Stories about: sexually transmitted diseases

Building an active barrier against HIV: Topical RNAi

A painting at the U.N. shows a condom over the world to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS. But what if we could find a longer-lasting, more reliable topical treatment? (Photo: Island Nimbus/Flickr)

This month marks an anniversary that no one wants to see: 30 years since the first paper describing what we know now as HIV/AIDS.

Over those three decades, more than 30 million people worldwide have died from the disease. We have learned a great deal – how HIV is passed from person to person, how long it circulated among humans before it was recognized, how to control it with antiretroviral drugs. Yet HIV still spreads: An additional 2.6 million people were infected with it in 2009 alone. Safe sex practices like condom use provide an effective barrier against passage of the virus, but don’t affect HIV’s ability to gain a foothold should the barrier fail.

Judy Lieberman and Lee Adam Wheeler want to move prevention beyond one-time physical blockades to longer-lasting, more reliable molecular resistance. “The current model of HIV transmission holds that the virus is localized to the genital tract for about a week,” says Lieberman, “which could provide a window of opportunity to intervene and prevent the infection from establishing itself throughout the body.”

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