By: Vicki Batts
A British man may be the first person in the world to actually be cured of HIV, thanks to a new treatment that’s been developed overseas. Five universities from the United Kingdom have joined forces to create this new treatment, one that may some day be a cure.
The 44-year-old man is one of 50 patients to have participated in a trial for the wonder drug, which has been designed to target the disease even when it is in its dormant state. Scientists recently announced that the HIV virus is currently undetectable in the man’s blood, though that could be the result of normal treatment. However, if the dormant cells have also been removed from his bloodstream, it would be an astounding finding. To have removed inactive HIV cells from someone’s system could indeed indicate that for the first time, the disease may be curable.
This new treatment is one of the very first attempts at totally curing HIV. Mark Samuels, managing director of the National Institute for Health Research Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure, said, “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.”
Researchers from some of the UK’s most prominent colleges, including Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College London, University College London and King’s College London, have come together to develop this new treatment and study its potential. HIV has been an extremely difficult disease to treat because it targets the immune system. The virus attaches itself to the DNA of T cells – causing the protective cells to ignore the virus and actually replicate it.
Current therapies are only able to target active, infected T cells. T cells that are infected but otherwise dormant are left alone, and consequently, can continue to reproduce. The Telegraph explains, “The new therapy works in two stages. Firstly, a vaccine helps the body recognise the HIV-infected cells so it can clear them out. Secondly, a new drug called Vorinostat activates the dormant T-cells so they can be spotted by the immune system.”
According to CDC estimates, there are 1.2 million Americans living with HIV, and 1 out of every 8 people don’t even know they have it.
The researchers hope to publish the findings of their trial sometime in 2018. While the results do seem promising, the potential for a cure still remains tentative at best.