Since the dawn of AIDS, a small percentage of folks have gotten HIV without getting sick. They don’t lose CD4 cells, don’t get infections, don’t need meds—often for as long as ten years or more. Pinpointing the reasons could pay off big time for HIV treatment and vaccine development.
A major study is casting a wider net to achieve that goal. Since 1993, Bruce Walker, MD; Florencia Pereyra, MD; and others at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital have examined some 200 people: Half are “viremic controllers,” with viral loads below 2,000 for at least seven years, and half are “elite controllers,” with virus below 50 for that same period. Now, the researchers have opened enrollment to those who’ve controlled HIV off meds for as little as one year, rather then seven.
Why one-year controllers? Pereyra says the researchers think “the mechanism that keeps people from getting sick is present from early on [in HIV infection].” Walker adds that the mystery element probably involves “some genetic determinants we haven’t been measuring yet.” To peer further into controllers’ genes, he says, “We’re marrying the human genome project with immunology.” For more info: www.mgh.harvard.edu/aids/hiv_elite_controllers.asp or contact Rachel Rosenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org; 617.726.5536.