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UK scientists and clinicians working on a
groundbreaking trial to test a possible cure
for HIV infection say they have made
remarkable progress after a test patient
showed no sign of the virus following
treatment.

The research, being carried out by five of
Britain’s top universities with NHS support, is
combining standard antiretroviral drugs with
a drug that reactivates dormant HIV and a
vaccine that induces the immune system to
destroy the infected cells.

Antiretoviral drugs alone are highly effective
at stopping the virus from reproducing but
do not eradicate the disease, so must be
taken for life.
Fifty patients are taking part in the trial and
early tests on the first person to complete
the treatment show no signs of the virus in
his blood, the Sunday Times reported.
There is still a long way to go before the
treatment can be deemed a success as the
virus has previously re-emerged in people
thought to have been “cured” and the use of
antiretroviral drugs means the researchers
cannot be sure the HIV has gone.
Nevertheless there is optimism over the
findings.

Mark Samuels, the 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.”
L
HIV is able to hide itself from the immune
system in dormant cells where highly
sophisticated modern testing cannot find it
and therefore resist therapy. The treatment
endeavours to trick the virus into emerging
from its hiding places and then trigger the
body’s immune system to recognise it and
attack it, an approach that has been called
“kick and kill”.
There are approximately 37 million people
living with HIV worldwide and about 35
million people have died from the virus.
The difficulty of declaring a patient clear of
HIV was illustrated by the case of a girl in
Mississippi, who was put on a strong course
of antiretroviral drugs within 30 hours of her
birth in 2010 after her mother was found to
be HIV positive.
Treatment continued until the hospital lost
contact with the mother 18 months later.
When mother and child reappeared five
months later the baby had no detectable
virus in her blood, raising hopes that early
intervention had cured her, but two years the
virus had re-emerged.
The only person believed to have been cured
was Timothy Ray Brown, an American
treated in Germany. He needed a bone
marrow transplant to replace his own
cancerous cells with stem cells that would
remake his immune system and his doctor
found him a donor who was naturally
resistant to HIV infection due to a genetic
mutation that blocks HIV from entering the
cells in the human body.
However, stem cell transplants are difficult
and potentially dangerous for the recipient
and only undertaken where they can save a
life.

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