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 2016, an estimated 36.7 million people were living with HIV (including 1.8 million children) around the world. In the same year, an estimated 1 million 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 25,313 people living with HIV in Australia since 2015. In New Zealand, 244 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2016.
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. Last year, 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 Anthony S 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.
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