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A 44-year-old British man was seemingly “cured” of HIV last week. Scientists working on the therapy say that the virus is now completely undetectable in his blood, leading to headlines announcing an “HIV breakthrough” that could “spell the end of the virus“.
But here’s the thing: It’s very difficult to determine whether HIV has been truly eliminated from the body, and even conventional antiretroviral therapy — which the patient was also taking — reduces HIV to undetectable levels. So pinning hopes on a single trial to prove a “cure” is a bit too premature, if optimistic.
The hallmark of an HIV infection is that it targets very specific cells in a patient’s immune system, called CD4 T cells. These are white blood cells that usually detect intruders and corral a larger immune response to get rid of the invading bacteria or viruses. But HIV tricks these frontline soldiers and quickly inserts its own genetic material into the CD4 cells so that it can replicate inside them and use the cells to churn out more copies of virus.
Once infected, cells can’t get rid of HIV the way they can most other viruses. Taking combination antiretroviral therapy, however, stops HIV from reproducing and infecting new CD4 cells. Viral levels start declining and after two to three months of treatment, the levels of virus are so low that HIV is “undetectable” in a patient’s blood, says Janet Siliciano, an infectious disease researcher at Johns Hopkins University.
The problem is that most HIV tests measure the amount of viral RNA in free virus particles floating around in the blood and try to extrapolate the amount of virus hiding inside all infected cells. But in 1995, Siliciano’s lab found that some HIV remains invisible deep inside “resting” CD4 T cells. This silent reservoir can’t be measured by normal blood tests, she says. When people go off antiretroviral therapy, the virus rapidly resurges, and that’s when scientists realize that the virus was hidden somewhere inside the patient all along.
“Everyone has a different number of resting infected cells that are acting as a reservoir. They turn back on randomly, so it’s very hard to predict when someone will experience a viral rebound,” says Siliciano. That is why people with HIV must take antiretrovirals for the rest of their life, she explains.
The only way to know that HIV has left a person’s body is to test many different tissues — not just run a blood test — and keep repeating them over the years. Siliciano’s group is trying to develop one consolidated test.Shock and Kill Strategy
One popular strategy in searching for a cure aims to obliterate the reservoir of remaining virus using a “shock and kill” approach. The idea behind it is that shocking the resting CD4 cells into waking up will force the virus inside them to become active as well. As HIV starts to rear its ugly head and put its mark on the surface of the infected cells, scientists can then boost a patient’s immune system to recognize and destroy HIV-carrying cells while they are vulnerable.
This is the technique used in the recent “breakthrough” by British researchers. The scientists, who hail from six different hospital centers in the UK, are testing an aggressive shock and kill regimen on 50 HIV patients over a period of about 9 months. The anonymous patient initially quoted in The Sunday Times is simply the first of the participants to have completed the treatment. Official results from the trial are not expected until 2023.
“I’m surprised that they would announce this in the press when they only have one patient and are not expecting all the results to come in until 2023,” says Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at Columbia University. “There has been such a history of false optimism and false hope with HIV that you wonder why announcements like that are made.”
Even if the trial is a complete success, scientists will have to use caution in interpreting the results, according to Morse. Researchers will need to follow up on patients for several years, testing their viral levels regularly to make sure that HIV is truly eradicated from their system. They’ll also have to conduct a more extensive search for the virus to make sure it isn’t hiding in reservoir cells in the immune system or in other inaccessible parts of the body, such as cerebrospinal fluid or semen, Morse says. “We need a lot of good evidence before we can declare victory over HIV.”
To date, only one person has undergone that kind of rigorous testing. Timothy Ray Brown, who is also known as “the Berlin patient“, is the first and only person who can claim the distinction of being cured of HIV. In 2006, after living with the virus for 11 years and controlling his infection with antiretroviral drugs, Brown learned that he had developed an unrelated case of acute myeloid leukemia. He underwent chemotherapy and whole-body radiation that wiped out his immune system — and possibly the virus with it. Then he received a bone marrow transplant from a donor with a natural immunity to HIV. Researchers haven’t been able to find any trace of HIV in his blood or in multiple brain, gut, colon, and lymph-node biopsies since.
But bone marrow transplants have a high fatality rate, and there are just too many people with HIV — 33 million around the world — to make it a feasible therapy. And they may not even work consistently. Other patients who seemed to have been cured of the virus after receiving bone transplants still experienced a rebound of the virus after ditching their antiretroviral therapy — sometimes after nearly five years of being “HIV-free”.
Any new treatment that successfully eradicates the virus needs to be replicated in larger studies, says Siliciano. It also needs to match or surpass current standards of antiretroviral therapy, in terms of safety and accessibility of the drugs. Scientists also need to develop better, more sensitive assays to test for the presence of HIV. Only then will they be able to say accurately if a treatment is an effective cure for the viral infection.
“It’s a really hard, complex problem, and lots of scientists around the world are trying to work toward a cure,” she says. “But right now we have nothing that’s really close.”
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If you own a Twitter account, then there may come a time when your account becomes locked or limited to certain features. What could be the issue behind it? There are several reasons and as expected, we will talk about what you can do if your Twitter account has been locked.Twitter account has been locked
Regular users of Twitter will no doubt have a huge issue with having their accounts locked in for whatever reason. The good news is, there is a way to get your account back to regular standings, and due to the new ownership, we believe things are much easier than before. You are more likely to have your account unlocked even if you’re just a Twitter user with less than 10 followers.How to unlock a Twitter account
If your Twitter account has been locked, then the best way to unlock your Twitter account is to file an appeal with Twitter. You can try the Twitter Help Center or even Elon Musk himself.
No matter the reason for your Twitter account to be locked or banned, the only way to solve the problem is to file an appeal.
Filing an appeal is quite simple and it can be done directly from your Twitter account. You see when a Twitter account is locked, it doesn’t mean the user has zero access to certain features. The option is there to contact customer support.File an appeal with Twitter
To file an appeal to unlock your Twitter account:
Please open Twitter and log in with your suspended account.
Next, you must go to the Help Center.
From there, please locate the Contact Us link by scrolling down to the footer.
Fill out the offered form, then send the information to Twitter.
You will likely have to wait a while before getting an answer, but when you do, there is no guarantee your account will be normalized.Delete the locked Twitter account
It’s not possible to directly delete a locked Twitter account, therefore, you will have to request for them to delete your locked account. Once that is done, create a new one to start over.
To have your locked Twitter account deleted, then, you must return to Twitters Help Center.
Choose I’d like to deactivate or close my account.
Fill out the account access form that comes up on the screen, then hit the Submit button.
Twitter will later send you an email message relating to your request for account deletion. As for responding to your request, it usually takes a few days so have some patience.
Alternatively, if your account has a large following then you could consider getting in contact with Elon Musk on Twitter @elonmusk to see if he could fast-track your case.
READ: How to remove Followers on Facebook, Twitter, and InstagramWhy Has My Twitter Account Been Locked?
Your account may have been locked due to several reasons, they could include the following:
Twitter rules violation
And moreWhat happens when you delete your Twitter account?
When a Twitter account is deleted, your profile will no longer be available, but the same can’t be said for mentions of your account made by other users. Those tweets will still exist, so that’s something you should be mindful of. Additionally, your information will still show up in search engines, and Twitter may retain some data relating to your deactivated account.
Remember that if you log back into your account during the 30-day deactivation window, your account will become active once more.
Over the last week, headlines across the internet suggested that Omicron might cause a milder form of illness compared to previous COVID variants. Many of the stories stemmed from a recent report from Discovery Health, a large healthcare and insurance system in South Africa. The report found that based on a 200,000-person study, adults were 29 percent less likely to be hospitalized now than they were during the first wave of the pandemic.
But COVID researchers continue to say that findings like these don’t necessarily mean that Omicron is intrinsically milder. In fact, they might suggest that vaccines combined with prior infection might simply be preventing deadly outcomes, as they were intended to do. The Discovery researchers themselves note that, given a 35 percent adult vaccination rate and a population that has already recovered from other COVID variants, it’s hard to estimate Omicron’s “true severity.”
In South Africa, cases in the Omicron wave have already begun peaking after three weeks, but deaths haven’t climbed as quickly as in previous waves. “We believe it might not necessarily just be that Omicron is less virulent, but coverage of vaccination [and] natural immunity … also adding to the protection,” Joe Phaahla, the country’s health minister, told Britain’s the Times.
South Africa recently recovered from a national Delta surge, epidemiologists at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard’s School of Public Health noted in a working paper this week. “Thus, Omicron enters a South African population with considerably more immunity than any prior SARS-CoV-2 variant has encountered,” the researchers wrote, “enriched among those who would have been at greatest risk for severe outcomes.”
The result, they wrote, suggest “the true risk of severe infection will be systematically underestimated.”
Darryl Falzarano, a vaccine researcher at the University of Saskatchewan, says that estimating severity becomes harder as time goes on. “How many infections did we miss that are asymptomatic, or never ended up getting diagnosed?” he says. “If those people now get infected with Omicron, you would expect severity to be lower… Pulling that apart and knowing if it’s truly a naive Omicron infection”—in someone who’s never been infected or vaccinated—makes assessing severity difficult.”
The recent report in Discovery Health is complicated by the fact that children under 18 were 20 percent more likely to be admitted to the hospital with Omicron than in the first wave, though much less likely than adults. “In the fourth wave, [South African hospitals] are seeing a similar increase in admissions [to Delta] for children under five years of age,” wrote Shirley Collie, Discovery’s top health actuary, in the report. The highest rates of admission were among children under 5.
That could be because children are more representative of a naive population. South Africa approved vaccines for 12 to 17 year olds in October, and children have been less likely to catch and spread the coronavirus. That would suggest that Omicron is more severe, at least in children. But that’s not necessarily what’s happening. “It’s children who have become the most unvaccinated of our population, and as expected, cases are going to concentrate in those age groups,” says Sallie Permar, pediatrics chair at Weill Cornell Medicine. “It’s very common to test [hospitalized kids] now,” but was less common early in the pandemic. Some of those kids test positive, even if it’s not clear that they were hospitalized for COVID in the first place.”You find them much more frequently at a time that there’s a surge,” says Permar. The Discovery Health report notes that those ‘incidental’ cases could be contributing to the apparent risk as well.
It could turn out that Omicron tends to cause milder disease, even in people with no prior immunity.
[Related: Your up-to-date guide on international travel during the pandemic]
“I think that there is more data beginning to suggest that this reduced virulence may in fact hold true across more global regions BUT we’re waiting for data to substantiate that,” says Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba who has written on COVID’s pathogenicity, in an email to Popular Science. “And the crux of all of this is that the transmissibility and movement of Omicron through global populations is outpacing our ability to acquire enough data to answer this question.”
At a briefing on December 10, University of the Witwatersrand infectious disease researcher Anna von Gottberg presented a similar finding. The data relied on the fact that Omicron gives a telltale reading on some PCR tests, allowing researchers to estimate its presence even without sequencing cases. During the November spike in Omicron cases, but before it pushed out other variants, von Gottberg said that Omicron-suspected cases were less likely to lead to hospitalization. There are “some hints that maybe the disease is less severe, but we need to wait several weeks,” she said. It could be that Omicron was simply infecting a lot of people who were resistant to other variants, and have some immunity.
Why exactly fewer people are getting very sick from Omicron doesn’t matter so much for understanding its impacts. A mild variant, whether via immunity or intrinsic qualities, still poses profound challenges.
“I would say that everything so far has been reassuring to say this is not a virus that is scarier than the first, in terms of how sick it makes people,” says Permar. “Whereas two years ago we were overwhelmed with sick people needing ventilators… now it’s going to be complicating our staffing.” COVID positive healthcare providers can’t work. Meanwhile, hospitalizations in the United States are rising because of Delta. There are national nursing shortages, driven by burnout and pay issues after two years of managing a crisis.
Staffing shortages are “a nice outcome” relative to ventilator shortages, says Permar. But it’s an outcome that raises deep questions about the capacity of the American healthcare system.
What Australian entrepreneurs need to consider in 2023, writes Leigh Travers, Chief Executive Officer at Binance Australia.
Photo illustration by Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
We are now well into double-digit percentages of Australians owning some cryptocurrency (Statista cites 25.6%). While the number of holders has experienced a drop from the peaks last year, there is a clear positive trend on a multi-year time horizon. Convincingly, data from a 2023 ASIC survey found that crypto was the second most commonly held investment after Australian shares.
As we move into the new year, Binance Australia believes that collaboration with all stakeholders interacting with Web3 will positively impact the ecosystem’s sustainability and ensure a safer and fairer market for all Australians.Australia’s journey to build a steady regulation ecosystem
A digital asset exchange’s role, first and foremost, is to protect and serve its users. There is a responsibility for every major platform to collaborate with policymakers and regulators to contribute to the development of a regulatory framework with consumer protection and market integrity at its heart. Compliance is a collaborative process, and as a leading platform in the domestic market, Binance Australia wants to ensure consumers are benefitting from Web3 by making it accessible to everyone in a safe way.
Locally in Australia, the government has acknowledged and will work to establish a digital assets framework in 2023. Significantly, the government will prioritise and assess its ongoing “token mapping” work with the industry players and has committed to introducing a licensing regime for digital asset service providers. This is regulation that Binance Australia wants to ensure a sustainable crypto ecosystem in Australia and to ensure there isn’t regulatory arbitrage from overseas operators.
Globally, governments will be looking towards Europe for developments in the Market in Crypto-assets Regulation (MiCA) which is expected to enter force in the first half of the year. The enforcement of these frameworks is likely the first comprehensive regulatory regime tailored specifically to protect investors of digital assets and ensure financial stability while still facilitating space to foster innovation.
Adopting these measures will result in the growth of an industry where Web3 technology, such as digital assets, can operate effectively. Ultimately, we welcome the Australian government’s decision to pursue well-considered regulation in Australia in harmony to provide the utmost security for users and create a fertile ground for innovation within the ever-changing and growing crypto market.To the nation’s financial freedom and beyond
Even as fear, uncertainty and doubt circulate the market, business leaders should not confuse volatility or the behaviour of bad actors with the potential use cases of digital assets and the underlying technology. Web3 is now widespread; on the back of the breakthrough of NFTs into global popularity, leading major brands like the AFL to explore how they can implement Web 3 technologies into their platforms, products and operations.
And while NFTs and fan tokens have come into trend through our love of sport, market interest is high in digital identity solutions such as Soul bound tokens. Soul-bound tokens are similar to NFTs but cannot be transferred and are used to verify users’ identities to authenticate achievements, wallet addresses, and trades. This is particularly important to reduce risks around handling private and sensitive personal identification documentation and remove the friction around using new services and products.So, what happens next?
New technologies are built to be disruptive and challenge the foundations of the status quo. For Web3, we are in the midst of a time where institutions, communities and businesses are exploring the roles each plays in the growth. The ecosystem will grow stronger as regulatory frameworks are developed, and the industry continues to evolve toward greater decentralisation. With blockchain being a borderless technology, Web3 is here to stay. We certainly welcome discourse to get governments, regulators and industry players on the same team to construct an ecosystem where users are secure and comfortable in the crypto market going into 2023.
Leigh Travers is Chief Executive Officer at Binance Australia
The explosion of exoplanet discoveries in the last decade has boosted our hopes of finding another world like Earth somewhere in the galaxy. But it’s also contributed to a new awareness of strange peculiarities in star systems beyond our own—where planets exhibit bizarre alignments and eccentric configurations without any good explanation. The proclivity for pairs of exoplanets to seemingly push themselves into orbits that are more irregular from one another than they ought to be, for example, has confounded astronomers for almost a decade.
Finally, it looks like we have some answers as to why this happens, and what it means for finding habitable worlds. New findings published in Nature Astronomy suggest that these exoplanet pairs often exhibit poles that are very sharply tilted, promoting an “obliquity” (the relationship between a planet’s axis and its orbit) that pushes the planets apart. Planets could experience extreme seasonal changes and harsh climates as a result, affecting their ability to sustain environments habitable to life of some kind.
From what we currently know about the orbital mechanics of planets around stars, we expect to see certain configurations. Planets and moons often fall into what are called orbital resonances, where they pass each other at the same points as they go on their separate orbits. Certainly not all planets and moons behave this way, but resonances happen more often than not. It’s not just a coincidental phenomenon—it’s physics.
But since we began discovering more and more exoplanets, astronomers have noticed that many planetary pairs in other star systems have orbital periods that defy resonances, falling into orbits that are much farther apart than expected. And none of the suspected reasons—like the gravitational effects of asteroids or excess cosmic gas—have ever stuck.
Still, we’ve always had a few clues to work with. It was already known from prior research (including observations of Jupiter’s moons and the infamously-tilted Uranus) that orbits between two bodies could be pried apart if there was enough energy being dissipated. If the planet had a close orbit to its star, then the star could raise more extreme tides on the planet, which would then be efficient at converting orbital energy into heat energy. The dissipation of that heat energy might then be enough to actually shift the planet’s orbit.
But a close orbit in itself wouldn’t explain what astronomers were seeing in many of these exoplanetary systems. Something else was contributing to the extreme tidal dissipation that could shift entire worlds. And as it turned out, that factor could very well be large axial tilts. Young planets with fresh new orbits in concentrated regions may be forced to maintain high obliquities, and in turn this causes orbits to shift much more radically than predicted. In pairs of planets, the orbits would move farther away from resonance patterns.
“Obliquities create strong tides, and tides move, or ‘sculpt,’ orbits,” says Sarah Millholland, an astronomer at Yale University and the lead author of the new study. “Up until now, the typical assumption was that close-in exoplanets have zero axial tilt. Our study suggests otherwise.”
The study is only pitching a theory, and there haven’t been any direct measurements of exoplanet axial tilts to bolster this hypothesis. But this is still probably the best explanation for what has been a decade-long mystery in the astronomy community, and the effects are nothing to scoff at. The entire endeavor of exoplanet research moves forward on the hope of finding a habitable world, and the new findings affirm the importance that certain astrophysical mechanics have when it comes to that search. These obliquities wouldn’t just disturb climates and weather patterns, but they might also result in excess heat deposition in the planet. That could make the difference between potentially cozy Earths from searing and suffocating Venuses.
“Virtually all of the planets Kepler discovered are completely uninhabitable,” says Yale astronomer Gregory Laughlin, a coauthor of the new paper. “This includes the planet pairs that we think have at least one member with high obliquity. What we find interesting going forward, however, is that many potentially habitable planets orbiting low-mass stars might be subject to the obliquity mechanism that we’ve explored.” Most notably, this includes the notorious seven-planet TRAPPIST-1 system, in which three worlds reside in the habitable zone and five in total exhibit varying potentials for possessing liquid surface water.
Laughlin emphasizes that while it’s clear having a high obliquity will have tangible impacts on a planet’s climate, it’s still a matter of debate as to how large obliquities will impact a planet’s habitability as a whole. Earth’s 23.5 degree tilt obviously doesn’t pose a problem here, but that might be sharp enough to cause disturbing effects in a star system just dozens of light-years away.
There will need to be plenty of follow-up work to actually confirm what’s happening, and it starts with actually observing and characterizing exoplanet obliquities. But without a study like this, obliquities would still be under the radar for most astronomers. “We used a theory that had been applied to somewhat obscure special cases in our own solar system, and showed that it can work beautifully in the extrasolar context,” says Laughlin.
Climate change is already baking the Earth with record breaking heat, intensifying rain storms, and pushing the planet past eight major indicators of stability. The latest impact of increased greenhouse gas emissions could be changing the color of the world’s oceans.
[Related: A beginner’s guide to the ‘hydrogen rainbow.’]
In a study published July 12 in the journal Nature, an international team of scientists found that the changes and blue-green fluctuations to the ocean’s hue over the last 20 years cannot be explained by the natural year-to-year variability alone. These changes are present in more than 56 percent of the planet’s oceans. The study also found that tropical oceans near the Earth’s equator have become steadily greener overtime.
A shift in ocean color is an indication that ecosystems within the surface may also be changing. While the team can’t point to exactly how marine ecosystems are changing to reflect the shift, they are quite sure that human-induced climate change is likely behind it.
“I’ve been running simulations that have been telling me for years that these changes in ocean color are going to happen,” study co-author and MIT senior research scientist Stephanie Dutkiewicz said in a statement. “To actually see it happening for real is not surprising, but frightening. And these changes are consistent with man-induced changes to our climate.”
The ocean gets its signature colors from what is living in its upper layers. Waters that are a deep blue typically reflect little life, while greener water indicates the presence of ecosystems. Greener water also generally means there is plenty of phytoplankton, the microscopic plant-like microbes that call the upper ocean home and are full of a pigment called chlorophyll.
Phytoplankton are the backbone of the marine food web, and these tiny organisms support everything from tiny krill and fish up to marine mammals and seabirds. They also help the ocean capture and store carbon dioxide. Scientists monitor phytoplankton levels across the ocean’s surface as an indicator of how these essential ocean communities are responding to changes in climate. To keep an eye on it, scientists track changes in chlorophyll that are based on the ratio of how much green versus blue light is reflected from the ocean’s surface. These changes are monitored from space.
A 2010 paper by one of this new study’s co-authors, Stephanie Henson of the National Oceanography Center, found that if scientists were only tracking chlorophyll, it would take at least 30 years of continuous monitoring to detect a trend that was specially being driven by climate change. They argued that this was because large natural variations in chlorophyll that occur year to year would overtake any human-made influence on chlorophyll concentrations.
[Related: Jackrabbit’s color-changing fur may prepare them for climate change.]
A follow-up model in 2023 by Dutkiewicz confirmed that signals that climate change might be driving changes in hue should be easier to detect over the smaller and more normal variation in color and should be apparent within 20 years.
“So I thought, doesn’t it make sense to look for a trend in all these other colors, rather than in chlorophyll alone?” study co-author and bio geoscientist at the National Oceanography Center in the United Kingdom B. B. Cael said in a statement.“It’s worth looking at the whole spectrum, rather than just trying to estimate one number from bits of the spectrum.”
In this new study, the team analyzed measurements of ocean color taken by an instrument aboard the Aqua satellite called the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). True to its name, the Aqua satellite has been monitoring ocean color for 21 years and MODIS takes measurements in seven visible wavelengths, including the two colors that researchers generally use to estimate chlorophyll levels.
Using measurements taken from 2002 to 2023, Cael carried out a statistical analysis using all seven ocean colors. First, he looked at how much these colors changed between regions in a given year, to get a sense of their natural variations. Next, he looked at the bigger picture to see how annual variations in the ocean’s color changed over two decades. The analysis showed a clear trend of above the normal year-to-year variability in color.
To determine if this trend is related to climate change, he looked at the model that Dutkiewicz determined in 2023. This model simulated the Earth’s oceans with the addition of greenhouse gasses and also without it. The model matched up almost exactly with the real-world satellite data–with greenhouse gasses, a change in ocean color will show up within 20 years and occur in about 50 percent of the world’s surface oceans.
The team believes that this new study demonstrates that monitoring the oceans colors beyond green chlorophyll can give a faster and clearer way to detect changes to marine ecosystems.
“The color of the oceans has changed. And we can’t say how. But we can say that changes in color reflect changes in plankton communities that will impact everything that feeds on plankton,” said Dutkiewicz. “It will also change how much the ocean will take up carbon, because different types of plankton have different abilities to do that. So, we hope people take this seriously. It’s not only models that are predicting these changes will happen. We can now see it happening, and the ocean is changing.”
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