Denmark: Possible HIV Cure Soon?
Danish researchers say they are on the brink of curing HIVvia a treatment that seeks out the elusive reservoirs of the virus unreachable by traditional anti-retroviral medications. Via Britain’s Telegraph:Danish scientists are expecting results that will show that “finding a mass-distributable and affordable cure to HIV is possible.” They are conducting clinical trials to test a “novel strategy” in which the HIV virus is stripped from human DNA and destroyed permanently by the immune system.
The move would represent a dramatic step forward in the attempt to find a cure for the virus, which causes AIDS. The scientists are currently conducting human trials using their treatment, in the hope of proving that it is effective. It has already been found to work in laboratory tests.
The technique involves releasing the HIV virus from “reservoirs” it forms in DNA cells, and bringing it to the surface of the cells. Once it comes to the surface, the body’s natural immune system can kill the virus through being boosted by a “vaccine.”
Only fifteen patients are currently being tested with the new method. Should they be considered to have been cured, the study will widen. The above-linked article notes that research is proceeding faster in Denmark because they have “streamlined the process of putting the latest basic science discoveries into clinical testing.”
Stephen Hawking & Other Eminent Scientists Call For David Cameron To Pardon Gay Computer Pioneer Alan Turning
The Huffington Post reports:
Stephen Hawking and other eminent scientists called Friday for the British government to pardon computer pioneer Alan Turing, who helped win World War II but was later prosecuted for homosexuality.
In a letter published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Hawking and 10 others urged Prime Minister David Cameron “formally to forgive the iconic British hero.”
The letter, whose signatories also include Astronomer Royal Martin Rees and Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, called Turing “one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the modern era.”
“It is time his reputation was unblemished,” it said.
Turing worked at Bletchley Park, the wartime code-breaking center, where he helped crack Nazi Germany’s secret codes by creating the “Turing bombe,” a forerunner of modern computers.
He also developed the “Turing Test” to measure artificial intelligence.
After the war, Turing was prosecuted for having sex with a man, stripped of his security clearance and forcibly treated with female hormones. He killed himself in 1954 at age 41 by eating an apple laced with cyanide.
Sex between men remained illegal in Britain until 1967.
In 2009, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a public apology on behalf of the government for Turing’s “inhumane” treatment, saying: “We’re sorry, you deserved so much better.”
Timothy Ray Brown, “Berlin Patient” & His Doctor Are Convinced HIV Cure Is Real
The Huffington Post reports:
The first person reportedly cured of HIV said Wednesday he is hopeful that medical advances will allow others suffering from the virus that causes AIDS to be cured, too.
Timothy Ray Brown of San Francisco is known as “The Berlin Patient” because of where he was treated. He and the doctor who treated him, Gero Hutter, made their first joint appearance in the U.S. on Wednesday when Hutter spoke at a symposium on gene therapy at Washington University in St. Louis.
Scientists are studying whether gene therapy can be used to rid the body of HIV. Some doctors remain skeptical that Brown, 46, is cured. His case was first reported in the media in 2008 and described in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009.
Brown and Hutter, in an interview with The Associated Press during the symposium, said the passage of time is further proof that Brown is cured. Hutter cited the same five-year standard after which some cancer patients are said to be cured.
Brown was diagnosed with HIV in 1995. In 2006, he also developed leukemia while living in Germany. Hutter performed a blood stem cell transplant using a donor with a rare gene mutation that provides natural resistance to HIV. Hutter said that resistance transferred to Brown.
Brown said he feels great, has not needed HIV medication since the 2007 surgery, and is now active in a foundation named for him that seeks a cure for HIV.
Brown grew up in Seattle and moved to Germany in 1993. After the HIV diagnosis, he started on medication to prevent him from developing full-blown AIDS.
He was attending a wedding in New York in 2006 when he became unusually tired. An avid cyclist, within weeks he could barely ride the bike and eventually was diagnosed with leukemia.
Brown underwent chemotherapy but needed a blood stem cell transplant and turned to Hutter, a blood specialist at Heidelberg University.
Hutter suggested they seek a donor with a certain cell feature that gives them natural resistance to HIV infection. Only about 1 percent of the northern European population has this feature. Hutter theorized that a transplant from such a donor could make the recipient resistant to HIV.
Hutter said no one apparently had tried this, and his idea received mixed reaction from other doctors. “Some were very excited, but many were skeptical,” he said.
But within weeks, Hutter said, tests showed promise that Brown was cured.
“I don’t know if I really believed it was cured” until the case was described in the New England Journal of Medicine, Brown said.
Earlier this year, doctors in California found traces of HIV in Brown’s tissue, leading to speculation that the disease had returned. But Hutter said the traces are remnants of the disease that can’t replicate or cause a recurrence.
The symposium in St. Louis was hosted by the university’s Biologic Therapeutics Center, which seeks to advance the use of gene therapy. Speakers said gene therapy has helped treat cancer, hemophilia and other diseases.
So far, Brown is the only person believed to have been cured of HIV. Hutter began procedures in 2008 with 12 other people who had both HIV and cancer, but some were too sick to undergo treatment, and others couldn’t find matching donors or ran into other roadblocks.
HIV Eradication Breakthough?
Interesting news out of the AIDS Conference.Scientists in the United States said Wednesday they had used a cancer drug to flush out the AIDS virus lurking dormant in trial patients’ white blood cells — a tentative step towards a cure. The ability of the HIV genome, or reproductive code, to hide out in cells and be revived after decades poses a major obstacle in the quest for a cure. Being able to expose the virus in its hiding place would allow scientists to target the host white blood cells in a killing blitz. “It is the beginning of work toward a cure for AIDS,” David Margolis, co-author of the study published in the journalNature, told AFP as the International AIDS Conference was under way in Washington.
Hit the link for a more detailed analysis.
Asteroid Named For Mattachine Society Cofounder Frank Kameny
The International Astronomical Union and Minor Planet Center has named an asteroid after late Mattachine Society cofounder Frank Kameny.A Canadian amateur astronomer has named an asteroid he discovered after U.S. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, who died last year in Washington. Kameny, who earned a doctorate in astronomy at Harvard University, was an astronomer with the U.S. Army Map Service in the 1950s but was fired from his job for being gay. He contested the firing all the way to the Supreme Court and later organized the first gay rights protests outside the White House, the Pentagon and in Philadelphia in the 1960s.
Minor Planet 40463, which is in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter is now known as Frankkamney. Before he died, Kameny received an official apology from President Obama for his firing by the federal government more than 50 years ago.
FDA Approves In-Home HIV Test
The FDA announced today’s decision with a press release and a warning:
The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is designed to allow individuals to collect an oral fluid sample by swabbing the upper and lower gums inside of their mouths, then place that sample into a developer vial, and obtain test results within 20 to 40 minutes. A positive result with this test does not mean that an individual is definitely infected with HIV, but rather that additional testing should be done in a medical setting to confirm the test result. Similarly, a negative test result does not mean that an individual is definitely not infected with HIV, particularly when exposure may have been within the previous three months. The test has the potential to identify large numbers of previously undiagnosed HIV infections, especially if used by those unlikely to use standard screening methods.
Why Are There Gay Men? Because Women Who Inherit “Gay Gene” Have More Kids, Scientists Say
The Huffington Post reports:
While female sexuality appears to be more fluid, research suggests that male gayness is an inborn, unalterable, strongly genetically influenced trait. But considering that the trait discourages the type of sex that leads to procreation — that is, sex with women — and would therefore seem to thwart its own chances of being genetically passed on to the next generation, why are there gay men at all?
Put differently, why haven’t gay man genes driven themselves extinct?
This longstanding question is finally being answered by new and ongoing research. For several years, studies led by Andrea Camperio Ciani at the University of Padova in Italy and others have found that mothers and maternal aunts of gay men tend to have significantly more offspring than the maternal relatives of straight men. The results show strong support for the “balancing selection hypothesis,” which is fast becoming the accepted theory of the genetic basis of male homosexuality.
The theory holds that the same genetic factors that induce gayness in males also promote fecundity (high reproductive success) in those males’ female maternal relatives. Through this trade-off, the maternal relatives’ “gay man genes,” though they aren’t expressed as such, tend to get passed to future generations in spite of their tendency to make their male inheritors gay.
While no one knows which genes, exactly, these might be, at least one of them appears to be located on the X chromosome, according to genetic modeling by Camperio Ciani and his colleagues. Males inherit only one X chromosome — the one from their mother — and if it includes the gene that promotes gayness in males and fecundity in females, he is likely to be gay while his mom and her female relatives are likely to have lots of kids. If a daughter inherits that same X-linked gene, she herself may not be gay, but she can pass it on to her sons. [Why Are There Gay Women?]
But how might the “gay man gene” make females more reproductively successful? A new study by Camperio Ciani and his team addresses the question for the first time. Previously, the Italian researchers suggested that the “gay man gene” might simply increase androphilia, or attraction to men, thereby making the males who possess the gene homosexual and the females who possess it more promiscuous. But after investigating the characteristics of 161 female maternal relatives of homosexual and heterosexual men, the researchers have adjusted their hypothesis. Rather than making women more attracted to men, the “gay man gene” appears to make these women more attractive to men.
“High fecundity, that means having more babies, is not about pleasure in sex, nor is it about promiscuity. The androphilic pattern that we found is about females who increase their reproductive value to attract the best males,” Camperio Ciani told Life’s Little Mysteries.
Turns out, the moms and aunts of gay men have an advantage over the moms and aunts of straight men for several reasons: They are more fertile, displaying fewer gynecological disorders or complications during pregnancy; they are more extroverted, as well as funnier, happier and more relaxed; and they have fewer family problems and social anxieties. “In other words, compared to the others, [they are] perfect for a male,” Camperio Ciani said. Attracting and choosing from the best males enables these women to produce more offspring, he noted.
The new study will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Of course, no single factor can account for the varied array of sexual orientations that exist, in men as well as in women. “It is quite possible that there are several influences on forming a homosexual orientation,” said Gerulf Rieger, a sexual orientation researcher at Cornell University. He noted that environmental factors — including the level of exposure to certain hormones in the womb — also play a role in molding male sexuality. But as for why genetic factors would exist that make men gay, it appears that these genes make women, as well as gay men, alluring to other men.
Berlin Man “Cured” Of HIV May Not Be Cured
The famed Berlin man who was said to be cured of HIV after undergoing blood transplants for leukemia may still have the virus in his body.
- [N]ew research presented on 8 June at the International Workshop on HIV & Hepatitis Virus “challenge[s] these results,” asserts Alain Lafeuillade of the General Hospital in Toulon, France, a well known HIV/AIDS cure researcher. Lafeuillade issued a press release, “The So Called HIV Cured ‘Berlin’ Patient Still Has Detectable HIV in His Body,” that questions whether Brown was reinfected and may still be infectious to other people. Lafeuillade also posted a blog item, “The Weird Story of the Berlin Patient,” raising similar questions. The scientists who conducted the new study strongly object to Lafeuillade’s interpretation of their results. “We weren’t trying to say HIV was still there or he hadn’t been cured,” says virologist Steven Yukl of the University of California, San Francisco, who gave the talk.
(Tipped by JMG reader Nicholas)
Study: Faces May Reveal Whether People Are Gay
Pink News UK reports:
According to a study published this week, people may be able to determine at a glance whether another person is gay.
A University of Washington study published in the Public Library of Science found that people were often able to accurately guess another person’s sexuality by briefly looking at their face.
129 students, 92 of whom were women, were shown black and white photos of a woman or a man for 50 milliseconds and were able to guess the sexual orientation of the subject with above-chance accuracy.
Participants guessed women’s sexuality accurately 65 percent of the time and men’s sexuality accurately 57 percent.
Study authors say it is not completely clear how the snap judgements are formed, but believe the results show ‘configural processing’, quickly identifying how another person’s face is made up in terms of distance between features, and ‘featural processing’, examining individual features, helps people determine sexuality.
As part of the investigation, students were shown images of men and women for a fraction of a second the right way up and images upside down, when ‘configural processing’ is impaired.
Success in guessing the sexuality of another person upside down was less, but it was still above a rate of chance.
Joshua Tabak, a psychology student at the University of Washington said: “It may be similar to how we don’t have to think about whether someone is a man or a woman or black or white.
“This information confronts us in everyday life.”
Tabak added that “people from older generations or different cultures who may not have grown up knowing they were interacting with gay people” were less able to guess sexuality accurately.
The study paper itself suggested that if the results are accurate, “it would appear that minority sexual orientation is not the concealed stigma that many argue it is. Indeed, the need to protect gay people from discrimination would seem increasingly urgent to the extent that minority sexual orientation is tacitly inferred from aspects of personal appearance that are routinely available for inspection (e.g., faces).”
CALIFORNIA: State Funds Study Of Daily Pill To Prevent HIV Infection
California has funded a controversial study to test whether giving high-risk patients a daily HIV medication will prevent their infection. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has been denounced by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has launched statewide media campaigns against the concept.
- The pill, which is already used to treat HIV patients, will be prescribed to 700 gay and bisexual men and transgender women in Los Angeles, San Diego and Long Beach who are high-risk but not infected. [snip] “With this new prevention pill, we have another intervention to put in the arsenal to try and impact this epidemic,” said George Lemp, director of the California HIV/AIDS Research Program with the University of California president’s office. The pill, under the brand name of Truvada, is already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating HIV but not for prophylactic use.
In 2010, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine said that it reduced the risk of contracting HIV by 44 percent to 73 percent, depending on how often participants took their medication. The two-drug pill, produced by Gilead Sciences in the Bay Area, has side effects that include nausea and vomiting, and possible kidney problems when used with other anti-HIV drugs. A recent Stanford University study showed that the pill, which costs about $26 a day, only makes sense economically if prescribed to people at high risk, such as those with multiple partners.
AIDS Project Los Angeles will recruit subjects for the study.