Category Archives: HIV care

New immunotherapy kills HIV: Pitt Men’s Study participants “vital to the success of this study”

From Pitt Health Sciences

In a first on the quest to cure HIV, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health scientists report today in EBioMedicine that they’ve developed an all-in-one immunotherapy approach that not only kicks HIV out of hiding in the immune system, but also kills it. The key lies in immune cells designed to recognize an entirely different virus.

The discovery, made in the laboratory using cells from people with HIV, is yet to be tested in clinical trials, but could lead to the development of a vaccine that would allow people positive for HIV to stop taking daily medications to keep the virus in check.

“A lot of scientists are trying to develop a cure for HIV, and it’s usually built around the ‘kick and kill’ concept – kick the virus out of hiding and then kill it,” said senior author Robbie Mailliard, Ph.D., assistant professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at Pitt Public Health. “There are some promising therapies being developed for the kill, but the Holy Grail is figuring out which cells are harboring HIV so we know what to kick.”

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) typically controls HIV infections so well that the virus is virtually undetectable in the blood and cannot easily infect other people. But if a person with HIV stops taking the daily regimen of medications, which come with many side-effects, the virus can rage back and turn into full-blown AIDS. This is because the virus goes into a latent, inactive phase where it incorporates itself into the DNA of certain immune cells called “T helper cells,” and lurks while a person is taking ART.

Mailliard and his team decided to look at a different virus that also goes latent and infects more than half of adults – and 95 percent of those with HIV: Cytomegalovirus (CMV), which can cause eye infections and other serious illnesses, but is usually controlled by a healthy immune system.

“The immune system spends a lot of time keeping CMV in check; in some people, 1 one out of every 5 T cells are specific to that one virus,” said co-author Charles Rinaldo, Ph.D., professor and chair of Pitt Public Health’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology. “That got us thinking – maybe those cells that are specific to fighting CMV also make up a large part of the latent HIV reservoir. So we engineered our immunotherapy to not only target HIV, but to also activate CMV-specific T helper cells.”

To run the experiment, the team needed blood – and lots of it – from people with HIV controlled by ART. Nearly two dozen participants stepped up from the Pitt Men’s Study, the Pittsburgh  site of the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS), a research study of the natural history of treated and untreated HIV/AIDS in men who have sex with men.

“The MACS participants were vital to the success of this study,” said first author Jan Kristoff, M.S., a doctoral candidate at Pitt Public Health. “You have to collect a lot of blood to find T cells latently infected with functional HIV in people on ART – it could be as few as 1 out of every 10 million cells. So the men would sit for as long as four hours hooked up to a machine that processed their blood and came back multiple times to give more samples.”

Read more on the UPMC Website.

 

Dr. Anthony Fauci discusses the case of the London Patient

From NBC News

Dr. Anthony Fauci on MSNBC

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top HIV/AIDS doctors, cautioned that the highly publicized case of the so-called London Patient — the second person in the world confirmed to be cured of HIV infection — does not mean a widely available cure is on the horizon anytime soon.

“To think that bone marrow transplantation is going to be a scalable, feasible, safe way to treat infections is really, unfortunately, misleading, because it is not,” Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, said Tuesday on MSNBC.

The ‘London Patient’ was cured of HIV in the process of being treated for a much deadlier disease: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This cancer of the lymphatic system can be treated with a risky bone marrow transplant from a donor whose marrow matches. “This was really his last chance of survival,” Dr. Ravindra Gupta, the patient’s doctor, told Reuters.

Watch the video here.

HIV drug prices keep rising – Why is no one talking about it?

From thebody.com

The state of the HIV epidemic in the United States is a global embarrassment. Currently, we spend more than any other country per person on domestic HIV treatment, yet by almost every metric, our epidemic is worse than that of other wealthy nations. So why the discrepancy between cost and outcome? The problems are multifactorial, including systemic racism, classism, transphobia, and homophobia. Oddly enough, however, egregious price gouging by the pharmaceutical industry has gotten almost no attention, despite its central role in hampering America’s HIV response. High drug prices distort our nation’s fight against AIDS, forcing the health care system to pay massive markups to pharmaceutical companies and leaving relatively little for other vital services. As a result, we continue to line the pockets of pharmaceutical executives rather than addressing the broad social and environmental barriers to effective HIV treatment and prevention.

Read the full article.

Five ways to flip the script on HIV

From HIVplusmag.com

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2017 HIV Surveillance Report, African-Americans represent 41 percent of new HIV diagnoses yet comprise only 12 percent of the U.S. population. In 2018, an article in Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities offered a five-point “action plan” for community leaders to address and reduce that disparity.

Be Immersive: Although the authors don’t go as far as suggesting all efforts must arise from black communities, they do note the need for work to be done in collaboration with those communities, and for answers to these challenges to be culturally relevant to African-Americans. (Pointing to an “unavailability of access to HIV healthcare and testing,” the researchers also call for “free or reduced-cost testing.”)

Be Nonjudgmental: The authors call for leaders and service providers to work to eliminate prejudices and unconscious biases that may interfere with HIV diagnoses and treatment. After all, they point out, some of the most-impacted populations are those who face stigma, including LGBTQ people, drug users, and those currently or formerly incarcerated. In particular, the researchers call out “cultural HIV/AIDS stigma” and “homo-negativity.”

Be Knowledgeable: The authors stress the importance of understanding “new approaches” to prevention and treatment—clearly referencing the recent consensus that undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U, which shows that once an HIV-positive person in treatment reaches viral suppression they are no longer at risk of transmitting the virus to a partner), and explicitly mentioning the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as a highly effective barrier to transmission.

Be an Advocate: The authors want community leaders to become more vocal in calling attention to the epidemic and its impact on the black community. But that’s just the beginning. The action plan notes that much larger social issues must also be addressed in order to “eradicate secondary factors such as incarceration rates, poverty, STDs, and other factors that increase the chances of contracting HIV.” Essentially, they are calling for intersectional activism.

Be Innovative: The plan says to be “proactive and create solutions that evolve with the times and the changing needs of the affected populations.” Certainly, that includes new technologies and treatments, but the authors also point to innovative programs such as Many Men, Many Voices (3MV), aimed at black men who have sex with men who may or may not identify as gay or bi, in which small groups talk about cultural, social, and religious norms; sexual relationship dynamics; and how racism and homophobia influence HIV risk behaviors.

Online intervention effective in the treatment of depressive symptoms in people with HIV

From aidsmap.com

An online self-help intervention is effective in the treatment of mild to moderate depressive symptoms in people with HIV, according to a randomized clinical trial conducted in the Netherlands and published in the September issue of The Lancet HIV.

The trial compared the outcomes in a group who received the online self-help intervention and a control group. The internet-based intervention, available in Dutch and English, consisted of a cognitive behavioral therapy program called “Living Positive with HIV” and developed from a self-help booklet that had previously proved effective in decreasing depressive symptoms. Participants also received minimal telephone coaching by a Masters student in psychology. The control group received the telephone coaching and could access the online intervention after the trial was completed.

Sanne van Leunen and colleagues randomly assigned 188 eligible participants to the intervention (97) or the control group (91) in 2015. Depression was assessed at baseline, Month 2, Month 5 and Month 8 (the control group did not take the last assessment).

As detailed below, results show that more participants in the intervention group than in the control group demonstrated significant change in their symptoms and that this effect was maintained for six months. Anxiety symptoms were also decreased. No adverse events were reported, the rate of satisfaction with the intervention was high, and most participants reported that they would recommend “Living Positive with HIV” to others.

Optimizing HIV care

A session at the 2018 ID Week Annual Meeting in San Francisco explored various strategies to optimize the delivery of care to those infected with HIV. Globally, almost 37 million people are living with HIV, with close to 2 million newly infected annually; about 22 million are treated using antiretroviral therapy.1

Antiretroviral therapy can be interrupted for various reasons; however, whether this practice is wise is a contentious issue, and a trial that would directly address this is ethically dubious. To approach the issue in an ethically palatable way, investigators from the University Hospital of Cologne, Germany, and the German Center for Infection Research, also in Cologne, conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature to try to provide some clarity as to the safety and tolerability of treatment interruption.

“The meta-analysis was done to examine current evidence about treatment interruption,” explained presenter Melanie Stecher, MSc during the session attended by MD Magazine®. “These data might help in strategies for safe treatment interruption and in designing future clinical trials aimed at curing HIV infection.”