Potential AIDS Cure Could Get Boost From Magic Johnson, Australian Study Points To Potential Remedy For Disease

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Jan 24, 2013 10:57 AM EST
Los Angeles Dodgers team owner Magic Johnson
Los Angeles Dodgers new right-handed pitcher Zack Greinke (C) stands with general manager Ned Colletti (L) and team owner Magic Johnson at a news conference in Los Angeles, California, December 11, 2012. The big-spending Los Angeles Dodgers made it official on Monday, adding the top free agent pitcher to their impressive rotation after the right-hander passed his physical and signed a six-year, $147 million deal. "

Potential AIDS cure could become a mainstream topic with help from Magic Johnson. Australian scientists performed a study that could remedy the disease for good.

Magic Johnson is one of the greatest NBA players of all-time and is one of most visible people involved in the HIV-AIDS conversation.

The Hall of Fame player made news 21 years ago when he announced his retirement from the Lakers due to his contraction of HIV and has since become a beacon for awareness as well as fundraising for research into the disease. The anniversary of his historic announcement passed in November.

The new study by Australian scientist is being hailed as a breakthrough for AIDS, as David Harrich, from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, said he had successfully modified a protein in HIV that the virus needed to replicate and instead made it "potently" inhibit virus growth, according to MSN.com.

"I have never seen anything like it. The modified protein works every time," said Harrich. "If this research continues down its strong path, and bear in mind there are many hurdles to clear, we're looking at a cure for AIDS."

Johnson first announced the news to the world in 1991, saying that: "Here I am saying that it can happen to anybody, even me, Magic Johnson," he said at a packed news conference at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. "I just want to say that I'm going to miss playing, and I will now become a spokesman for the HIV virus."

Johnson has become an even more prominent figure in sports over the past few years, purchasing a stake in the Los Angeles Dodgers and starring on ESPN as an NBA analyst. He also has been prominent in the foundation that bears his name, working to fund HIV education and prevention programs in some of the country's most vulnerable neighborhoods.

"There is not a better feeling than to touch somebody's life, than to impact it," he said in a statement to ABC News in the past. "Not a better feeling in the world."

According to ABC.com, "Johnson was diagnosed with HIV after having medical tests for a life insurance policy. He said he acquired the virus through unprotected sex with multiple women, and hoped to encourage other people to be more careful."

"That's what I want to preach," he said after his diagnosis. "I want them to understand that safe sex is the way to go."

Johnson is one of the most notable people in the world with the disease and he has endorsed products in the past, including the first FDA-approved home HIV test, OraQuick, which has helped revolutionize testing for people with the disease. Johnson has been a part of many business ventures, but OraQuick was the first type of test of its kind.

"When I announced 21 years ago, Elizabeth Glaser told me on her dying bed that I had to become the face of this disease," Johnson said last year in October.  "She felt like the disease needed a face to raise awareness levels, [and] she wanted me to get out and educate people," Johnson told the crowd. "I promised her that I'd go out and do it."

According to the Huffington Post: "Despite making up just 13 percent of the population, African Americans bear the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S., accounting for nearly half of the estimated 1.2 million people living with the disease, nearly half of new HIV cases, and half of annual AIDS-related deaths, according to Phil Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute."

Harrich named the modified protein Nullbasic and said that it did a "remarkable" job of arresting HIV growth in a lab environment and could possibly be used to treat people who have existing HIV.

"You would still be infected with HIV, it's not a cure for the virus, but the virus would stay latent, it wouldn't wake up, so it wouldn't develop into AIDS," he added.

HIV and AIDS has become extremely prevalent in Northern Africa and other regions on the continent. According to the latest UN figures, the number of people infected by HIV worldwide rose to 34 million in 2011 from 33.5 million in 2010.

"Drug therapy targets individual enzymes or proteins and they have one drug, one protein," Associate Professor Harrich said. He added that they have to take two or three drugs, so this would be a single agent that essentially has the same effect.

Johnson could help bring this new scientific study to a broader group and could also get his foundation involved in further testing and research. Johnson has been at the forefront of awareness in recent years and in the past he also took part as the main speaker for the United Nations World AIDS Day Conference in 1999.

Johnson became a worldwide figure when he made his announcement, showing that anyone could get the disease, including an NBA star. At the time the disease was mostly connected to homosexuality, but Johnson helped break that misconception in a big way by accepting his disease and taking it head on.

"Some people feel that because [Johnson] has lived on, they can have certain behaviors and live on, too," said Amelia Williamson, president of the Beverly Hills-based Magic Johnson Foundation. "But his message is, 'Follow my lead. Don't make same mistakes I made.'"

The disease has become a worldwide epidemic, but with help from Johnson and others in the scientific field, there is a chance that cure could be developed within the next 10 years, rather than not at all. 

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