When one hears the name “Bill Gates” the first thought is most often that of a technology pioneer and philanthropist. Unarguably one of the most generous persons of this generation, his primary charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been spearheading HIV/AIDS research and prevention since the early 2000s. Gates pledged in 20161 to further infuse his African economic project with an additional $5 billion. Though not the only charity involved in this fight, it’s hard to ignore the impact the foundation has had.
As you would expect, the correlation between global activism to prevent, treat and research HIV/AIDS and its steady decline is evident in the data. Listed as a top-ten global killer in 2000, HIV/AIDS related deaths have plummeted over 25% since then according to the World Health Organization.2 New infections are also down drastically (nearly 40%) within the same period.3
What doesn’t this mean? – It doesn’t mean the problem is solved. More than 36 million people still live with HIV worldwide.
With more people than ever living with and affected by HIV there’s still a long road to trod. To this writer avoidance and mitigation are not the solution, only prevention – a cure – for HIV and its life-altering affects can provide that. We didn’t let polio or smallpox get the better of us. We fought them back and now science and medicine stand atop the hill they once occupied. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is not a cure, only a tourniquet, helping those infected and afflicted to mitigate and slow the symptoms.
The NIH discusses two primary approaches to the eradication of HIV. The first approach they describe as a two-part process:
“Viral eradication research is generally expected to require two experimental strategies to be used in conjunction with one another. The first step is to prompt latent HIV to replicate so that the infected cell expresses HIV proteins. The second step involves enhancing the immune system of the person living with HIV or employing other agents to recognize and kill the cells expressing HIV proteins, thereby clearing the latent virus from the body.”4
This “kick and kill” process is being aggressively pursued by groups in both the laboratory and clinical trials. As recently as 2015 a group of NIAID researchers developed a doubled-headed protein they called VRC07-αCD3. This protein, with its terrible albeit functional name, is a kind of bispecific T-cell engager. One arm of the protein binds to an infected CD4 T-cell, prompting that cell to display HIV proteins. The other arm then attaches to another T-cell which destroys the infected cell.
The second method briefly introduced by the NIH involves stem cell transplantation and gene therapy. Researchers have isolated a protein called CCR5 which enables HIV to more easily infect human cells. Studies have revealed that individuals who have mutations in this protein exhibit stronger natural resistance to HIV infection. Stem cell transplants and gene-editing, though in its scientific adolescence, provide the possibility of reconstitution of the immune system with cells expressing the auspicious mutation.
Vaccine trials have been underway since 2000 and great strides have been taken since then. In 2017 “NIAID and partners launched Imbokodo, a Phase 2b proof-of-concept study evaluating the safety and efficacy of an experimental regimen based on a “mosaic” vaccine designed to induce immune responses against a wide variety of global HIV strains.”5 Could we be on the precipice of a cure for HIV/AIDS? Only time will tell.
In the last two decades researchers have mitigated the effects of HIV/AIDS but haven’t produced a cure. This fight clearly isn’t over. Advanced Biotechnologies, founded in 1982, has long been a partner with HIV/AIDS researchers, providing the purest viral reagents needed for this invaluable research and testing. Our belief, is that the best results are achieved when the best products are used. We offer a host of HIV-related products. One of our newest, HIV-1 (IIIB Strain) Quantitated Viral RNA, can be stored at room temperature, providing opportunities for research beyond the walls of the lab.