Two weeks after the revelation that a baby has been “cured” of HIV, reports suggest that a similar treatment can cure some adults too. The crucial key seems to be early diagnosis of HIV and treatment though this does not guarantee success.
The 14 adults are not exactly ‘cured’ as they still have traces of HIV in their blood, but at such low levels that their body can naturally keep it in check without drugs. They have on average been off medication for seven years. One has gone 10-and-a-half years without drugs. “It’s not eradication, but they can clearly live without pills for a very long period of time,” says Asier Sáez-Cirión.
“There are three benefits to early treatment,” says Asier Sáez-Cirión of the Pasteur Institute’s unit for regulation of retroviral infections in Paris, France. “It limits the reservoir of HIV that can persist, limits the diversity of the virus and preserves the immune response to the virus that keeps it in check.”
These ‘survivors’ were discovered when Sáez-Cirión analysed 70 people with HIV who had been treated with antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) between 35 days and 10 weeks after initial infection. This is much earlier than people are normally treated, late diagnosis is the norm due to the delayed onset of symptoms in many HIV cases.
All of the participants’ retroviral drug regimes had been interrupted for one reason or another. Some people had made a personal choice to stop taking the drugs, others had taken part in other drug trials.
Sáez-Cirión found that most of the 70 people relapsed when their treatment was interrupted, with the virus rebounding rapidly to pre-treatment levels. But 14 of them – four women and 10 men – were able to stay off of ARVs without relapsing, having taken the drugs for an average of three years.
1 per cent of the population are naturally resistant to HIV nicknamed “super-controllers” these fortunate few have natural protective genes and the ability to rapidly suppress their infections. These 14, on the contrary, mostly had severe symptoms which led to their early treatment. “Paradoxically, doing badly helped them do better later,” says Sáez-Cirión.
Researchers are now trying to identify additional factors that could explain why early intervention only works on some people, hopefully extending the scope for more functional cures. “This whole area is fascinating, and we’ve been looking very closely at issues of early initiation of treatment, and the potential for functional cures,” says Andrew Ball, senior adviser on HIV/AIDS strategy at the World Health Organization in Geneva.
Source: The New Scientist
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