|Meharry scientists seek AIDS shield for women|
Researcher Michael Linde (right) assists Dr. James Hildreth in the
lab at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. A UMNS Web-only video
By Henri Giles*
Feb. 7, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
With every experiment, Dr. James Hildreth and his team of researchers
believe they are closer to answers about AIDS, a leading cause of death
for African-American women ages 25-34.
Working at Meharry Medical College, a historically black medical,
dental and research school supported by The United Methodist Church, the
scientists are developing a new drug to protect all women against the virus.
“A vaccine for HIV may be a long time coming,” said Hildreth,
director of Meharry’s Comprehensive Center for AIDS Health Disparity
Research. “So the best alternative to a vaccine is a microbicide. And
these are gels or creams that women would use to block vaginal
transmission of the virus.”
Established in 2003, the center has been developing an AIDS-blocking
drug and is on the verge of a breakthrough. Hildreth anticipates his
team’s microbicide will enter the drug trial phase in 2008 and, if
approved, could be available within three to five years.
Dr. Harry Taylor is part of the Meharry Medical College team
developing ways to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS. A UMNS Web-only video
About 25 years ago, HIV/AIDS was an ignored and misunderstood disease
associated with the homosexual lifestyle and/or Africa. It since has
spread into every nation and neighborhood, affecting heterosexuals as
well and passed down to unborn children from infected mothers. In the
United States, African-American women account for 67 percent
of all new infection cases.
“The HIV/AIDS problem is a problem that affects people of color,”
said Hildreth. “Being at a medical school like Meharry, which has
traditionally served the needs of African-Americans, there is a sense of
pride that we might be part of a solution.”
While the best way to fight HIV would be with vaccines like those for
influenza, measles and polio, an AIDS vaccine is many years away
because the virus “mutates so rapidly and because it has mechanisms at
its disposal to turn off the immune response,” said Hildreth.
Microbicides – also known as chemical condoms – are a promising
development in the area of prevention. They work much like spermicides
but, instead of killing sperm cells to block pregnancy, these gels or
creams kill the virus to prevent HIV infection.
Although other microbicides have been tested, Hildreth’s version is
different because it includes a cholesterol-based element that offers
Scientists say the global impact of microbicides could be enormous.
With more than 30 million Africans infected — of which nearly 60 percent
are women — a microbicide could turn the tide and dramatically reduce
HIV infection rates.
AIDS prevention through microbicides is equally promising in the
United States. One Meharry researcher who lost his mother-in-law to AIDS
a decade ago wishes the drug could have come sooner.
“Having someone that’s close to me that’s been impacted by this
disease just gives my work a lot more meaning,” said Dr. Harry Taylor.
For Hildreth, a graduate of Harvard University and Johns Hopkins
University and a Rhodes Scholar, conducting his research at Meharry
holds special significance. “This is one of the most historic medical
problems that physicians and scientists have ever had to deal with,” he
said. “So the idea that Meharry could be part of that solution, it’s
extremely exciting and we are very proud.”
Meharry is one of many universities supported by The United Methodist
Church and, along with 10 other historically black colleges and
universities, receives funding through the denomination’s Black College
*Giles is a freelance producer and writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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