Can AIDS Be Cured?

Discussion of an endgame has been creeping back over the past few years
by Staff, Utne Reader
November-December 2010
Add to My MSN

Stuart Bradford / www.theispot.com/sbradford


Content Tools

Related Content

Coming of Age in the Shadow of HIV

In honor of World AIDS Day: A must-read personal essay by 31-year-old gay man Michael Harris beautif...

No, Pot Researchers Aren’t Smoking Anything

“From a biological standpoint, smoking pot to get high is like starting up a semitruck just to liste...

Taking Drugs to Fight Addiction

Scientists are looking to new pharmaceuticals in hopes of breaking the cycle of addiction....

Get an HIV Test Already

“With HIV, ignorance is not bliss,” said Dr. Veronica Miller, director of the Forum for Collaborativ...

The question itself is blasphemy. Unlike other diseases, from Alzheimer’s to breast cancer, AIDS is not one we talk about curing. To talk about eradication is particularly careless and cruel, if only because the relatively brief history of AIDS is so riddled with hype and dashed hopes. In scientific circles, however, discussion of an endgame has been creeping back over the past few years, which is why Jon Cohen, writing for MIT’s Technology Review (July-Aug. 2010), argues that it’s time to put that “dirtiest of four-letter words”—cure—back on the table. 

Researchers are in two camps, says Cohen, who is the author of Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine: There are those who are pursuing new “sterilizing” cures (total virus eradication), while others are probing the less ambitious but no less dazzling idea of a “functional” cure, which may leave a small amount of HIV in the body but allows people to stop taking antiretroviral drugs.  

One functional cure innovator is Paula Cannon, a lead researcher on a team at the University of Southern California. Cannon has a special colony of mice that have been implanted after birth with human immune system stem cells, which then become a functioning immune system. Before the cells are implanted, the team introduces an enzyme that will cripple one of the two receptors HIV needs to attack in about 5 percent of mature cells. These immune system cells are resistant to HIV and, over time, as the virus kills off unaltered cells, it runs out of fodder for attack. “In some of the infected mice, the virus appears to have declined to such low levels that the animals need no further treatment,” Cohen writes. 

Ultimately, the goal of both sterilizing and functional-cure research is the same: to eliminate the need for a lifetime course of drugs that are increasingly untenable because of the rising cost of antiretrovirals and the continued sluggishness of the world economy.  Keeping a virus at bay for years also has side effects, including increased susceptibility to other diseases. 

Research like Cannon’s, Cohen writes, poses “astonishing hope.” 








Post a comment below.

 

Sarah
11/30/2010 9:49:26 PM
I'm all for curing AIDS. Unfortunately, in the US we've made virtually NO PROGRESS on prevention and little on treatment since the people affected are marginalized, stigmatized, and generally ignored by the public and healthcare system. New infections have been steady since the mid-90's (vast majority are people of color and/or queer) and Washington DC has prevalence similar to many African nations. Oh, and unless you can keep your great job with insurance coverage, you have to wait until HIV progresses to AIDS to get treated. Check these out if you don't believe me: http://www.avert.org/america.htm http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/surveillance/incidence/sote/fullscreen.htm We don't have a problem of technology - it's a problem of being unable to recognize and treat our social inequalities and prejudices. Solve that, MIT.

Tod Lewark
11/30/2010 9:57:52 AM
By donating idle computer time, you can help do research for various projects: AIDS research, Muscular Dystrophy, Cancer, Clean Water, Clean Energy, etc. It has no perceptible effect on the operation of your computer, and you can customize settings and choose projects to suit yourself. See http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/

K
10/17/2010 3:32:10 AM
Unfortunately a profit/growth driven pharmaindustry has no motivation to cure Aids (or any other common disease) if they can sell already expensive antiviral drugs for a lifetime. If we want/support a growth driven economy we get growth driven products and a growth driven lifestyle. Pharma industry (goal:permanently sick people), millitary industry(goal:permanent war), food industry (goal:overfeed people).. clear and simple.








Pay Now & Save $5!
First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $31.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!