Global Technology - December 2019

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What new technologies will dramatically transform your world?  We’ll present an exclusive preview of the stunning breakthroughs emerging from the world’s leading research labs. 

Each year, 1.7 million people worldwide are infected with HIV.  At best, those people are condemned to lifelong antiretroviral therapy; at worst they eventually die from AIDS.  Out of the 37.9 million people living with HIV, 22.3 million have access to antiretroviral therapy, allowing them to have an almost normal lifespan. Unfortunately, these medications don’t reach the cells where the virus lies dormant for years.  Moreover, the long-term adverse effects of these medications remain unknown.

Fortunately, as explained recently in the scientific journal Cell Reports, a team of Canadian researchers has identified a way to thwart HIV infection at its very early stages.

Contrary to popular belief, HIV is not so easily transmitted.  The new research studied the window of vulnerability of the virus, meaning the moments in the infection process when it could be weakened or attacked.  They focused on the very early stages following the viral invasion.

Once transmitted, HIV does not immediately spread through the body. It initially has to multiply locally, mainly in the genital tissues.  It is only after this initial, local expansion that the virus spreads.  This localized expansion offers a brief window of vulnerability before the virus efficiently establishes a systemic infection.

The immune response is like an armed struggle in which an enemy infiltrates the body and the body defends itself.  Very specialized defensive units known as ‘plasmacytoid dendritic cells’ (or PDCs) are key.  These small, round-shaped cells patrol the body, specializing in both pathogen detection and antiviral response orchestration.  They start producing large amounts of interferon, a protein that triggers a state of infection resistance in other cells.

As soon as it arrives, HIV gets PDCs out of the way and prevents them from sounding the alarm. The virus doesn’t seem to kill them directly, but it makes them disappear in a way that is still not understood.  The loss of PDCs from both the infection site and throughout the body...

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