Scientists at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada have developed a new tool to protect women from HIV infection. The vaginal implant (pictured above) decreases the number of cells that the HIV virus can target in a woman’s genital tract. Unlike conventional methods of HIV prevention, such as condoms or anti-viral drugs, the implant takes advantage of some people’s natural immunity to the virus.
HIV infects the body by corrupting T cells that are mobilized by the immune system when the virus enters a person’s body. When the T cells stay resting and do not attempt to fight the virus they are not infected and the HIV virus is not transmitted between people. However, when the T cells stay resting, it’s referred to as being immune quiescent.
“We know that some drugs taken orally never make it to the vaginal tract, so this implant could provide a more reliable way to encourage T cells not to respond to infection and therefore more reliably and cheaply prevent transmission,” said Emmanuel Ho, a professor in the School of Pharmacy at Waterloo. “What we don’t know yet is if this can be a stand-alone option for preventing HIV transmission or if it might be best used in conjunction with other prevention strategies. We aim to answer these questions with future research.”
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