HIV breakthrough raises hopes for cure: U-M experts can discuss

March 8, 2019
Contact: Nardy Baeza Bickel nbbickel@umich.edu

EXPERTS ADVISORY

Illustration of red blood cells and medical symbol

For the second time since the HIV crisis started in the 1980s, a patient has gone into sustained remission. University of Michigan experts can discuss the breakthrough, and what it could mean for the world’s search for a cure.

Elizabeth KingElizabeth King is an assistant professor at the School of Public Health. Her primary research interests are HIV prevention and access to HIV services for key affected populations. She is interested in the promotion of a human rights-based approach to HIV testing and treatment policies, and gender equity in HIV programs and services.

“Any time there’s a big medical breakthrough, it is very exciting,” she said. “It brings attention to the issue and fresh conversation about HIV. It reminds us all that the epidemic is not over. It also reminds us how much progress we have made in the understanding of the virus and why we should invest in science and biomedical research and development.

“While it is exciting, this news of a cure is not a magic bullet by any means. It is important to remember on a population health level that this second case of a cure is just two out of the nearly 37 million people in the world living with HIV. It is not a cure for HIV for the whole world. It sounds like it was quite complicated, and rolling that out and scaling that up would be met with a lot of challenges.”

Contact: Elizabeth King, ejking@umich.edu


James RiddellJames Riddell is an infectious disease specialist in the Department of Internal Medicine at Michigan Medicine. His most recent research focuses on collaboration with others to expand understanding of how HIV incorporates into stem cell reservoirs. He also has done work to study the role of HPV in colonization of the oropharynx in patients with HIV infection, and currently is performing a study in Mozambique on ways to improve adherence to HIV therapies and encourage HIV testing.

“It is an important step because it can help inform further research, but it’s not a treatment option for patients in general,” he said. “Bone marrow transplantation from a donor with the CCR5 delta 32 mutation is only an option for very specific patients who have HIV infection as well as a malignancy such as leukemia that requires bone marrow transplant for treatment.

“This treatment success should more be viewed as a proof of concept for additional research. This particular approach of trying to figure out a way to permanently prevent HIV from entering cells may be fruitful. But by no means is bone marrow transplant a treatment that’s available for the broader population because of the associated risks.

“Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s before we had good treatments for HIV infection, many people died of AIDS-associated conditions. With current, very effective antiretroviral therapy, we are seeing significant decreases in AIDS-related complications. However, we are seeing complications related to the results of inflammation associated with long-term HIV infection that can lead to more rapid aging and other medical comorbidities.”

Contact: James Riddell, jriddell@umich.edu


Nesha HaniffNesha Haniff is a gender and HIV activist in South Africa, the Caribbean and the United States and a lecturer in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

Over the last three decades, her HIV work has focused on empowering marginalized populations. She has developed several innovative oral educational modules on HIV/AIDS, violence and women’s reproductive health, including the Pedagogy of Action Program in South Africa and Southeast Michigan.

Contact: nzh@umich.edu


Larry GrantLarry Gant, professor at the School of Social Work and the Stamps School of Art & Design, has conducted research on program evaluation of human service and social action organizations in urban communities; community-based health promotion initiatives in the areas of early childhood development, substance abuse prevention, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. Gant also has a strong interest in the role of the arts in the community and in the classroom. He piloted a program in Beijing that uses visual and performing arts to access HIV/AIDS education.

Contact: 734-763-5990 lmgant@umich.edu


Rogério Meireles PintoRogério Meireles Pinto, professor and associate dean for research at the School of Social Work, has published research about the need for patients at risk for HIV to be linked to services—such as mental health and syringe exchange programs—that will help them stay in care, adhere to medication and avoid reinfection.

Contact: 734-763-2041, ropinto@umich.edu


Kathleen CollinsKathleen Collins, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical School, studies the hiding places for HIV in the bone marrow, specifically in a certain form of stem cell that gives rise to blood cells. More about her work: labblog.uofmhealth.org/lab-report/cells-stand-way-of-curing-hiv and www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211124718319107 

Contact: 734-615-1320, klcollin@umich.edu