AIDS is on the top of many a researcher's mind. Here's a collection of AIDS-related headlines from just the last two weeks.

Not Even Close
Two years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS, the United Nation’s joint health initiative, aimed to place three million developing-world HIV/AIDS patients on antiretroviral treatments by 2005. On Monday, November 28th, Jim Yong Kim, director of the WHO’s HIV/AIDS department, offered his apologies for missing the target. As of June, only one million patients had begun receiving the drugs, far short of the mark. “I have to say that I’m personally extremely disappointed in myself and in my colleagues because we have not moved quickly enough—we have not saved enough lives,” Kim said in an interview with the BBC. Still, Kim says the program did put an emphasis on life-saving measures, and that many countries responded to the call to provide medication.
(source: BBC)

AIDS Vaccines in the Works
Robert Gallo, the virologist from the University of Maryland who identified the link between HIV and AIDS over 20 years ago, has produced an antibody-based therapy that induces an immune response in monkeys. “We’re making progress,” the researcher told Reuters. Currently, the antibodies are unstable, lasting only four months—not long enough for a useful AIDS vaccine.

GlaxoSmithKline and the Pasteur Institute announced a different approach earlier this week. They’re going to try fusing HIV genes to the Schwarz measles vaccine, hoping to combine the long-term effectiveness of the Schwarz vaccine with an HIV-protein delivery mechanism that could stimulate the creation of long-lasting HIV antibodies.
(sources: Reuters, GlaxoSmithKline)

Resistance to HIV Drugs Increasing
The greatest obstacle that researchers face is, of course, the ability of a virus to adapt to even the best of drugs. And HIV is doing just that, according to a recent study in the British Medical Journal. Researchers examined 2,357 HIV-positive Brits who had been tested for resistance before receiving drug therapy. Over the seven year study&mdash1996 to 2003—14.2% of the subjects experienced mutations;  the virus became resistant to one or more antiretroviral drugs. The United Kingdom has one of the highest reported rates of resistance to HIV drugs, about twice as large as that of the USA.

Doctors Skeptical About “Cured” HIV Patient
A British man has come under scrutiny for claiming to be the first person cleared of the HIV virus. He was first diagnosed with HIV in August, 2002, and even without antiretroviral therapy, HIV tests taken between October, 2003 and March, 2004 came back negative. If the results are genuine—the hospital that conducted the tests says they are— the man’s immune system could hold the key to a vaccine. He’s slated to meet with experts next week.
(sources: the Mail on Sunday, News of the World, BBC)

Human Protein is Middleman Between HIV and Genome
HIV utilizes natural human processes to its advantage, and University of Pennsylvania researchers have just discovered a protein that assists HIV in invading human cells. This protein, LEDGF, acts as a tether, binding to both HIV integrase and a cellular chromosome; it thereby controls the location of HIV in the genome. When researchers engineered LEDGF-depleted cells, they found they could lower rates of HIV-transcription in certain genes. The researchers say that this is a first step to controlling HIV through gene therapy.

In Brief
As early as January, a program may provide condoms to taxi-cab passengers in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Catholic Church denounced the campaign. ... In a message issued for World AIDS Day on November 30th, Pope Benedict XVI side-stepped the Catholic Church’s stand on condom use, saying, “I feel close to those sick with AIDS and their families and I invoke for them the help and comfort of the Lord.” ... the New York Times reports that OraSure Technologies in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, will soon seek FDA approval for an over-the-counter, at-home HIV test approved by the FDA. ... At the recent British HIV Association conference, Jonathan Elford, a researcher at City University London, announced the results of a survey of over 5,000 gay men that was conducted in central London gyms. The study found that the percentage of gay men having unsafe casual sex seems to have leveled off, and may, in fact, have declined since 2001. ... On World AIDS Day, Svetlana Izambayeva will be crowned Miss Positive 2005 in Russia. She is campaigning against HIV/AIDS discrimination by putting her face to the illness in a country where HIV/AIDS carries a heavily negative stigma.

Originally published December 1, 2005

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