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Game Changer: Dominic Travis

In 2003, a team of scientists made a groundbreaking discovery tracing the origin of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) back to African monkeys. Since then, Dominic Travis, D.V.M.,has been at the forefront of a collaborative effort that seeks to fully understand how infectious diseases impact all primates — including humans.

“We try and find variables that connect habitat, wildlife, livestock and humans,” said Travis, wildlife veterinary medicine and epidemiology specialist at the U of M College of Veterinary Medicine.

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UMN, UNMC research shows persistent HIV replication is associated with lower drug concentrations in lymphatic tissues

Drugs used to treat HIV penetrate poorly into lymphatic tissues where most HIV replication takes place and there is persistent low-level virus replication in these tissues according to research from the University of Minnesota and University of Nebraska Medical Center.

“We know the drugs we use today are effective because our patients are doing better and living longer, but these drugs cannot cure the infection,” said Timothy Schacker, M.D., director of the Program in HIV Medicine at the University of Minnesota. “We wanted to know why and thought that maybe the drugs were not getting into the tissues where most virus replication is happening.”

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A look forward on World AIDS Day 2013

Editor’s note: The following was adapted from a Program in Human Sexuality email authored by Eli Coleman to honor World AIDS Day 2013.

Medical advances, improved access to care, prevention initiatives, and our nation’s aspiration of an AIDS-free generation are all good signs, but as a culture we will need to shift our perspective to stop the spread of HIV.

Over the last 30 years, where have we failed?

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New grant will allow U of M researchers to advance new diagnosis & treatment methods for meningitis

Researchers from the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Division of Infectious Diseases and International Medicine have received a $3.2 million grant to examine new cost-effective approaches for diagnosing and treating meningitis. The University will partner with Uganda’s Makerere University on the effort.

In the first of two programs supported by the new grant, University of Minnesota researchers will employ a tiered approach to diagnosing meningitis, employing a strategic approach that eliminates a full battery of testing when a more limited panel of stepwise testing can confirm infection.  The project will also explore new diagnostic tests for meningitis due to tuberculosis (TB).

The grant will also support a new clinical trial to test the antifungal properties of sertraline (Zoloft), an antidepressant with possible anti-fungal properties in mouse models. Because Zoloft went off patent in 2006, the medication could present a cheaper alternative in the fight against cryptococcal meningitis.

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U of M expert perspective: Access to treatment is critical to the decline in HIV infection rates

Worldwide HIV infection rates have fallen by a third since 2001 according to new data  released earlier this week by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

According to the report, 2.5 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2011, down from 3.2 million in 2001. More specifically, new HIV infection rates for children saw a reduction of 52 percent since 2001, while  new infections among adults and children combined fell 33 percent in the same time period.

AIDS-related deaths have also dropped 30 percent from 2005, their highest point on record.

UNAIDS cites an increase in domestic HIV and AIDS-related spending on research, treatment and prevention efforts, as well as more effective treatment options as difference makers behind the decline in new infections.

“I think the decline in new HIV infections speaks to the tremendous success of programs like the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and others that have  made therapy available worldwide to many people with HIV,” said University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Timothy Schacker, M.D., a specialist in HIV and AIDS-related treatment and research .  “When patients receive treatment for their infection they’re less likely to pass the virus on to sexual partners or children during birth.  The latest report by UNAIDS is excellent news, but it also highlights all of the work that lies ahead.”

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U of M researchers land $5.7M grant to employ a new approach in the fight against HIV

Researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Program in HIV Medicine have been awarded a $5.7 million grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to test a new treatment approach in the fight against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

In clinical trials supported by the latest grant, University researchers will employ an FDA-approved drug with anti-fibrotic and anti-inflammatory properties to reverse the inflammatory damage caused by HIV replication in lymphatic tissues in an attempt to restore the population of immune cells (CD4 cells) that are essential for normal immune responses.

If successful, the trials could point to a new adjunctive therapy for HIV that could improve immune function and lead to a functional cure for the disease. The approach could also help protect HIV infected people from diseases associated with ongoing inflammation like heart attacks, blood clots and cancer.

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