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posted Friday, October 7, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 41
British researchers close to HIV cure
Section One
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British researchers close to HIV cure

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

British scientists say they are close to a 'full cure' for HIV.

Researchers from Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London, and King's College London have been developing a new HIV treatment that not only knocks down active viruses but also seeks out and destroys dormant HIV.

Existing antiretroviral therapies (ARTs) can control HIV so effectively that viral load in patients becomes undetectable, but HIV can still exist in dormant form in patients' T-cells. That means that patients must be on ART for the rest of their lives, otherwise they risk reactivation of the infection.

The new therapy combines conventional ART meds with drugs designed to activate dormant HIV so it can also be destroyed.

'This is one of the first serious attempts at a full cure for HIV. We are exploring the real possibility of curing HIV,' added Mark Samuels, managing director at the Health Research Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure

'This is a huge challenge, and it's still in its early days, but the progress has been remarkable,' he said.

So far only 50 patients have participated in the British study, but at least one patient has reported no detectable HIV virus, an outcome described as 'remarkable' by the researchers.

The man, aged 44 and a social worker in London, told the London Times, 'It would be great if a cure has happened. My last blood test was a couple of weeks ago and there is no detectable virus.'

Scientists cautioned that the result may be caused by conventional ART and that they declined to proclaim their trial a success.

'It could be the antiretroviral therapies, so we have to wait to be sure,' the test subject said.

'I took part in the trial to help others as well as myself. It would be a massive achievement if, after all these years, something is found to cure people of this disease.

'The fact that I was a part of that would be incredible,' he added.

Even if the cure does work in a research setting, a treatment based on the findings will be a 'long way' off, says professor Sarah Fidler, a consultant physician at Imperial College.

'This therapy is specifically designed to clear the body of all HIV viruses, including dormant ones,' she said.

'It has worked in the laboratory and there is good evidence it will work in humans too, but we must stress we are still a long way from any actual therapy.

'We will continue with medical tests for the next five years, and at the moment we are not recommending stopping ART, but in the future, depending on the test results, we may explore this.'

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