About 1% of the world’s population is infected with the HIV virus but interestingly, the virus in this population does not progress to AIDS. Researchers are yet to find out why this is the case. This population is referred to as the long-term non-progressors and even though scientists have conducted numerous and extensive studies, they are yet to find out the exact specific technique that makes them survive.
The search for answer may however, come to an end soon after a researcher and faculty member at the University of Buffalo was awarded a five-year, USD 1.9 million grant to conduct further research in this area. The generous grant came from the NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases).
Who is the Man Behind the Study?
The scientist who will be conducting the study is Mark D. Hicar, a research assistant professor of pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The scientist who is an MD and has a PhD in immunology, also works in Buffalo at the Women and Children’s Hospital as a pediatric physician dealing with infectious diseases.
HIV and AIDS studies are no longer popular news in America, mainly because of past research that has successfully resulted in new medicines that have now made AIDS into a manageable chronic disease.
Unfortunately, these drugs are still expensive and still remain inaccessible to many people in the developing world. HIV still remains a global threat with 40-50 million reported active infections globally. Hence the need for continued research for a vaccine.
Hicar will use the grant to continue a study he had already when doing his fellowship. The study looked into a group of 100 antibodies obtained from a set of long-term nonprogressors. In his initial study, the researcher observed that there were targets for antibodies on the surface of the virus that had not been categorized before among the long-term nonprogressors.
He also discovered that long-term nonprogressors are also enhanced for antibodies that target n specifically, the gp41 section of the envelope protein. He observes that these antibodies can make it possible to tell the mechanism in which the HIV virus in some people never becomes AIDS.
Normally, antibodies are supposed to transport bacteria and viruses to the rest of the immune cells. This cells then use up the antibodies. However, the antibodies used in Hicar’s study seem to work in a different way. He admits that he yet to find out exactly how the antibodies work and this is the main aim of his study.
His interest in how antibodies are built, fueled Hicar’s passion in studying the targets of antibodies in infectious diseases.
Now that he has the grant, Hicar plans on studying extensively regular progressors, nonprogressors, as well as people who have recovered while on medication. The aim of his study is to understand whether targeting these sites indeed corresponds with long term non-progression.
This study is exciting because if the scientist is able to identify the real cause of HIV positive people to live healthy without medication, then it will be easier for experts to come up with new medicines besides antiretrovirals and HIV PEP for HIV patients and who knows it may even lead to a vaccine!