Game Changer? Here’s Why HIV Progresses Slowly in Some People

Researchers discovered a connection between cholesterol metabolism in immune cells and HIV progression, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. These findings are considered a breakthrough that could help scientists in developing new treatments for HIV.

As of today, medicine has never cured anyone of HIV. Treatments have improved so much in the past decade, however, that they’ve largely crippled the virus, allowing people to live longer.

Game changer: altered cholesterol metabolism in immune cells

According to lead author Giovanna Rappocciolo, researchers have known for two decades that in some people, the disease progresses more slowly without drug therapy. But now, they’ve got a lead.

“We believe altered cholesterol metabolism in certain immune cells may be a reason,” Rappocciolo added.

How does HIV turn into AIDS?

AIDS forms through a process known as trans-infection — levels of HIV increase ultimately defeating the immune system. This leads to AIDS, the most advanced stage of the virus.

The HIV virus destroys blood cells and interferes with antigen-presenting cells (APCs), which are in charge of protecting our immune system. Those cells are called T cells. Here the virus reproduces.

Researchers have now found that people with enhanced cholesterol metabolism in certain immune cells experience a much slower progression of the virus. This may explain why some people – called “nonprogressors” – can live with HIV infection for years before the virus mutates into AIDS. The attribute seems to be inherited.

How did the study work?

Researchers studied 3 decades of data collected through the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, which involves biologic samplings of nearly 7,000 homosexual men nationwide. By examining both progressors and nonprogressors, researchers found the link between cholesterol metabolism in immune cells and the advancement of the HIV virus.

Recent discoveries from the scientific community were presented at the International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment & Prevention, which is being held every year in Vancouver, Canada. You can find more details about the conference here.

HIV’s Prevalence in the United States

According to statistics, the HIV virus affects more than 1.2 million people in the United States. Almost 1 in 8 are unaware of their infection. Just a couple of months ago, Indiana was hit by one of the worst documented outbreaks of the virus among IV users in the past two decades.

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