An HIV clinical trial in the UK seems to have cured a 44-year-old man infected with HIV virus.
According to The Sunday Times, the new therapy targets the virus when it lies dormant, which has been one of the most difficult things to accomplish in the history of HIV treatment.
The HIV virus has been undetectable in the man’s blood, suggesting that the treatment has rid the patient’s body of it.
Scientists from Oxford, Cambridge, University College London, King’s College London, and Imperial College London have been implementing the study, and so far 50 participants have taken part.
The Berlin Patient
The Berlin Patient is the only known case that has successfully been cured of HIV. Timothy Ray Brown went HIV-free in 2007 when he received a stem cell transplant to treat leukemia.
Brown was given chemotherapy to kill the cancer, which in all likelihood destroyed the white blood cells where HIV tends to reside.
He was then given a bone marrow transplant to replenish his white blood cell count, and the HIV virus has not been detected in his body since.
Brown may have been cured by accident, but the unnamed social worker from London is the first person to be purposefully cured of HIV.
The HIV Treatment History
Killing the HIV virus has been one of the most difficult tasks the scientific and medical communities have ever been faced with.
The virus attaches itself to a cell and uses its DNA to hide and replicate.
HIV therapy that is commonly used today called antiretroviral therapy (ART) can stop the virus from replicating, but it’s powerless against dormant viruses. The virus can sit idle in the body for prolonged periods of time, from months to even decades.
The results of this particular trial give hope to the millions of people around the world, while the researchers are cautiously enthused.
What Happens Next
Scientists involved in the study say the trial is still ongoing and the final results will be published by 2018.
“We are exploring the real possibility of curing HIV,” said Mark Samuels, the managing director of the National Institute for Health Research.
“This is a huge challenge and it’s still early days but the progress has been remarkable.”
The new therapy consists of:
- Administering a vaccine to immunize the body
- Administering the new drug Vorinostat
The first phase allows the body to recognize the infected cells, while the drugs help the immune system destroy those cells in the second phase.
Sarah Fidler, a physician from Imperial College involved in the project, said that five more years of testing are necessary before the drug can be administered to patients.
“It has worked in the laboratory and there is good evidence it will work in humans too, but we must stress we are still a long way from any actual therapy.”