Tracing the start of COVID-19 in GA

At a time when COVID-19 appears to be receding in much of Georgia, it’s worth revisiting the start of the pandemic in early 2020. Emory virologist Anne Piantadosi and colleagues have a paper in Viral Evolution on the earliest SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequences detected in Georgia. Analyzing relationships between those virus sequences and samples from other states and countries can give us an idea about where the first COVID-19 infections in Georgia came from. We can draw Read more

Reddit as window into opioid withdrawal strategies

Drug abuse researchers are using the social media site Reddit as a window into the experiences of people living with opioid addiction. Abeed Sarker in Emory's Department of Biomedical Informatics has a paper in Clinical Toxicology focusing on the phenomenon of “precipitated withdrawal,” in collaboration with emergency medicine specialists from Penn, Rutgers and Mt Sinai. Precipitated withdrawal is a more intense form of withdrawal that can occur when someone who was using opioids starts medication-assisted treatment Read more

CROI: HIV cure report and ongoing research

The big news out of CROI (Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections) was a report of a third person being cured of HIV infection, this time using umbilical cord blood for a hematopoetic stem cell transplant. Emory’s Carlos del Rio gave a nice overview of the achievement for NPR this morning. As del Rio explains, the field of HIV cure research took off over the last decade after Timothy Brown, known as “the Berlin patient,” Read more

Carlos del Rio

CROI: HIV cure report and ongoing research

The big news out of CROI (Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections) was a report of a third person being cured of HIV infection, this time using umbilical cord blood for a hematopoetic stem cell transplant. Emory’s Carlos del Rio gave a nice overview of the achievement for NPR this morning.

As del Rio explains, the field of HIV cure research took off over the last decade after Timothy Brown, known as “the Berlin patient,” was cured after receiving a stem cell transplant for acute myeloid leukemia. His transplant donor had a mutation that made incoming blood and immune cells resistant to HIV infection.

For several reasons – safety, expense, and lack of immune compatibility — it is not practical to do hematopoetic stem cell transplants for everyone infected with HIV. Such transplants, which replace the cells that generate blood and immune cells, pose considerable risk.

“This is not a scaleable intervention,” del Rio told interviewer Leila Fadel. “This is very fascinating science, very cool science that will advance the field of HIV research, but this is also a very rare phenomenon.”

The transplant option comes into consideration when someone living with HIV is diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma. But the CCR5 delta32 mutation that makes donor cells HIV-resistant is rare and found mainly in people of Northern European descent, and the process of finding a match has limitations. People of color are under-represented in registries for matching donors and recipients.

Using more malleable umbilical cord blood as a source for stem cell transplant may allow the approach to be offered to a larger group of people, including more people of color. Emory’s Vince Marconi told WebMD that cord blood could also allow patients to undergo a less grueling experience.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CROI conference has morphed into a premier immunology meeting, including presentations on COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2, as well as HIV and viral hepatitis. As usual, Emory/Yerkes scientists had a strong presence at CROI.

In particular, researchers such as Mirko Paiardini and Ann Chahroudi have been investigating approaches to HIV/SIV cure in non-human primate models that avoid stem cell transplants. Instead, cancer immunotherapy drugs and HIV “latency reversal” agents (one is called AZD5582) wake up lurking virus-infected immune cells and flush them out. While clinical trials

Paiardini’s upcoming CROI talk on “Novel Immunotherapy-based Cure interventions” is scheduled for this Wednesday. While we can’t reveal the details ahead of time, Paiardini’s colleagues were highly impressed when he gave a presentation about the results in November.

Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Immunology 1 Comment

Emory plays leading role in landmark HIV prevention study of injectable long-acting cabotegravir

Emory University played a key role in a landmark international study evaluating the safety and efficacy of the long-acting, injectable drug, cabotegravir (CAB LA), for HIV prevention.

The randomized, controlled, double-blind study found that cabotegravir was 69% more effective (95% CI 41%-84%) in preventing HIV acquisition in men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women who have sex with men when compared to the current standard of care, daily oral emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate 200 mg and 300 mg (FTC/TDF) tablets.

The study achieved its primary objective of non-inferiority with the difference approaching superiority in favor of cabotegravir, pending final analysis.

The findings were so positive that, during a planned review of study data, an independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) recommended the study results be announced as soon as possible. The study sponsor, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, agreed with that recommendation.

Emory, through the Emory-CDC HIV Clinical Trials Unit, enrolled 7% of the study’s more than 4,500 worldwide participants at three of its clinical research sites: The Hope Clinic (86 participants) and the Ponce de Leon Center (35 participants) in Atlanta and at the CDC’s Silom Community Clinic in Bangkok, Thailand (203 participants).

“This is a landmark study with a new approach that will change how HIV prevention is being done and will open the field to future interventions,” says Carlos del Rio, MD, the executive associate dean, Emory University School of Medicine at Grady Health System. Del Rio is a member of the study team and the principal investigator at the Ponce de Leon Center.

Read more

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Fighting HIV, biomedical and behavioral hand in hand

In the HIV/AIDS arena, the idea of “treatment as prevention” has been gaining strength. Multiple studies have shown that treatment with anti-retroviral drugs can dramatically reduce the likelihood that someone infected with HIV will be able to pass the virus to someone else.

However, a recent strategy document for HIV/AIDS prevention developed by a International Antiviral Society–USA panel, co-led by Rollins Global Health chair Carlos Del Rio, puts biomedical interventions hand in hand with psychosocial measures such as couples counseling and treatment for drug dependence.

Why? Because people everywhere can have trouble sticking to antiretroviral treatment, even if drugs are available. And couples counseling by itself is valuable.

A powerful example of how this plays out, and of the importance of couples counseling to the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs in prevention, comes from a recent presentation from Emory epidemiologist Kristin Wall at the AIDS 2014 meeting in Australia. The website NAM Aidsmap had a helpful write-up of her presentation, which is available here. Thanks to co-author Susan Allen for alerting us to this.

CVCT (couples voluntary counseling and treatment) greatly enhanced the preventive effect of antiretroviral treatment, when compared to treatment without counselling, Wall’s analysis of a large cohort of couples in Zambia showed. 

Update: Allen points out that couples counseling by itself was effective in helping people avoid HIV, with a 75 percent reduction in incidence for couples where the HIV+ partner was not receiving antiviral therapy or with HIV negative couples.  Read more

Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Immunology 2 Comments

Curiosity about health and a borderless world

Developing effective HIV prevention and intervention programs in the most affected communities is a challenge globally as well as locally. It’s also a challenge that Emory infectious disease specialist Carlos del Rio, MD, is addressing as newly appointed chair of the Rollins School of Public Health’s Hubert Department of Global Health.

Carlos del Rio, MD

Carlos del Rio, MD

Del Rio is uniquely equipped to address HIV prevention and intervention. As the former chief of medicine at Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta’s safety-net hospital, he witnessed firsthand patients affected by the disease. He says there ought to be incentives for people to stay healthy instead of barriers to staying healthy.

More daunting for del Rio is preventing disease on a global scale, much of which rests on changing unhealthy behaviors related to diet, exercise, smoking, and sex. He says we know very little about how to implement population-wide behavior change, and we need to learn more.

Del Rio says growing human capital to strengthen research capacity in resource-constrained countries is also key. Since 1998, the NIH/Fogarty International Center has funded the Emory AIDS Training and Research Program (AITRP) to build capacity in Armenia, the Republic of Georgia, Ethiopia, Mexico, Rwanda, Vietnam and Zambia. Led by del Rio, AITRP brings a select group of young scientists to Emory each year for advanced training. Emory faculty also train and mentor scientists in these countries.

The training program has opened avenues to improving health. In Ethiopia, del Rio helped expand HIV testing among the police force and bring antiretroviral therapy into the community for people living with HIV.

In the Republic of Georgia, the Emory AITRP and the Emory-Georgia Tuberculosis Research Training Program, another NIH/Fogarty program led by RSPH adjunct faculty member and Emory School of Medicine professor  Henry Blumberg, MD, has helped build research capacity in HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis research.

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Paris “Hands Over” to Atlanta for AIDS Vaccine 2010

Eric Hunter, PhD

Eric Hunter, PhD

As the AIDS Vaccine 2009 conference concluded today in Paris with more than 1,000 scientists in attendance, Eric Hunter, PhD, co-director of the Emory Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, accepted the “hand over” for next year’s international conference in Atlanta.

The Emory CFAR will serve as local Atlanta host of AIDS Vaccine 2010, which takes place next Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, led by the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise. The conference will bring scientists, community advocates, funders and policy makers from around the world to Atlanta to hear cutting edge scientific results, exchange new ideas, educate future leaders and engage a diverse group of scientists in the quest for an AIDS vaccine.

A number of Emory scientists were in attendance in Paris at AIDS Vaccine 2009. Hunter was interviewed by several news organizations, including the Lehrer News Hour and Science magazine, about the results of a recently concluded AIDS vaccine trial conducted by the United States and Thailand. The complete results of the trial were released at the meeting and also published online this week by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Hunter was among 22 scientists who initially had criticized the trial in a 2004 Science editorial. After seeing the full results and analysis of the trial this week, Hunter commented from the Paris meeting:

“The complete data from the trial indicate that it was modestly effective in preventing HIV-1 infection. However, it will likely be difficult to establish the mechanism by which the vaccine protected participants and additional studies will be needed. This positive result, though, gives a much needed boost to efforts aimed at developing an HIV-1 vaccine and takes the field from the position of perhaps an impossible goal to a possible goal.”

Hunter will chair AIDS Vaccine 2010 in Atlanta, along with co-chairs James Curran, MD, MPH, dean, Rollins School of Public Health; Carlos del Rio, MD, Hubert professor and chair of the Hubert Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public Health; and Harriet Robinson, PhD, senior vice president of research and development, GeoVax and emeritus professor of microbiology and immunology, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University.

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