Archive for World

Spanish Scientists Find Key and Lock Against HIV?


hiv-virusThe AIDS Research Institute IrsiCaixa have identified how HIV enters the cells of the immune system enabling it to be dispersed throughout an organism. These new results are released in the December issue of PLOS Biology. This study actually breaks it down the ‘infection’ part. There are some technical language so I brought over the story as is.
It is exciting news to come out of Spain. I’ve always said, it would be a European Country that breaks the code and stops HIV.

HIV attacks white blood cells named CD4 T lymphocytes (they have the protein CD4 in their membrane), and while more than 20 different drugs are available today to help control HIV, all of them act by blocking the cycle that HIV follows to infect these CD4 T lymphocytes. Treatments don’t fully act on another cell of the immune system, the dendritic cell, which takes up HIV and spreads it to target CD4 T lymphocytes.One of the reasons why we do not yet have a cure for HIV infection is that the virus infects cells of the immune system that would normally fight such an infection.

Mature dendritic cells are responsible for activating an immune response by CD4 T lymphocytes, but when they carry viruses, their contact with T lymphocytes causes the virus to be passed on, thus increasing viral spread.

The results continue the research led by ICREA researchers at IrsiCaixa, Javier Martínez-Picado, and Nuria Izquierdo-Useros, in collaboration with research groups from Heidelberg University, Germany, and the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. This team published a previous PLOS Biology paper in April 2012, in which they identified molecules, called gangliosides, located on the surface of HIV that are recognized by dendritic cells and are necessary for viral uptake. The new results now identify a molecule on the surface of dendritic cells that recognizes and binds the gangliosides and allows HIV to be taken up by dendritic cells and transmitted to its ultimate target: T lymphocytes.

“We have observed that the protein that acts as a lock for the entrance of HIV could also facilitate the entrance of other viruses,” explains Nuria Izquierdo-Useros. “Therefore, our results could also help us understand how other infections might exploit this mechanism of dispersion.”

In order to identify the precise molecule located on the membrane of the dendritic cells capable of capturing HIV, the researchers studied one family of proteins that are present on the surface of these cells, called Siglecs. It is known that these proteins bind to the gangliosides on the HIV surface. In the laboratory, they mixed the virus with dendritic cells that displayed different quantities of Siglec-1, and found that a higher quantity of Siglec-1 led to those dendritic cells capturing more HIV, which in turn allowed for enhanced transmission of HIV to CD4 T lymphocytes, a process called trans-infection.

The team then tried inhibiting the Siglec-1 protein. Doing so in the laboratory, they found that the dendritic cells lost their capacity to capture HIV and, importantly, they also lost their ability to transfer HIV to CD4 T lymphocytes. With all these data, the scientists concluded that Siglec-1 is the molecule responsible for HIV entrance into the dendritic cells, and could therefore become a new therapeutic target.

“We had the key and now we have found a lock,” explains Javier Martínez-Picado. “Now we are already working on the development of a drug that could block this process to improve the efficacy of the current existing treatments against AIDS”. That is such a great statement Javier made regarding the lock and key. I have been watching their work closely online and the news always has been encouraging. Go Spain, Go!


Mexico Makes History with Changes in Blood Donations


In an era of modern science and technology, old rules regarding gay blood donation bans have made no sense inBlood-Drop today’s world. Finally, our neighbors to the South have taken the lead with new blood donation rules.  Mexico is now screening donors based on sexual history rather than sexual orientation have been implemented, making it the first country in North America to end its ban on men who have sex with men donating blood.

This gay blood ban was started back when HIV/AIDS epidemic was an unknown and so many people were scared and blood screening methods hadn’t advanced at that time. The USA’s blood supply was cleaned up in the mid 1980’s and the chances of getting an HIV infection today through blood donation is so small, it’s not even a factor anymore since donated blood is tested so many times.  This unfair rule has never been lifted, so the banning of gay men from donating life saving blood continues to this day just because their orientation.

The new Mexican blood rule went into effect December 25, and now means any HIV and Hepatitis negative gay or bisexual man who has a history of safe sex and is not a sex worker or injecting drug user may donate blood. The term used here would be ‘risky sexual practices’. ‘Risky sexual practices’ are defined as those which may include ‘contact or exchange of blood, sexual secretions or other bodily secretions between someone who might have a STD/STI and areas of another person’s body through which an infectious agent might be able to penetrate.’

Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination welcomed the end of the ban and stated, ‘The previous [regulations] contained several explicitly discriminatory requirements that kept people from donating blood based on their sexual preference or orientation,’ They also pointed out, ‘Instead, from now on, medical/scientific criteria will be used to identify pathogens in the blood and the focus will be turned to risky behaviors rather than social groups. In making these discriminatory distinctions, the [previous] norm explicitly violated the prohibition against discrimination present in the Constitution and the Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination, as well as Article 24 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article 26 of the International Civil and Political Rights Treaty, among other international instruments of law, which establish that every person is equal before the law regardless of any condition.’

Canada and the US both continue a blanket ban on men who have sex with men donating blood. Shame, shame on the US for keeping its antiquated ban that makes no sense.  Much needed blood can be provided by men who want to help our dwindling blood supply but can’t because of this rule.  Its time to step up and follow Mexico’s lead… Thank you Mexico…

Tom Thayer


Condom Claus

father condom

Cabbages & Condoms Restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand is correctly named. If you’re ever traveling overseas and want to see artistic uses of condoms, stop by.

father condomAs you can see by this picture of Santa Claus (who is made completely of condoms) among other artwork in the restaurant. The actual reviews of the food are good and get 4 of 5 stars…..

So with this festive Christmas upon us…. do something different…. Maybe turn your Christmas Tree into a …condom tree? …. I guarantee you will get interesting responses from your family and friends….

Try to behave these last few days to stay on Santa’s “GOOD” and not “NAUGHTY” list!!!

Tom Thayer

Global AIDS and the Need for Condoms

worldl aids-ribbon

Over 220 million women worldwide, have an unmet need for modern contraceptives. The group which faces the greatest challenge among such women are those who are poor and with low education and who live in rural and semi-urban areas having low access to services.

The unprecedented rate of global population explosion has become a cause for grave concern the world over. One of the most devastating diseases to affect humanity is HIV/AIDS. As of 2011, about 35 million people were surviving with this life-threatening infection worldwide, while over 2.5 million newly infected cases were reported. In terms of death toll since the spread of the disease, about 30 million people have succumbed to date, with the year 2011 alone accounting for over 1.7 million deaths. HIV/AIDS is one of the leading causes of death in the world and considered the number one cause in the sub-Saharan African region.

The global market for contraceptives is forecast to exceed $20 billion by 2018. The market is driven by the growing need to avoid/postpone unwanted pregnancies, rising levels of education, sophistication, and need for pursuing career goals among young working women.The global market for condoms is projected to reach $5.4 billion by the year 2018. Condoms are rapidly becoming a way of life for today’s youth and almost as many women as men now carry condoms at all times. Over 85% of people in the 16-25 age group use condoms, which is a vast improvement on previous years when the figure was around 50%.A promising and innovative health technology, the female condom is set to strengthen its market presence and play an increasing role in the health protection market.

You can see globally that the need for education is so vital. But I’m telling you, get some stock in a condom or contraceptive manufacturer because as you saw the numbers, its stock will rise. The world needs to wrap it up!

Tom Thayer


Supercomputer Helping to Fight HIV/AIDS

supercomputer upi com

Last summer, I blogged about West Coast Gamers who took a challenge from a university to crack an HIV code did so in less than 2 weeks which was amazing. Now it seems in Spain, they’ve taken that to the next level in fighting HIV.

Researchers in Barcelona have simulated the behaviour of the initial crucial step in the HIV maturation process, which starts the infectious phase of HIV. Graphic Processing Units (GPUs) made by Nvidia are helping scientists advance their HIV/AIDS research.

By providing this new visibility into this process, biotech researchers can potentially design new antiretroviral drugs to halt the HIV maturation process to stop it from becoming infectious.

The Barcelona researchers achieved this breakthrough by harnessing the power of thousands of GPU accelerators on a distributed network of individual computers –not unlike high-end PC gaming rigs — which allowed them to utilise supercomputing processing power typically available on dedicated multi-million dollar set ups.

Using – a volunteer distributed-computing effort that uses spare time on the GPUs of thousands of volunteers – Spanish researchers made an important breakthrough in the quest to better understand the HIV virus.

It turns out, the HIV protease acts like a pair of scissors. These “scissors proteins,” cuts the long chain of connected proteins that form HIV into individual proteins. These individual proteins, or virons, then take viral genomes from one cell to another. Using GPU-accelerated software called ACEMD, researchers showed how the first HIV “scissors proteins” can cut themselves out from within the middle of these poly-protein chains, beginning the infectious phase of HIV.

By providing this new visibility into how the HIV protease behaves, biotech researchers can potentially design new antiretroviral drugs to halt the HIV maturation process to stop it from becoming infectious.

With this tremendous computing power at their disposal, the researchers were able to run thousands of complex computer simulations of HIV protease, each for hundreds of nanoseconds for a total of almost a millisecond. That gives them a very high-probability that their simulation represented real-world behaviors. Simulations of this length and complexity would have been unfeasible to achieve using a computing system based on CPUs alone. So the power of this supercomputer is now being used to search and fight HIV/AIDS at amazing speeds. Technology is amazing and the hopes are there that someone, somewhere will be the first to stop the spread of HIV.

Tom Thayer




AIDS in Iran- Life or Death

iran lonelyplanetcom

If Americans think having HIV/AIDS is bad here. Imagine yourself in a county who’s strict religion condemns HIV/AIDS  and is currently sanctioned heavily by the UN due to its nuclear development. There are an ‘estimated’ 96,000 Iranians who the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) and Iran’s government say have HIV; only around a 25% of them have been identified. Now of course,  observers suspect Tehran has underestimated these statistics to avoid darkening the country’s Islamic credentials – a charge government officials deny.

Widespread stigma, World Sanctions, Youth, Drugs, Education, and ‘its not a priority’ hamper efforts in the country. Sound familiar?

In the 2000s, Iran became known as the region’s leader in the fight against Aids. Each year, the government allocates millions of dollars to prevent and manage the disease, and government-sponsored clinics across the country help battle it. Hard to imagine Iran leading the area but UNAIDS stated it.

Several HIV/Aids activists and Iranians infected with the virus argue that efforts to control the epidemic have suffered major setbacks in recent years, mostly because of the weakening economy and the widespread stigma of the illness.

“Many people with HIV can’t find work and are sleeping on the streets,” says Amir, an HIV-positive Iranian who agreed to speak only under a pseudonym. “The government was supposed to give us insurance and a monthly stipend, but it didn’t. Thank God I have a job and a roof over my head.” UN, EU and US sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear programme exempt trade in medicine for humanitarian reasons. Banking restrictions, high inflation, and the plunging value of Iran’s currency, many drugs are costly and hard to find in Iran.

Another challenge, Dr Hamidreza Setayesh, a UNAIDS official for the Middle East says, is that the government has been cutting its HIV-AIDS budget, including funding for harm reduction among people who inject drugs, free condoms and birth-control programs. He attributes the cuts to inflation and a change in the country’s family planning policies. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called the government’s efforts to limit population growth a “mistake.”

“Unfortunately they don’t know how to protect themselves,” Dr Jamal Hekmat says. “Many young Iranians have premarital sex, so HIV is passing from person to person before marriage.”

Iran’s HIV epidemic is concentrated among the country’s intravenous drug users and prisoners, but Aids experts warn that the virus will spread more widely if the country does not focus more on high-risk sexual behaviours, like unprotected sex, homosexuality, and prostitution. Dr Arash Alaei, an HIV/Aids specialist believes that Iran’s fight against Aids has become less progressive under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who chairs a council that removed World Aids Day from Iran’s national calendar last year.

In 2009, a court convicted Alaei and his brother, Kamiar, of “having relations with hostile governments” and “tainting Iran’s reputation” – charges they say stem from their work on HIV/Aids. They were released in 2011 after serving part of their terms in Tehran’s Evin prison. I feel so much for these brave men & women who fight for the cause of HIV/AIDS in basically hostile country’s and even spend time in jail just for ‘helping’.

Tom Thayer



UN Wants to Legalize Prostitution to Slow HIV/AIDS Spread


In a recent report, the UN recommended the decriminalization of the world’s oldest profession to help curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV.
“Removing legal penalties for sex work assists HIV prevention and treatment programmes to reach sex workers and their clients,” the UN said in its report titled “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific.” By legalizing prostitution, the government can make sex work safer, extend health services to sex workers and thus slow the spread of the virus.

The UN said the criminalization of sex-related jobs increases workers’ susceptibility to HIV by “fuelling stigma and discrimination, limiting access to sexual health services, condoms and harm reduction services; and adversely affecting the self esteem of sex workers and their ability to make informed choices about their health.”

The recommendation is also a move to stop the exploitation of sex workers and to give them basic rights by suggesting that their jobs, too, should have typical workplace standards in line with the law and government.

“Decriminalization enables sex workers to organize within their communities and register their organizations, obtain identification documents so that they can fully access services and entitlements, engage in advocacy and respond to the health and safety needs of their peers,” the UN said.

The UN report referenced a 2003 study that found that many street-based sex workers refused free condoms offered by outreach workers because of the police issue.

This is a very interesting approach to curb the high infection rate globally. Do you think this suggestion by the UN would work in the US to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS?

Tom Thayer



Challenges Ahead for AIDS Globally


At least 2 million people worldwide will be infected with HIV this year, driving the need for better HIV prevention strategies to slow the global pandemic. A better understanding of how to prevent HIV transmission using antiviral drugs led to approval of the first oral pill for HIV prevention, and microbicides delivered as topical gels or via intravaginal rings are in clinical testing and have yielded both positive and negative results. The complex factors involved in the sexual transmission of HIV, the urgent need for new preventive approaches, and the most promising methods currently in development are examined in a special issue of AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses.

This is what agencies like ours (AIDS Response Effort Inc) have been locally in Winchester, VA. Just imagine the global issues trying to get life saving information, medicine and preventatives out to countries that are poverty stricken, war-torn or corrupt.

The message of erasing the stigma and discrimination is an almost daily struggle locally. Education, we can’t stress that enough during our outreach to person’s in the public. The global HIV/AIDS epidemic has direct ties to the US, in which since the borders are now open for HIV travel. Infected persons are coming into the US and without understanding or laws, infecting others and spreading the virus as well.  Trying to reach person’s with language and culture barriers has proven tremendously difficult we’ve seen just locally vs Nationally. The Government has to come up with guidelines to combat this tough question.  Infections continue to rise and with the worsening economy globally, we only see that number rise higher.

Tom Thayer

New Study Shows Potent HIV Antibodies


Researchers led an AIDS study published in the journal, Nature Medicine, which describes how a unique change in the outer covering of the virus found in two HIV infected South African women enabled them to make potent antibodies which are able to kill up to 88% of HIV types from around the world. More amazing good leads on hopeful vaccines.

This ground-breaking discovery provides an important new approach that could be useful in making an AIDS vaccine. The study, performed by members of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) consortium.

These antibodies are referred to as broadly neutralizing antibodies because they kill a wide range of HIV types from different parts of the world. This CAPRISA team initially discovered that two KwaZulu-Natal women, one of whom participated in the CAPRISA 004 tenofovir gel study, could make these rare antibodies. Dr Penny Moore and Professor Lynn Morris, discovered that a sugar (known as a glycan) on the surface protein coat of the virus at a specific position (referred to as position 332) forms a site of vulnerability in the virus and enables the body to mount a broadly neutralizing antibody response.

“Understanding this elaborate game of ‘cat and mouse’ between HIV and the immune response of the infected person has provided valuable insights into how broadly neutralizing antibodies arise,” says Moore. 

“Broadly neutralizing antibodies are considered to be the key to making an AIDS vaccine. This discovery provides new clues on how vaccines could be designed to elicit broadly neutralising antibodies. The world needs an effective AIDS vaccine to overcome the global scourge of AIDS,” said Professor Salim Abdool Karim, Director of CAPRISA and President of the Medical Research Council.

While their existence has been known for a while, highly potent forms of broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV were only identified about 3 years ago. Until now, it was not known how the human body is able to make broadly neutralizing antibodies. This lead is very promising and we give the research team best wishes in the search for a HIV/AIDS vaccine.

Tom Thayer


HIV-1 Resistance

Dozens of Prescription  Pill Bottles

Drug resistance is a major problem when treating infections. This problem is multiplied when the infection, like HIV-1, is chronic. New research published in BioMed Central’s open access journal Retrovirology has examined the genetic footprint that drug resistance causes in HIV and found compensatory polymorphisms that help the resistant virus to survive.

Currently the strategy used to treat HIV-1 infection is to prevent viral replication, measured by the number of viral particles in the blood, and to repair the immune system, assessed using CD4 count. Over the past 20 years treatment and life expectancy have vastly improved. However, due to drug resistance, complete viral suppression requires an array of drugs.

For the virus drug resistance comes at a cost. In the absence of the drug the virus carrying drug resistance mutations is less ‘fit’ than the wild-type virus and so should not be able to replicate as efficiently. During interruptions to treatment wild-type viruses quickly predominate. However newly infected people can be drug resistant even before they have received any treatment. Almost 10% of these patients had HIV-1 harbouring transmitted drug resistance (TDR) and worryingly, when they measured virus production and CD4 count, there was no indication that these strains of HIV-1 were weaker. Researchers from the SPREAD project have been monitoring HIV infections across Europe.

Tom Thayer