The past 30 years of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) investment in HIV/AIDS research have resulted in scientific accomplishments that benefit many of the nearly 37 million people living with HIV (PLWH) globally. The impact of this research has also contributed to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of other health conditions affecting many more millions of people.
Listen to an audio recording of this blog.
As Director of the NIH Office of AIDS Research (OAR), I was proud to host “HIV and Beyond,” an NIH-wide World AIDS Day Forum, on December 1, 2017. At this forum, scientific leaders from several NIH Institutes and Centers highlighted HIV research that has benefited other areas of science.
Dr. Sarah Kattakuzhy, representing the NIH Clinical Center, discussed how experience with protease inhibitors and nucleoside polymerase inhibitors, which are common HIV medications, informed the development of effective treatments for the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Only about 10 percent of Americans living with HCV have been cured, but Dr. Kattakuzhy has identified lessons learned from the HIV immune response that could be applied to expanding therapeutic options, lowering drug prices, and making generic medications available, thus improving HCV treatment and cure rates.
Dr. Patrice Desvigne-Nickens from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute described studies involving PLWH that suggest that inflammation increases the risk of heart failure. Because of the increased inflammation during acute HIV infection, PLWH are a unique cohort to observe how inflammation influences cardiovascular and hematologic disorders and help identify new therapeutic targets for heart failure.
Dr. Nirali Shah from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) explained how HIV research has contributed to finding cures for certain cancers. In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a chimeric antigen receptor-T (car-T) cell therapy for adults with certain types of leukemia. Using a modified form of HIV to deliver “designer” genes into a person’s own T cells generates genetically engineered cells that can kill that person’s tumors. The safety and efficacy of this gene-therapy approach were determined through HIV research and then applied to cancer. The NCI is now studying this approach for other diseases.
Dr. Jonah Odim from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases detailed how HIV research and policy advances are yielding dividends in organ transplantation, such as kidney and liver transplants. HIV advocates have addressed research ethics, patient rights, and health disparities to inform policies on organ transplantation. PLWH now have access to donated organs from individuals with HIV, an advance that increases donor supply and allocation and may shorten transplantation waiting lists.
Dr. Dianne Rausch from the National Institute of Mental Health described how research on the way that HIV stigma affects patient behavior and health outcomes can advance the development of interventions and programming for HIV and other diseases. Social network analysis has led to a better understanding of how peers, social norms, and community patterns affect outcomes in HIV. Such analysis also can be done for other diseases.
“HIV and Beyond” offered a rich analysis of the importance of HIV research. Watch the full video of this public event.