A universal solution to the HIV epidemic, regardless of what type of virus the patient has. That is the ambition of Dutch and African researchers in the SPIRAL-project. They recently received a grant of more than 6 million euros from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the AidsFonds.

To date, the focus of HIV research has been on people with the subtype B of the virus. This is especially common in Europe, North America and Australia. But in sub-Saharan Africa countries, it is mainly women who are infected with subtypes other than type B. "We want to start our research here, because these people are hit hardest by HIV," says Godelieve de Bree, internist-infectiologist at Amsterdam UMC. "Gaining this knowledge may offer a solution for all types of HIV." 

HIV reservoir may be key to HIV cure  

An important step towards a cure is mapping the, so-called, HIV reservoir. These are immune cells in the body in which the virus remains present in a dormant state. Even with HIV inhibitors, this reservoir remains present, which means that people living with HIV have to take medication for the rest of their lives and have to visit the doctor regularly. Cure for HIV can only be done by 'draining' this reservoir. 

However, not much is known about the size and activity of the reservoir of subtypes other than type B. There is also little insight into the differences between men and women regarding this reservoir. "Mapping the HIV reservoir may be the key to curing all types of HIV. In the SPIRAL project, we have the unique opportunity to really work together with African research groups on research into the immune system and targeting HIV and the virus reservoir. In this way, we can contribute to technologies and the knowledge infrastructure in Africa," says De Bree. 

International Collaboration 

The project also addresses the social and economic challenges associated with the development and implementation of an HIV cure for all.  

'In the past, African scientists were often involved in research at a late stage. Here we will work closely together at every level and from the start,' says research leader Monique Nijhuis, microbiologist at UMC Utrecht.  

As part of an all-female team, de Bree and Nijhuis, Erasmus MC's Tokameh Mahmoudi and Maastricht University social scientist Sarah Stutterheim are also involved in the Dutch side of this project.  

The Dutch partners will collaborate with Makerere University in Uganda and the University of Zambia as well as both the University of Witwatersrand and the African Health Research Institute in South Africa.  

World AIDS Day

In 1988, 35 years ago today, the first World AIDS Day was held, an initiative of the World Health Organization. World AIDS Day takes place every year on December 1st. Worldwide, it commemorates the fight against AIDS and calls for greater solidarity with people living with HIV and AIDS.

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