Bleak shadow cast over fight against the Aids virus: Disappointment over AZT comes as hope of finding a vaccine has diminished. Steve Connor reports

THE virus that causes Aids is fast becoming the most-studied infectious agent. But the more we learn about HIV, the harder it is to find a way of fighting it other than with increasingly tired messages of safe sex.

Yesterday's announcement that AZT - the first drug to be licensed to treat Aids - is ineffective at preventing the development of the disease in healthy HIV-positive people comes just a week after scientists found that the virus was more active in the early stages than they had realised.

Rather than lying dormant in the 'latent' stage between infection and the onset of Aids (which can take many years), HIV has been found to be present in large quantities in the lymph glands, an important part of the body's immune system.

Researchers led by Anthony Fauci, from the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease near Washington, reported in the science journal Nature that HIV is clearly active in the lymph glands of HIV-positive people throughout the latency period.

Another team of researchers, led by Ashley Haase of the University of Minnesota, found 'an extraordinarily large number' of blood cells of the type favoured by HIV infected 'from early to late stages of infection'.

The two sets of findings led scientists to call for the early treatment of people with the virus long before they develop Aids and even possibly as soon as they have become infected.

One hope for Aids was that it would be possible to delay the onset of the disease by extending the period of latency. But the outlook is bleaker now that the virus appears to become well established in a vital part of the body's defences soon after infection.

Most Aids researchers are convinced that it is vital to hit the virus early and hard if drugs are ever going to stand a chance of preventing the onset of the diseases that eventually lead to death. But, as the results of the AZT trial show, there is nothing as yet to hit it with.

One hope is to treat people with a combination of drugs, an approach that has shown promise in test-tube experiments. The theory is that while HIV can develop resistance to one drug, it will find it more difficult to become resistant to two or more drugs applied simultaneously. However, showing that drugs work in a test tube is far removed from success in patients vulnerable to side-effects.

If there is little prospect of anti-Aids drugs, the future for a preventive vaccine is even less promising. For such a vaccine to work, it must block HIV from becoming established in the lymph glands. Some scientists believe this will prove to be impossible and have called for vaccine research - which involves an expensive, elaborate testing process - to be abandoned and resources to be concentrated on developing anti-Aids drugs.

In the US, Howard Temin, a former Nobel laureate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Dani Bolognesi, an Aids researcher from Duke University in North Carolina, wrote in a Nature editorial: 'A clear message from the new work is that HIV infection is a very complicated process and that it will require the march of science, frustratingly slow as it sometimes seems, to gain sufficient knowledge to control it.'

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
science
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
tv
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders were pictured embracing in 2012
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli posed for this selfie during AC Milan's 5-1 defeat to Manchester City
sport
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth Games
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + ents
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Extras
indybestSpice up your knife with our selection of delicious toppings
Sport
sport
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

ERP Business/ Implementation Analyst

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...

M&E Construction Planner Solihull

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Car, Healthcare, Pensions: Progressive Recruitment...

Senior Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Leading Sof...

Chemistry Teacher

£90 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried