World AIDS Day is celebrated on December 1st every year to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and to demonstrate international solidarity in the face of the pandemic. The WHO’s focus for the 2013 campaign is improving access to prevention, treatment, and care services for adolescents (10-19 years), a group that continues to be vulnerable despite efforts so far. There is no cure for HIV infection. However, effective treatment with antiretroviral drugs can control the virus so that people with HIV can enjoy healthy and productive lives.
In honor of World AIDS Day, we asked some PeerJ Academic Editors, working in this field, if they could tell us a little bit about their work.
Dr. Mark Wainberg is the Director of the McGill AIDS Centre and a Professor of Medicine and of Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec Canada. Past President of the International AIDS Society and of the Canadian Association for HIV Research, he is well known for his initial identification of 3TC [lamivudine—brand names Zeffix, Heptovir, Epivir, and Epivir-HBV] as an anti-viral drug, in 1989. He told us about his major research activities on HIV.
“Our research team has long been interested in the topic of HIV drug resistance and the mechanisms whereby drug resistance can occur. We have helped to define the conditions under which certain anti-HIV drugs should no longer be used in therapy because of drug resistance mutations, and we are able to make recommendations to clinicians in regard to the use of compounds that will remain effective. We have also established how some drug resistance mutations in the reverse transcriptase and integrase genes of HIV may severely compromise viral replicative capacity as well as the activity of these enzymes that are targeted by relevant drugs. We hope to further develop this concept as a component of HIV curative strategies.”
Dr. Steffanie Strathdee is the Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences, Harold Simon Professor and Chief of the Division of Global Public Health in the Department of Medicine at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Strathdee is an infectious disease epidemiologist who has spent the last two decades focusing on HIV prevention in underserved, marginalized populations in developed and developing countries. She told us about her hopes and motivations.
“In the early 1990’s when I was still a PhD student, I lost both my PhD advisor and my best friend to HIV/AIDS within the same year. Through this devastating duo of events, I had what I can only describe as a calling. I pledged my career as an epidemiologist to HIV prevention. My goal is to put myself out of a job. Since these early days, I realized how the real drivers of HIV infection are social, political and economic conditions that our society has created. My current work focuses on developing and evaluating HIV prevention interventions that alter the HIV ‘risk environment’ rather than placing the onus of responsibility for change solely on individuals. I hope that through this approach we may be able to alter not only the risk of HIV infection at the population level, but other diseases that share common risk factors.”
Dr. Zandrea Ambrose is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases of the Department of Medicine, and in the Graduate Program in Molecular Virology and Microbiology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She is the Co-Director of the Imaging Core of the Pittsburgh Center for HIV Protein Interactions. We asked her to comment on her research.
“My laboratory investigates HIV prevention, treatment, and eradication with the use of basic cellular and molecular virology as well as animal models of HIV/AIDS. Since the 1990s, combination antiretroviral therapy to treat HIV-infected individuals has saved millions of lives globally. Unfortunately, HIV drug resistance is still a problem and my lab is studying the emergence and persistence of drug-resistant viruses in the blood and within tissues. These resistant viruses could spread to uninfected partners, impacting treatment and prevention methods. In addition, new drug targets for better therapies are needed and we are investigating novel interactions of HIV with proteins in human cells, which can be exploited for drug development. Although there is no cure for HIV, recent studies have given hope for new treatments to eliminate HIV-infected cells from individuals. My lab also is determining how virus persists in cells and how these cells are distributed throughout the body. While examining the blood is informative, it will not reveal infected cells in other anatomical sites that may not be accessible by some drugs. These studies will guide us in targeting therapies to these tissues for eradication, which can hopefully lead to an HIV cure.”
Dr. Christian Althaus is a SNSF [Swiss National Science Foundation] Ambizione Research Fellow at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern, Switzerland. He shared his thoughts on HIV with us.
"Our understanding of HIV infections has changed dramatically during the last decade. The success of combination antiretroviral therapy offers new opportunities to fight the disease, not only at the level of infected patients, but also at the population level as a whole. Nevertheless, many questions remain open, such as to what level antiretroviral therapy can reduce transmission of HIV or which factors determine the outcome of an infection. Observational studies of patients cohorts, virological and experimental experiments as well as mathematical modeling need to act in concert to solve those remaining issues."
We are grateful to our Academic Editors for their participation in this post, and we encourage you to support World AIDS Day.
Dont forget that from now until end-2013, we are running a special offer for free PeerJ Publications.