Hopeful news from the world of HIV/AIDS research:
… U.S. government scientists have discovered three powerful antibodies, the strongest of which neutralizes 91% of HIV strains, more than any AIDS antibody yet discovered.
The antibodies were discovered in the cells of a 60-year-old African-American gay man, known in the scientific literature as Donor 45, whose body made the antibodies naturally.
As William Gibson put it on Twitter: “They found J.D. Shapely! Off to Colored People for a celebratory backpiece! :-D”
(If you’re not grokking the reference, you should make time to read Gibson’s Virtual Light.)
And here’s a bonus line from the little article there, that puts the incredible amount of work involved in this sort of research into perspective:
Researchers screened 25 million of his cells to find 12 that produced the antibodies.
That is one mad tiny needle in a huge meat haystack, right there.
Dengue fever is one of the most common insect-borne viral infections known to medical science, and people in areas where it is prevalent are advised to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites by whatever means necessary, in parallel with programs aimed at reducing the number of mosquitoes. [image by MiikaS]
However, new research suggests that reducing the number of mosquitos may actually increase the likelihood of people contracting fatal cases of dengue, because more regular infections help to develop a strong immune response to the various serotypes of the infection:
“… if the number of mosquitoes is reduced, people are infected less frequently and so are less likely to catch another serotype during this crucial window. This led the team to the counter-intuitive idea that fewer mosquitoes could result in more cases of DHF.”
Humans have evolved complex responses to mosquito-borne illnesses, but it appears that they can be a double-edged sword. A genetic variation prevalent in people of African descent that confers some protection against malaria has been shown to make them more susceptible to HIV, the precursor to AIDS, at the same time as prolonging their survival of the immune system syndrome.
There’s a new hope on the horizon, though, as researchers at the University of Texas think they may have found the Achilles heel of the HIV virus:
“They have identified antibodies that, instead of passively binding to the target molecule, are able to fragment it and destroy its function. Their recent work indicates that naturally occurring catalytic antibodies, particularly those of the IgA subtype, may be useful in the treatment and prevention of HIV infection… “
And the even mosquitoes have their uses – a new form of “painless” hypodermic needle has been designed using the proboscis of the blood-sucking insects as its inspiration.