HIV remains one of the most difficult health challenges on the African continent. Tremendous progress is being made to understand the virus, the immunological mechanisms that contribute to its control, and the development of new antiretroviral drugs and vaccines that treat and prevent HIV.
But much remains to be done to overcome the economic and health devastation of the epidemic. African researchers have carried out cutting-edge studies to help solve these problems.
The Sub-Saharan Africa Network for Excellence in TB / HIV Research is at the forefront of this research and has provided some important insights into how the virus spreads, as well as the immune mechanisms that allow some people to control it without antiretroviral drugs.
This knowledge can be translated into effective vaccines, the development of innovative interventions to prevent the spread of the virus or for a functional cure that people can live without antiretroviral drugs – at least for a while.
Immune systems are critical
An important basis for our research, in collaboration with others, is to understand what mechanisms the body uses to control HIV – particularly in the early stages of infection.
Our study shows that a few weeks after HIV infection, almost all people have a very robust immune response through cells known as “cytotoxic T lymphocytes,” or “killer CD8 T cells.” These cells are able to partially suppress HIV.