BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

March 04, 2018

Research Roundup: New breakthroughs in HIV and TB-detection research and 17 brave volunteers

Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Patrick McKern

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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

Scientists have created a new process to detect tuberculosis (TB) by introducing a molecule to the bacteria’s outer layer that illuminates under fluorescent light. This innovation could help make sputum microscopy tests easier to perform, improving the accuracy and speed at which patients with TB are diagnosed and treated. While there are other staining methods in use, this molecule—DMN-trehalose—is actually incorporated by the TB bacteria as it builds up its outer protective layer, thus this method illuminates only living TB bacteria, unlike other stains which reveal both live and dead bacteria. This makes it easier for health professionals to diagnose TB and monitor a patient’s response to treatment over time.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco discovered new mechanisms by which HIV hides in infected cells, remaining in a latent mode that evades the body’s immune system and antiviral drugs. When the HIV virus infects immune cells, most cells start producing more of the virus, but a fraction of the cells become dormant. Current therapies are not able to kills these dormant cells, which can then reawaken and cause a resurgence of the virus in patients. To understand this progression better, researchers used a panel of tests to study the process by which these dormant, infected cells convert viral DNA to RNA and discovered that these latent cells stall out at various stages, marking their dormant status. Helping the dormant cells finish making RNA will wake them up, allowing the body to recognize and kill the infected cells with assistance from common antivirals. These findings could help scientists understand and develop new treatments to target and address the issue of latent HIV infection.

Researchers in the Netherlands are undertaking an unusual approach to vaccine research, infecting 17 volunteers with parasitic worms as part of a new vaccine study for the potentially fatal disease schistosomiasis. Each volunteer agreed to have 20 male parasitic worms—worms that will be unable to reproduce or lay eggs—injected into their arms with the intent to be monitored for 12 weeks following infection. After 12 weeks, volunteers will receive a drug to kill the remaining worms. Researchers hope this study will show it is possible to test vaccines with this method, which is faster and more affordable than field research, which can take months or even years to run and complete.

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