AIDS cure may have two main pathways: experts (Update)

July 24, 2012 by Kerry Sheridan

Investigators are looking into two main paths toward a cure for AIDS, based on the stunning stories of a small group of people around the world who have been able to overcome the disease.

Despite progress in treating millions of people globally with antiretroviral drugs, experts say a cure is more crucial than ever because the rate of HIV infections is outpacing the world's ability to medicate people.

"For every person who starts antiretroviral therapy, two new individuals are infected with HIV," Javier Martinez-Picado of the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute in Spain told the International AIDS Conference in Washington on Tuesday.

Some 34 million people around the world are living with HIV, which has caused around 30 million AIDS-related deaths since the disease first emerged in the 1980s.

While antiretroviral drugs are helping more people stay alive than ever before, they are costly and must be taken for life. Experts say only a cure or a vaccine can make a sufficient dent in the deadly pandemic.

While a cure certainly remains years away, he said scientists can now "envision a cure from two different perspectives," either by eradicating the virus from a person's body or coaxing the body to control the virus on its own.

The most extraordinary case of an apparent cure has been seen in an American man in his 40s, Timothy Ray Brown, also known as the "Berlin patient," who was HIV-positive and developed leukemia.

Brown needed a series of complex medical interventions, including total body irradiation and two bone marrow transplants that came from a compatible donor who had a mutation in the CCR5 gene, which acts as a gateway for allowing HIV into the cells.

People without CCR5 appear to be immune to HIV because, in the absence of that doorway, HIV cannot penetrate the cells.

"Five years after the (first) transplant the patient remains off antiretroviral therapy with no viral rebound," said Martinez-Picado.

"This might be the first ever documented patient apparently cured of an HIV infection."

However, while the case has provided scientists with ample pathways for research on future gene therapies, the process that appears to have cured Brown carries a high risk of death and toxicity.

"Unfortunately this type of intervention is so complex and risky it would not be applicable on a large scale," he said.

Brown announced Tuesday he was launching his own foundation to boost research toward a cure as the US capital hosts the world's largest scientific meeting on HIV/AIDS.

"My plan is basically to find donors to get funds to help research and set up a system to decide who gets the money," said a frail-looking Brown, 47, adding he planned to dedicate his life to finding a cure for others.

"I am a living proof that there could be a cure for AIDS."

Another group of intense interest is known as the "controllers," or people whose bodies appear to be able to stave off HIV infection.

One type, known as the "elite controllers," test positive for HIV but do not appear to have the virus in the blood, even without treatment. Researchers estimate there may be a few hundred of these people in the world.

Another type is the post-treatment controllers, or people who started therapy early and are able to stop it without seeing the virus rebound. Some five to 15 percent of HIV-infected people may fit this category.

More details on a group of "controllers" in France known as the Visconti Cohort are expected to be released at the meeting this week, as international scientists share their latest data in the hunt for a cure.

Martinez-Picado also described a "promising" study by US researchers, published in the journal Nature on Tuesday, that looks into using new drugs to get rid of the virus when it holes up, or lies dormant in the immune system.

Led by researchers at the University of North Carolina, the small study on eight HIV-positive men taking antiretrovirals probed how a lymphoma drug, vorinostat, could activate and disrupt the dormant virus.

Patients who took the drug showed an average 4.5-fold increase in the levels of HIV RNA in their CD4+ T cells, evidence that the virus was being unmasked, demonstrating a new potential strategy for attacking latent HIV infection.

"We now actively talk of potential scientific solutions in a way perhaps we weren't some years ago," said Diane Havlir, AIDS 2012 US co-chair and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Explore further: Scientists urge fresh push for AIDS cure

Related Stories

Scientists urge fresh push for AIDS cure

July 19, 2012
International scientists announced Thursday a new push for a cure to AIDS, citing promising research and a three-decade epidemic that is outpacing medications to curb it.

Gene therapy reduces HIV levels in small trials

September 20, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- This weekend at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Chicago, Illinois, researchers from two different study groups, one on the east coast and one on the west coast, ...

HIV may have returned in 'cured' patient: scientists

June 13, 2012
An American man whose HIV seemed to disappear after a blood marrow transplant for leukemia may be showing new hints of the disease, sparking debate over whether a cure was really achieved.

Nobel laureate, discoverer of HIV, sees 'hope' for cure

July 20, 2012
The Nobel laureate who helped to discover HIV says there is hope for an AIDS cure following recent discoveries, in an interview with AFP ahead of a global conference on the disease.

Recommended for you

New injectable antiretroviral treatment proved to be as effective as standard oral therapy

August 3, 2017
Intramuscularly administered antiretroviral therapy (ART) may be as effective for HIV treatment as current oral therapies. This is the main conclusion of a Phase II clinical trial carried out by 50 research centers around ...

Research finds home-based kit would increase HIV testing

July 31, 2017
Research led by William Robinson, PhD, Associate Research Professor of Behavioral & Community Health Sciences at LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health, has found that 86% of heterosexuals who are at high risk for ...

Scientists divulge latest in HIV prevention

July 25, 2017
A far cry from the 1990s "ABC" campaign promoting abstinence and monogamy as HIV protection, scientists reported on new approaches Tuesday allowing people to have all the safe sex they want.

Girl's HIV infection seems under control without AIDS drugs

July 24, 2017
A South African girl born with the AIDS virus has kept her infection suppressed for more than eight years after stopping anti-HIV medicines—more evidence that early treatment can occasionally cause a long remission that, ...

Meds by monthly injection might revolutionize HIV care (Update)

July 24, 2017
Getting a shot of medication to control HIV every month or two instead of having to take pills every day could transform the way the virus is kept at bay.

Candidate AIDS vaccine passes early test

July 24, 2017
The three-decade-old quest for an AIDS vaccine received a shot of hope Monday when developers announced that a prototype triggered the immune system in an early phase of human trials.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.