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HIV research breakthroughs in 2016

By Kizito Lubano | January 11th 2017
Professor Aggrey Omu Anzala Founding member of Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative (KAVI) (right) and Research scientist Robert Lang'at during a past interview with the Standard on the HIV Aids Vaccine at his office. PHOTO: FILE

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), is a sexually transmitted virus that has infected millions around the globe.

Although the virus is manageable with medication, people continue to die from HIV-related complications. Each year, we come a little closer to an eventual cure; here’s what research taught us about HIV in 2016.

Removing HIV From Human DNA: Genetic editing is at the forefront of many medical advancements, including in HIV research. In a study published in March, researchers from Temple University succeeded in using a gene editing technique to effectively edit out and eliminate the HIV virus from DNA in human cells.

What’s more, unlike past attempts to remove HIV from human DNA, this current study shows that edited cells are not susceptible to becoming reinfected again.

The finding shows the effectiveness of gene editing tools on HIV, and suggest that one day these tools may even lead to a cure.

First vaccine against virus goes to trial in South Africa: While a cure for HIV would be amazing, finding a vaccine to protect against the virus is also important. In July, trials of what may be the first HIV vaccine started in South Africa, an area of the world with the highest HIV infection rate, CNN reported.

The trial, called HVTN 702, will run over the course of three years in South Africa, with 5,400 people across four sites receiving the experimental drug.

Further improving antiviral drugs: In a study published in August, scientists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge and University College London made an important discovery. They found an essential feature of the HIV virus that it uses to infect cells while avoiding detection by the immune system. Using this knowledge may enable them develop more effective drug treatments to control the virus. Currently, drugs used to treat HIV - known as antiretroviral treatment (ART), work by keeping the level of HIV low and allowing your immune system to stay strong.

We look forward to more discoveries in this crucial field in 2017.

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