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Medicine Australia Science

Australian Scientists Discover Potential Aids Cure 232

Posted by samzenpus
from the saving-lives dept.
smi.james.th writes "Several sites report that Australian researcher David Harrich and his team have potentially discovered a way to stop HIV becoming AIDS and ultimately cure the disease. From the article: 'What we've actually done is taken a normal virus protein that the virus needs to grow, and we've changed this protein, so that instead of assisting the virus, it actually impedes virus replication and does it quite strongly.' This could potentially hail one of modern medicine's greatest victories."
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Australian Scientists Discover Potential Aids Cure

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 18, 2013 @02:12AM (#42623355)

    Let us celebrate with a trip to the brothel!

    • by Cryacin (657549) on Friday January 18, 2013 @02:17AM (#42623387)
      Let's all hope for the public's sake that this does not turn out to be another "cure for AIDS", as has been heralded many times over the last decade.

      Besides that, there are plenty of other nasty, nasty diseases that you can catch apart from AIDS, such as Hepatitis C for instance. It would be interesting to see infection rates of other STD's increase if there isn't a fear disease like AIDS out there to promote the use of prophylactics.
      • by kilodelta (843627) on Friday January 18, 2013 @02:34AM (#42623463) Homepage
        This isn't so much a cure but it does arm the body with immune cells that are resistant to infection. That's a big deal. You'd still be HIV positive but the disease would never develop into the syndrome.

        They're basically using elements of regenerative medicine here.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 18, 2013 @02:56AM (#42623589)

          This in no way arms the body with immune cells that are resistant to infection. This is a virostatic agent, that will stop the virus from replicating inside immune cells. But it does not block free virus from infecting new cells.

      • by jkflying (2190798) on Friday January 18, 2013 @02:54AM (#42623579)

        The trouble is that there *have* been a number of cures/vaccines, but HIV mutates so quickly that they were quickly rendered ineffective. HIV can differ significantly even between somebody and the person they were infected by, all depending on how their immune system responds to the infection and what drugs they are given.

        • by mrbluze (1034940) on Friday January 18, 2013 @04:09AM (#42623817) Journal

          The trouble is that there *have* been a number of cures/vaccines, but HIV mutates so quickly that they were quickly rendered ineffective. HIV can differ significantly even between somebody and the person they were infected by, all depending on how their immune system responds to the infection and what drugs they are given.

          The difference here is that the treatment targets several stages of the HIV "life-cycle". In micribiology targeting a single point of weakness of an organism is relatively quickly circumvented, but targeting many points of weakness has a much more devastating effect.

      • by Rockoon (1252108)
        As soon as I saw the word 'cure' I knew this was hyped up, because in all of mans history we have never once found a cure for any virus, ever.

        We do 3 things with regards to viruses:

        1) Vaccination - Keep you from getting it to begin with. 2) Elimination - If nobody gets it for a long enough period of time, it (mostly) disappears.
        3) Symptom management - we can't cure you of the virus, but we can reduce the symptoms until (if/when) your body figures out how to deal with it itself.

        Never have we been able
        • by tragedy (27079)

          As soon as I saw the word 'cure' I knew this was hyped up, because in all of mans history we have never once found a cure for any virus, ever.

          There actually is that one guy they cured HIV/AIDs in while fixing his cancer. Considering what his health must be like now, he would have been better off on long-term treatments if they hadn't also needed to do something about the cancer. It's also my understanding that some retroviruses can be weakened with anti-retrovirals to the point that the immune system can clean them out of the system. Generally those are infections that are generally defeated by the immune system in the end anyway, of course.

    • Yeah! 'cos taking antiviral drugs is usually a lot of fun!
  • I might be slightly paranoid and I hope I am wrong, but why would big pharmacy want to produce this? They have a choice between selling someone a whole life really expensive medicines (well not to make, but to buy) or cure him... I am just going to assume that this method will be deemed 'unsafe'.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 18, 2013 @02:24AM (#42623429)

      A big contributing factor toward why Australia's medical research is so strong at an international scale is the fact it's often academic and/or ultimately government funded.

      The Australian government doesn't care about big pharma (which doesn't have an especially large presence in AU, relatively speaking) making profits, it cares about better health care for it's people, so they live longer, work longer, and pay more taxes.

      • by santax (1541065)
        OK, thanks for clearing that up. (can't believe I say thanks to an AC ;) )
      • by mjwx (966435) on Friday January 18, 2013 @03:59AM (#42623785)

        A big contributing factor toward why Australia's medical research is so strong at an international scale is the fact it's often academic and/or ultimately government funded.

        The Australian government doesn't care about big pharma (which doesn't have an especially large presence in AU, relatively speaking) making profits, it cares about better health care for it's people, so they live longer, work longer, and pay more taxes.

        Big Pharma are around, I used to work next to the Pfizer factory in Perth but they have three huge hindrances in Australia.

        1. They aren't allowed to advertise prescription medicine.
        2. They aren't allowed to offer payola to doctors for using their drugs. Both the doctor and the company get busted if they get caught.
        3. Generics are readily available. Instead of buying Panadol (Tylanol) I can get Brand X paracetamol/codeine which is the same recipe but 1/4 the price. The same is true for most prescription drugs.

        • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday January 18, 2013 @04:21AM (#42623835) Journal

          1. They aren't allowed to advertise prescription medicine.
          2. They aren't allowed to offer payola to doctors for using their drugs. Both the doctor and the company get busted if they get caught.

          You've just described the developed world... except for the USA and New Zealand.
          Everyone else has strong limitations on direct-to-consumer-advertising, or an outright ban.

          3. Generics are readily available. Instead of buying Panadol (Tylanol) I can get Brand X paracetamol/codeine which is the same recipe but 1/4 the price. The same is true for most prescription drugs.

          As it turns out, generics aren't necessarily equivalent to the original perscription drug.
          Since it's late, you get the first article I found on Google [medpagetoday.com]
          It's a fair representation of the other articles I've read on the subject.

          The TLDR version is that generics don't always make the same amount of drug available to the patient
          and even if they do, the drug may not be released in the same fashion, leading to early or late peaks of the drug.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Actually AFAIK, in order for a drug to be a generic variant of the originator, it has to be within the specified limits of it's bioavailability. In other words, the generic drug has to be bioequivalent to the originator's, meaning the amount that gets into the blood stream and the peak time need to be nearly the same. Otherwise the drug won't be aproved as a generic drug by FDA, EMA (or any other org.) and one would have to make clinical trials (which as you probably know cost a LOT) in order to be able to

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Please note that this is not in contradiction to TubeSteaks reference:

              Bioavailability of generic versions of epilepsy drugs was generally similar to that of their branded counterparts, but not so much when supposedly bioequivalent products were compared with each other, researchers said.

              So if the generics are epsilon close to the orignal, they may (and arcoding to the article do) differ by 2epsilon from each other...

          • by Anonymous Coward

            All that anti-generic work is funded by pharma companies whos drugs are coming off patent. Bioavailability and pharmacokinetics are obviously important issues for a drug, and many companies spend a long time trying to get these right with modified relase and long acting versions etc, but once they come off patent all that work has usually been done.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@@@world3...net> on Friday January 18, 2013 @05:03AM (#42623983) Homepage

          Protip: Medicines with the same Product License Number are the same. The number has to be printed on the packaging. If you compare various over-the-counter painkillers, for example, you will find that the cheap own-brand ones, the branded ones, the fast actions ones, the long lasting ones and the premium max strength ones all have the same Product License Number and are in fact exactly the same.

        • I wish so much that companies were not allowed to advertise their prescription medication in the US. There are way too many hypochondriacs with access to WebMD that see a medicine and badger their doctor in to giving it to them. Half the time the advertisement doesn't even say what the medication is for! It expects people to go looking for it. It's completely irresponsible. I would hope if I really needed some sort of medicine that my doctor would tell me. If he doesn't there is always a second opinio
      • by wvmarle (1070040) on Friday January 18, 2013 @04:36AM (#42623885)

        Healthy people do not just pay more taxes (which is a nice side effect, but then far from everyone pays taxes), they cost a lot less in the long run on health care. Which is the main reason many governments try to stop people from smoking, for example. And which is one of the reasons they promote sports and general exercise.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by stymy (1223496)
          Actually, not all of what you said is true. Most of the costs associated with health care are incurred at the end of a person's life, and things like retirement homes, long stays at hospitals, and whatnot cost a fortune in the first world. Tobacco taxes cost the NHS about 5 billion pounds a year (source:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8086142.stm), while tobacco taxes bring in over 12 billion pounds a year (source:http://www.the-tma.org.uk/tma-publications-research/facts-figures/tax-revenue-from-tobacco/)
          • by clickety6 (141178)
            I'm not sure it's so clear cut. Tobacco taxes bring in 12 billion pounds and smoking costs the NHS 5 billion pounds but you also need to factor in the loss of revenue due to loss productivity from smoking. In the US $96 Billion dollars were spent on tobacco-related healthcare costs in the United States from 2000 to 2004.but tobacco-related health costs and productivity loss for that period in the United States totaled $193 Billion. If the ratios were similar in the UK, it would mean that the tax income
            • by tragedy (27079)

              A lot of smokers do seem to spend a good 20%-30% percent of their workday on smoke breaks, not to mention the loss of attention after the high wears off and they start to get antsy for their next fix. Of course, maybe the nicotine rush increases their productivity for a short burst and makes up for it, but I'm not so sure it doesn't just return them back to baseline. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they may actually still be thinking about their work and talking about it with co-workers as they clust

            • by Zeromous (668365)

              And you've highlighted the real reason Governments want to stop its citizens from not smoking.

              Of course, any argument that smokers cost more is disingenuous. That revenue, is no longer needed to support them once they are dead. So basically government wants rich people to stop smoking, but the poor could hang for all they care.

    • by mandginguero (1435161) on Friday January 18, 2013 @02:25AM (#42623433)

      It doesn't matter if it isn't approved. If there is a mechanism published in the science literature to treat the disease, someone will be able to experiment with it in another country. Think about some of the African/Asian countries who have said to hell with Western patents on drug formulas and make their own. If a country can produce these compounds then they most likely have the means to run clinical trials.

      • by santax (1541065)
        That is actually a very valid point.
      • Yes, exactly. For one thing, here in South Africa, where the government sponsors a lot of AIDS medication, if there was a cure it would save a heck of a lot of money to them, so they would probably even fund production of a cure if it was proved to be viable.
    • by reverseengineer (580922) on Friday January 18, 2013 @03:08AM (#42623625)

      This would be a gene therapy treatment- using viral vector to express a mutant protein in your cells. Last year, the European Medicines Agency approved a gene therapy treatment for the first time (no approvals in the US currently). Glybera is indicated for lipoprotein lipase deficiency, a rare disorder that affects fatty acid metabolism. Glybera uses a viral vector to deliver a working copy of the LPL gene to cells; this proposed AIDS treatment would deliver a nonworking copy of TAT to infected cells in a similar fashion. I bring up Glybera for comparison purposes because it is expected to cost over 1 million dollars a patient for a course of treatment. Eventually, gene therapy may become such a routine way of creating treatments that costs will be very low. That is not the present situation.

      • by tibit (1762298)

        Wow, USD 1M per patient? I know that there are some costs to be recouped, but man, you could probably make it way cheaper by giving a grant to some university lab somewhere to make the damn thing. Grad students and some equipment are way cheaper than that, especially if there would be dozens of patients to treat.

    • by jkflying (2190798)

      This is still something which would need regular 'top-up' doses, because it doesn't actually kill the virus but simply prevents it from affecting the immune system by making the immune cells (the HIV's target) inhospitable for the virus to live in. The trouble is that if HIV is able to infect even a single cell before the treatment is given, it actually splices its entire genome somewhere into the DNA of that cell, and at any random time some hormone or environmental factor might cause that section of the D

      • by tibit (1762298)

        The second phase of the treatment, then, would be another virus that's engineered to detect whether a cell is infected, and blow it to pieces if it is. The engineering part is admittedly a bit hard :)

      • Nevertheless, despite the latent DNA in cells, people have been completely cured of HIV.

        Perhaps there are drugs which reverse latency and "flag" infected cells to be killed?

        I think, in the case of tuberculosis, a drug which does that would shorten treatment. The TB mycobacterium, if I remember right, goes dormant with not much metabolic activity, hence why you must have a months-long treatment regimen for a cure. If you can force the TB to "wake up", then you can kill it off quicker with other drugs and s

    • by sFurbo (1361249)

      They have a choice between selling someone a whole life really expensive medicines (well not to make, but to buy) or cure him.

      No, medicine company A have the choice between becoming filthy rich by producing a more efficient AIDS medicine, or let medicine company B keep their revenue. The obvious choice should be clear.

    • why would big pharmacy want to produce this?

      PR.

      Here at Pharmacom, we had a decision to make - we could either treat the disease, or cure it. We could have made a lot more money treating the disease, but we decided to make the world a better place instead.

      And then, only release treatments for the other 4600 diseases they have cures for, so they can seem like they really are a good company*.

      *Good company = one that makes money.

      • by santax (1541065)
        Well, so far their pr move has been modding me down to troll, while anyone can see I was not trolling. Those moderations are not from regular slashdot folks lol, who might disagree, but still are smart enough to see that my concern isn't an attempt to troll. Kind of scary to be honest.
      • Probably vaccine development, antibiotic development, and curable disease drug development ought to be run BY the people FOR the people. I.e., Government support of the research and development.

        It would also lessen the motivation to pass off bad drugs onto the people for profit.

        It's pretty insane that the US has a $600B military budget, when less than 10k people in the US die a year from hostile military action of any sort, yet 100k-ish US-ians die every year from antibiotic-resistant bugs. Can we have $1

  • by Megahard (1053072) on Friday January 18, 2013 @02:23AM (#42623423)

    Just starting animal trials. Too early to know if it's really going to work.

    • by mrbluze (1034940) on Friday January 18, 2013 @04:18AM (#42623831) Journal

      Just starting animal trials. Too early to know if it's really going to work.

      The preliminary results of the animal trials are startlingly good, and in an interview the chief researcher said he believes the approval cycle will be short (ie: less than 5 years) because of the probability that this therapy will pass safety trials etc. We'll have to wait and see of course.

  • TFS has a quote that refers to changing an AIDS virus protein. How is that accomplished?

    Thanks for any insights.

    • by reverseengineer (580922) on Friday January 18, 2013 @03:29AM (#42623699)

      Gene therapy, in short. They would infect you with a virus (probably a retrovirus, ironically enough) that carries a mutant copy of the HIV-1 Tat gene. Normal Tat is a gene that drastically increases HIV production. HIV hijacks the machinery of human T-cells to make copies of its own genes. The protein that Tat codes for has a nasty trick- it binds to transcription factors in your cells and and increases their output- more HIV production, which includes more Tat production, which causes more HIV production, and the disease explosively progresses. It is thought that reaching a critical mass of Tat is a key element in the transition from HIV infection to AIDS. But if you had a mutant Tat that counteracted this activity, HIV production would only occur at a baseline rate- you'd never get that Tat-HIV-Tat positive feedback.

      Here's the article abstract [liebertpub.com] which has some of the technical details. MLV is the murine (mouse) leukemia virus.

      • Thanks for the info, reverseengineer. I am just a layman reader of textbooks on the subject. This sounds like protein(s) that are associated with some cancers that have a mutation for overtranscribing something that helps the cancer grow.

        The retrovirus sounds a little more random than I thought would be done. Wouldn't some HIV have to incorporate the retrovirus into their own RNA to produce the modified protein which would then affect further transcription? What about all the HIV in the body that doesn't in

        • by reverseengineer (580922) on Friday January 18, 2013 @05:51AM (#42624127)

          I can't say for certain without full access to the paper, but based on the use of a retroviral vector and Dr. Harrich's comments in the video interview, I think the idea would be to infect a population of your hematopoietic stem cells with retroviruses that carry the Nullbasic (mutant copy of Tat) gene. That procedure would be similar to the autologous HSC transplants used in treatment of some leukemias and lymphomas- but then they'd infect the HSCs with the retroviral vector before they put them back in you.

          Upon successful infection, the RNA genome of the vector is converted via reverse transcriptase to a DNA sequence. The vector will also produce some enzymes that will integrate the Nullbasic-DNA gene into the DNA genome of your stem cells. If successful, those cells will now produce Nullbasic protein. Since they are stem cells, they will produce Nullbasic-positive blood cells, some of which will be the CD4+ T-cells that HIV infects.

          HIV will still infect these cells, inject its RNA genome into the cell, which will be converted to DNA, integrated into the host cell genome, transcribed back to RNA, then translated to viral proteins by the cell's machinery. However, the host cell also makes Nullbasic protein, which act like HIV's Tat, and will interact with the same enzymes, transcription factors, etc., but instead of boosting their functions, it will inhibit them. In theory, HIV would reproduce so slowly in your population of Nullbasic+ T-cells that it simply wouldn't be a disease- the population would never fall to the point of causing immunodeficiency.

          The phrase, "in theory" could also apply to most of the other steps I outlined above, of course.

  • There have been a few announcements about a "cure." I hope one of them sticks. This is another interesting finding using a vaccine [thestar.com].

  • and ultimately cure the disease.

    For a treatment to be a cure it has to eliminate the virus from your system, and what is described in the summary doesn't seem to be that.

    So I did the unthinkable and actually read the TFA (I know, I can't believe it myself). To the credit of the summary in it the reporter does claim that it's a cure. However just a couple of paragraphs over a scientist in the team is quoted as saying:

    "You would still be infected with HIV, it's not a cure for the virus, but the virus would stay latent, it wouldn't wake up,

    • It's a cure for AIDs, not a cure for HIV. AIDS is a disease that involves an immune deficiency, the virus is just the precursor to that. If they prevent the virus from being able to destroy your immune system, then they have effectively cured you of AIDs, but not HIV. Since AIDs is what kills you, not HIV, this is a huge step forward if it pans out.

  • I believe this is cure for AIDS #3 on slashdot. Cures for cancer are at about 14. Cures for aging in general, at least 4. I think solar panels are at about 1000% efficiency too if you add up all the stories.
    • I believe this is cure for AIDS #3 on slashdot. Cures for cancer are at about 14. Cures for aging in general, at least 4. I think solar panels are at about 1000% efficiency too if you add up all the stories.

      You get a mutated AIDs/Cancer 50 petawatt laser cannon? Sounds awesome.

  • Ok, anything that stops AIDS is great, don't get me wrong. I really do hope this works. But, can a person undergoing this therapy spread HIV? My guess is it is a lot less likely but still possible but that is an amateur, uneducated guess.

    If so, what happens when the world is no longer afraid of AIDS but this medicine is still patented. No doubt it will be extended as many times as possible. Maybe they will even find a way to patent it in parts, staggered over time too.

    Don't get me wrong, free love for all

  • I've been hearing about groundbreaking AIDS cures for at least 20 years. Sometimes, they're bold enough to tell us the production cure is a mere 5 years down the road. Meanwhile the researchers get flooded with investment dollars and we slowly forget about the claims. Same thing with cancer cures.

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