If there is one constant ever present in anti-science groups, whether its Creationists, anti-vaxers, anti-wireless-interneters, whatever– its the groups ignorance on the very topic they are ‘anti’.
HIV Deniers are no exception. One of my favorite HIV Deniers, a blonde bimbo named Rebecca Culshaw (‘I IZ NUT BIMBOS I HAS DEGREE IN MATHS! THAT MEANS HIV IS A LIE!’), is a god damned idiot that doesnt even know the difference between an ‘endogenous’ retrovirus, and an ‘exogenous’ retrovirus, but feels she is in a position to lecture to the scientific community about HIV.
Orac has a great post up right now on a homeopathy proponent, Jeremy Sherr, who is trying to do some illegal clinical trials in Africa (I HAS MAGIC POTION CUR AIDS ME BE FAMOOSE!). Im just assuming Oracs post is great (they always are) because I couldnt make it through the whole post. I blacked out when I hit the concentrated ‘wrongness’ in this one sentence by Sherr:
In many ways homoeopathy is the perfect medicine for persons suffering from AIDS, and particularly in Africa. AIDS means Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Homoeopathy works by stimulating and enhancing the immune system and therefore it is precisely in this disease that homoeopathy can be most effective.
This is exactly why you do not want ‘alternative medicine’ quacks treating you when you have a cold, much less HIV/AIDS or cancer– Even if homeopathy is totally true, Jeremy Sherr doesnt even know the basics of HIV-1 as a virus, and what it does to a patients immune system.
If homeopathy could ‘activate the immune system’, Sherrs treatments would kill his HIV patients even faster.
If you ask an Average Joe/Jane on the street what happens to someones immune system when theye are infected with HIV-1, you will probably get a response along the lines of:
HIV-1 infects immune cells and kills them, and eventually they dont have an immune system anymore, and they can die from, like, the flu.
To Joe and Jane, Sherrs ‘therapy’ (assuming it works), sounds like a fine idea. Dont have an immune system? Then, like, ‘activate it’ to get a new one.
Unfortunately, that response isnt correct.
Contrary to popular belief, HIV-1 patients actually have a hyperactivated immune system. See, HIV-1 likes to infect CD4+ T-cells, specifically, activated CD4+ T-cells. It wants to activate your immune system so it has more ‘food’.
This immune system hyperactivation doesnt just mean more HIV-1 targets– eventually, immune cells just die from exhaustion (programed apoptosis). For an example of how bad this is– lets say your body kept some memory immune cells around from a cold you got when you were seven. If you get exposed to that particular cold virus again, your immune system pounces on it before you can even get sick. YAY! But if your immune system is in a hyperactive state, and those memory cells die from exhaustion without leaving any more ‘baby’ memory cells… the next time you get exposed to that cold virus, youve got to mount a whole new immune response. While that wouldnt be so bad for you or me, if you are an AIDS patient with not a lot of immune cells around anymore to attack that cold, or if youre an HIV-1 patient with lots of CD4+ T-cells, but they arent responsive… WHAMMO.
Supercrazyhyper activated immune systems in HIV patients is bad, Jeremy Sherr. BAD. Even if a homeopathic treatment to activate the immune system was 100% efficacious, you would be harming your patients, you friggen idiot!
We recently found that elite supressors (people who have been infected with HIV-1 for ages, dont need drugs, and you can barely find virus in their system) have a ton of a subset of CD4+ T-cells (regulatory T-cells) that secrete a chemical messenger, interleukin 10. IL-10 is part of a network that tells your immune system to calm down after it has defeated the cold virus in your lungs, or bacterial infection on that paper cut on your finger, or whatever. T-regs can also deactivate immune cells directly through cell-cell contact. And if you are born without the ability to make regulatory T-cells, your body cant stop attacking itself (severe autoimmunity).
In other words, T-regs tell your immune system to shut the fuck up.
Unfortunately, HIV-1 really, really likes to infect T-regs. So most patients lose them right off the bat. And even if they are controlling their viral loads successfully with HAART, the T-regs dont come back (or if they do, they arent functional). Elite suppressors, on the other hand, have a ton of T-regs keeping their immune system ‘mellow’.
So, dear readers, you might be thinking ‘OMG MY MIND HAS BEEN BLOWN! AIDS is caused by an OVERACTIVE immune response?!?! Why dont we just give HIV patients immunosuppressive drugs, like we give transplant patients? Wouldnt that help?’
Alas, giving HIV-1 patients immunosuppressive drugs was a magnificent failure.
Evidently its not just ‘calming the immune system down’. Its an intricate balance of activation/inactivation/activation/inactivation that we dont understand at all right now. And if we dont understand it, we certainly cant figure out an effective therapy for patients.
Its not just a matter of ‘stimulating and enhancing the immune system’.