Scientific Discovery to Medical Innovation
For more than 20 years, scientists across the globe have attempted to better understand and eradicate human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which infects nearly 3 million people worldwide annually despite extensive research and prevention programs.
HIV’s resultant disease, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), has claimed the lives of tens of millions of people, and 33 million people are living with HIV or AIDS today. People continue to become infected with HIV at an alarming rate, with five new infections every second.
The widespread infection rate underscores the need for a novel approaches and a better grasp of HIV and its inner workings.
Investigators at Children’s Hospital take a multifaceted approach to unraveling the inner workings of HIV in the hope of dismantling the virus’ complex and elusive defense mechanisms. These endeavors focus on preventing infection through a novel vaccine strategy, understanding what happens both inside and outside cells when the virus invades, and the best approach to treating infection in children and adolescents.
Together, these approaches may one day lead to more effective treatments, a cure, or a vaccine for one of the greatest and costliest epidemics.
In This Section
Vaccines are among the most effective ways of preventing disease, and for more than two decades investigators around the world have used traditional approaches to develop a vaccine for HIV. Those traditional approaches have failed because of HIV’s unique ability to hide in cells, mutate, evade detection, and destroy critical immune cells. However, a novel gene transfer approach developed by Philip Johnson, MD, may have broken the HIV vaccine impasse.
T cells often wield the greatest power in fighting infection. But HIV has proven efficient in killing the cells, rendering those with low T-cell counts susceptible to developing AIDS. Terri Finkel, MD, PhD, is investigating the chain of events leading to T-cell activation and specific parts of a cell receptor that may be a key to eliminating the virus.
The standard therapy to prevent HIV from developing into AIDS is not effective for all patients and fails to control some of the neuropsychiatric problems like dementia that nearly half of all patients with AIDS experience. Steven Douglas, MD, is working to develop a novel HIV drug that targets a specific cell receptor to treat these HIV-related cognitive impairments.
Advances in understanding how HIV works and the development of drug therapies have significantly extended the life expectancy of those infected with the virus. The improvement in the quality and length of life for people living with HIV can be attributed to a remarkable collaborative global research effort to conduct clinical studies that will find the best therapies to combat HIV.