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Issue No. 41 | October 1, 2010

News and Features

NIH Scientists Find More Health Benefits from Starting HIV Treatment Early

“HIV-infected individuals who begin antiretroviral therapy (ART) soon after acquiring the virus may have stronger immune responses to other pathogens than HIV-infected individuals who begin ART later, a new study from the National Institutes of Health has found. This finding suggests that early initiation of ART may prevent irreversible immune system damage and adds to the body of evidence showing significant health benefits from early ART.

“Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of NIH, measured the quantity and qualities of B cells in blood samples taken from three groups of study volunteers: men who had been infected with HIV for fewer than 6 months; men who had been infected with HIV for 6 months or more (often for several years); and men who were not infected with HIV. The HIV-infected men began taking ART for the first time once they entered the study. …

“The scientists observed that early treatment restored resting memory B cells to the same level as that in HIV-uninfected men, but late treatment did not. ... Also, early ART reduced the proportion of immature B cells to the same level as that in HIV-uninfected men, but late treatment did not. In addition, after one year, the late-treatment group had a significantly greater proportion of so-called exhausted B cells—those that have shut themselves off and resist doing their usual pathogen-fighting activities—compared with the other two groups of participants.

“To learn how these differences affected immune system responses to new infections, the research team examined how the two groups of HIV-infected men responded to influenza vaccination at the start of the study and one year after beginning treatment. … [The findings suggest] that starting ART early in the course of HIV infection enables individuals to fight off other pathogens better than if they start ART later, when the infection has become chronic.”

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NIH Scientists Researching HIV Vaccine Develop Method for Preserving Virus Fragment Shape

“A strategy for designing … [an HIV] vaccine involves identifying the key viral surface structures, snipping them off and developing a method to present these fragments to the immune system. When some parts of the surface of HIV are removed, however, they change shape such that antibodies no longer recognize and bind to them. A research team led by investigators at the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has developed a strategy to overcome this problem. The strategy has implications for scientists designing vaccines for HIV/AIDS as well as for other viral diseases.
“The team has fashioned a technique for extracting an antibody-recognizable portion of the surface of a virus and placing this surface fragment, known as an epitope, into a computer-designed protein scaffold. The scaffold locks the epitope in the shape recognized by the immune system. … 
“The NIAID researchers are continuing to refine this technique and apply it to the design of vaccines for HIV/AIDS as well as other infectious diseases.”

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NIAID to Hold Public Meeting to Examine Restructuring of HIV/AIDS Clinical Trial Networks

“The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will host a public meeting on Tuesday, October 26, 2010, in Arlington, Va., to examine the future of the Institute’s HIV/AIDS clinical trial networks. …

“NIAID aims to broaden the scope of the networks to include clinical research on other major infectious diseases that frequently are seen in people with or at risk for HIV infection, including tuberculosis and hepatitis. At the meeting, NIAID officials and their NIH collaborating partners will present key expectations for the future networks with a focus on potential changes in network structure, research priorities, collaborative opportunities and information about the upcoming application process. ...

“The meeting will be held from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, 1700 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, Va. 22202. To register for the meeting, please visit the NIAID Townhall registration page. The registration form may also be used to submit questions in advance of the meeting.

“Proceedings from the meeting will be videotaped and later posted to the NIAID Web site.”

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