Wednesday November 22, 2017

Cure for AIDS? Scientists in US Achieve ‘Functional Cure’ for HIV in Monkey Model

Researchers are now planning human clinical trials of the vaccine-drug cocktail to begin next year

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FILE - A doctor draws blood from a man to check for HIV/AIDS. VOA

November 10, 2016: U.S. scientists have devised a way to put the virus that causes AIDS into remission. It’s not a cure per se, but could someday offer HIV patients years of life without drugs.

Scientists are calling it a “functional cure.” An experimental treatment regimen is being developed that could offer HIV-positive people something similar to a cure, so they wouldn’t have to take antiretroviral drugs every day to manage their disease.

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In the journal Nature, scientists are reporting that they’ve achieved remission in primates infected with SIV, a monkey version of HIV, by using a combination of a vaccine and a drug.

Waking a sleeping virus

An HIV-positive person who takes antiretroviral drugs is simply suppressing the AIDS virus to undetectable levels. But the virus is not really gone. It is lying dormant in immune system cells, ready to spring to life the moment someone stops taking the medication.

The new approach uses a drug to wake the latent virus. Then, in a one-two punch, the virus is attacked by the immune system, which has been stimulated by a vaccine to target the HIV.

Nelson Michael, who directs the HIV research program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland, sees such a “functional cure” as a game-changer in the battle against the AIDS virus.

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“This is where we’re beginning to edge into that space,” he said. “And we’re basically developing the rationale that we can actually envision a day that that will be what happens — that someone would not have to take drugs every day, because those things that we could do would buy them a lot of time where they wouldn’t have to take drugs. That’s really the story.”

In a two-year study, Michael and his colleague Dan Barouch, director of vaccine research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, gave a group of 36 rhesus monkeys on antiretroviral drugs either a vaccine alone, an immune stimulant called TLR-7, or a combination of the two agents.

The monkeys that got the vaccine alone saw a tenfold drop in their viral load, while Michael said the animals on the TLR-7 drug saw no improvement.

Combination’s effect

“The really exciting thing is that when we combined the TLR-7 and the vaccine, then we saw, after we took the animals off of antiretroviral drugs, that the level of virus that they were replicating fell by a hundredfold. And in some of these animals it looks like we may be actually in a position where there’s not much virus left circulating at all,” said Michael.

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He stressed that the monkeys were still infected, but that the virus was no longer causing any trouble because the regimen had trained the immune system to keep it at bay.

Michael envisions a “drug holiday” for patients where they go for years without needing antiretroviral drugs unless the virus resurfaces.

Researchers are now planning human clinical trials of the vaccine-drug cocktail to begin next year. (VOA)

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HIV Infected Smokers More likely to die of lung cancer than AIDS, Reveals Indian-origin Researcher

Smoking kills! A recent research reveals a vicious reality about the people infected with HIV, who loves to smoke, are more likely to die from lung cancer than from AIDS.

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Cigarette smoking is injurious to health. Pixabay

New York, September 20, 2017: People living with HIV who adhere to antiretroviral therapy, but smoke tobacco cigarettes are more likely to die from lung cancer than from AIDS, a study led by an Indian-origin researcher has revealed.

The findings showed that overall people with HIV who take antiviral medicines, but who also smoke are six to 13 times more likely to die from lung cancer than from HIV/AIDS, depending on the intensity of smoking and their sex.

“Smoking and HIV are a particularly bad combination when it comes to lung cancer,” said lead author Krishna Reddy, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

“Lung cancer is now one of the leading killers of people with HIV, but most of these deaths can be prevented,” added Rochelle Walensky, Professor at Harvard Medical School.

Among men who continued to be heavy smokers, an estimated 29 percent would die of lung cancer by age 80, as would 23 per cent of moderate smokers and 19 per cent of light smokers.

For women who continued to be heavy smokers, an estimated 29 percent would die of lung cancer by age 80, as would 21 per cent of moderate smokers and 17 per cent of light smokers.

“The data tell us that now is the time for action: smoking cessation programmes should be integrated into HIV care just like antiviral therapy,” Reddy said in the paper published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

However, among those who managed to quit smoking at age 40, only about six per cent die of lung cancer.

“Quitting smoking is one of the most important things that people with HIV can do to improve their health and live longer,” suggested Travis Baggett, Assistant Professor at the Harvard Medical School.

ALSO READ: Cases of Glaucoma show a rising trend in India, can be caused by Smoking: Doctors

Besides reducing the risk of lung cancer, quitting will also decrease their risk of other diseases such as heart attack, stroke and emphysema, the researchers said. (IANS)

 

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To Counter AIDS Epidemic, Over Half of People With HIV Taking Drugs: UN

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FILE - A mother gets an antiretroviral (ARV) drugs at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, South Africa's largest public hospital, in Soweto, May 16, 2012. VOA
  • AIDS deaths are also now close to half of what they were in 2005, according to the U.N. AIDS agency
  • The Trump administration has proposed a 31 percent cut in contributions to the U.N. starting in October
  • About 19.5 million people with HIV were taking AIDS drugs in 2016, compared to 17.1 million the previous year

South Africa, July 20, 2017: For the first time in the global AIDS epidemic that has spanned four decades and killed 35 million people, more than half of all those infected with HIV are on drugs to treat the virus, the United Nations said in a report released Thursday.

AIDS deaths are also now close to half of what they were in 2005, according to the U.N. AIDS agency, although those figures are based on estimates and not actual counts from countries. Further to counter the AIDS epidemic, people are also looking for HIV home tests so that medications related to HIV can be started in the early stages.

Experts applauded the progress, but questioned if the billions spent in the past two decades should have brought more impressive results. The U.N. report was released in Paris where an AIDS meeting begins this weekend.

ALSO READ: Indian Origin Researcher part of team that developed a Test sensitive enough to detect “hidden” HIV

“When you think about the money that’s been spent on AIDS, it could have been better,” said Sophie Harman, a senior lecturer in global health politics at Queen Mary University in London.

She said more resources might have gone to strengthening health systems in poor countries.

“The real test will come in five to 10 years once the funding goes down,” Harman said, warning that countries might not be able to sustain the U.N.-funded AIDS programs on their own.

AIDS deaths are also now close to half of what they were in 2005. Click To Tweet

The Trump administration has proposed a 31 percent cut in contributions to the U.N. starting in October.

According to the report, about 19.5 million people with HIV were taking AIDS drugs in 2016, compared to 17.1 million the previous year.

UNAIDS also said there were about 36.7 million people with HIV in 2016, up slightly from 36.1 million the year before.

In the report’s introduction, Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS’ executive director, said more and more countries are starting treatment as early as possible, in line with scientific findings that the approach keeps people healthy and helps prevent new infections. Studies show that people whose virus is under control are far less likely to pass it on to an uninfected sex partner.

“Our quest to end AIDS has only just begun,” he wrote.

The report notes that about three-quarters of pregnant women with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, now have access to medicines to prevent them from passing it to their babies. It also said five hard-hit African countries now provide lifelong AIDS drugs to 95 percent of pregnant and breast-feeding women with the virus.

“For more than 35 years, the world has grappled with an AIDS epidemic that has claimed an estimated 35 million lives,” the report said. “Today, the United Nations General Assembly has a shared vision to consign AIDS to the history books.” The death toll from AIDS has dropped dramatically in recent years as the wide availability of affordable, life-saving drugs has made the illness a manageable disease.

But Harman said that “Ending AIDS” — the report’s title — was unrealistic.

“I can see why they do it, because it’s bold and no one would ever disagree with the idea of ending AIDS, but I think we should be pragmatic,” she said. “I don’t think we will ever eliminate AIDS so it’s possible this will give people the wrong idea.” (VOA)


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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)