One person infected with HIV dies every minute worldwide. The UN wants to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. But: A vaccination is not in sight. Why can’t AIDS be stopped by vaccination until today?
Forty years ago – in early June 1981 – the American Disease Control Agency (CDC) reported a mysterious new disease for the first time. Five homosexual men had a particular form of pneumonia.
40 years later, of the 77 million people infected with HIV worldwide to date, 35 million have died. Why does HIV not what at Coronavirus developed within a few months: The spread by a vaccination to stop?
The HI virus works differently than Corona
“This has to do with the nature of the HI virus, among other things,” explains Dr. Joachim Hauber from the Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology in Hamburg in conversation with t-online. HIV is a retrovirus that works like this: After the infection The genetic material of the virus, the virus RNA, penetrates the human cell.
Hauber: “By a enzyme the virus turns this RNA into DNA translated, which is irreversibly incorporated into human DNA. In the process of translation into the human genome, many copying errors occur, that is, the virus mutates very quickly. “For a vaccination, this means: It would work well against the original virus, but it quickly loses its effectiveness against virus mutants.
The HI virus is also particularly treacherous because it can lie dormant in the human body for a long time and only then shows its fatal effect. Since the virus RNA gets into the human DNA, there is then a blueprint for the virus to multiply.
“If the blueprint stored in the cell nucleus is activated immediately or later, countless progeny viruses are formed, which in turn infect other cells in the human organism,” explains Hauber. “This is a specific group of T lymphocytes, important immune defense cells in the body. These cells are due to the Virus infection impaired in their function and ultimately die. The immune system as a result, can no longer do its work properly. The result is secondary infections with other viruses or bacteria, which can be fatal. “
Good medication, but no cure so far
For the treatment of HIV infections, so-called antiretroviral drugs exist that are very effective and can suppress the viral load so much that it can no longer be detected. Hauber: “However, these drugs cannot remove HIV from the affected cells. The patients therefore have to take their antiviral medicine every day and for life, but are usually no longer infectious. If the drugs are well tolerated, the people treated accordingly have one almost the same life expectancy as non-infected people. “
The UN have now announced that as a goal Aids– End the epidemic by 2030. How can something succeed in nine years that was not possible in the previous 40 years? New drugs give hope.
Gene therapy as a future expectation
Gene therapy holds great promise for curing HIV patients. So-called designer enzymes, such as the CRISPR / Cas9 system, have become known. The French geneticist Emmanuelle Charpentier and the US biochemist Jennifer Doudna were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 for the discovery of this process.
Hauber explains the method, which is also known as gene scissors: “To do this, for example, one would take blood from the patient T cells isolate and introduce a corresponding designer enzyme gene. The treated cells are then returned to the body. After the introduction of the appropriate Gene The designer enzymes are produced by the cells in the cells of HIV patients, track down the virus genome and inactivate or remove the virus DNA and thus HIV. “
In conjunction, for example, with HIV-specific antibody genes, this approach could lead to a cure. The disadvantage: “However, this very complex therapy is largely developed in the first world and is also used there first.”
AIDS remains a problem for the poor
But: AIDS remains a problem, especially in poorer countries. According to the latest figures (2019), 95 percent of those infected with HIV live in developing countries. Southern Africa is particularly affected, with disease rates of up to 40 percent in some countries. For comparison: In Germany there are only about 90,000 infected people – a rate of 0.1 percent.
In addition to prevention (such as education and the distribution of protective condoms), it would be important to be able to make effective therapies possible in these countries as well.
Hauber’s approach: “To treat as many HIV-infected patients as possible in developing countries, for example, a gene therapy that can be administered directly could be an option.” This would require gene ferries, i.e. the vectors known from the corona vaccines that transport the gene scissors enzymes or antibodies into the body. “These therapies could then be administered around the world, including in developing countries, relatively easily by direct injection into the patient’s organism.”
The “UNAIDS program” of the United Nations calls for spending on prevention programs, tests and treatments to be increased from less than 20 billion dollars in the year to 2025 to at least 29 billion dollars (almost 24 billion euros) per year.
Important NOTE: The information is in no way a substitute for professional advice or treatment by trained and recognized doctors. The contents of t-online cannot and must not be used to independently make diagnoses or start treatments.