Possible cures for HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS has proved to be one of the most disturbing and incurable diseases after cancer. It’s a major scourge in Africa mostly due to dangerous cultural practices and stubbornness to adopting new behavior.

HIV is a retrovirus transmitted sexually and contaminated blood. We can’t talk much about transmission since it is like these days it is common sense. At least we will concentrate on possible cures.

For one to be able to make a cure for any disease caused by a microorganism, one must understand the organism at the molecular level and how it interacts with the body to cause the disease.

All viruses attack a specific host. This is because viruses are intracellular organisms that use the host cell division mechanism for it own division. HIV-human immunodeficiency virus-uses the human DNA replication machinery to make its own DNA. HIV specifically attacks CD4 cells. These are immunity white blood cells. The worst thing is that after making its DNA, it kills the CD4 cell.  This is how HIV compromises its host’s immunity.

Viruses get into their hosts by first attaching to cellular receptors on the host cell membrane. HIV gets into CD4 by first attaching to CCR5 receptors on the CD4 and gets into the cell after which the virus attacks the host DNA replication mechanism to make its own DNA.

Having known that we can now focus on possible cures. We should focus on both cure and prevention mainly vaccination.


Possible HIV vaccine

HIV vaccine can be made from HIV viral antigens. Antigens are sugar molecules on the virus that stimulates the body to make antibodies against the virus. Once these antigens are harvested they can be injected into the human body which in return stimulates the body to make antibodies against the virus. Antibodies act by coating the virus and making it sweet for white blood cell that engulf (eat) and destroy them through different mechanisms.

The other vaccine could be made from live attenuated virus. Attenuated virus is a weakened virus that is incapable of causing disease but has antigenicity (capable of causing the body to produce antibodies). In as much as it is very promising, nobody is willing to risk. The virus might wake up angry and cause full blown AIDS. Nobody wants this.

Possible cures for HIV/AIDS

Other HIV drugs have failed to cure. Maybe the answer lies on virus receptors on CD4+ T cells. If we can block the receptors by any means, this can pave a way to cure.

Drugs that completely block CCR5 receptors are very promising in in cure because they block entry of virus into CD4+ T cells which is the only place in the body that the virus can replicate. There are drugs developed that block the receptors but still has not been able to cure. An example is maraviroc (selzentry). Maybe increase in dosage could cover all the entry points and eventually all the viruses would die. As we said the already infected cell die to release the viruses. The main problem with increase in dosage would be that the patient would die due to poisoning. All medicines are poisons but not all poisons are medicines.

What if we drained the HIV patient off all the blood and transfused them with new uninfected blood. Well, this looks like a great idea but the problem is there viruses in other body fluids. These virus will attack the new blood. This takes us back to our first choice, blocking HIV receptors.

If we introduce mutations to genes coding for chemokine receptor 5 (CCR5) which is where HIV attaches before getting into the cell. When there is a mutation for this gene, the CCR5 protein formed has a deformed structure that cannot be attacked by HIV. People with mutations for CCR5 gene are resistant to HIV. They just can’t get infected no matter how many viruses are loaded into their bodies.

The method of introducing mutations may lead to other problems like cancer and collateral damage of other genes. This is not what we want

The next best option will be transplanting a HIV patient with bone marrow stem cells from a donor with mutations for CCR5 gene. This actually has happened but it was accidental. The Berlin patient had leukemia and AIDS. On getting stem cell donation from donor that had CCR5 Gene mutation, the patient was cured of leukemia and AIDS. Lucky patient

Therefore, in summary cure for HIV/AIDS can be found in bone marrow transplant. At least this has worked once. Gene therapy also stands as another potential cure. Mutations for CCR5 gene can be introduced or gene replaced with a mutant one.

As we work on this, practise preventive measures as they also work. For those infected please continue taking your medication without defaulting. HIV medication require 100% compliance.

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Dr Mathu

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