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Autoimmune Deficiency Disease or in simpler terms known as AIDS is one of the most debilitating infectious diseases in the world. It’s like a silent killer that just lays dormant in our body. Once it gets activated, it wreaks havoc all over our immune system. The causative agent was finally found to be a retrovirus now known as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Francoise Sinoussi has been credited with discovering the causative agent which has saved millions of lives all over the world! She has been a true crusader for the infected individuals and has pioneered an entire field of antiretroviral (ARTs).

The rise of an epidemic

In the early 1980s, a new viral epidemic had become infamous much as the COVID-19 pandemic that we see right now. It was an awful sight as there was no cure and people were just dying without any known cause. What was worse is that it specifically targeted the homosexual community. This worsened the issue as it was not a very liberal time either. With not much known about this disease, scientists all across the affected regions were scrambling for answers.

Due to the nature of the disease, it was assumed that a retrovirus might be the causative agent. Why so? Because they have the ability to multiple rapidly in the body. The most fascinating part is that they can pretend to be a part of the host cell and remain hidden. This allows them to replicate and infect other healthy cells as well. Pesky little creatures, for sure. So, was that the real causative agent?

HIV under microscope (Source: nobelprize.org)
HIV under microscope (Source: nobelprize.org)

The race against time

This is when it became crucial that they figure out what the causative agent was and this is where Prof. Sinoussi comes into the picture. She and her team had figured it out within two weeks of being notified. They extracted the virus from infected cells and even imaged it. The virus was named and it was indeed a type of retrovirus. This was the first time that an infective agent was discovered so quickly and that was very evident in the way the disease was managed as well. A lot of research had been done on it so much so that now awareness campaigns for the same are a reality.

Electron microscopy images of the HIV viral particles (Source: nobelprize.org)
Electron microscopy images of the HIV viral particles (Source: nobelprize.org)

Impact of the discovery

There were many stigmas associated with the disease initially. It was called GRID earlier, which is short for Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease because it was limited to this community. Eventually, it was found out that it can be transmitted through sexual contact and many intervention therapies came into place.

After many awareness programs, even antiretroviral therapy came into the picture which has saved millions all over the world. Now, research on AIDS is so common and we learn newer things about these viruses on a regular basis. A recent finding has been the discovery of a group called elite controllers that have the ability to clear the infection without any therapy. This was unheard of before, so if you’d like to read more about that, you can read it here.

While more needs to be done for the complete eradication of the disease, there wouldn’t be a field to research upon if she hadn’t discovered it as soon as she did. This goes to show why rapid diagnostics is important during an outbreak. It also goes to show it’s a direct impact on treatment possibilities. Here’s to looking forward to a day where this wouldn’t even be such a common occurrence.

References

Francoise Barre Sinoussi (2020). Retrieved from https://www.nobelprize.org/womenwhochangedscience/stories/francoise-barre-sinoussi

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