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NewsHour Examines Research Of HIV Positive Patients Who Can Suppress The Virus

PBS’ NewsHour examines how a team of U.S. researchers is heading up a study in Lima, Peru, of patients living with HIV whose immune systems are able to suppress the virus. “Peru has identified 600 so-called elites, whose HIV infections have not progressed into life-threatening AIDS, and researchers are looking at them and other identified elites from around the world to understand why,” according to the program.

Researchers believe “elite controllers” may carry clues that could aid in the future development of an HIV vaccine, Bruce Walker of the Ragon Institute in Boston, who is leading the Peru study, explained during the program. “If we had a vaccine that could keep the virus level as low as these people keep it, we would expect them to have much less chance of transmitting to somebody else and much less chance of any kind of disease progression themselves,” Walker said. “[O]ur goal, in studying these elite controllers, is to find out how it is that they’re able [to] make HIV irrelevant to them, and are able to control it on their own, because we believe that – that therein lies the solution that we’re looking for to the HIV epidemic,” Walker added.

Researchers suspect that as many as one in 300 of the 33 million people living with HIV worldwide could be an elite controller, according to the NewsHour. However, as the program notes, because they are in good health, many remain unaware of their condition, making them difficult for researchers to locate for studies. The program explores why Peru has one of “the few centers of research around the world trying to figure out how these people control their virus,” and includes comments by Darrell Irvine of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a member of the Peru study research team, who is working to trace the molecular mechanics of HIV (Suarez, 4/1). 

“These days in many countries, even poorer ones, AIDS is no longer seen as an automatic death sentence,” NewsHour reporter Ray Suarez writes in the show’s blog, “The Rundown.” He continues, “What separates countries, and sufferers, from one another is poverty and wealth, the availability or lack of access to antiretroviral drugs. … Peru’s elite controllers bring genomic diversity to the growing portfolio of research into groups of elite controllers worldwide, and will have plenty to tell us for years to come” (4/1).