Thiruvananthapuram

Discoverer bids to demystify HIV

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Robert C. Gallo says there can be no perfect HIV vaccine as there are basic immunological challenges of HIV being a retrovirus.

A total cure for HIV — in the sense that the virus can be removed from every last latently infected cell — is a fantasy, but it is possible that science can reach a point where an HIV-infected person will no longer need therapy. But we are not there yet, co-discoverer of HIV and Director of the Global Virus Network Robert C. Gallo has said.

On Friday, students of Government Medical College here sat in awe as the eminent virologist took them through the scintillating scientific journey which led him to the discovery of the first human retrovirus, HTLV-1 and later, the HIV.

He was delivering the silver jubilee oration on ‘HIV-AIDS: the story of basic science advances and its impact on medical research and policy.’

Dr. Gallo said he disagreed with World Health Organisation chief Margaret Chan that Ebola was the worst virus outbreak of the times. “Ebola will disappear soon, even though we will have to be prepared for more cases. The science of Ebola is not difficult and at present, there are at least 12 vaccines against Ebola, of which three or four are extremely promising. All it needs is more money and infrastructure for research,” he said.

HIV continued to be a major issue in the U.S., even though through persistent testing, scientists had managed to diminish the epidemic spread of the virus. According to the Centres for Disease Control, 20 per cent of the HIV-infected in the U.S. still did not know that they were infected.

Dr. Gallo said though there were HIV vaccine candidates, there could be no perfect vaccine because there were very fundamental immunological challenges of HIV being a retrovirus. HIV integrated so fast into the cell of an individual that the immune system had no time for virus recall to produce antibodies. In a large HIV vaccine study, the US Army RV144 Thailand trial, modest levels of antibody protection could be achieved, but the antibodies were not long-lasting.

“We could try and boost the levels of antibody again and again as they go below the protective levels, but it is a double-edged sword because constant antibody boosting leads to the production of more T cells, the target cells which HIV loves. The challenge of HIV/AIDS vaccine formulation will remain till we solve the fundamental problem of making the antibodies last longer, without activating more target cells,” Dr. Gallo said.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 9:47:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/discoverer-bids-to-demystify-hiv/article6577874.ece

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