Researchers say an HIV cure may be months away.
Danish scientists are conducting clinical trials where the HIV virus is stripped from human DNA and destroyed by the immune system, the Telegraph reports.
Scientists say early signs are promising and believe “a mass-distributable and affordable cure to HIV is possible.”
The strategy has proven successful in laboratories. Now, human trials are being conducted on 15 patients, and if any of them are “cured,” the trial will be expanded.
The treatment involves flushing the HIV virus from “reservoirs” it forms inside human DNA. Once the virus is brought to the surface of the cells, the body’s immune system can destroy it with help from a “vaccine.”
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“I am almost certain that we will be successful in releasing the reservoirs of HIV," Dr. Ole Søgaard, a senior researcher at the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark and part of the research team, said.
“The challenge will be getting the patients’ immune system to recognize the virus and destroy it. This depends on the strength and sensitivity of individual immune systems,” he said.
Once considered a death sentence, HIV can now be a chronic but manageable lifelong infection as it stays hidden in infected blood cells. HIV reservoirs remain invisible to the body’s immune system and can’t be destroyed by anti-HIV drugs.
The standard treatment for HIV, Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), can deplete a reservoir but only very slowly. Models have shown most patients would have to be on the treatment plan for 60 to 80 years to getdepletion.
The news of the imminent cure comes days after the U.S. government halted a large study on HIV prevention vaccines, AP reports. Study results found the vaccine, which was administered to half of the 2,504 volunteers, didn’t prevent the infection.
Dr. John Frater, a clinical research fellow at Oxford University, is optimistic about the Danish technique but warns it may take years before it’s offered on a wider scale.
“When the first patient is cured in this way, it will be a spectacular moment,” he told The Telegraph. “It will prove that we are heading in the right direction and demonstrate that a cure is possible.”
There are two known cases of patients cured from HIV. In 2007, Timothy Brown, known as the Berlin patient, received a bone marrow transplant after he was diagnosed with leukemia. His transplant was genetically resistant to the HIV infection and is he considered the first person to be cured, the New York Times reports.
In March, a baby born in Mississippi showed no signs of the infection after receiving an aggressive antiretroviral treatment 30 hours after birth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV. An estimated 636,000 people with an AIDS diagnosis have died since the epidemic began in 1981.