The epidemic of HIV has been a scourge around the world for decades. Since the 1980s, there have been many advancements in treatment options. With treatment, the virus is no longer a death sentence. However, the majority of HIV sufferers around the world have not been able to access these expensive, life-changing medications. We have only just reached the milestone where half of the people with HIV around the world are receiving treatment. The medications are expensive, must be taken for life, and often come with unpleasant side effects. The treatments have also always fallen short of a cure. Recently, we have taken a step closer to an eventual cure for this horrific virus.
The scientists have an unlikely ally in this latest breakthrough: cows. Researchers have long been stumped as to why humans with the virus are unable to create broadly neutralizing antibodies. These antibodies could help the body fight off the infection. After injecting cows with HIV immunogens, scientists were excited to see a rapid proliferation of these antibodies. By isolating and studying these antibodies in cows, scientists hope to be able to find answers. They also speculate about eventually using these cow antibodies to create an HIV vaccine for humans. They published their findings in the journal Nature and they’ve already applied for a patent. In addition to being a huge breakthrough for HIV research, STAT is speculating that cows could in fact become “the vaccine factories of the future.”
This research is very hopeful and promising. In the meantime, though, the focus is still on providing affordable treatment to the maximum number possible. It’s also important that other research continues and that other potential treatment avenues continue to be explored. There is some fear that that progress made during the terms of the last five presidents will be undone during President Trump’s time in office. It’s particularly important that more advances are made to ultimately make the drugs more affordable. Kenya just became the first African country to have a generic first-line treatment option available. Advances are also needed in preventative treatments, like the PrEP Pills being distributed by Walgreens. It’s also vital that steps continue to be made to increase education about HIV and AIDS, in the hopes of both decreasing stigma for those afflicted and preventing future exposure through practices like safe sex.
The news about the potential HIV vaccine is promising and hopeful, but it’s still early days. It’s unknown what the timeline for the vaccine is but it’s likely at least a few years out.