A medical research breakthrough at the Institut de Génétique Humaine in France may have brought the international scientific community one step closer toward discovering a cure for HIV and AIDS. A team of researchers discovered a biomarker only found on the surface of HIV-infected white blood cells that can be used to eradicate reservoirs of the viral infection throughout the body.

The newly found biomarker is a protein called CD32a, and its discovery could be crucial in the battle against the global epidemic responsible for over a million deaths caused from AIDS-related illnesses in 2015 alone. The discovery of the protein’s existence pointed researchers to the reservoirs of CD4 T cells, a type of white blood cells, infected with HIV.

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Locating reservoirs of viral infections in the body is one of the first major steps to creating a vaccination and, eventually, even a cure. The report, published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature, was reportedly the first to discover these pools of hidden HIV-infected cells responsible for reproducing and spreading the virus throughout the body.

RTX1405F Scientist Nathan Brown moved a 3D model of a HSP90 protein on a screen at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, July 15, 2013. Photo: Reuters

There are nearly 37 million people infected with HIV across the globe, while just 17 million patients were receiving treatment for the deadly virus, according to a 2016 Center for Disease Control report.

France filed for a patent to research all potential uses for the biomarker that was being hailed as the "holy grail" in finding a cure for HIV through the government agency CNRS. If the patent is approved, the French government will be granted exclusive access to discovering the biomarker’s diagnostic and therapeutic properties for patients infected with HIV or AIDS.

As scientists in France await their chance to conduct further research on CD32a, HIV and AIDS research happening across the globe are continuing to make critical discoveries at a rapid pace in recent years.

Research unveiled at last month's Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections showed a therapeutic vaccination administered to five HIV patients allowed them to live for years without daily drugs and major symptoms.