In the news: A possible HIV cure, the Nobel Prize for medicine and China's clinical trial fraud

Headlines in the world of health.

A breakthrough in HIV research?

Scientists in the United Kingdom testing a combination of anti-HIV drugs have reported that a test patient showed no sign of the virus after treatment, making it a possible breakthrough in the hunt for a cure for HIV and AIDS.

The treatment being tested is a combination of standard antiretroviral drugs with a drug that reactivates dormant HIV and a vaccine that triggers immune system activity to destroy cells infected with HIV. The combination tricks the virus, that is resilient because it hides in the body, to emerge and then attack it – a process called “kick and kill”.

Antiretroviral drugs have in recent years transformed HIV from a progressive and mostly fatal infection to a chronic condition that can be managed for decades with continuous treatment. While antiretroviral drugs can stop the virus, they cannot eradicate the infection. The new drug treatment could the first serious attempt at a full cure for HIV.

The treatment will still have to cross many tests and trials. In previous cases of treatments thought eradicate HIV, the virus has re-emerged. If this treatment proves to be a successful cure it would change the fate of 37 million people in the world living with HIV.

Nobel Prize for autophagy research

Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of mechanisms of autophagy – processes by which cells in the human body detoxify and repair themselves.

Autophagy is how the body identifying old and dying cells and recycles them to extract energy or to build new cells necessary for the continuous process of growth and metabolism. Little has been known about how the the body performs this essential function. In a series of experiments in the early 1990s, Ohsumi identified genes essential for autophagy using baker's yeast. he then fund similarities between the mechanisms in yeast and in human cells.

As The Guardian reports Ohsumi chose to study autophagy even though it was not a fashionable subject “I am not very competitive, so I always look for a new subject to study, even if it is not so popular,” he said in a 2012 interview. “If you start from some sort of basic, new observation, you will have plenty to work on.”

New universal flu vaccines

A new generation of influenza vaccines, one of which can protect against 88% of known viral strains, could be the solution to global influenza pandemics. Researchers at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom have devised two universal vaccines that can can prevent up to half a million deaths annually around the world.

While one vaccine can provide immunity to 88% of known flu strains in a single shot, the second fights of 95% of known US flu strains, the researchers said.

The vaccines are based on short flu virus fragments called epitopes that are known to be recognized by the immune system and trigger an immune response. The epitopes are selected not to target a specific flu strain but the widest possible population and so to generate antibodies that can fight off a wide range of viruses upon infection.

Odisha’s encephalitis outbreak

With at least 21 people having died of Japanese encephalitis in Odisha’s Malkangiri district, the government has ordered health officials to keep a watch of the spread of the disease and is preparing to send more doctors to the affected area.

Twenty-seven people, mostly children, are reported to have contracted Japanese encephalitis in the district. The Japanese encephalitis virus spreads from pigs to humans through mosquitos. The state government’s animal husbandry department is working to identify infected pigs and health officials are considering relocating pig farms away from villages as well as mosquito control measures, according to news reports.

China’s massive clinical trial scam

More than 80% of data used clinical trials of new pharmaceutical drugs in China have been fabricated, according to a Chinese government investigation report. The report uncovered fraud at almost every level of clinical trials including pharmaceutical companies hiding or deleting records, tampering with data and suppressing of potentially adverse effects of the drugs being tested.

The report has resulted in 80% of drug applications pending approval in China for mass production to be cancelled.

The investigation, conducted by the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration analysed data from 1,622 clinical trials for new pharmaceutical drugs. The investigation revealed that many of the 'new' drugs awaiting approval were actually combinations of existing drugs. Blatant manipulation was also evident hen records showed that many clinical trial outcomes were written before the trials had been conducted.

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