By: Justin Chen

What is HIV? What is AIDS?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Deficiency. HIV is very similar to other viruses, except for the fact that, over time, an immune system can clear out normal viruses, while it seems as if the immune system can't seem to get rid of HIV. Over time, HIV attacks the virus-fighting cells, and before long a human body can't fight infections and diseases anymore. Once this happens, HIV can lead to AIDS.

AIDS stands for Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome. This is the final stage of HIV, and people at this stage of HIV disease have badly damaged immune systems.

Brief History

In 1981, doctors noticed a strange illness for gay men in the U.S, caused by a weak immune system. After many tests, they realized that there was a gay man with AIDS by the name of Gaetan Dugas, who worked at an airlines and flew around the U.S having sexual affairs with many men. These men eventually got AIDS as well. Scientists and people immediately started calling Dugas "patient zero", but before long, scientists started tracing AIDS back to many other sites. Eventually, they found out that the spillover (term scientists use when something of a species is transferred over to another) of HIV to humans occurred in around 1908. Scientists discovered that the first species to have HIV was chimpanzees in Western Africa. The spillover occurred when a man killed a chimp, accidentally cut himself, and had blood-to-blood interaction with the chimp's blood.

How has AIDS affected our world?

Today, an estimated 42 million people live with HIV/AIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa in particular is the region of the world most affected. Nearly three-fourths of people living with HIV/AIDS are located in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, 3.1 million people had died of HIV/AIDS (2.4 million were in sub-Saharan Africa). The disease has already orphaned 12 million children in Africa and scientists predict that number could grow to a staggering 40 million by 2010.

Recent HIV/AIDS Success

In 1984, Margaret Heckler, U.S Secretary of Health, predicted AIDS would be cured in just 2 years. Obviously, she was way off, but today there are many new treatments and conditions to treat help fight HIV, and scientists and doctors are on the right track to find a cure for HIV/AIDS.

For example, there has been a new method which uses so-called ‘‘molecular scissors’’ to cut the virus from the DNA of infected cells. Researchers have managed to manipulate the enzyme so that it can identify a particular sequence and remove it - and they say it is more than 90 percent effective in identifying the HIV virus this way. The theory is that the genetically altered immune cells would reproduce, cut the HIV out of infected cells, and as a result, enable them to function again. As of right now, the method works-- on mice.

And just a little while back, a young girl by the name of Emily survived from leukemia. After fighting for two years, Doctors suggested they sign Emily up to a clinical trial that would use a disabled form of HIV to carry cancer-fighting genes into her T-cells (disease fighting cells). The hope was that this would re-programm her immune system to recognize the cancer cells and start killing them. By re-engineering her T-cells, Emily experienced extremely fatal symptoms. Her parents were told that she had a 1 in 1,000 chance of surviving the night. Trial leader Dr Stephan Grupp and his team realised that the level of a certain protein had become very elevated as a result of the T-cells growing in Emily's body.

Doctors realized that the level of a certain protein had become very elevated as a result of the T-cells growing in Emily's body.

This same protein is involved in rheumatoid arthritis, and there is a drug for that disease that turns off production of that particular protein.

The team administered the drug to Emily, with dramatic results. Almost overnight, her breathing improved, her fever dropped and her blood pressure was back to normal.