HIV breakthrough ‘imminent’, says Medicine Nobel Laureate

Nobel Laureate Francoise Barre-Sinoussi‚ who co-discovered the virus that causes Aids‚ believes it is possible that one day people will live with HIV‚ without taking medicine and yet remain healthy and un-infectious.

She was speaking at the Sci-Bono centre in Johannesburg on Friday. Barre-Sinoussi believes a cure that will completely eliminate HIV from the body is “impossible”. But she says sending the virus into remission is possible.

The scientist explained that clinical remission is when the virus is still in the body‚ but it is not replicating‚ not attacking the cells and the person cannot transmit HIV.

The virus would also not be activating the carrier’s immune system and causing inflammation in the body‚ which is linked to lifestyle disease such as heart disease and cancer.

The reason she believes remission is possible is because up to three in 1000 HIV-positive people naturally send the virus into remission and never require medicine. They are called elite controllers. These are people whose bodies stop the virus replicating and remain healthy 20 years after infection without antiretroviral medication.

The Nobel Laureate explained that there are multiple trials trying to understand how the immune systems of elite controllers work‚ so that one day treatments can be developed for all HIV positive people.

Elite controllers were detected almost by accident. A trial in France followed HIV-positive patients from the time of them testing positive to watch how the disease developed in their bodies.

The researchers found that a very small percentage of patients never needed treatment.

“These people have an efficient immune response related to a specific genetic background‚” said Barre-Sinoussi.

There is also a group of 20 French patients who started treatment but later stopped it‚ and have remained healthy for 10 years. This group is being studied to understand how their immune system controls the virus without medication.

Barre-Sinoussi is part of an initiative called Towards a Cure‚ which co-ordinates different international funders and scientists to work together efficiently to find a way to send the virus into remission.

The SA Department of Science and Technology is also part of the initiative. Also speaking at the event‚ Wits Professor Lynn Morris said a vaccine against HIV was essential to stop the disease spreading.

“We have got to stop people getting infected. The most successful way of preventing diseases is by vaccination. Vaccination has eliminated smallpox from the world.”

“We are getting hints that an HIV vaccine is possible. A lot of people feel it is a solvable problem‚” said Morris. Scientists have been working on a vaccine for more than 30 years and only one vaccine has offered 30% protection from the virus‚ too little for it to be used widely.

One of the many difficulties of developing a vaccine is that the virus mutates a lot. “Scientists are working to target parts of the virus that don’t change.” These could be the virus’s “Achilles heel‚” said Morris. Deputy director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute‚ Francois Venter‚ said the improvements in HIV medicine have been “nothing short of a medical miracle”.

“We have gone from a situation in early 90s in which patients had handfuls of tablets that had terrible side effects and did very little‚ to patients today needing a single tablet a day with minimal side effects.” “I am sometimes surprised at the lack of ambition in other medical fields”. He said diabetes research and treatments for high blood pressure had not progressed nearly has fast as the HIV field. – The Times

Experimental Ebola vaccine effective in monkeys: study

An experimental Ebola vaccine has been shown to effectively protect monkeys against the often-deadly virus, according to a study published Thursday.

The new medicine, described in the journal Science, is what is known as a “whole virus” vaccine.

This means it is based on a non-active form of the entire virus instead of just fragments, and is more likely to trigger a broad immune response.

“The new vaccine differs from other Ebola vaccines,” a statement from the University of Wisconsin-Madison read. “As an inactivated whole virus vaccine, it primes the host immune system with the full complement of Ebola viral proteins and genes, potentially conferring greater protection.”

The vaccine was constructed on an experimental platform that lets researchers safely work with the virus by deleting a key gene the Ebola virus needs to make a protein required to reproduce. The Ebola virus has only eight genes.

“In terms of efficacy, this affords excellent protection,” said study author Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a University of Wisconsin-Madison virus expert. “It is also a very safe vaccine.”

Successful tests were carried out on macaques at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Rocky Mountain Laboratories, a top biosafety facility in Montana.

Whole virus vaccines have successfully prevented serious diseases such as polio, influenza and hepatitis, the statement read.

Macaques are very susceptible to Ebola and Kawaoka noted that, “if you get protection with (these animals), it’s working.”

The current Ebola epidemic is the most serious since the virus emerged in 1976 in Sudan and Zaire.

There is no licensed vaccine against the disease which has killed more than 10,000 people in west Africa out of nearly 25,000 infected since the start of 2014, mainly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Several promising treatments are being fast-tracked through the normally years-long trial process.

Two possible vaccines currently being developed — CAd3 by Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline and VSV-EBOV by Merck and NewLink Genetics — have both passed safety tests on humans.

Photo Credits : AFP

Origins of HIV virus strains traced to gorillas

Two of four strains of the virus that can cause AIDS come from gorillas in southwestern Cameroon, an international team of scientists reported in studies published Monday in the United States.

The new information means that researchers now know the origins of all strains of the HIV virus that occur in people.

HIV (HIV-1) has at least four strains. Known as Groups M, N, O and P, each one had its own origin — from ape to man, on at least four separate occasions.

Groups M and N were known to have come from chimpanzees in Cameroon. But until now the origin of the O and P strains had been unknown.

Results of the study led by Martine Peeters, a virologist at France’s Research and Development Institute (IRD) and the University of Montpellier, appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

HIV-1’s Group M is the most widely spread, behind the greatest part of the epidemic with more than 40 million people now infected around the world.

Group P has only been detected in two people so far. And Group O has been found in central and western Africa, infecting about 100,000.

The breakthrough was made possible thanks to genetic samples from chimpanzees and gorillas from Cameroon, Gabon, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“From this study and others that our team has conducted in the past it has become clear that both chimpanzees and gorillas harbor viruses that are capable of crossing the species barrier to humans and have the potential to cause major disease outbreaks,” Peeters said.

“Understanding emerging disease origins is critical to gauge future human infection risks,” she added.

Since 1981, about 78 million people have been infected by HIV, which destroys immune cells and leaves the body exposed to tuberculosis, pneumonia and other opportunistic diseases.

Thirty-nine million have died, according to UN estimates.

The team of scientists is from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Montpellier, the University of Edinburgh, and other institutions.

Photo Credits : AFP

Ebola tests for all players at Afcon

All teams arriving in Equatorial Guinea for the African Nations Cup must travel through the capital Malabo and have tests for the Ebola virus, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) said on Wednesday.

Those who show any signs of the contagious virus, or who refused to be examined, could be quarantined for up to 21 days.

“Everyone arriving at the Nations Cup must respect the medical rules and regulations,” CAF said in a statement.

The tough regulations reflect fears of the spread of the deadly haemorrhagic fever that led Morocco to ask for a postponement of the 16-team tournament.

Instead they were stripped of their hosting rights and Equatorial Guinea stepped in at the last moment to take over.

The worst epidemic of the virus on record has killed more than 8,371 people and infected 21,171 in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to World Health Organization figures released on Monday.

Guinea are competing at the Nations Cup but the other two countries not.

Liberia reports dozens of new Ebola cases

Authorities in Liberia say there have been dozens of new Ebola cases erupting along the border with Sierra Leone. The announcement by Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah on Monday marks a setback for Liberia, which has seen the number of cases stabilize somewhat after having been the hardest hit country in West Africa.

Nyenswah blamed the flare-up on a number of factors including people going in and out of the country and traditional practices such as the washing of bodies.

Nearly 3,400 people have died from Ebola in Liberia over the past year with nearly 8,000 cases, though health officials say the situation has improved especially in the capital, Monrovia.

Sierra Leone, by comparison, has now eclipsed Liberia with more than 9,000 cases, according to the World Health Organization.

Uganda is free or the Marburg Ebola-like virus

The World Health Organisation confirmed on Thursday that Uganda was free of the Ebola-like Marburg virus after completing a 42-day surveillance period with no new cases.

The Marburg virus is one of the most deadly known pathogens. Like Ebola, it causes severe bleeding, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea and has a 21-day incubation period.

It is also transmitted via contact with bodily fluids and fatality rates range from 25 to 80%.

A hospital worker in the Ugandan capital Kampala died on 28 September after contracting Marburg. Following that, 197 people were placed under isolation and monitored but no one tested positive.

 “Since there have been no active cases of Marburg for 42 days, the outbreak is considered to be contained,” the WHO said in a statement.

Heightened surveillance and public awareness campaigns would continue, it added, in view of the ongoing Ebola outbreak in west Africa.

Source : News24

Ebola death toll edging to 4,900 mark – WHO

The death toll in the world’s worst-ever Ebola outbreak has edged closer to 4,900, while almost 10,000 people have now been infected, new figures from the World Health Organization showed Wednesday.

In its latest update, the UN health agency said as of October 19, 4,877 people had died of Ebola out of a total of 9,936 cases registered in seven countries.

The previous WHO toll, running to October 14, had shown 4,555 deaths out of9,216 registered cases.

The WHO has repeatedly underlined that substantial increases in the number of registered deaths and cases do not mean that they have surged over the period in question.

Instead, they reflect delayed counting, given the extremely difficult conditions in the hard-hit west African nations.

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Man dies from deadly Marbug virus in Uganda

A hospital technician has died of the Ebola-like Marburg virus in Kampala, the Ugandan government announced on Sunday.

The man, aged 30, died in the Mengo hospital where he worked in the capital on September 28, 11 days after falling ill, the authorities said.

Tests confirmed the presence of the disease two days later.

Marburg virus is one of the most deadly known pathogens. Like Ebola, it causes severe bleeding, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The victim’s brother and one other person he was in contact with have so far “developed signs” of the disease, the ministry of health said in a statement.

A Marburg outbreak in Uganda in October 2012 killed 10 people, about half of those who were confirmed infected with the disease.

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