How Close Are We to Curing HIV/AIDS?


[TRACE]In the 90s, we heard about the AIDS
epidemic on every local newscast. We were irrationally afraid of toilet seats,
pay phones, even kissing people; sex became scary. And while we don’t see those Public Service
Announcements anymore… AIDS hasn’t gone away. It’s still a global epidemic. To date, over 39 Million people have died
of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome commonly known as AIDS. Current drug therapies mean it’s now possible
to live a normal life span with HIV, but that’s expensive and not a long term solution. What we really need is an HIV vaccine and
a cure. So, how close are we? [TRACE] Only one person has ever been cured
of HIV56 – Timothy Ray Brown. In 2007, he was undergoing cancer treatment
and was cured of the HIV virus. Researchers still don’t understand exactly
why or how. [DR MARGOLIS] The things that he went through
to cure his cancer also ended up curing his HIV and the treatment was rather dreadful
and had many terrible side affects and had an expected fatality rate of around 70%. [TRACE] After fighting this virus for nearly
40 years, with only one person cured, (which was a fluke we don’t completely understand,
and can’t replicate, in which it will probably kill you) we’ve still learned a lot. Once scientists figured out how the virus
worked, they needed to figure out how then, to eradicate it. . But that was easier said than done. You see, the virus’s RNA invades your cells
and changes your DNA. So the challenge was finding a drug that could
kill HIV, but not your own cells. By 1996, they were able to make advances in
antiretroviral combination therapy meaning that HIV was no longer a death sentence. Like a gang of defensemen dragging down a
football player, the drugs work together to stop HIV in it’s tracks. After killing millions of men and women, this
cocktail let people live relatively normal lives. Doctors could then take the time to look for
a cure. [DR GREENE] There’s certainly an AIDS epidemic
that continues. In fact, it is pandemic in proportions throughout
the world [DR THUMBI] HIV/AIDS is probably the most
serious public health crisis we’ve had in Sub-Saharan Africa, in Africa, in the world
in fact, since the beginning of time. In terms of the numbers of people infected
and the scope and the socio-economic impact of the problem. [TRACE] To fix the AIDS epidemic, we need
a vaccine and a cure. A vaccine to stop the HIV virus from spreading
and a cure for the people who already are infected. [DR THUMBI] The most significant problem that
we face in making a vaccine against HIV is the genetic variability. Viruses that look similar but are not alike,
And so in making a vaccine, we have to make a vaccine that would be able to protect against
all the strains of HIV that exist in the body, but also that exist throughout the world. [TRACE] This is why it’s so difficult to
get rid of HIV once it infects your body. Remember, the virus’s RNA invades your cells
and changes your DNA. The anti-retroviral stops it, but doesn’t
kill it. [DR MARGOLIS] In the future, treatments might
get even better or more long-lasting, where one could have an injection or an implant
of drugs that lasted for months or even a year. [TRACE] There are vaccination trials going
on now with some success. But if you’ve followed science news, you
might have made this connection already… this virus hiding in our DNA, and we’ve
got a new DNA-editing technique CRISPR-cas9. Why don’t we just use that? CRISPR-cas9 uses a protein called cas9 to
cut DNA wherever it’s programmed to. It’s part of our own cell’s internal immune
systems! Cas9 could be told to search for a specific
sequence, like a bit of HIV… If it finds the virus, the cas9 could cut
the HIV out of the cell, and let the DNA heal itself. This can be done today…in the lab. We can’t yet do it in humans… Drugs to control the virus are still the best
way to live a semi-normal life. [DR GREENE] I can’t say how many years for
a cure, i can tell you there are many many people throughout the world that are working
hard on new cutting edge technologies to find a cure. [DR THUMBI] I don’t think we are close, to
be honest, to a cure, but we are making progress, and it’s my firm belief that we should continue
to do research, and hopefully we’ll have some scientific discoveries in the future that
will lead us to a cure. [TRACE] Look, we’ve come a long way, but
we’re not there yet. The research into the fight against AIDS has
taught us so much about how our body functions it’s taught us a lot about other diseases
as well, like Hepatitis C or Zika. And every year there are new breakthroughs
in the fight against HIV. There are scientists around the world working
on this problem day-in and day-out. So, how close are we to curing HIV and AIDS? A cure could be a while or it could be tomorrow… Take a second and subscribe to How Close Are
We to help illuminate humanity’s path to other major scientific discoveries. Did you know gay men are often turned away
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