Posts tagged ‘HIV/AIDS’


HIV/AIDS summit unites experts, activists. Their goal: Stop the disease

October 10, 2014 | by
Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P.

Alexandra Levine, chief medical officer of City of Hope and deputy director for clinical programs of the cancer center, reflects on how far HIV/AIDS treatment has come. But more must be done, she says.

First, the good news: HIV infections have dropped dramatically over the past 30 years. Doctors, researchers and health officials have made great strides in preventing and treating the disease, turning what was once a death sentence into, for some, a chronic condition. Now, the reality check: HIV is still a worldwide health threat.

Worldwide, more than 34 million people are living with HIV or AIDs, and 1.1 million of those live in the United States.

City of Hope’s eighth annual San Gabriel Valley HIV/AIDS Action Summit brought together experts and activists to discuss, and help raise awareness of, the prevention, treatment and ultimate cure of HIV and AIDS.

Former State Assemblymember Anthony J. Portantino co-hosted the event, which included students from Duarte High School, Blair High School’s Health Careers Academy, CIS Academy in Pasadena, California, and the Applied Technology Center high school in Montebello.

Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P., chief medical officer of City of Hope and deputy director for clinical programs of the cancer center, reflected on how far HIV/AIDS treatment has come even as she offered a stark reminder of today’s reality. Even though HIV is no longer a death sentence, she said, the disease is not to be taken lightly. » Continue Reading


HIV/AIDS Action Summit: ‘This epidemic is far from over’

October 25, 2013 | by
City of Hope's chief medical officer Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P., explains how HIV infects the body and becomes AIDS if left untreated to attendees of the 7th Annual San Gabriel Valley HIV/AIDS Action Summit

City of Hope Chief Medical Officer Alexandra Levine explains how HIV infects the body and becomes AIDS if left untreated. She made her presentation to attendees of the seventh annual San Gabriel Valley HIV/AIDS Action Summit.

Thanks to better screening programs and education about safer sex practices, the number of new HIV infections has dropped dramatically from the height of the epidemic — from more than 130,000 new annual cases in the mid-1980s to approximately 50,000 new annual cases today. But that number, combined with the fact that more than 1 million Americans are currently living with HIV, mean that the disease is far from eradicated.

“And that’s why we are all here,” said City of Hope Chief Medical Officer Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P., at the seventh annual San Gabriel Valley Action Summit co-hosted with former Assemblymember Anthony Portantino. The Oct. 22 event at City of Hope had more than 300 attendees, including students from Duarte High School, Montebello High School and Blair High School’s Health Careers Academy.

To highlight that this epidemic is still very much alive, Levine drew upon these grim statistics during her presentation:

  • Each year, more than 18,000 Americans die from HIV/AIDS-related complications.
  • For every two patients who begin treatment for HIV, five people are newly infected.
  • A total of 39 percent of new HIV cases are among young adults (19 to 29 years old). » Continue Reading

Shape and size matter when it comes to RNA interference

July 8, 2013 | by

RNA interference, or RNAi, is a relatively young but important field of study in genetics research that is leading to new treatment options for cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and other serious illnesses. City of Hope scientists recently published findings that may advance these efforts in the journal Nucleic Acids Research.

Small test tubes with red liquid

Scientists can target disease-causing proteins with interfering RNA molecules. City of Hope researchers continue to improve the method.

Study first author Nicholas Snead, Ph.D., a recent graduate of the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences at City of Hope, explains the significance of the study results that appear in the paper, titled “Molecular basis for improved gene silencing by Dicer substrate interfering RNA compared with other siRNA variants.”

What’s the main finding of this study?
The study revolves around a process in our cells called RNA interference, which is a way to suppress the level of any protein we want. We, as researchers, initiate RNAi by administering a small double-stranded RNA. Different researchers use different lengths and shapes of these small double-stranded RNA when initiating RNAi, with some researchers claiming that certain lengths and shapes work better than others. Most researchers, however, only look for the end-result of RNAi.

Our study focused on trying to understand some of the intermediate steps in the RNAi process with these differently shaped small double-stranded RNA. The main finding was that slightly longer and asymmetric double-stranded RNAs called Dicer substrate RNA (dsiRNA) — which were pioneered in Dr. [John] Rossi’s lab several years ago — perform better than the “classically” shaped double-stranded RNAs in early, intermediate and late stages of the RNAi pathway. » Continue Reading


At the crossroads, translational lab speeds ideas into therapies

March 28, 2013 | by

David DiGiusto, Ph.D., works at the intersection of science and medicine.

David DiGiusto at his laboratory, where he aims to rapidly turn novel ideas into viable treatments for serious illnesses.

David DiGiusto at his laboratory, where he aims to rapidly turn novel ideas into viable treatments for serious illnesses.

As the director of the Laboratory for Cellular Medicine, he oversees stem cell research, product development and manufacturing. The manufacturing arm of the lab — the Cellular Therapy Production Center — is one of three onsite facilities at City of Hope that make investigational treatments for cancer and other life-threatening diseases. In short, his lab is the bridge between basic research where bold ideas are born and the clinical trials that study promising, new treatments in patients.

Watch the video below to hear DiGiusto explain the how and why of manufacturing — and talk about the ultimate goal of his team’s HIV research. » Continue Reading


Can doping increase risk of cancer? Yes. Testicular cancer? Unknown.

January 16, 2013 | by

Oprah Winfrey says that during her interview with Lance Armstrong, to be aired in two parts starting Thursday, he admitted to doping during his cycling career. That detail is feeding speculation among the public and the media about whether those doping activities may have contributed to his diagnosis of testicular cancer.

Doping has cancer risks

Doping might provide a winning edge, but cancer risks from products show a losing bet.

So far, it’s not possible to give a definitive answer to that question. The known connection between testicular cancer and common doping regimens is tenuous at best.

Further, although  there’s been plenty of speculation about how Armstrong doped, there hasn’t been confirmation about what substances he used. The amounts and the duration of use – either before or after his cancer diagnosis and treatment – are also unconfirmed.

This is what’s currently known. Armstrong was diagnosed in 1996, at the age of 25, with advanced stage testicular cancer that had metastasized to his lungs, abdomen and brain. Testicular cancer is one of the most curable types of cancer, with a 95 percent survival rate if caught in an early stage when it’s confined to a testicle. It has an 80 percent survival rate if caught in more advanced stages, when it has spread to other organs. » Continue Reading


On World AIDS Day, scientific advances elicit optimism

December 1, 2012 | by

World AIDS Day is marked this year with a renewed optimism that science and medicine could soon change the course of the disease — again.

First came the AIDS drug AZT, then the combinations of antiretroviral drugs known as AIDS cocktails. Both were significant advances that gave hope, and longer life expectancy, to patients with the virus. Now many experts are cautiously talking about cures as an eventuality rather than a dream. Part of that optimism is fueled by the gene therapies currently in development at City of Hope. » Continue Reading


What is your HIV status? You should find out

November 21, 2012 | by

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is no stranger to controversial stances — especially on cancer screenings. Now it’s tackling HIV/AIDS. In draft guidelines released this week, the task force suggests that everyone  age 15 to 64 be routinely screened for HIV regardless of the individual’s  relative risk of infection. The full panel has yet to decide on the guidelines, but one  City of Hope expert fully endorses the recommendation. » Continue Reading


Drug cocktails changed the face of one disease and may do the same in cancer

April 19, 2012 | by

Who can argue that peanut butter does not taste great with chocolate?

And as much as we admire Albert Einstein for his solitary work on understanding that whole “space-time” relationship, we also celebrate the group mind of scientists like Francis Crick, Rosalind A. Franklin and James D. Watson who, together, worked out the structure of DNA. Sometimes things are simply better in pairs — or trios.

American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) logoTake highly active antiretroviral therapy, commonly called HAART, for one. Many physicians cite the introduction of HAART — basically a combination of three or more virus-fighting drugs — in the 1990s as a major turning point in HIV/AIDS treatment. Through HAART’s “drug cocktails,” what was once considered an immediate death sentence became a chronic condition that was manageable for most people infected with HIV.

Doctors came up with the combinations of drugs used in HAART only after each drug was approved and used individually. But today some researchers, including scientists at City of Hope, are looking at drug combinations for diseases like cancer much earlier, while the drugs are still in development.

They recently presented two lab studies of potential new combination cancer treatments for lymphoma and solid tumors at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in early April.

» Continue Reading


Remembering 30 years of AIDS

December 13, 2011 | by
Photo of Alexandra Levine

Alexandra Levine

This December is AIDS Awareness Month, and 2011 marks 30 years since the first cases of AIDS were detected. During the past three decades, more than 25 million people around the world have died of AIDS, though there are new signs of hope for stopping the epidemic.

Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P., chief medical officer of City of Hope and deputy director for clinical programs of the cancer center, was on the front lines of the early fight against HIV/AIDS. As an expert in blood disorders, she was one of the first physicians to treat AIDS patients in the early 1980s.

The epidemic has had an enormous impact on her and the people she knew, she says. In a new video online, Levine speaks from the heart about the challenge of HIV/AIDS and the patients she lost — and helped — along the way. In this interview, she describes the remarkable medical and scientific progress that has been made in the past three decades.

“When I first saw my first cases of HIV 30 years ago, it was the biggest puzzle I had ever experienced in my life,” she says. “On the one hand, I was overwhelmed by the human tragedy of it — I was surrounded by it, surrounded by death. On the other hand, it was scientifically the puzzle of a lifetime …”

Interested in learning how City of Hope is trying to solve the HIV/AIDS puzzle through research? Read this Q&A with John J. Rossi, Ph.D., Lidow Family Research Chair in City of Hope’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.


How Close to a Cure for AIDS?

December 1, 2011 | by
Photo of John Rossi

John Rossi (Photo by Paula Myers)

December 1 is World AIDS Day, and 2011 marks 30 years since doctors diagnosed the first cases of AIDS.

HIV/AIDS expert John J. Rossi, Ph.D., Lidow Family Research Chair in City of Hope’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, spoke with Breakthroughs about advancements made in the last three decades — and prospects for a cure.

How much progress has been made in the past 30 years against HIV/AIDS?

We have had great improvements in outcomes, and in reducing the viral load in the bodies of HIV-infected people. As good as that is, if people stop taking the drugs, the virus still comes back. So now we need to start thinking about not just treatment, but a cure.

Is a cure for AIDS possible?

There is one patient who has been cured of AIDS. He is called “the Berlin Patient,” because he was treated in Berlin, though he is an American. The patient received a bone marrow transplant from a donor under a unique set of circumstances. We can’t apply that specific treatment to the entire world, but we are developing techniques to go after virally infected cells.

Will this treatment become available soon?

There’s not going to be one “boom” in people being cured. There may be one person a year, but once new processes are developed, we may be able to cure thousands of people a year. That is slow progress – but six years ago we thought that no one could be cured.

Over the years there’s been a great deal of talk about a vaccine to prevent HIV infection. What’s the status of vaccine research?

I don’t see a vaccine for HIV happening. The research has encountered too many problems. Gene therapy offers more sophisticated tools.

What research is under way at City of Hope?

In an article in Science Translational Medicine earlier this year, we detailed our successful efforts in a unique, first-in-human gene therapy approach targeting HIV. It marks the first successful, long-term persistence of anti-HIV genes in patients with AIDS-related lymphoma. This is a very promising line of research that could lead to new treatment paradigms.

Will there eventually be a widespread cure for AIDS?

The Berlin Patient has set the precedent: If you eradicate virus from the patient, you cure the patient. So we are developing “smart bombs” that help kill HIV. We may use T cells that have been gene-modified for this purpose. We may even be able to put protective genes into a patient’s own cells. I now envision AIDS as a disease we will successfully combat — like we have successfully combated smallpox and polio. I believe that is possible.