IMMINENT BREAKTHROUGH IN HIV CURE
A collaborative team of scientists and physicians from the Oxford University, Cambridge University, Imperial College London, University College London and King’s College London have made a remarkable progress towards curing patients with HIV infection.
Of 50 patients taking part in NHS funded revolutionary clinical trial, a 44-year-old British man is the first to complete the trial. He showed no sign of the virus in his blood following treatment.
HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, is a retrovirus found in body fluids of infected person. These can be semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood, and breast milk. It can be easily transmitted through unprotected sex or simply sharing infected needles. An infected mother can also transmit HIV to her child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding.
According to CDC, about 36.7 million people are suffering from HIV infection worldwide and about 35 million people have died from the virus.
The virus attacks body’s immune system by destroying T-cells and reduces its ability to protect from infections. AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection where immune system completely loses its ability to fight deadly infections.
At an early stage of infection, antiretroviral drug treatments are extremely efficient in preventing virus reproduction and its further spreading. However, such treatments are not equipped to destroy millions of infected immune cells that are dormant; meaning that they can control HIV infection but cannot prevent its return.
First hope on early treatment benefits of antiretroviral drug treatment rose from the case of a Mississippi girl who was born to a HIV positive mother in 2010. She received strong antiretroviral drug treatment within 30 hours of birth, which continued for 18 months. She showed no evidence of viruses in her blood 5 months after discontinuing the medication. But the virus re-emerged 2 years later. Such relapse calls for attention that antiretroviral treatments are not meant for curing disease, despite being effective in controlling infection.
KICK AND KILL THERAPY
Treatment regimen implemented in the present trial, which has been termed as two-stage “kick and kill” approach. It combines standard antiretroviral drugs along with a drug to activate dormant virus and a vaccine that triggers the immune system to kill infected cells.
Researchers have cautioned that there is still a long way to go before claiming absolute success as HIV infection has been shown to recur in patients who initially showed signs of cure following standard antiretroviral treatments.
Sarah Fidler, a consultant physician and professor at Imperial College London, says, “It has worked in the laboratory and there is good evidence it will work in humans too, but we must stress that we are still a long way from any actual therapy.“
Nevertheless, this initial success no doubt brings optimism in patients suffering from life-threatening HIV infection.
Mark Samuels, managing director 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.”
Surely, Science will get there.