A joint Oxford University/Imperial College research programme into HIV/AIDS has received £5 million support from the Wellcome Trust to carry out a drug trial involving HIV patients in London, Moscow, South Africa and Australia.
The trial, co-ordinated by Professor Jonathan Weber from Imperial with help from a MRC team led by Professor Abdel Babiker, will give combination anti-retroviral drugs to 400 patients with the earliest recognisable manifestation of HIV infection, a transient viral induced illness known as the 'acute retroviral syndrome'. The trial will test the idea that suppressing viral replication in the earliest phase of infection delays progression to AIDS. Researchers at the Peter Medawar Building for Pathogen Research in Oxford, led by Professor Rodney Phillips, who is joint Principle Investigator for the project, will analyse the results and use the opportunity to continue research into the clash which occurs when HIV first encounters the human immune response.
After HIV is contracted, the virus proliferates dramatically and spreads throughout the body before being partially repressed by the immune system. No-one ever gets rid of the virus once it is contracted. This early phase occurs a few weeks after the virus is caught and often brings the patient to medical attention, as the illness can resemble a bad attack of influenza.
'A hallmark of HIV is its erosion of the immune system, and in this early phase damage to the 'anti-HIV component' may be particularly severe, and certainly irreversible,' said Professor Phillips. 'After this stage the fully developed immune response holds the virus in check for around eight years. Although ostensibly under control, HIV continues to avidly undermine host immunity by invading the very cells that form the immune response.'