Thursday, July 11, 2002

Cure for HIV?

Over at Mark Shea’s Blog he talks about an article that says that some researchers claim to have a cure in 5 years. He also speaks about a friend of his who said this would never happen. I have to agree with his friend. I’m a PhD candidate in Microbiology/Immunology (which includes studies in Virology) and I’m also what you would call a “gene jockey” (i.e.: molecular biologist). In the history of man, there has only been one virus that has ever been eradicated (that being smallpox), and smallpox ain’t HIV folks. Smallpox was easy to target and eliminate because it did not employ the immune evasion techniques that are the hallmark of HIV. It had stable epitopes (i.e.: targets) on the surface, which allowed for antibody production, making a vaccine highly effective. HIV has a penchant for changing the epitopes that are exposed on its surface (thanks to the inefficiency in the reverse transcriptase, which inserts mutations through the original sequence upon replication), making an antibody vaccine (which has been proposed) virtually impossible.

Do I hope they can do it? Yes.

Do I think they can do it? No.

My PhD revolves around the studying of a sexually transmitted disease, gonorrhoeae. There is also no vaccine for gonorrhea, and people always ask me when such a vaccine will be developed. I tell them that we already have the means to eradicate this disease and it’s 100% effective. They’re stunned when I say this, and then they ask me how this is possible.

My reply? Abstinence followed by marriage followed by monogamy.

Sometimes the hardest things to implement are the things that just make too much sense.

But you know what? HIV can be eradicated the same way nowadays. At least in the United States of America.

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