Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Well, at least one word in this week's title isn't an acronym or abbreviation.

At any rate, this posting is about a very cool episode of This Week in Virology (TWIV); in particular it is about HIV and some recent discoveries.  From what I could gather from this episode...

  • HIV is a retrovirus, meaning that it becomes part of the host's DNA when it infects them.
  • Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART) can essentially halt the spread of HIV.
  • It appears that HIV can infect bone marrow cells that are stem cell like in that they divide to replenish  blood related cell types.
  • When a patient goes off HAART, the progenitor cells may be able to start up the infection again as they continually regenerate the host's blood cells.
One of the really interesting things about this episode was the notion that, if a way could be found to cause the virus to replicate while stopping it from spreading, it could be eliminated from the patient's system.  It already appears to be possible to halt the spread of the virus using HAART, so the piece that remains is something to make the virus more active in the remaining cells.

Another interesting piece of information from the show was the story about an HIV patient who required a bone marrow transplant to treat cancer that they had developed.  Part of the treatment for this was to irradiate the patient to kill off their bone marrow cells, then implant new bone marrow cells from a donor.  In this case, it was a person who was naturally immune to HIV/AIDS.  After the transplant, the patient went off HAART, but their HIV infection did not come back.

One has to take these advances with a grain of salt since a) my understanding of the ideas presented is at best flawed and b) just because it is possible or even likely that some idea will work, it doesn't mean that it actually will work when it is used.

Nevertheless, I like stories like this because they demonstrate creativity and cooperation used in a positive way.  After listening to a week of regular news I can end up thinking the world is going to end tomorrow, whereas stories like this give me reason to be optimistic.

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