University of Nebraska Medical Center

In the 1980s and early 1990s, perhaps no four letters sent more chills down the spines of Americans than AIDS.

After the condition first gained public attention in 1981, an AIDS diagnosis was viewed as a death sentence. The deaths of stars such as Rock Hudson and Freddie Mercury brought AIDS out of the shadows. By 1994, AIDS was the leading cause of death for all Americans ages 25 to 44.

Advances in modern medicine have allowed those living with HIV and AIDS to have something resembling a normal life once they’re treated. Despite this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still estimate more than 1.1 million Americans have HIV, with 38,500 newly infected each year, meaning that AIDS still wreaks havoc on far too many people in this country.

Groundbreaking research from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, though, has shown unprecedented signs of eliminating the virus responsible for AIDS from the genome of living animals. This potential impact of this discovery is immense.

Without jumping too deeply into the science of the study, about one-third of HIV-infected mice – which had been engineered to produce human cells – saw complete elimination of HIV DNA. In comparison, present treatments only prevent its replication, meaning that the treatment must last a patient’s lifetime to ensure the dormant virus doesn’t rebound.

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The collaboration between UNMC and the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University on this topic has already turned heads – including that of one of the doctors who discovered HIV as the cause of AIDS. He called it the most interesting and important therapy-related research advance in many years.

Clearly, the efficacy of this potential cure will be further dissected and studied in the coming months and years before ever becoming publicly available. But the initial success, much of which was realized in Nebraska, offers game-changing possibilities.

Rather than never-ending treatments for HIV and AIDS patients, a shorter-term course of action that could eliminate the virus offers could reduce the cost of treatment while increasing quality of life. Furthermore, an effective cure could begin to reverse decades of the stigma around HIV and AIDS that have existed since they first gained public attention.

Nebraska-based researchers played a key role in researching a means that could prove to cure an intractable condition. In an era where science is frequently doubted and dismissed by laypeople, let that sink in.

In so many ways, our ability to treat conditions and improve the lives of patients has come so far since 1981. A new round of pioneering research rooted in Nebraska shows promise in reducing a scourge that once paralyzed a nation and still affects too many of its citizens.

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