HIV is a remarkable story of medical progress. We’ve gone from having a disease that was rapidly fatal in young people to one that is treatable in virtually everyone. People with HIV can now lead a normal life and long life. HIV which stands for human immunodeficiency virus is the cause of AIDS and AIDS became the leading cause of death among young Americans by the early 1990s. to get familiar with this virus we must first talk about the history of HIV.
Let’s start in June of 1981. That’s when the first cases of HIV were described in five gay men from Los Angeles. Less than a month later, on the 3rd of July, the new your times published an article about the outbreak of a rare cancer. 41 gay men in New York and California had been affected by Kaposi’s sarcoma. It can become life-threatening when it affects the internal organs. More homosexual men fell ill with rare conditions, very often they were associated with immune deficiencies.
Very soon it became clear that whatever was infecting US citizens were not only targeting homosexuals. On July 16th, a CDC report featured three cases of PCP in heterosexual hemophiliac men. In the 1980s patients suffering from hemophilia required frequent blood transfusions. Around the same time the first cases of a new disease in sub–Saharan Africa which they referred to as ‘slim jims’. Later that year the term ‘AIDS’ was first used to identify the new disease.
In 1983 the CDC recorded the first two female patients that were partners of men living with AIDS suggesting sexual transmission of the disease. Firstly, in May of 1983, two teams of researchers found the cause behind this new illness. Later that year Dr. Robert Gallo of the national cancer institute in the US cultivated lab specimens in his labs finding the cause as a retrovirus. This is a type of virus that can insert a DNA copy of its genome into a host cell to replicate.
The acronym AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and is the advanced stage of the infection caused by HIV. HIV is a rather aggressive virus that targets the cells of the immune system, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. A healthy individual can contract HIV by contact with certain bodily fluids from the infected patients. Most commonly this happens during unprotected coitus or through the sharing of injection drug equipment.
Opportunistic diseases most associated with AIDS which can often lead to the death of the patient include bacterial infections like salmonella, tuberculosis, and pneumonia or fungal diseases like thrush and PCP.
There is no proven cure for HIV, however certain treatment regimens known as HAART or highly active antiretroviral therapy can help patients live with HIV without it degenerating into AIDS. Without this therapy people with AIDS typically survive up to 8 years.
Patients who are HIV positive can live for 10-15 years without showing any symptoms and even if they manifest, they can be easily mistaken for those of a less serious illness such as flu. When HIV degenerates into AIDS common symptoms include rapid weight loss, diarrhea, fatigue, memory loss, and depression.
Recent reports by the CDC say that about 1.2 million people are living with the virus right now in the United States. A study by a team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, could prove to be vital in efforts to find an HIV cure in the future. The UCLA-led studies continue research on a strategy called kick and kill which many of the first scientists described in the 2017 paper.
Now, the approach gently arranges the dormant virus to reveal itself in infected cells so it can then be targeted and killed. In the earlier studies, the researchers gave antiretroviral drugs or ARVs to mice whose immune systems were failing. Now it had been altered to mimic those of humans and then infected with HIV. Next, they were administered with a synthetic compound called SUW133 which was developed at Stanford University to activate the mice’s dormant HIV.
Up to 25% of the previously dormant cells that began expressing HIV died within 24 hours. This study opened doors for a possible cure for HIV in the future. People with HIV take antiretroviral or ARV medication to keep the virus at bay, but HIV can elude drugs by lying dormant in cells called CD4 T cells which signal another type of T cell the CD8 to destroy the HIV-infected cells. When a person with HIV stops treatment, the virus appears from those reservoirs and replicates in the body weakening the immune system and increasing the likelihood of infections or cancers that can lead to illness or death.
The stem cell treatment, which the scientists have used to cure 4 people of HIV, is a huge steppingstone. Studies are ongoing and efforts are being made to further this research and to refine it. The near future could bring us a possible HIV cure for people who otherwise would depend on medication.