A new HIV treatment under trial in the UK is giving doctors hope after it appeared to eradicate the virus in early tests. Namely, it acts to suppress the virus, while also attempting to destroy the dormant cells that can lead to virus reemergence.
Mark Samuels of the National Institute for Health Research Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure told the Sunday Times: This is one of the first serious attempts at a full cure for HIV. We are exploring the real possibility of curing HIV. This is a huge challenge and it’s still early days but the progress has been remarkable.
The new treatment utilizes a vaccine to boost the immune system’s ability to find the virus. The immune system recognizes these proteins and will begin attacking the virus. The unnamed man who has completed this treatment now has no detectable levels of the virus, but it is too soon to hail this as a “Cure.” To understand why we need to know a bit about the virus.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a difficult enemy to fight due to its effects on the human body. The virus uses those same cells to replicate itself, preventing the immune system from identifying HIV as a threat. While antiretrovirals can control the virus circulating in the bloodstream and prevent it from replicating, HIV remains in cells.
Instead, the case only pointed to the fact that aggressive antiretroviral treatment might help eradicate the virus in newborns. Brown continued to show no symptoms of the virus for several years, raising hopes that bone marrow transplants could provide clues to alternative treatment avenues, like a stem-cell therapy.
In 2012 highly sensitive tests revealed that Brown still had possible traces of the virus, though he continues to live symptom-free. Researchers continue to explore how Brown’s leukemia treatment helped to defang the virus. All the while, doctors are monitoring Brown to see if the virus will eventually reemerge. However we won’t know for some time yet – perhaps several years – whether this treatment will yield a long-awaited HIV breakthrough.