The cure

With Hepatitis C and AIDs remaining seemingly without cure despite years of research, Michael O’ Sullivan investigates recent medical milestones in the fight against the two diseases

Modern medicine is the stuff of miracles. To ask what we would do without our many pills and liquids is to strike fear into the heart of humanity. Dying at the age of 40 from an infected cut is nothing short of preposterous.

However, this statement is far from accurate. It is only in the last 200 years or so that modern medicine has reared its head. Before that, you were quite likely to drop off the face of the earth at the age of 10 after stubbing your toe. Since then, life has improved considerably. People live longer, happier, healthier lives and don’t die of easily-treatable everyday ailments. Although this improvement has given rise to problems of its own; as we gained the ability to cure the simple illnesses, people lived long enough to contract the rather spectacularly horrendous illnesses that now afflict our populations.

Cancer, HIV, Alzheimer’s; as we continue to live longer, diseases such as these become more prevalent in our society. The battle to quell the march of these behemoths has been raging for years and, while treatments are getting better all the time, we still can’t seem to find a definitive cure.

The tide may be beginning to change however, with the news that a working treatment for Hepatitis C has been discovered and that a vaccine against HIV has made it through the first round of clinical trials.

Abbot Laboratories recently announced that they had come up with a drug combination that cured Hepatitis C in 95% of cases after just 12 weeks of therapy.

Hepatitis C is a viral disease that causes inflammation and scarring on the liver. It is also asymptomatic, meaning that most people don’t even know they have it until it’s too late. The virus causes the liver to become cirrhotic, with many sufferers eventually needing a transplant.

Current methods of treatment are achieving a roughly 50%-80% cure rate, which is not bad in itself, but any improvement at all is welcome. The fact that a treatment has been developed that works in almost all cases has us one step closer to eradicating the illness completely, a giant leap forward in everybody’s books.

Hepatitis C, while serious, is not always fatal if caught early. The treatments as they stand at the moment have a good chance of eradicating the infection and allowing the patient to go back to a normal life. HIV, on the other hand, is a whole other story.

HIV is a death sentence to all who contract it. It may kill them slowly, or it may cut their lifespan dramatically, but all sufferers will die from the disease, or related complications, eventually.

HIV attacks the immune system, drastically reducing its effectiveness. It can be said that HIV itself is not a killer; infections that occur as a result of HIV are what kills sufferers. When HIV has compromised a person’s immune system to a certain degree, they are diagnosed with AIDS. If this is the case, even the smallest, simplest of infections have the capacity to kill the patient, as their immune system is too weak to fight it off.

A group of Canadian researchers however, are hoping to change this. Researchers at Western University, London, Ontario announced recently that a HIV vaccine they developed made it through the first round of clinical trials, showing no adverse effects and significantly boosting the immunity of those it treated.

The vaccine itself was formed using a killed HIV virus that had been genetically modified. This, however, took ten years of hard graft to create and has been named SAV001-H.

Despite its relatively unexciting name, the vaccine has exciting consequences. The drug significantly increased the level of HIV antibodies present in those it was tested on; in one case a 34-fold increase was measured. These results are incredible, as antibodies are the base requirement for the eradication of all infections. Because HIV specifically targets the immune system, it has made it all the more difficult to treat, yet here we are hoping to completely eradicate it.

The second round of trials is to begin soon. If the drug makes it through all the trials, a working HIV vaccine could be on the market in less than ten years’ time.

Ten years, and we could have a cure for HIV. What else is the human race capable of in that time? Could we cure brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s? Modern medicine has worked its wonders once again. It has its detractors, conspiracy theorists who claim pharmaceutical companies are holding out on cures they already have in order to make more money off temporary fixes they have on the market, and others who favour the holistic approach.

Natural medicines are perfectly fine for most common complaints, but for diseases like HIV and Hepatitis, chewing roots just isn’t going to cut it. And if we’re perfectly honest, pharmaceutical companies are businesses and businesses exist for the sole purpose of making money. But all of this negativity takes away from the true triumph here. We, using only our own intelligence, have managed to extend our lifespan using simple brainpower and ingenuity. If eternal life exists, its secrets are locked away somewhere in our own heads.

 

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