Risk of HIV-Positive Patients Developing AIDS or Dying of AIDS-Related Illness Continues To Fall After Seven Years of ‘Modern’ Drug Treatment
The risk of developing AIDS or dying from AIDS-related illnesses continues to fall seven years into the "modern era" of antiretroviral treatment, according to "encouraging" data from a European study, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports. Although some patients who take antiretroviral drug combinations develop drug-resistant HIV strains or experience "worrisome" side effects, such as increased cholesterol levels, the data presented at the 10th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections on Friday, the last day of the conference, show that the drugs continue to be beneficial. Dr. Amanda Mocroft of the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London and colleagues studied the outcomes of 9,803 people diagnosed with HIV in Europe between 1994 and 2002. Mocroft found that between 1994 and 1998, their risk of developing AIDS or of dying from the disease fell by 80%. In addition, between September 1998 and 2002, the risk of AIDS or death fell 8% each six months. "Even though therapy is not perfect, it's working," Mocroft said, adding, "An awful lot of people expected the curve to bottom out or even rise again, but it's still going down ... which is very encouraging." Dr. Kevin DeCock, head of the CDC's AIDS program in Kenya, said, "It's quite remarkable. You have to wonder what the end of the story will be." Dr. Scott Holmberg, a senior epidemiologist with the CDC, said that the agency has followed 1,769 people diagnosed with HIV in the United States since 1994 and that their data "corroborates what the Europeans are saying." Another study presented by Dr. Jonathan Sterne of the University of Bristol in England found that how people respond to treatment during the first six months is more important than their initial blood counts and viral levels (AP/Houston Chronicle, 2/15).
Search For Vaccine Taking 'Traditional Route'
AIDS researchers are taking a "traditional route" to an HIV vaccine by searching for a vaccine that stimulates so-called "neutralizing" antibodies instead of suppressing the virus through "cell-mediated" immunity, the Washington Post reports. Almost all vaccines work by stimulating the immune system to make antibodies, which target invading substances and mark them for destruction. However, scientists have had difficulty identifying an antibody that protects a person against HIV infection, much less getting the immune system to make such a product. Therefore, HIV/AIDS vaccine research in recent years has focused on vaccines that do not prevent infection, but instead prepare the body to fight invaders through cell-mediated immunity. However, according to data presented at the conference on Friday, scientists "have not given up on finding a vaccine that stimulates" neutralizing antibodies, as traditional vaccines do. Scientists are focusing on giving the body instructions to make antibodies to a particular part of HIV's surface structure that does not vary among different strains and plays an important role in allowing the virus to attach to the immune system cells that it infects. Dennis Burton, a vaccine researcher at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., presented data on an antibody that in cell cultures prevented infection by almost all HIV strains, and his team is developing a substance that will stimulate the body to produce similar antibodies. In addition, Carol Weiss, a vaccine researcher at the FDA, presented data on small proteins that they created that mimicked a small part of HIV's coating called gp41 that is used to fuse the virus to a cell. When the proteins were injected into rabbits, they stimulated the production of antibodies that blocked fusion under some -- but not all -- conditions. Although these strategies are promising, Weiss said that she believes that a successful vaccine will contain compounds that both stimulate antibody production and cell-mediated immunity. "Personally, I think the more, the better," she said (Brown, Washington Post, 2/15).
Several other newspapers covered other aspects of the conference. The following articles are all available online: