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Health News

Encouraging results for anti-HIV pill

Scientists at The University of California at San Francisco have tested the “first anti-HIV pill to provide effective protection against the disease,

The news comes from an international study looking at whether a pill combining two antiviral drugs could reduce new HIV infections among 2,500 HIV-negative men and trans gender women who have sex with men. This population is considered to have higher risk of exposure to the virus. Compared with a dummy placebo drug the daily pill reportedly cut the risk of contracting HIV by 44%. All participants had also received condoms and counselling on how to reduce the risk of contracting HIV.

While the group receiving antiviral drugs did have a lower rate of new infections it should be noted that the drug did not provide full protection – 36 people were newly infected, compared with 64 in the placebo group. While the rate of side effects was low in both groups over the three-year study, further research is also needed to establish dosage, safety and tolerance over longer periods.

While this preliminary research is encouraging, the eventual development of drugs to prevent HIV infection would not diminish the importance of awareness and condom use, which are two key tools for preventing the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Herpes virus used to treat cancer

A genetically engineered version of the herpes virus which usually causes cold sores around the mouth and genitals  has been used by doctors to successfully treat patients with head and neck cancer.

The London hospital trial consisted of 17 patients and found that use of the modified virus alongside chemotherapy and radiotherapy helped kill the tumours in most patients. Head and neck cancers, which includes cancer of the mouth, tongue and throat, are common affecting thousands of people every year in the UK.

The virus works by penetrating the cancer cells, killing them from within but also strengthens the patient's immune system.

Further trials are planned for later in the year.

Triggers for Coeliac disease found?

Three key substances in gluten have been found to trigger the condition, and researchers believe them to be a potential new target for developing effective treatments and possibly even a vaccine.

These researchers asked 200 volunteers with Coeliac disease (which causes people to have an adverse reaction to foods containing gluten) to eat bread, rye muffins or boiled barley, all of which contained gluten. They then measured the volunteers’ immune response to thousands of different peptides (gluten fragments) six days later. Among 90 possible peptides, three were found to be particularly toxic.

This research appears to have been carefully carried out and is well reported. These are important findings and show some promise in the search for a treatment for Coeliac disease. Early clinical trials are reportedly already underway, testing whether a compound containing these three peptides can stimulate an immune reaction. The full implications will not be known until after these trials are complete.

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