. Ba­bies with mi­cro­cephaly will need close mon­i­tor­ing, and reg­u­lar check-ups with a health-care provider to mon­i­tor their growth and de­vel­op­ment. A COL­LAB­O­RA­TION be­tween some of the top bio­med­i­cal re­searchers in the United King­dom (UK) may be mak­ing progress to­wards find­ing a cure for HIV.

This month marks six years since five lead­ing research es­tab­lish­ments agreed to co­op­er­ate to try to find a so­lu­tion to one of the world’s great­est health chal­lenges.

HIV is a virus in­fec­tion that is treat­able us­ing an­tiretro­vi­ral ther­apy (ART). Essen­tially, ART works by stop­ping the HIV virus from spread­ing and gives the body’s im­mune system a chance to re­cover.

How­ever, ART can­not cure HIV and if ther­apy stops, the virus will re­turn.

The new research, which is still in its early stages, in­volves us­ing med­i­ca­tion that en­cour­ages the body’s im­mune system to fight and erad­i­cate the dis­ease.

TRIAL STAGES

Only 50 peo­ple are in­volved in the trial at this stage, but The Sunday Times re­ported on grow­ing hopes for an even­tual cure by cit­ing the case of one of them, a 44-year-old London man who con­tracted HIV and has since un­der­gone treat­ment. The pa­per re­ports that early tests have found that the virus is now “un­de­tectable” in his blood.

How­ever, the report also makes clear that the ap­par­ent ab­sence of the virus could be at­trib­ut­able to the con­ven­tional med­i­ca­tions that he has also been tak­ing.

The med­i­cal con­sor­tium was the idea of Mark Sa­muels, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Of­fice for Clin­i­cal Research In­fra­struc­ture (NOCRI), part of Eng­land’s Na­tional In­sti­tute for Health Research. He brought to­gether lead­ing doc­tors, sci­en­tists and math­e­ma­ti­cians from the uni­ver­si­ties of Ox­ford and Cam­bridge, Imperial Col­lege London, King’s Col­lege London and Univer­sity Col­lege London.

At a meet­ing in Oc­to­ber 2010, they agreed to put aca­demic ri­valry aside and con­trib­ute their ex­per­tise to find­ing a cure for HIV. Each mem­ber present agreed that they could pro­vide a part of the jig­saw needed to find a cure, but could not achieve this in iso­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to Mark Sa­muels.

He says in a state­ment: “The com­pet­i­tive na­ture of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Ox­ford and Cam­bridge, span­ning 800 years, is widely known, but there is also com­pe­ti­tion run­ning across all these lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties, par­tic­u­larly in terms of vy­ing for research fund­ing.

“Yet here was an op­por­tu­nity to put that com­pe­ti­tion aside, and col­lab­o­rate on a global health chal­lenge. As a re­sult, the Med­i­cal Research Coun­cil awarded one of the first joint grants to these five lead­ing bio­med­i­cal research in­sti­tu­tions.

“And in re­turn each research cen­tre pro­vides its ex­per­tise to com­plete the jig­saw needed to find a cure for HIV – from pa­tients, to the right doc­tors, the right di­ag­nos­tic tech­nol­ogy, the math­e­ma­ti­cian to an­a­lyse re­sults and so on. CHERUB was born.”

WHAT IS CHERUB?

CHERUB stands for Col­lab­o­ra­tive HIV Erad­i­ca­tion of Vi­ral Reser­voirs: UK BRC (bio­med­i­cal research cen­tres).

The joint study, known as ‘Kick and Kill’, in­volves re­searchers ac­ti­vat­ing HIVin­fected cells which are ‘asleep’ us­ing a can­cer drug, which kick­starts the im­mune system into killing the HIV virus.

In a state­ment, Pro­fes­sor Jonathan We­ber, chair­man of CHERUB Sci­en­tific Steer­ing Com­mit­tee and di­rec­tor of research for the Fac­ulty of Medicine at Imperial Col­lege London, said: “CHERUB has made great progress since it was born six years ago. We are now ac­tively re­cruit­ing pa­tients to test the ‘Kick and Kill’ the­ory as we have seen promis­ing re­sults in the lab.

“NOCRI was in­stru­men­tal to this research start­ing. We are all thor­oughly com­mit­ted to find­ing a cure for HIV, but if the col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween this set of HIV re­searchers had not been prompted at that meet­ing six years ago, this sim­ply would not have hap­pened.”

The early trial re­sults should be treated with caution as they have not yet been pub­lished in a peer-re­viewed jour­nal.

Com­ment­ing in a state­ment, Ian Green, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ter­rence Hig­gins Trust, says: “HIV treat­ment cur­rently fo­cuses on re­duc­ing the amount of HIV in the blood to ‘un­de­tectable’ lev­els, mean­ing the pa­tient stays well and the virus can­not be trans­mit­ted. How­ever, there is still no cure for HIV, and we wel­come this am­bi­tious study which looks to erad­i­cate the virus com­pletely from the bod­ies of peo­ple liv­ing with HIV, in­stead of sup­press­ing it. It’s very early days, but we hope the re­sults will help fu­ture stud­ies on the way to find­ing a cure in years to come.

“Un­til that time, it is still im­por­tant that we con­tinue to work to­wards end­ing HIV trans­mis­sion and en­cour­ag­ing reg­u­lar test­ing as we know that early di­ag­no­sis and ef­fec­tive treat­ment mean peo­ple liv­ing with HIV can ex­pect long and healthy lives, and won’t trans­mit the virus to oth­ers.”

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