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OHSU research reveals possible method for boosting the immune system to protect infants against HIV
Date:10/3/2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - - Researchers at Oregon Health &Science University may have uncovered a new weapon for combating HIV as it is passed from mother to newborn child. The research, which was led by researchers at OHSU's Oregon National Primate Research Center, will be published in the October 3rd online edition of the journal Nature Medicine.

"Mother-to-infant transmission of HIV is a tremendous worldwide problem, especially in several African nations," said Nancy Haigwood, Ph.D., researcher and director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU.

According to the latest data from the World Health Organization, 33.4 million people were infected by the virus in 2008. About 67 percent of the world's infections are in African countries. In addition, 91 percent of the world's childhood infections are in Africa.

Haigwood, her colleagues at OHSU, along with researchers at the University of Washington are investigating strategies for preventing or countering HIV infections in babies born to women with HIV. Their strategy: to educate part of the baby's immune system within the first few hours of birth to better fight of the disease.

"HIV attacks and kills T-cells, the white blood cells that play an important role in the immune system because they have the ability to identify and destroy disease invaders. By attacking the body's natural defenses, the disease progresses, causes AIDS and eventually death," explained Haigwood. "Therefore, many therapies focus on protecting T-cells."

However, Haigwood and her colleagues took a different approach. They focused on another component of the immune system, which was initially thought to play a lesser role in the body's defense against HIV. Babies born to HIV-infected mothers have HIV-specific neutralizing antibodies at the time of birth that are "passively" acquired across the placenta. They wanted to determine whether boosted neutralizing antibody levels would weak
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Contact: Jim Newman
newmanj@ohsu.edu
503-494-8231
Oregon Health & Science University
Source:Eurekalert

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