Research Roundup: Dangers of immune response to Zika, curbing HIV and AIDS severity, and a potential leishmaniasis vaccine
In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.
An individual’s immune response to the Zika virus—rather than the virus itself—may be the cause of severe nerve-related complications like Guillen-Barrè, according to a recent Yale University study. Researchers explored the spread of the Zika infection in mice who lacked a key antiviral response to the virus and found that immune cells known as CD8 T cells flood the brain during infection. While these T cells limit the virus from infecting nerve cells, they also attack the brain’s neurons, leading to complications like Guillen-Barrè, which may cause paralysis. These results suggest that suppressing immune response to the Zika virus may be a promising approach to preventing these complications.
Developing new antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and improving early diagnosis are two critical steps to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic by 2030, according to a UNAIDS report. While HIV and AIDS still remains the leading cause of death among women ages 15–49 globally, there has been notable and sustained momentum toward ending the disease. Approximately 21 million people globally currently receive life-saving ARV treatments, with the number of people under treatment nearly doubling in the past five years. Significant cost reduction of ARV therapies as well as the sustained use of treatments have led to a 48 percent decline in AIDS-related deaths, from 1.9 million in 2005 to 1 million in 2016. UNAIDS officials emphasized that despite this progress, the world must not become complacent, as 17 million people are still waiting for treatment and a decline in global support could lead a rebound in the epidemic.
Researchers at The University of Texas, El Paso have developed a potential vaccine for cutaneous leishmaniasis, a painful neglected tropical disease with an estimated 700,000 to 1 million new cases annually. While leishmaniasis predominantly affects the poorest countries in the world, the disease has also impacted over 2,000 US service members stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as residents in Texas and Oklahoma, where the disease occurs naturally. Researchers found that the vaccine candidate resulted in a 96 decrease in leishmaniasis-associated lesions and an 86 percent protection rate against the disease in mice studies. Though more research is necessary, researchers feel optimistic about this formula. There is no current vaccine for the disease in humans and current treatment options available are limited, painful, and lengthy.