HIV Patient Appears to Be Cured — A First, Say Scientists
Though just preliminary data, an anonymous patient’s blood is reportedly clear of HIV. A new trial testing a novel HIV therapy has seemingly cured a 44-year-old man, one of 50 participants.
A new trial testing a novel HIV therapy has seemingly cured a 44-year-old man, one of 50 participants. Five UK universities collaborated on this therapy, which is said to attack the virus even when it lies dormant. Usually HIV likes to hide in CD4+T lymphocytes—a certain type of white blood cell. But so far, the virus is undetectable in the man’s blood, according to The Sunday Times.
Until now, only one person has been verified HIV-free after contracting the virus. In 2007, the so-called “Berlin Patient” received a stem cell transplant to treat leukemia. Afterward, his doctors were astonished that Timothy Ray Brown no longer showed any sign of infection.
To treat Brown, doctors first used chemotherapy to destroy the cancer. This would have demolished his immune system as well, particularly those white blood cells where HIV tends to hide. Next, Brown was given a bone marrow transplant to replenish his white blood cells. The donor was later found to have a genetic predisposition to resist HIV. Despite not taking drug therapy anymore, no HIV has since been detected in his system.
HIV/AIDS research had stalled by the time. Medical experts called it all but incurable. Brown’s case gave renewed hope and researchers a new avenue to explore. Now it seems a London social worker may be the first to have been purposely cured of the virus.
Timothy Ray Brown, the “Berlin Patient,” was the first to be accidentally cured of HIV.
The trial is ongoing. These are preliminary results. It won’t be finished and published until 2018. But according to Mark Samuels, the managing director of the National Institute for Health Research, so far experts are reservedly enthused. “We are exploring the real possibility of curing HIV,” he said. “This is a huge challenge and it's still early days but the progress has been remarkable."
Researchers at Oxford, Cambridge, University College London, King’s College London, and Imperial College London collaborated on the study. A vaccine or a cure has been wanting for decades. A crafty enemy, HIV/AIDS has proven one of the most complex diseases medical science has ever confronted.
The virus attaches itself within a cell, and using the cell’s own DNA it hides and replicates. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the treatment commonly used today. It stops the virus from replicating. Yet, it does not affect dormant viruses. HIV has the ability to hide for months, years, even decades undetected. This has made it difficult to cure. And the slow speed at which the immune system learns to protect itself from the virus has made a vaccine all but impossible.
The green dots are HIV attacking cells in the immune system.
This new therapy has two phases. First, a vaccine is administered to allow the immune system to recognize infected cells. Then, a new drug known as Vorinostat activates T-cells, the enforcers of the immune system, which can take out the infected cells out.
Though it seems like the pandemic of yesteryear, the need remains great. 37 million people are infected worldwide, according to the WHO. Certain hotspots such as sub-Saharan Africa have been crippled by it. This first cured patient gives many around the world hope.
Imperial College’s Sarah Fidler was a consultant physician on this study. She was cautiously optimistic. "It has worked in the laboratory and there is good evidence it will work in humans too, but we must stress we are still a long way from any actual therapy,” she said. Even if it is successful, five more years of testing are required. Even so, those who lived through the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s revel at the idea of one of history’s most infamous illnesses coming to an end.
The first ever recorded HIV case in the U.S. occurred back in 1979. The media began to really take notice a little later, in 1981, when gay men in Los Angeles and New York started coming down with a mysterious disease. It gave flu-like symptoms, even though patients seemingly, had healthy immune systems.
A world map of people living with HIV/AIDS.
By 1982, after much hysteria, the term "acquired immunodeficiency syndrome," was born. The first AIDS clinic opened that year too, in San Francisco. But it wasn’t until the 1984 that it was discovered that a virus was causing it. In 1985 the FDA approved a blood test to screen for HIV.
By 1994, the virus became the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 25 and 44. Regardless, it wasn’t until 1997 that an effective therapy was available. That year, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) drugs became available, the first o inhibit the virus’s ability to replicate.
The FDA approved Truvada in 2012. A combination of two different drugs, those on it can lead normal, healthy lives, as long as they take their medicine regularly. But it cannot rid the body of HIV. It can however, block transmission to other partners, which is why some in high-risk populations take it to protect themselves. For this use, it is known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
Still, there remains a lack of knowledge about the therapy, since the manufacturer doesn’t advertise it. Others stay away, for fear being stigmatized for taking it. So even though it can be controlled today, a cure would change the calculus of HIV entirely.
To learn more about HIV resistance, which led to this discovery, click here:
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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