Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Aids Virus Survivors Give Scientists `a Ray of Hope'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Aids Virus Survivors Give Scientists `a Ray of Hope'

Article excerpt

Studies of people who are healthy despite carrying the AIDS virus for many years are providing "a ray of hope" that infection is not always a death sentence, a researcher said Tuesday at the 10th International Conference on AIDS.

Perhaps 5 percent of people with HIV, the AIDS virus, show no signs of damage despite 12 or more years of infection. Just how these people stay well while others fall sick has emerged as one of the hottest areas of AIDS study.

Scientists are turning to them for new clues as searches for potential medicines and vaccines have repeatedly ended in disappointment. Researchers hope they can learn what these people's bodies are doing to thwart the virus and essentially bottle it for those less fortunate.

"The long-term survivors, although rare, provide a ray of hope to affected patients and the research community that it is possible to coexist with HIV without harm," said Dr. David Ho, head of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York City.

No one knows whether these people will manage to hold HIV in check for the rest of their lives. Still, Ho's study of nine men and one woman infected for between 12 and 15 years suggests powerful internal defenses that show no sign of losing their punch.

Ho presented his findings at the International Conference on AIDS, where discussion of long-term survivors has been a frequent topic.

Studying long-term survivors "has enormous potential," said Dr. William Paul, director of the U.S. Office of AIDS Research. "This will be critical in laying out for us what we want to achieve."

Ho's patients shared no identifiable genetic similarities. They caught their infections in various ways. The only obvious thing they share is a positive attitude toward their infection.

All carried extremely low levels of virus in their bloodstreams, although the virus continued to reproduce. Discovering why is a principal goal of the current research.

The AIDS virus does its damage by infecting and eventually killing a variety of crucial white blood cells called CD4 cells, which help regulate the immune system. …

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