Top Ten HIV Stories of 2013

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Tuesday December 31, 2013

EDGE looks at 2013 in HIV, from advances and disappointments in experimental testing, drugs and treatments for HIV, the first cures (and false cures), the legislative battles to allow PLWHAs to donate blood and organs and the inspiring story of "The Berlin Patient" Timothy Ray Brown, cured of HIV and helping others fight it as well.

1. Drug Blocks HIV in Lab Study, Human Tests Planned

Can an experimental drug developed to treat epilepsy block the AIDS virus? A preliminary lab study suggests it’s possible, and researchers are eager to try it in people.

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2. HIV Back in "Cured" Bone Marrow Transplant Patients

Two patients who were believed to have been cured of HIV and cancer after bone marrow transplants discovered that their HIV recently returned, one in August and the other in November. The men had been off medications for months after the HIV virus initially disappeared, but are currently back on antiretrovirals and "in good health."

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3. First Documented Case of Child Cured of HIV

On March 3, amfAR described the first documented case of a child being cured of HIV. Dr. Deborah Persaud said a two-year-old child in Mississippi was diagnosed with HIV at birth and immediately put on antiretroviral therapy.

At 18 months, the child ceased taking antiretrovirals and was lost to follow-up. When brought back into care at 23 months, despite being off treatment for five months, the child was found to have an undetectable viral load. A battery of subsequent highly sensitive tests confirmed the absence of HIV.

"The child’s pediatrician in Mississippi was aware of the work we were doing, and quickly notified our team as soon as this young patient’s case came to her attention," said Dr. Rowena Johnston, amfAR vice president and director of research. "Because the collaboratory was already in place, the researchers were able to mobilize immediately and perform the tests necessary to determine if this was in fact a case of a child being cured."

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4. HOPE Act Allows HIV-Positive to Donate Organs

AIDS service organizations applauded the House of Representatives’ recent decision to allow people living with HIV to donate their organs to other people living with HIV. The passage of the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act, which is awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature, could save the lives of more than 1,000 PLWHAs with liver and kidney failure each year.

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5. Brazil To Test New HIV Vaccine on Rhesus Monkeys

Brazilian scientists announced that they would begin testing a new HIV vaccine on monkeys. Known as the HIVBr18, the vaccine works by maintaining a viral load so low that it will keep an HIV-positive person from developing an immunodeficiency or transmitting the virus to an uninfected person.

The vaccine was developed and patented by a team from the Medicine Faculty of the University of Sao Paolo, the Sao Paulo State Research Foundation (FAPESP) that funded the study. The research team is made up of Edecio Cunha Neto, Jorge Kalil and Simone Fonseca.

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6. Vancouver Creates Better HIV Test

British Columbia will be the first province in Canada to use a more accurate HIV detection test that has greatly improved the diagnosis of early or acute HIV infection. The test is more expensive, but detects HIV up to three weeks earlier than the standard test.

According to an article in the Vancouver Sun, the new test detects the virus as soon as one to two weeks after it enters the body, compared with up to four weeks using standard HIV testing. That’s important, because people have a higher risk of transmitting HIV to others during the earliest stage of infection.

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7. Despite Pressure, Ban on Gay Blood Donors Endures

Dating from the first years of the AIDS epidemic, the 30-year ban on gay or bisexual men donating blood is a source of frustration to many gay activists, and also to many leading players in the nation’s health and blood-supply community who have joined in calling for change, including Banned4Life.

In June, the American Medical Association voted to oppose the policy. More than 80 members of Congress wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services, criticizing the lifetime ban as an outdated measure that perpetuates inaccurate stereotypes about gay men.

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8. Timothy Ray Brown, Cured of HIV, Works to Help Others

Timothy Ray Brown, the first person ever cured of HIV, met with scientists working to defeat HIV for good.

The meeting, which took place at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on June 18, was designed for the scientists to actually meet with Brown, 46, in person and learn more about what caused his cure and build on it to find a cure for others. The scientists are working with a $20 million project to cure millions who are still living with the disease.

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9. REPEAL Legislation Seeks to End HIV Criminalization

Spurred by the harsh criminal sentences implemented under an outdated law, on May 7, Representatives Barbara Lee (D-California) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) introduced the bipartisan legislation the REPEAL (Repeal Existing Policies That Encourage and Allow Legal) HIV Discrimination Act. They argue that although these laws were originally created to prosecute those who intentionally infected others with HIV, they have been applied far beyond this purpose and are no longer in line with current knowledge of the disease.

"These laws were written at a time of heightened anxiety and rampant misinformation about HIV transmission," said Alison Yager, supervising attorney at the HIV Law Project. "Today, the science surrounding HIV transmission is very well established, and we know that many of the acts that are criminalized pose no threat whatsoever."

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10. Last HIV Vaccine Didn’t Work; Govt. Halts Study

The latest bad news in the hunt for an AIDS vaccine: The government halted a large U.S. study, saying the experimental shots aren’t preventing HIV infection.

Nor did the shots reduce the amount of the AIDS virus in the blood when people who’d been vaccinated later became infected, the National Institutes of Health said.

"It’s disappointing," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. But, "there was important information gained from this" study that will help determine what to try next.

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Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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