World AIDS Day: How close are we to a cure?

World AIDS Day: How close are we to a cure?
Scientists look closer than ever to developing an HIV vaccine.

December 1 is World AIDS Day. Currently, the disease affects millions of people worldwide. HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS, continues to pose serious challenges. In 2020, an estimated 37.7 million people were living with HIV (including 1.7 million children) around the world. In the same year, an estimated 680,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses.

The vast majority of this number live in low and middle income countries. However, HIV still exists in Australia, with an estimated 29,045 people living with HIV in Australia in 2019. In New Zealand, 162 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2020.

While treatment for HIV is continually improving, at present there is still no cure for this potentially life-threatening infection. Scientists are working to discover a cure and have made advancements, however. In 2016, scientists from the United States discovered an antibody produced by an HIV-positive patient that neutralises 98% of all HIV strains tested – including most of the strains that are resistant to other antibodies of the same class.

The capacity of an antibody to block a wide range of strains is crucial, as HIV has an ability to rapidly respond to the body’s immune defences. This is the first time such a capability has been discovered in an antibody and scientists are hopeful that it could form the basis of a new HIV vaccine.

An antibody is a protein produced by the immune system in response to harmful pathogens like bacteria and viruses. Researchers at the US National Institute of Health found that the antibody outperformed trials of previous antibodies. “The discovery and characterisation of this antibody with exceptional breadth and potency against HIV provides an important new lead for the development of strategies to prevent and treat HIV infection, “ said Dr Anthony Fauci from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Whilst these results still need to be measured against human trials before any clear links to a vaccine can be drawn, it is hoped that this is one step closer to eradicating the world of this disease.

UK pharmaceutical company GSK has a goal to develop a cure for HIV by 2030, with clinical trials for its potential cure looking to begin in 2022.

You can find out more about World AIDS Day by visiting their website here

To learn about HIV screening and prevention, visit Ending HIV here

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