Bioethics Blogs

Creative Minds: Teaming Math and Science for an HIV Cure

Alison Hill

You may have heard about young mathematicians who’ve helped to design cooler cars, smarter phones, and even more successful sports teams. But do you know about the young mathematician who is helping to find a cure for the estimated 35 million people worldwide infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)? If not, I’d like to introduce you to Alison Hill, a mathematical biologist at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Recognized this year by Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 as one of the most important young innovators in healthcare, Hill is teaming with clinicians to develop sophisticated mathematical tools to predict which experimental drugs might work to clear HIV from the body once and for all. While current treatments are able to reduce some patients’ HIV burden to very low or even undetectable levels, it is eradication of this viral reservoir that stands between such people living with a serious, but controllable chronic disease and actually being cured.

The combination therapies used today are effective at killing HIV when it is replicating, but they don’t kill HIV that has integrated into the genome of a human immune cell. This latent HIV has the potential to reactivate and begin replicating, unleashing HIV’s potentially deadly immunosuppressive effects. This means HIV-infected people currently must stay on antiretroviral drugs for their entire lives, which can be costly and poses a risk of developing drug-related side effects including kidney, cardiovascular, and neurological problems.

In recent years, researchers have proposed targeting dormant HIV with new types of drugs called latency-reversing agents. These chemical compounds are designed to take aim at latent HIV and coax it into replicating. Once that occurs, combination therapy can be used to kill the activated virus, ultimately eliminating the reservoir of HIV.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.