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The Statesman

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The Statesman

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    Coming to the Aid of Aids

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ In 2002, 3.1 million deaths were caused by AIDS.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Compare that to the five anthrax deaths [in 2002],’said Roy Steigbigel, M.D., who gave a lecture at Stony Brook entitled ‘HIV & AIDS: An Update.’

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Steigbigel gave a brief overview of the diseases’ history and discussed where the world is today with HIV/AIDS research.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ By the end of 2002, he said, there were 42 million people with HIV worldwide, and five million of those were new cases. The disease is still growing, and Steigbigel, who conducts research in the Infectious Diseases Division of the Health Science Center, feels that the epidemic could be stopped.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘It is preventable and treatable, but still millions are dying,’ Steigbigel said, echoing President Bill Clinton’s take on the issue. HIV is most widespread in the continent of Africa and fastest growing in East Asia, which, according to Steigbigel, is due largely to the lack of preventative measures.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘By 2010, there are expected to be as many children orphaned by AIDS in Africa as there are school-aged children in the U.S.,’ Steigbigel said.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ The HIV virus was identified in 1981 by Michael S. Gottlieb. It is an RNA retrovirus, which means that is can revert its genetic sequence from RNA to DNA, inserting itself into the host individual’s genome, where it can reproduce itself.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ According to Steigbigel, this makes it especially hard to fight, because conventional drugs cannot get rid of a virus in the DNA.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ The life cycle of AIDS/HIV starts with a primary infection, which causes fever, rashes, diarrhea, headaches, nausea, weight loss and other symptoms within the first two weeks of contraction. Then the body’s immune system responds and no symptoms are evident. The virus remains inactive for any number of years, with the average dormancy lasting about 10 years. Antibodies are produced, but the virus still replicates at a rapid rate.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘There are 10 to the tenth virions being produced each day [during the inactive phase],’ Steigbigel said. After the asymptomatic phase, a massive number of virions have infected all cells in the body, and immune response degrades.

    ‘A person is very susceptible to infections of any type at this point,’ Steigbigel said.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Recently, the drug Fusion was approved for HIV treatment. It is very expensive, and must be taken by injection twice a day. There are about 15 other drugs currently in development, some of them at Stony Brook.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ According to Steigbigel, HIV drugs, the most prominent of which is AZT, have many side effects Individuals with the virus must take a combination of these drugs, depending on their lifestyles.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I have a friend who is currently infected with HIV,’icirc;’said Stony Brook junior Adrianna Guller. ‘And she takes several different drugs for treatment. I think it would be amazing if science could create a vaccine instead.’

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Currently, there are two types of vaccines being researched: therapeutic and protective. Therapeutic vaccines assist the immune system’s preexisting memory of, and defenses against, HIV after an individual has already contracted the virus. Protective vaccines immunize a person and prevent infection.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ At Stony Brook, Steibigel said, scientists are researching a DNA vaccine which injects DNA directly into the muscle cells.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Steigbigel could not say exactly when a vaccine would be ready. ‘[It could be] eight to 10 years. But we could have a breakthrough any day.’

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Steigbigel graduated from the University of Rochester School Of Medicine, and is a Professor of Medicine, Pathology, Microbiology and Pharmacology at Stony Brook University. An eminent microbiologist, Steigbigel is nationally and internationally known for his research in HIV and AIDS.

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