Science likes to party in the sun too—but especially when it’s also an occasion to celebrate some good news in the fight against HIV! Then we're on to itty bitty livers, and cockatoo lock-picking.
Two Boston stem cell transplant patients have no signs of HIV after stopping antiretrovirals
Last July, two patients showed no traces of the virus after they received, at different times, stem-cell transplants to "treat the blood cancer lymphoma." Nevertheless, they were still on HIV drugs at the time. A year later, they show no signs of HIV after stopping the drugs (one has been off for 7 weeks, the other for 15). However, parts of the body can harbor the virus for a long time, so they’ll need to be monitored for at least a year.
In a similar case, Seattle native Timothy Ray Brown (AKA the “Berlin Patient”), has been living apparently virus-free since 2009, two years after he received a stem cell transplant in Germany to treat leukemia—his donor had a rare HIV-resistant genetic mutation. In all three cases, researchers believe graft-versus-host disease was responsible for the “cure”—with the transplanted cells killing off the host’s chemotherapy-weakened HIV-infected cells. These cases are unusual: few of the millions of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide have blood cancers, the means to afford such treatment, and the ability to survive it. But they represent promising signs in the oft-fruitless search for a cure.
Lower doses of efavirenz suppress HIV just as well as the current recommendation
Australian researchers observed 636 HIV-positive people from 13 countries for one year, with half of them taking 2/3 of the recommended dose of this common antiretroviral—both groups fared equally. What this comes down to is that treatment could become more affordable for millions in need.
Researchers in Japan are growing little livers from human stem cells
These “liver buds” are similar to what a baby has in early fetal life. When transplanted into mice, the livers created proteins and metabolized drugs the way a human liver would. They’re far from making a human-sized liver, but Dr. Leonard Zon, director of the stem cell research program at Boston Children’s Hospital, said that to his knowledge, this is the first time someone has used human stem cells, created from human skin cells, to make a functioning solid organ (as opposed to bone marrow).
Cockatoos are smarter than we thought, and can solve complex mechanical problems
Ten untrained cockatoos were given a lock problem. A nut was placed in a box, visible from the outside through a window, and there were five interlocking mechanisms the birds must solve to get to the nut. Researchers were observing how the birds learn and problem-solve, as well as retain learned information: